Today in ARGH.

We are so over the “Ladies Aren’t As Confident As Men and It’s a Problem” conversation that has been happening lately.

Because you know what we’re not down with? Pretending that a self-reinforcing system of gender norms designed to keep women out of power and public life is, in fact, a character flaw that meek chicks need to get over. Structural inequality is not a personal problem, folks.

If it were, then advice like “maybe try NOT being subjugated” would be useful. But as it is, saying “sack up, ladies!” makes us worry that the next thing out of your mouth might be one of the following:

  • “Slaves: Just not entrepreneurial-minded enough.”
  • “Native Americans: Insufficiently committed to enforcing their property rights.”
  • “Jews of 1930s Europe: Lacking in courage and self-preservation instincts.”

(Oh wait, that last one’s actually a thing. Thanks, anti-semitism!)

WTF Friday, 4/25/2014

On April 16, more than 200 teenage girls preparing to sit their final exams were abducted from their government-run boarding school in Chibok in northern Nigeria and taken deep into nearby Sambisa forest. The kidnappers are members of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, who strongly object to secular education, particularly of girls.

Two days after the abduction, the Nigerian military announced that the girls had been freed in an “on-going search and rescue exercise”. They hadn’t.

In fact, some of the girls managed to escape on their own, but the rest remain unaccounted for and there have been no ransom demands. As Jina Moore documents, the families of the missing students have grown increasingly frustrated with the government’s lack of action. Several days ago, they mounted a private search operation, heading into the forest themselves. They had to turn back empty-handed, lacking the firepower to confront the terrorists directly. But as one father later told a Nigerian newspaper: “If soldiers had accompanied us to the forest, we were optimistic that our missing children would have been rescued.”

BBC reports that at a meeting on national security yesterday, the national government “vowed to do all it can” to rescue the hostages. But for many Nigerians, the delay in action reflects a devastating indifference to the fate of these young women, which, as Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani reminds us, may be bleak.

#BringBackOurGirls is now trending on Twitter, castigating not only the Nigerian state, but the international press for its disinterest in this tragedy. These girls have been missing for over a week; the least we can do is pay attention.

WTF Friday, 3/21/2014

Today is full of mind-blowing news:

  • In Kenya, female MPs staged a walk-out in Parliament today as a bill passed allowing Kenyan men to marry additional wives without checking with their existing spouse first. Explained a (male) MP: “When you marry an African woman, she must know the second one is on the way and a third wife… this is Africa.”
  • And finally, Robert Kaplan has once again succeeded in trolling the entire internet, this time with a piece up at The Atlantic extolling the virtues of empire. Choice quote: “imperialism and enlightenment (albeit self-interested) have often been inextricable”. There’s also an approving shout-out to Rudyard Kipling’s pro-colonialist classic “The White Man’s Burden”. (Ultimately he gets to the point which is, apparently, that America needs to rediscover grand strategy, which: sure.) Obviously, Twitter is going insane over this.

WTF Friday (Sunday), 9/29/2013

Late breaking WTF-ery, guys:

Saudi cleric Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Lohaidan has revealed a new and important reason why women should not drive cars: defective babies.

If that went by you a little fast, here it is again. According to Lohaidan, “medical studies show that [driving] automatically affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upwards”, and “[t]hat is why we find those who regularly drive have children with clinical problems of varying degrees”. Obviously, the internet is going insane over this.

Now excuse me while I go blame all my problems on the fact that my mother callously operated a Ford Taurus while pregnant with me.

Today in Misuses of Legislative Authority

Joining Ugandan lawmakers’ most recent effort to ban mini-skirts in the “asinine interference with our freedoms” legislative initiatives file, local authorities in Kisumu, Kenya are considering a bill that would require women on bicycles and motorcycles to ride sidesaddle.

Apparently, riding astride is “uncultural.” And, like the much maligned mini-skirt, it threatens road safety by distracting male drivers. (See Uganda’s former Ethics & Integrity Minister, Nsaba Buturo’s, 2008 justification for a proposed mini-skirt ban here.) One motorcycle taxi driver interviewed by KTN insisted that having female passengers riding astride behind him compromised his ability to drive.  

Clearly, everyone would be better off if the ladies would just keep their legs together. Except, of course, for the women perched precariously on the backs of boda bodas with no way to keep themselves from flying off in the event of an unexpected stop, turn, or collision. But that’s a small price to pay to protect male drivers from having the knowledge that women have legs forced upon them, right?

Gulu’s Girls Gone Wild

According to this op-ed in The Observer, a new scourge has replaced LRA raiding parties in northern Uganda: horny teenage girls.

Sam Agona, “ICT and social behavioural expert,” reports that once the young women around Gulu no longer had to worry about being forcibly recruited by rebels, they decided to celebrate by getting busy. And they’ve kept it up ever since:

Young girls have continued to come to town in the night, not only to look for money through sexual acts but also to seek plain sexual satisfaction through actively involving themselves in the practice.

Agona gets impressively hand-wringy about the fact that “in Gulu, females have desire for intensive sex just for enjoyment” which he describes as “a situation I accept is human but very bizarre.” (Apparently, no female has ever desired “intensive sex” with Agona.) He also swallows whole a rumor that “at a place called Olego, near the Uganda-South Sudan border, women there detain men who do not heed to their sexual demands.”

Then, like any good op-ed writer, he turns to his cab driver for answers.

Per the driver, “it is very hard to control girls,” particularly in light of their annoying habit of conducting their sexual relations in private, where concerned (ahem) men can’t observe them. And, of course, “the existence of the concept of ‘human rights’ made it more difficult to apprehend the girls.” Human rights, man, always getting in the way of right-thinking men’s ability to control the women around them.

I look forward to the inevitable follow-up in which Agona unveils an ingenious plan to settle these ladies down by removing their clitorises. Ugh.

H/T Ledio Cakaj

WTF Friday, 8/2/13

This week’s WTF Friday traveled to the blog via Metro-North from New Haven. Yale University has released its latest Sexual Misconduct Report, which manages to avoid using the terms “rape” or “sexual assault” one single time, even when discussing, well, rape.

You see, when such things happen in the rarified gardens of Yale, they’re not crimes, just “nonconsensual sex.” Observe:

“A YC student brought a formal complaint charging that a male YC student had nonconsensual sex with her.

Update: The UWC found sufficient evidence that the respondent engaged in certain conduct of a sexual nature that was nonconsensual. In addition, the UWC found that the respondent violated the Yale College Code of General Conduct. The respondent was given a two semester suspension, was placed on probation for the remainder of his time at the University, was restricted from contacting the complainant, and was encouraged to continue counseling for alcohol abuse, appropriate sexual behavior and the respectful treatment of others.”

Let’s break that statement down, shall we? The quoted text refers to a complaint by a female Yale student against a male Yale student. The “update” sets forth the resolution of the complaint.

Yale’s University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, or UWC (there’s something amazing about the fact that Yale didn’t even keep the “sexual misconduct” part when choosing an acronym for its committee on sexual misconduct) investigated the allegations, and found that the perpetrator had, in fact, assaulted the victim.

That sexual assault was a crime, and most likely a felony, but there’s no mention of that in the report. (It does, however, make a point of noting that the perpetrator violated the College Code of Conduct, which I think we can all agree is the real problem here.)

Isn’t the term “nonconsensual sex” amazing? The way that it somehow implies a gulf between a situation in which someone has sex with another person without consent, and a totally different situation in which that person commits a rape or sexual assault? Yale apparently thinks there’s a distinction between the two, because the most severe punishment it meted out to any of the perpetrators described in the report was a suspension.

What’s a person got to do to get expelled from Yale? Non-consensual cannibalism?

I don’t know if that counseling for “appropriate sexual behavior and the respectful treatment of others” is available to universities. But it sure seems like Yale could use it.

h/t Texasinafrica.

The Senate Should Confirm Nina Pillard Already

I wholeheartedly support Cornelia “Nina” Pillard’s nomination for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, because she is awesome. Professor Pillard taught two of my classes at Georgetown, so I can say from personal experience that she is a smart, diligent, judicious thinker. She is also a triathlete with practically-bionic strength. (That is less relevant to her judicial nomination, but still cool. Her exploits in the law school’s gym were legendary amongst my classmates.) The Senate should confirm her already.

I am not the only one who thinks that Pillard would be an asset to the federal bench. Here is Professor Viet Dinh, former deputy Attorney General under George W. Bush, and probably Georgetown’s most famously conservative faculty member, on Pillard’s qualifications:

“She is a fair-minded thinker with enormous respect for the law and for the limited, and essential, role of the federal appellate judge– qualities that make her well prepared to taken on the work of a D.C. Circuit judge. I am confident that she would approach the judicial task of applying law to facts in a fair and meticulous manner.”

And here is a statement from a group of 40 prominent attorneys who practice before the Supreme Court, including several who served in senior roles in the Reagan and Bush justice departments:

“We believe that Professor Pillard would bring to the D.C. Circuit unquestioned professional integrity and intellect, a breadth of experience, and dedication to fairness and the rule of law. We urge her confirmation.”

And yet, if you listen to the Republican members of the judiciary committee and the denizens of the National Review echo chamber, Pillard is some sort of crazed radical who probably shouldn’t be trusted with young minds, let alone federal cases. Never mind that she has assisted dozens of litigants, from all points on the political spectrum, pro bono as part of Georgetown’s Supreme Court Institute. Never mind that she collaborated with Dinh and the Bush Administration to litigate (and win) Nevada Dept. of Human Resources v. Hibbs before the Supreme Court. No, apparently Pillard is “out of the mainstream,” and would be “the most left-wing judge in the history of the republic.”

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“With a Smile on His Face”: New Account of Sexual Assault in Tahrir Square

Another day, another revolution in Egypt. And with that new revolution comes a new outbreak of mass sexual assaults against women in Tahrir Square.

This is not a new phenomenon. In February 2011, CBS News correspondent Lara Logan was in Tahrir Square to report on the resignation of former president Hosni Mubarak, when a crowd of men overpowered her crew, stripped her, and subjected her to a prolonged and brutal sexual assault. In June 2012, documentarian Natasha Smith suffered a similar assault at the hands of a mob who stripped her and violated her with their hands as they dragged her, naked, through the square. There have been many more attacks against Egyptian women following the same pattern: a group of men isolate a woman, then surround her with what one activist has called “the circle of hell” – a ring of men who strip and assault the woman, surrounded by outer circles of accomplices who enable the attack by pretending to help the victim, and distracting the crowd from what is happening.

I recently spoke to Joost Schefferss, a 21 year old journalism student from the Netherlands who is currently studying Arabic in Cairo, about an attack that he and his friends suffered in Tahrir Square last Sunday. Thankfully, his group was rescued shortly after the assault began, narrowly avoiding a more serious fate.

Joost had gone to the square with two friends: another male student from the Netherlands, and a young Swedish woman. (His friends prefer not to be identified.) They were accompanied by two Egyptian journalists. Although Joost and his friends had no involvement in Egyptian politics, he felt an “intense strong feeling to go there to see what was going on.” He sensed that history was happening nearby, and thought it would be a shame to miss it.

They arrived at the square in the late afternoon, while the sun was still bright, and spent several hours there without incident. The atmosphere was happy, “like a festival, or something like that.” Helicopters flying Egyptian flags circled overhead, and the crowd cheered them, taking the choppers’ presence as a sign of support from the army. “It was a good atmosphere, great, really.” He took photographs, and tweeted about the excitement of the crowd.

As evening fell, and it began to get dark, however, Joost felt the mood of the crowd begin to change. “Be careful, be careful,” people in the crowd began to say to them, in English. His group linked together to walk single file, “like a train.” Each held onto a shoulder of the person in front of them, with the two Egyptian journalists bracketing the line in front and back, an engine and a caboose.

They began to make their way out of the square. Suddenly, “at a certain moment, the people were pushing, pushing, pushing. I didn’t have any idea what was going on.”

“It kept on going, and I felt a guy pushing me on my back, and again.” He briefly thought that it was merely the density of the moving crowd, but when he turned, he saw that there was plenty of space. Joost realized that the pushes were deliberate attacks meant to separate the group. Surprisingly, their attackers were teenagers. The person pushing Joost was “like a kid, of 17 or 18 years old.”

As he struggled to stay on his feet, Joost realized that his Swedish friend had lost hold of his shoulder. “I started to look, where she is, where she is, where she is? And I saw her, being pushed through the crowds by the Egyptian journalists, to get away from there.”

“She was pushed away, and the other guys were pushing me very hard, front and back.” He tried to follow, but the young woman was surrounded by a group of youths who were sexually assaulting her. “She got touched – hands were all over her whole body, grabbing her.” The two Egyptian journalists were trying to protect her, but they were unable to escape.

The Egyptian boys around Joost and his other friend continued to slam into them, trying to knock them to the ground as they tried to reach the young woman to help her. Joost felt certain that she was the main object of the attack. “That is the tactic of these groups. They push, and they push and they push, and at a certain moment the girl is gone.”

During the struggle, Joost made eye contact with one of the attackers. Horrifyingly, he looked like was having fun. “I looked the guy straight in his eyes… his face was really, really happy. He was enjoying it, definitely. There was a big smile on his face.”

Joost does not know how long the assault lasted, because he was just focused on keeping his feet, and getting to his friend. Suddenly, a group of broad-shouldered, muscular Egyptian men ran up to them and “smashed” away the youths committing the assault. With the Egyptian journalists, their rescuers joined hands to form a circle and made their way through the crowd, out of the square. Joost believes that things could have gotten much worse if they had not been rescued. “We were really lucky, after all.”

Once they were out of the square, most of their protectors disappeared – probably back into the square, to return to their patrol. However, “one of them walked with us to our car, just to make sure we arrived there, as safe as possible.” Joost would like to find the group, to thank them for their help, but has not been able to do so thus far. The rescuers never introduced themselves, so it is unclear whether they were volunteers with an official organization like Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment, or just concerned citizens.

“The guy who accompanied us to the car, he had a red t-shirt and a red key card with a red card on it, but I don’t know exactly what the red card was from. I also don’t know who he was, where he was from, or what else – I’ve got no clue at all.”

I asked Joost if he had any sense of what the attackers’ motivation might have been. He offered a few general theories, such as the mistrust created by Egyptian ad campaigns telling people not to trust foreigners, and the frustration felt by young men who are unable to get jobs or marry, but while those explanations might explain Egypt’s generally high rates of sexual harassment, they don’t explain the specific phenomenon of mob assaults on women in Tahrir Square. Joost has also heard that there is credible evidence that other sexual assaults were designed to drive women and journalists out of the square. “There were signals that those attacks were structured to get the journalists off Tahrir and make everyone afraid to come there and protest.”

That doesn’t seem to fit his own experience, though. “They could have been instructed by special forces to [attack us], but I really doubt it, because they were so young.” He imagines that if such attacks were planned, the organizers would send “a big group of strong men, to make sure that it happens. Not a bunch of kids.” (He hastened to add that this was just his own impression, however – he doesn’t have enough information to comment about the phenomenon of these assaults more generally.)

Whatever the motivation behind this particular assault, at this stage it seems clear that these attacks are taking place with horrifying frequency. Last Friday, a Dutch journalist was reportedly gang raped in Tahrir, and remains hospitalized for her injuries. Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment, a volunteer organization in Cairo that sends volunteer patrols into Tahrir Square to protect women from attack, received 46 reports of mob sexual assaults on women on Sunday, 17 Monday, and more than 20 yesterday. The victims of yesterday’s attacks reportedly included “grandmothers, mothers with their children,” and 7 year old girls.

Despite the ongoing assaults, however, women continue to participate in the Tahrir demonstrations, and to volunteer with the bodyguard groups patrolling to rescue women from sexual assaults. Three cheers for their bravery, which is an example to us all.

Dear Vice Magazine: How Could You Do This?

When I was sixteen, Iris Chang gave the graduation address at my high school, from which she had graduated the decade before. It remains, to this day, one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen.

Statue of Iris Chang at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial

I wish that I could find a video or transcript of the speech, because it is difficult to do justice to it without access to the text, but she exhorted us to resist the forces of cynicism and disappointment, and told us that we had the power to change the world, and somehow managed to make it seem more like a road map than a collection of graduation-day platitudes.

At the time, Iris was only thirty, but she had already published two books, including The Rape of Nanking, a meticulously-researched account of Japanese atrocities during their conquest of that city during World War II. At sixteen, I was not yet planning to go into the human rights field, but I remember watching her give that speech, and thinking that if I grew up to be someone like her, who did the things that she did, that would be something to be proud of.

Many times, since then, I have thought about her speech when I have felt tempted to be the kind of person who just gets on with life and doesn’t bother reaching for something better. At those times, I have remembered seeing her, up on that stage, telling a room of fascinated children that we would have moments when cynicism and surrender seemed like attractive options, but that she believed we would be strong enough to overcome them. And then I have decided that cynicism can wait for another day.

I am not the only one she affected that way. Author Paula Kamen once wrote in Salon about turning “Iris Chang” into a verb, meaning to think big. She encouraged her university students to “Iris Chang it”: “Just decide what you want and go get it. To the point of being naive.”

This isn’t a funny post, because six years after she gave that graduation speech, Iris Chang killed herself.

And then this week, for reasons beyond my understanding, Vice Magazine decided that the way to remember her, and the personal costs she bore in her attempts to stand in solidarity with the victims of horrific crimes, was to publish a photograph of a fashion model reenacting the scene of her suicide. Which was accompanied by a caption explaining where to buy the outfit the model was wearing. And which was part of a multi-page spread called “Last Words,” which also contained stylishly accessorized reenactments of the suicides of Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Sanmao, and Elise Cowen, and of one of Dorothy Parker’s unsuccessful suicide attempts.

Iris had a son, who was two years old when she died, and is only eleven now. She had a husband, and parents, all of whom are still alive. If seeing the photo was enough to make me burst into tears, I can only imagine how her family must have felt when they saw it. (I fervently hope that they did not). There is no question in my mind that Vice did her family a disservice when they decided to publish it.

But the magazine’s decision to publish this spread was also a disservice to its readers. Iris and the other writers depicted in the spread have expanded our world through their work, and made it a more interesting, vital, and just place. Vice could have depicted them in a way that honored that work, and encouraged their readers to seek it out, thereby making their own worlds bigger and more exciting. Instead, it depicted them as nothing but a group of high-gloss deaths, good for selling clothes and not much more. There was nothing about that photograph that would lead someone to, say, read Iris Chang’s Atlantic piece on the “Oskar Schindler of China.” How unfortunate that is. I cannot understand why anyone in the writing business would want to so undermine the value of extraordinary writing, but apparently Vice did.

Vice has removed the article from their website, and replaced it with an unimpressive apology of the “sorry you felt offended” variety. I hope that they will do more than that to make this right.