Tag Archives: consent

Photography, Random Run-ins, and Cousin Cookie

6 Nov

Back in 2003, I, along with 22 other intrepid students, went on a year long expedition around the world, learning about politics, economics, ecology, feminism, and all sorts of other things. More than anything, though, I would say that we learned how to be proper human beings. We learned what it meant to go into other people’s countries, other peoples homes, and understand that we were guests there. We had to learn to suspend our own cultural norms in an effort to try and fit, as best we could, into our new and extremely different surroundings. This proved easier in some situations – Cambridge, England, for example, where our biggest concern was remembering that in England the word “pants” is actually synonymous to the American “underwear” – than in, say, Zanzibar, Tanzania, where in incredibly hot temperatures we kept our heads, shoulders and knees covered in an attempt to be respectful towards the majority Muslim population there.* I’m sure that as a group of 22 American, and one super awesome Bulgarian, students traveling through England, Tanzania, India, New Zealand and Mexico we unintentionally offended some people but the point is that we tried. We asked questions of our hosts and attempted to understand local norms and customs as best we could so as to represent ourselves, and our countries, to the best of our abilities. Overall I think we did a pretty good job.

One of the things that we learned about, and something that I have kept with me ever since, involved photography. We were taught that in certain cultures, people believe that when their photograph is taken, a piece of their soul is taken with it. Whether or not we believe this to be the case, it is important to respect the beliefs of those around you and so we were taught to always, always ask permission before photographing anyone. Consent is key. It might mean that sometimes you don’t quite get the photo that you hoped, but who the hell cares, really. There is something sort of fucked up about taking photographs of people without asking them first, especially when we are surrounded by those who have lived incredibly different lives than us. To me, it reeks of voyeurism. I know that when I have been traveling and have caught people taking photographs of me I have felt somewhat dehumanized. These people don’t know me, don’t know my name, where I am from, what I am about, and yet they want to capture this image of me and what? Show their friends? It’s this idea that an image of me could be in someone else’s home and I could have no idea that always makes me think twice about snapping a photo of someone I don’t know, someone who didn’t consent to it. The idea that a part of our soul is taken every time that flash goes off starts hitting a little closer to home.

Let’s maybe take this down a notch in seriousness, largely because I haven’t had enough coffee yet and this is making my brain hurt. So in New York City you come to find that the longer you live here, the smaller and smaller this town becomes. Partially that is because as we live here longer, our personal map of the city changes. There are certain parts of the city that we know nothing about  – for me it’s just about everything above 34th street and most of North Brooklyn – and then other parts where we can practically dictate the store fronts in order. The city just becomes smaller and the more we circulate within the territory of our truncated maps, the more people we end up seeing until the point when you go to the grocery store and run into about 12 people on the way home, all the while Toffuti Cuties are melting in your environmentally conscious shopping bag. In your own neighborhood, and especially when you are a neighborhood bartender, this is pretty normal. But it is always super fun and exciting when you run into people randomly in other parts of the city that you rarely frequent. Like that time I ran into some girls I went to high school with on the 6 platform in Manhattan, or the time my mom came to visit and we saw her massage therapist, who works in New Jersey, on University Place. I mean, really, what are the odds?! And every time this happens I think to myself

“Self, mere seconds in either direction, one different decision, one missed or caught light, and I never would have run into that person.”

And then I start thinking about all the people that I probably just barely miss. And then I think about how if my life were a sitcom, which I sometimes like to think it is, the audience would be like

“No! Turn on that street! That guy that you made out with in college is walking this way and it might be a love connection!!!”

And then would come the sad, prerecorded

“Awwwwwww….”

when I proceeded on course and missed what could have been the love of my life. Or some other bullshit. Anyway, back to photographs. So on a similar theme, have you ever thought about how many times you might be in other people’s photos? Like, just walking along and you get in the background of some group picture or something? Now, this is something I think about a lot, like, how weird would it be to go to someone’s house and look at an awesome family photograph on their mantel and then see yourself casually walking through the background? Mind blown, right? I mean, you could be on someone’s mantel right now! And not even know it! And they might notice you one day and be like,

“Huh, I wonder where that person was going on this day that is forever remembered as the day that Cousin Cookie drank too many pickle back shots and hasn’t been able to look at cucumbers the same way since.”

I don’t know, it’s just a thing I think about it. There was a This American Life on it a few years back but I was thinking about this long before I heard that episode. It just made me realize that other people think about it too and maybe, just maybe, some of you, dear readers, also think about it.

So this post totally just went on a really weird adventure from the ethics of photography to random run-ins and Cousin Cookie. Funny thing is that I was going to write about this weird thing that happened at work the other day and see what you guys all thought about it but now I have already written over a thousand words so it doesn’t seem the best time to ask you to read much more. So, that’s a post for next time. I guess just remember this: ask permission to take other people’s photos otherwise you might end up on the mantel of some family in the midwest that gives each other nicknames based off their favorite snack foods.

* I know that’s not that difficult but I haven’t had enough coffee yet so it’s all I could think of. Also, there were some people on vacation there wearing short shorts and tube tops and it was really, really inappropriate. Like, wildly.

And the Army Fails Another Victim of Sexual Violence

20 Mar

Seriously you guys, when are we going to get this right?  When are we going to figure out how to deal with sexual violence within the justice system, the military, colleges, our society?  Just now I was sitting at the computer, catching up on training videos for the upcoming Jesolo gymnastics meet when my phone made a little chirping noise.  I got all excited, thinking it was a text message or someone emailing me to offer me The Most Awesome Job Ever on the Face of the Planet but no.  It was neither of those things.  What it was was the following headline from The New York Times:

General Accused of Sexual Assault Receives Minor Punishment, No Jail.”

So here’s the deal.  Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair “pleaded guilty to charges that included mistreating his mistress, adultery and requesting explicit photographs from female Army officers” and instead of any sort of punishment he was ordered to pay $5,000 of his salary for the next four months.  That’s it.  He keeps his pension.  No jail time.  Just a measly $20,000.  What a bargain for assaulting someone.  Here is the meat of the article:

“The sentencing ends a two-year prosecution that highlighted sexual misconduct at even senior ranks of the military at a time when Congress was demanding that the Army crack down on the problem, but which came apart after military lawyers concluded that their chief witness may have lied at a hearing and the judge ruled that political considerations may have improperly influenced the case.”

In the words of my good friend Carrie: MUTHER FUCKING FUCK OF A FUCKING FUCK

So maybe some of you readers don’t think this is as big a deal as Carrie and I do.  Let’s just take a moment to learn a little bit more about this case, shall we?

According to a Los Angeles Times article published yesterday, General Sinclair “pleaded guilty Monday to mistreating the captain. He also pleaded guilty to twice misusing his government charge card to pursue the affair, disobeying an order not to contact his mistress, and making derogatory comments about other female officers.

“A week earlier, Sinclair pleaded guilty to adultery; impeding an investigation by deleting sexually explicit emails to and from a civilian woman; possessing pornography in a war zone; conducting inappropriate relationships with two other female officers; and improperly asking a female lieutenant for a date.”

I like how the article sort of glosses over the situation with the army captain as simple “mistreatment” but we will talk about what that word means in a minute.  What is interesting to me here is that you have this guy, a general, a man of power, who uses this power to ask women out on dates.  That is bad enough in and of itself.  The real problem arises when you realize that he is operating within a system that not only has a very well-defined power structure, but also has a very clear and documented history of not taking cases of sexual misconduct and instances of sexual violence seriously in the least bit.  He asked women out on a date within an environment in which they understandably could have felt that turning the general down could result in unfavorable treatment and that if such a thing occurred, they would have absolutely no recourse because the army does not give a shit about sexual misconduct and intimidation and violence within its ranks.  It is institutionalized.  Given this reality, and the fact that the military is claiming to make moves towards addressing its embarrassing record on punishing actions of sexual misconduct, the fact that his asking women out is not seen as hugely problematic and possibly symptomatic of a larger issue is insane to me.

The original charges, the “mistreatment,” were actually charges of sexual assault and making death threats against a woman with whom he had a three year affair as well as her family.  Sexual assault. Death threats.  All dropped.  And this guy has the nerve to break down in tears in front of a judge, talking about how his family shouldn’t be denied his military benefits because of his adulterous affair.  What about her family and what they endured?  Okay, if that were actually the case I would feel for his family. An entire family shouldn’t be punished because this dude can’t seem to keep it in his pants.  But in the same tearful outburst, he also apologized to his accuser and to the two officer’s whom he pressured to send nude photos of themselves.  Again, a man in power within the context of the US military abuses an army captain and also uses his power to pressure his subordinates into sending him nude photographs of themselves and all he gets is a $20,000 fine?! Give me a fucking break.  I mean, I know that’s some money.  I wouldn’t mind having an extra twenty grand lying around right about now.  But what kind of a deterrent is that?  He is one of a very small number of generals to be court marshaled and, given the information we have about the depth of sexual misconduct within the armed forces, it seems unlikely that that small number accurately reflects the real number of generals who have misused their power to coerce subordinates to perform sexual acts.  It seems like the risk of getting caught are simply not high enough to stop anyone from misusing power for sexual gain if that is what they’re into.

What this is is another example of how we simply do not take sexual violence seriously in this country.  This man is a predator.  Easy as that.  And why shouldn’t he be one?  I mean, take the morals and the ethics out of the equation here.  The existence of a legal framework to try and punish those who commit crimes of a sexual nature against others would be a deterrent if that system actually fucking existed.  And I am not even talking about within the context of the army here.  I am talking about in the wider context of everything.  We simply do not think of sexual violence as being a scourge on our society.  We do not see sexual violence for what it is.  We blame those who are the victims and we, as a society, put up every single possible road block in order to keep people from getting justice for their abuse.  You need look no further than the thousands upon thousands of untested rape kits sitting in storage units across the country.  There is evidence of serial rapists who have gone unpunished because the kits containing evidence of their crime sit in storage units gathering dust.  To think that women and men who are raped and then go to the police to then have an invasive evidence-gathering procedure conducted in hopes that their assailant will be caught and they will have some justice went through all of that for nothing is absolutely sickening.  Thousands of victims.  Thousands of assailants who are told that their crime is not actually a crime, who are essentially, through state inaction, given permission to attack again.  Oh yea, and then there’s the statute of limitations which is up on so many of these kits.  Victims who have to live with their attack for the rest of their lives with no hope of any sort of punishment for their attackers.  What the fuck is that.

And then there are the college campuses.  Read the story of Sasha Menu Courey.  Time and time again we hear about colleges trying to handle sexual assault cases themselves, resulting in the revictimization of the victim and a slap on the wrist for the attacker, if that.  That is if we read about these cases at all.  Most of the time when we hear anything about them it is because the victim comes forward to try and hold their university accountable for improper handling of cases, inaction, or the fostering of an environment that does not address the issue of rape culture.  It is everywhere.

It is everywhere and I think it starts in casual conversation.  This shit is so ingrained in our culture it is amazing.  The number of times I have tried to stand up for myself in public or at my work when someone has made an inappropriate comment to me and I have been told to “relax” is unreal.  I should not have to ignore poor behavior because me calling someone out might hurt their feelings.  You know what?  You calling me baby, telling me to smile, and whispering “God bless you” in my ear as you walk by didn’t exactly make me feel good.  We should be able to stand up for ourselves.  We should not be made to feel as though we are overreacting.  We should not have to justify our anger and hurt and fear.  This case with the general is so upsetting because it is simply another example of people not being held accountable for sexual misconduct.  It is another example of women being second guessed and doubted and told that their bodies are not protected.  Not on the streets, not in college and not in the armed forces.  It is fucked up and it simply has to stop.  When are we going to treat sexual violence, threats, assault, misconduct with the seriousness that it deserves?

The Internet is SUCH a Crazy Place

28 Aug

So, a couple of things have happened since I last posted.  So, last week I wrote a post about the whole incident that happened in Ireland at an Eminem concert at Slane Castle.  I didn’t really expect too much of a response since a lot of people were writing about the same thing but I was wrong.  Somehow my blog got linked on a Flemish-language newspaper and my blog EXPLODED in Belgium.  (Keep in mind the word exploded is entirely relative.)  So I had my two best days ever in the history of my blog one right after the other.  I even got some hits off of Twitter which basically never happens for the following two reasons.  One, I am confused by Twitter as a general rule and two, I have like 51 followers.  I had 52 but then someone unfollowed me.  When you have basically no followers you notice the ebb and flow.   Then this sad thing happened.  I noticed that, after the HIT EXPLOSION my daily hits were slightly higher than normal and came from search terms instead of my blog followers clicking on their emails or my Facebook friends finding the link there.  I then noticed that I was getting all sorts of hits from people looking for the image of the girl giving head at the concert.  (If you don’t know what I am talking about, just read the aforementioned blog, it will fill you in.)  So, okay, I have a few things to say about this.

First of all, seriously people, I don’t understand what is so damn exciting about a photograph of a girl sucking a guy’s dick.  If you really want to see what sucking a dick looks like, go suck a dick.  Set up a camera on the other side of the room and have it take a photo of you in the middle.  Put a stupid lime green hat on the person on the receiving end of the oral gratification, have that person throw his hands up into the air and basically you have the photo.  Not that exciting, really.

Secondly, if you really insist on seeing the photo, which makes me think less of your value as a human being because neither the girl nor the guy featured in the photo gave their consent, why don’t you try searching Google images?  You know what Google images is?  A way to find images.  You know what a photograph is?  An image.

Thirdly, porn.  It exists and it is everywhere.  The beauty of porn is that if you are turned on by people that look as though they are not consenting of the photograph being taken or the film being filmed, you can find that only the people actually have consented.  Acting, you know?  So you get the best of both worlds.  You get to view people engaged in sexual acts that maybe look like they are not participating willingly or as though they don’t know they are being photographed/filmed, but you are not being a horrible creatch and reinforcing all the fucked up gender stereotypes that run so rampant throughout our culture.

Fourth, think about what your desire to look at this photograph means and start asking yourself tough questions.  Do you think she deserved all the negative attention she is getting?  Why?  Would you feel the same way if the roles were reversed, if it was a man pleasuring a woman?  Would she still be the slut?

Fifth, I hope you read my blog when you accidentally got there.  I hope you read it and starting thinking about your role in the world.  And I hope you know that I think you are a complete asshole.

So another thing that happened is that I received an email from my friend Debbie complete with a screen shot that demonstrated the fact that my blog has been banned by the company for which she works.  We think it is because I wrote a post about going to a male strip club and that, throughout that post, I used the word “penis,” both in the singular and the plural, very liberally.  On the one hand, I sort of feel as though you haven’t really made it until you’ve blown up via  Flemish newspaper and been banned in a couple of offices.  On the other hand, I use the word “vagina” ALL THE TIME.  The word vagina is even in the title of one of my categories.  And yet it wasn’t until I used the word penis that my blog got banned.  So, that’s fucked up.

And finally, today I received a comment on my blog that said the following thing:

“Read on twitter you do a bit of bartending, would you be interested in us customizing your own bottle openers? We have a free promotion going on right now, send an email!”

My very own FranklyRebekah bottle openers.  I never thought I would live to see the day.