Saving Our Superheroes

A while ago I wrote a post about torture-porn’s sexual objectification of female victims. Today, while wandering around Bitch Magazine’s website I found an article by Shannon Cochran about female superheroes and the apparent violence that they too suffer for the sake of shallow entertainment.   But this time, instead of feeling disgusted and defeated, I felt inspired. Because female fans of comic books (or I should say fans of female comic book heroes) are fighting back.

Unheardtaunts.com is a website created by Gail Simone that serves as a catalogue of female superheroes who were tortured to death or killed off in their prime. She says that she started the website because one night she

and some male friends started making a list of the characters that had been killed, mutilated, or depowered (also a telling trend, as the more powerful a female character was, the more likely it was that she would lose those powers). It was shockingly long, and almost no one in the already small pool of valid superheroines escaped the wave of gynocentric violence.

But the good news is that comic book publishers seem to be listening to the shouts of complaint. Recently, Batwoman has been given a chance to make a come back. Not only does she get her own story again, but she also gets a new romantic life, competing with Batman himself for the hearts of Gotham City’s ladies. To learn more about Batwoman and about the many other reading options for us lady lovers of comics check out Girl-Wonder.org, founded by Mary Borsellino. Borsellino says she wants her website to

stand like a watchdog. We’re working on forging contacts with media groups, so that the next time DC or Marvel try to do something [unnecessarily violent to a loved female character], they’ll have to consider that there’s this group of very noisy, very angry feminists watching their every move and hitting their speed-dial as they do it.

As Cochran writes for Bitch, “hopefully, Batwoman will be strong and capable enough to navigate the streets of Gotham City on her own. But it can’t hurt that there’s a legion of real-life Girl Wonders to watch her back. We’ve lost enough of our heroines already.”

Warning: Fundraiser Ad Alert!

A new desk from Target, a desk lamp from the basement, and two square feet of open space: A first year student’s college dorm? No, it’s the office over here at SAFER. But we’re using that space to coordinate a nation wide campaign to improve sexual assault policies on college campuses so that every student in every small, cramped dorm can feel safe and supported by their administration and fellow student body. Help us continue to do so (and perhaps invest in some file cabinets from Ikea) by donating to us today!

A Little Too Much ‘No Comment’ for my Comfort

So, did every one miss me terribly? I’m sure my disappearance was an emotional tax on all our readers but rest assured that I am, for the moment, back in action. I just returned from a long drive across the country and couldn’t be happier to be back where I belong: slumped in a seat in front of my computer screen instead of strapped to a seat in front of my steering wheel.

A couple days ago Pandagon posted and discussed a video by Mob Logic that highlighted the disturbing, perhaps even more disturbing in the fact that it is not very surprising, pattern that men are more likely to want to be interviewed at random and in public than women. No matter what the subject of the interview, Mob Logic found that women were likely to pass on being interviewed or to defer to the men that they were with.

This trend highlights the struggle women in our society have with silence. All our lives we are reminded that we are considered dumb until proven otherwise and that it shouldn’t matter because we are valued for our looks and not our brains, anyway. That women wouldn’t want to risk proving these assumptions correct by answer questions in front of a camera makes a lot of sense in this context.  It’s incredibly frustrating and gives me flashbacks to the day in middleschool when a boy called me a ‘prissy suck up’ for raising my hand too much in class. But it also has dangerous consequences in the context of sexual assault and rape. Too often women don’t speak out against the violence they or a friend have experienced because they fear no one will believe them, or no one will care, or that they will be blamed for what happened.Â

WARNING: Blatant April Appeal for Money Below

Don’t call the office on a Friday. No one will be there to answer the phone. Is it because we are taking a long weekend to fly our company jet down to our private island in the Pacific, margarita in the right hand, bundle of cash in the left? We wish! No one is in the office on Fridays because we can’t yet afford to hire our director full time. Donate to SAFER today and help us hire Margaret full time. Whatever money is left over will go towards a down payment on a jet plane or island. We promise to name the island after the biggest donor!

Getting Schooled: Things are better but we’ve still got work to do

Yesterday I had the pleasure of sitting in for a full day of class with my friend who is currently a first-year law student at American University. In her criminal law class they just happened to be covering the law of rape. And what I learned was sort of astounding. Statutes that protect women as something other than their husbands’ property are relatively new. As are statutes that protect victims of same-sex rape or sexual assault. And, of course, protection varies from state to state.

Yesterday, Abyss2hope linked to the article An Evolution of Law: Spousal Rape Recently Prosecutable from the Times Standard that will give you an idea of what I am talking about. It’s outrageous that it has taken so long to get to even this point, but at least things are, if very slowly, getting better.

An Opportunity to Take Action

Rebecca Feeley and Colin Thomas-Jensen wrote a report for Enough: The Project to End Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity that calls for the effort to end fighting in Congo to include action to combat the prevalence of sexual assault and rape.

Because rape is used as a weapon of war in Congo, bringing one of the most complex conflicts in the world to an end will ease the suffering of women and girls and, if sufficient resources are made available, enable women and girls to participate in the healing and reconstruction of their families, communities, and country.

Enough has a Take Action page with a list they call “five things you can do in fifteen minutes to help out” where you can learn about small things you can do to lend your support to their various projects. It always feels better to be even just a little proactive when inundated with so much negative news. Thanks to Melanie Weiss at Lilith Magazine for giving me the heads up on this great organization and website.

Violence, Women and Entertainment

This article from Women’s News discusses how the disturbing trend in horror movies of objectifying women before offing them in terribly violent ways has lately been taken to a troubling extreme in the form of films some call “torture porn.”
Despite using sexualized images of violence to advertise for the films, directors quoted in the article claim that their movies are actually feminist. Courtney Soloman, director of Captivity, “called his film “feminist” because the female victim overthrows her assailant in the end.”
Personally, it seems to me that if a movie’s entertainment value hinges on an hour and a half portrayal of the torture and sexual assault of a female victim, it doesn’t matter how it ends. The movie isn’t about the woman suffering through the traumatic experience; it is about reveling in the trauma itself. While I don’t believe in censorship, I do think the last thing we need right now (as we fight for comprehensive anti-sexual assault policies on college campuses and argue with pundits writing for prominent news outlets about whether rape statistics are inflated or not) is a Hollywood that glamorizes violent acts against women and calls it feminist.

“Empowering Women is Not Just an End in Itself”

The Feminist Majority Foundation directed me to a powerful speech UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro presented to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on March 11th. In it she announces that UN efforts to halve the number of those living in extreme poverty around the world by the year 2015 are dependent on a renewed focus on increasing, worldwide, women’s roles in economic, social and political leadership.

Migiro emphasizes that one of the biggest obstacles in the way of women’s ability to take on positions of leadership is violence:

Violence against women is one of the most widespread and systematic violations of human rights, eroding women’s health, productivity and independence to the detriment of countries’ efforts to overcome poverty and foster inclusive development.

The speech itself is certainly not uplifting. But it is inspiring when women’s empowerment is emphasized as a necessary and significant component in the effort to improve the standard of living for everyone.