Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that Rewire would stand in the company of political blogs from The New York Times, CNBC, The New Yorker, and CBS News.
Yet here we are – selected out of thousands of entries yesterday as an “Official Honoree” in the political blog category (alongside the media outlets above) for the prestigious 12th Annual Webby Awards! We also congratulate our co-honorees.
Out of more than the 10,000 entries submitted from over 60 countries and 50 states, fewer than 15% received this honor and were deemed an Official Honoree. This is a tremendous honor and we’re thrilled to share it with you, our readers!
For us, the honor is particularly significant, as it distinguishes the high caliber writing of all of our contributors including our staff and freelance writers from around the world and our Leading Voices – respected leaders who write for us from the many and varied advocacy organizations in this country and around the world. These agencies include Advocates For Youth, SIECUS, The Guttmacher Institute, the International Women’s Health Coalition, PAI, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Choice USA, NARAL Pro-Choice America and more.
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But the recognition is also meaningful because, as you can see from the list of co-honorees, Rewire is the only media outlet that focuses solely on covering global reproductive and sexual health news and information.
We are honored to bring these issues into the broader political discourse and of course will continue to do so with your support and loyal readership.
Thank you for reading Rewire and being a part of our community. We couldn’t do it without you!
George Will is right. Throughout my life, my status as "survivor" has afforded me any number of privileges. For instance, the surgery that I needed a couple of years ago to fix the long-term consequences of the assault on my body was truly a privilege—it gave me the status of being temporarily unemployable.
Content note: This article contains a graphic description of sexual assault.
Recently, the Washington Post published a column called “Colleges Become the Victims of Progressivism” by well-known conservative George Will. Based on the headline, it would be reasonable to expect that Will was going to counter progressive assertions that ballooning administrative costs have caused the price tag of college to go up astronomically or that education inflation has devalued undergraduate degrees.
But Will did not address anything truly related to higher education. Instead, he spent the entire column railing against efforts to curb rape on college campuses. He claims that such efforts make “victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges,” are “excruciating” for colleges and universities, and as a result “victims proliferate.”
Like most publications of some repute, the Washington Post does not typically print opinion that is based on clearly fanciful representations of facts. For example, I highly doubt that they would publish a piece in which George Will opined that all extraterrestrial aliens should be required to wear pink in public. Even though that would be nothing more than an opinion, it is based on facts that are not in evidence: that extraterrestrial aliens walk among us and wear clothing.
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If you take away the guise of opinion, what you have in Will’s opening lines are propaganda statements that are absolutely contrary to the facts. For Will’s “opinion” to be worthy of printing, the Post had to believe that there is some truth in the following statements:
Women receive positive attention for being raped. Having a “coveted status that confers privilege” requires that someone else confer that status and those privileges. Someone must be giving the average survivor so much positive attention that we all want to have the label of survivor.
Women want to be raped. After all, anything that is both “coveted” and “confers privilege” is something that women must be dying to experience.
Rape is not the reason that rape “victims proliferate.”Will suggests that the reason we have high rape statistics on college is not because rapists rape—it’s because we have made being a rape victim something that is “coveted” and that “confers privileges.” In other words, the problem is not that rape happens. It is that progressives grant that women have the nerve to talk about it. And what will cure that pesky old rape problem is kicking those darn progressives out of university life.
Dealing with rape is so “excruciating” for colleges and universities that the pain of victims pales in comparison. Therefore, we must alleviate the suffering of college administrations even if that encourages rape and inflicts more pain on survivors.
Let’s be very clear about what happened here: Under the the guise of giving space to one man’s opinion, the Washington Post has told men that women want to be raped, that women get positive attention for it, and that the real problem is that women talk about it.
The Washington Post has just given young men permission, if not an incentive, to rape.
Will tries to support his amoral opinion by offering two pieces of evidence. The first are data that he willfully misinterprets. It must be a willful misinterpretation since I am fairly sure I could get a chimpanzee to understand why there might be a difference between rapes reported to campus security and what is reported to social scientists. But let me put it in the most simplistic terms I can: Police do not always file reports on rapes reported to them. And many women are afraid to even tell the police what happened to them because they know how horribly our justice system will treat them. So they are more likely to tell the truth in anonymous surveys than to the police.
Will’s other piece of evidence is a story of campus rape. He pulls selective quotes from transcripts and extrapolates that one story is representative of all date rape on college campuses. The smoking gun for him are the following facts: that the woman had a prior relationship with her rapist, that the woman was there of her own free will, and that she had engaged in foreplay with the man in question.
Since Will seems to think that one story can make a case, let me offer another story of a young woman in college who went to the house of a man she had known her whole life. In fact, they had grown up together. She went to this man’s house of her own free will, engaged in foreplay, took off her own clothing, and even agreed to engage in sex.
That excludes her from the category of a “legitimate” rape victim in Will’s eyes, does it not? And if she talks about it or files a complaint, she should be ignored, right? After all, she must be just looking to get that “coveted status” and the privilege that comes with it.
So here is the story: When I was 19, I decided to have sex with a man I had known my whole life. I went to his house in my favorite outfit—jeans and a trendy sweater. Under it were my favorite matching baby blue bra and panties. We made out on his sofa, and I followed willingly when he led me to his room.
By the time we got to his bed, I was naked from the waist up. I remember being ashamed of the tiny pooch of my belly, worrying that he would find an extra inch of flesh unacceptable. I shucked my own panties and jeans before I climbed into bed.
You will have to forgive me if I cannot offer a complete narrative of what happened after I entered the bed. I know how guys who excuse rape, like George Will, feel about women who pass out during sex—that they deserve whatever happens. So I know that some will mock me when I freely admit that between pain, shock, and blood-loss I lost consciousness several times.
The man who sexually assaulted me did it with such force that he tore my vagina from the opening through the cervix. I gushed blood, which he later licked up as if he were a vampire. He continued to pound me after he had torn me, banging my intestines for what felt like hours and spreading bacteria throughout my peritoneal cavity.
I drove myself to a friend’s house, and she took me to the hospital. By the time that I got there, I was in critical condition. I coded twice before they could get me stabilized. I saw the white light and had a near-death experience. Surgery and blood transfusions saved my life.
You’d think that with that kind of an injury, I’d definitely experience the status and privilege that George Will claims sexual assault victims are afforded. Everyone would believe my story, and no one would dare say that a woman who had been so brutalized wanted it or had it coming. Right?
But the police would not even file a report or record my statement. In so many words, they explained to me that no reasonable jury could believe that taking off my panties wasn’t a tacit agreement to having my vagina ripped and my intestines pounded and the exterior of my colon bathed in semen. As a single woman, I had entered the home of a single man, so it did not matter how much of his bedroom was bathed in my blood, or that there was a trail of it out of his door and in my car. I had engaged in foreplay with him, so whatever followed, even if it killed me, was fair game.
I’m sure the police’s decision to dismiss me without taking a report kept the crime statistics for our city and the campus at a minimum. This, I’m sure they thought, was for the best—since so many people knew about it, there was the risk of the story being picked up by the press. And it is more important to keep the reputation of a growing college healthy than to affirm that it is wrong to nearly kill a woman using your penis.
The “status” of being survivor was so overwhelming that I could barely breathe in the weeks following the sexual assault. I became so popular that everyone in our community knew and had an opinion as to whether I was a deserving slut or not. It was so much fun when women I barely knew asked me who had taken off my panties and used the answer to judge me as a lying whore. And without the “privilege” of having my intestines screwed, I am sure that I would never have married my ex-boyfriend a scant four months later just so that I could leave the area.
George Will is right. Throughout my life, my status as survivor has afforded me any number of privileges. For example, I had the privilege of having preterm labor and miscarriages because the assault compromised my cervix. I had the privilege of having my babies by cesarean section. And the surgery that I needed a couple of years ago to fix the long-term consequences of the assault on my body was truly a privilege—it gave me the status of being temporarily unemployable.
Who wouldn’t get in line for that?
There was also the privilege of having my attack brought into a custody hearing as evidence that I couldn’t possibly be stable. You see, the worse the assault, the less capable the survivor is of being a sane and judicious person.
And it was so helpful when I reported that a fellow teacher’s assistant was publicly rating the hotness of students in his classes. I was fortunate enough to have people in power who knew my history, so I was privileged to be informed that my history precluded me from seeing that a would-be professor needed to be given a pass for his early attempts at sexual harassment.
I cannot tell you how many jobs I’ve gotten thanks to my sexual assault; when I’ve needed to explain why I dropped out of college the first time, everyone has applauded me and shoved me to the front of the hiring line.
In truth, the times that I’ve lied, I’ve reeked of shame so badly that I’ve been forced to learn to tell my story even when it really, really hurts. It is because of the privilege of shame and fear that I have not applied for jobs because I knew someone in the administration knew about the sexual assault.
Contrary to Will’s assertions, I have never encountered a trigger warning in a college classroom, but I’m sure they must be present in some. I’m sure it must be a horrible inconvenience for a professor who has to insert a boilerplate line into a syllabus, and it must be annoying to read such a warning if you, as a student, have no such triggers. Surely that pain and annoyance outweighs the risk of a PTSD relapse for students who have been assaulted.
After all, an environmentally based disease like PTSD could not possibly require any accommodations. We should just tell survivors of wars, murder attempts, and rape to suck it up like the people who have to bounce their wheelchairs up and down steps. Oh, many buildings have ramps and other accessible features now, you say? But surely we shouldn’t offer comparable accommodations to people with mental illnesses, especially those caused by violence. I’m sure veteran’s groups would agree.
For more than a decade, I have been working or studying on college campuses. And I can say that, as George Will asserts, sexual assault victims who report being victimized get all sorts of privileges. They get special tutors who sit with them during tests. Their papers are practically written for them, and they barely have to show up to class.
Wait, sorry, those are athletes I’m thinking of.
I remember one class where we were discussing an issue related to sexual assault, and a woman was so rattled by the discussion that she confessed to having been the victim of a recent sexual assault. Let me tell you how many people lined up to escort her to a counselor, to make sure the assault was reported to campus police.
Nobody. That’s how many people did that.
But there must have been a huge payoff in the status she was afforded. Who doesn’t want to be known as a “crazy bomb” that could go off at any second?
Then there was the case of the sexual predator who worked in my high school. I remember that incident well since I was the one who finally reported his crimes, even though they had been going on for more than a decade. People in that community practically held a parade in honor of the bravery that the survivors showed in coming forward. And I cannot tell you how much my status improved as the person who ratted.
In reality, I have been humiliated, blamed, and faced with death threats.
A few years ago, I received a rape and death threat against my daughter so gruesome and personal that I have felt obligated to write under a pseudonym since.
The truth is that George Will is lying. There is no privilege or status granted to those who have been sexually assaulted. We are counted as liars or trouble-makers. We become the objects of gossip, attacks, and other people’s projected shame.
I am someone who has born witnessed to and been a victim of the kind of a sexual assault that Will tacitly condones. And without an ounce of sarcasm, I can say that it has given me “a coveted status that confers privileges”—so long as the status you covet is that of advocate, and the privilege you long for is to help others.
I can scarcely imagine what my life would be if I had not been sexually assaulted. I’m sure that I would not have been someone who gives other women and men a safe space to talk about their experiences of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. I probably would not have held the hands of women while they tentatively tried to tell someone in authority what happened to them. And as a result, it is unlikely that I would have had the opportunity to truly see and appreciate the resiliency and strength of my fellow survivors.
Most of all, being a survivor has given me the status of a person who gives a damn, and it has conferred on me the privilege of being a person who cannot ignore her conscience. I cannot stand by idly while people like George Will tell America that our real problem is that we are trying to make a safe place for women to talk about sexual assault, when I know that the real problem is that people like George Will have created a place in which sexual assault can happen.
Will lied, and with those lies he gave his tacit permission for college-aged men to rape. For this gross breach in the most basic rules of journalism, he deserves to be fired from any and all media-related jobs. And I, for one, will judge the ethics of media outlets by how they respond to his “opinion.”
The first time journalist, organizer, and Ms. magazine co-founder Gloria Steinem graced the podium at the National Press Club, it was as the first woman ever invited to do so. However many points one might give the club’s members for having chosen the country’s most famous feminist for that honor, some must be subtracted for their having handed her what was then the standard thank you gift to Press Club speakers: a man’s tie.
When Steinem took the podium on Monday, it was to mark her impending receipt of a far more welcome piece of neckwear: the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to be bestowed on her by President Barack Obama at the White House Wednesday. “There is no president in history from whose hand I would be more honored to receive this medal,” she said.
“I’d be crazy,” Steinem told the Press Club audience, “if I didn’t understand that this was a medal for the entire women’s movement. It belongs to Shirley Chisholm and Bella Abzug and Patsy Mink.”
She noted that President Lyndon B. Johnson declined to give Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger the medal because, Steinem said, “he feared reprisal from the Catholic church.”
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Before she was known as a leader of the movement then called, in the popular lexicon, “women’s lib,” Steinem was the glamorous “girl writer” who had gone undercover as a Playboy bunny in an investigation for Show magazine, and whose male colleagues at New York Magazine, which she helped found, told her, she said, “You write like a man.” (That was intended as a compliment.)
Steinem’s “a-ha moment,” the thing that spurred her to the world of activism, she said, was a reporting assignment to cover an “abortion speak-out,” a gathering where women who had had abortions, which were then illegal, told their stories.
“And then I had an epiphany, which was related to my own experience. … I realized that I had not told the truth about having [had] an abortion myself at 22, and why?” she asked the Press Club audience. “If one in three American women, approximately, has needed an abortion at sometime in her life, why not? What was secret about it? And then as soon as I started to speak about it … I discovered it was often part of other people’s experience, or their families’ experience.”
She went on to tell her oft-repeated story of sitting in the back of a taxi in Boston with Florynce Kennedy, the movement pioneer who was one of the first African-American women to graduate from the Columbia University School of Law. They were discussing Kennedy’s book, Abortion Rap (co-authored with Diane Schulder), when, according to Steinem, “the old, Irish woman taxi driver—very rare, probably, as a taxi driver—turned around to us, and she said: ‘Honey, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.’”
“A woman’s ability to decide whether or when to have a child is not a ‘social issue.’ It is a human right,” Steinem said. “It is the biggest indicator of whether she is educated or not, can work outside the home or not, is healthy or not, and how long she lives.”
The Perfect Messenger
In 1972, when Steinem, together with Patricia Carbine, Joanne Edgar, Nina Finkelstein, Mary Peacock, and Letty Cottin Pogrebin, founded Ms., television had just come of age. (Full disclosure: I worked at Ms. for three years during the 1980s.) With her big brain, quick wit, stylish good looks, journalism bona fides and ready laugh, Steinem was the perfect messenger for a movement so often maligned as humorless and sexless. Her one-liners are legendary: Asked why she hadn’t married, she said, “I can’t mate in captivity.” At a party thrown for a milestone birthday, she replied to a reporter who said she didn’t look her age: “This is what 40 looks like. We’ve been lying for so long, who would know?’
Taking questions after her remarks this week at the Press Club, Steinem was asked to name “a seminal moment” in her journey to feminism. “It would be an ovarian moment,” she quipped, before telling the story of covering the abortion speak-out.
One thing is certain: Whatever Steinem, with her rare combination of intelligence, talent, and riveting physical presence, had chosen to do with her life, she was destined for stardom. That she chose to use her gifts in the service of the feminism changed the lives of generations of women (mine among them), and continues to do so.
For if there was any overriding message of Steinem’s talk, it’s that there’s plenty of work to be done, and she’s all about doing it. (In 2005, for instance, she co-founded, with Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan, the Women’s Media Center, and she’s still constantly traveling, lecturing, and organizing.) And she expects you to be, too.
The Fierce Urgency of Now
In response to a question on the paucity of women’s history taught to school children, Steinem lamented the fact that textbooks skim over the history of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and the struggles and triumphs of Native Americans.
“[T]he textbooks of Texas are a pretty good example of eliminating the history of social justice movements, because Heaven forefend we learn how it was done before, we might … do it again,” Steinem said. “However, having said that, if you gave me a choice between knowing history and getting mad about the present, I would say, get mad about the present.”
“I didn’t walk around saying, ‘Thank you for the vote,’” she continued. “I don’t know about you—I got mad because of what was happening to me. And I don’t think gratitude ever radicalized anybody.”
As Steinem explained, there’s a lot happening to a lot of people right now that is not so good: a barrage of anti-choice laws, attacks on voting rights, and targeting of immigrants. And thanks to the redrawing of congressional and legislative districts by right-wing Republicans who wound up in control of a total of 25 state legislatures and 29 governors’ mansions in the anti-Obama backlash that characterized the 2010 mid-term elections, the 2014 elections promise to be tough for liberals.
Asked if the nation was “moving backwards” regarding reproductive rights, Steinem noted that while progress has been made in terms of public opinion, the nation is moving backwards on access to abortion, because of the action in the state houses. When the question is phrased to ask a respondent whether the government or the individual should decide whether to continue a pregnancy, Steinem said, a majority of Americans come down on the side of the individual.
“[A]s we can see, the anti-choice forces have not been too successful in Washington, so they have moved to state legislatures,” Steinem said. “Though they murdered abortion doctors and firebombed clinics, that has proven not to be as successful as what they’re doing now, which is getting state legislatures to make impossible-to-fulfill rules for local clinics. And the only way we can change this it to pay attention to our state legislatures.
“So, our response has to be organizing,” Steinem continued. “Most Americans don’t know who their state legislators are, and that’s why … an anti-choice right-wing minority is able to do this, state by state.”
Steinem sees the frenzy of state-level anti-choice legislation as a backlash to the demographic shifts taking place in the United States, ramping up the fears of a segment of the non-Hispanic white population that it will soon be in the minority. She explained, “I mean, they’re very clear. ‘White women are not having enough children,’ they say to me. It’s why the issues all go together: the anti-immigration, anti-birth control, anti-abortion, and so on. So we have to take back our state legislatures.”
Not Giving Up Her Torch
In her one-hour talk, Steinem addressed an array of issues yet unresolved, unrealized, or unappreciated: equal pay, the Equal Rights Amendment, the scourge of domestic violence, work-life balance, the underrepresentation of women as pundits and news sources, the untold wisdom of indigenous cultures on matters of fertility, and the control thereof. She spoke poignantly of accompanying her friend, Wilma Mankiller, the late chief of the Cherokee nation, to the White House to receive her own Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton in 1998. (When Steinem married David Bale in 2000, at age 66, it was Mankiller who performed the ceremony. Bale died of cancer three years later.)
Asked by National Press Club President Angela Greiling Keane if she’d ever “wanted to hang it up,” Steinem replied, “Well, where would I hang it?”
An audience member wanted to know what issue, over the course of her career, she wished she had “been more fired up about.”
“What I should have been more in an uproar about is monotheism and religion,” Steinem said. “I mean, religion is, too often, politics you’re not supposed to talk about. Spirituality is democratic and in each of us; it’s a different story. But institutionalized, monotheistic religion—if God looks like the ruling class, the ruling class is God, let’s face it.”
Inevitably, the feminist leader was asked to share her words of wisdom for young women. “My big, serious message is, don’t listen to me; listen to yourself. That’s the whole idea. The best thing I can do for young women, I think, is to listen to them, because you don’t know you have something to say until somebody listens to you.”
I can attest from personal experience that Steinem means what she says. When I was at Ms., she listened as intently to a young staffer who piped up in an editorial meeting as she did to anyone else. But she’s not in the business of anointing, even, as she said, “I’m trying to absorb the fact that I’ll be 80 next year.”
“You know, people often ask me, at this age, who am I passing the torch to? And I always say, first of all, that I’m not giving up my torch, thank you very much,” she said to appreciative laughter from the audience. “But also, I’m using my torch to light other people’s torches. Because the idea that there’s one torch-passer is part of the bonkers hierarchical idea—and if we each have a torch, there’s a lot more light.”