(VIDEO) So… About that Video

Heather Corinna

Heather critiques a sexuality education video from a national organization which, she argues, unnecessarily perpetuates negative stereotypes about both men and women.

I heard complaints about a video from SexReally/The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy at sex::tech from audience members at one of my own panels, a video I had not seen myself. Then I received an email the following morning with some of those complaints CC’d to me.  So, I had a conversation with Larry Swiader that day, in his role there as a representative of the NC, about the reactions the video got (which I did look at before our conversation, and was not a fan of myself).

This was a conversation where I was primarily trying to help support someone new in the field facing an intense swell of reactivity, however valid. I know how challenging working in sex education can be, especially when you’re new to it, and I also know how overwhelming it can be to face en-masse complaints about loaded topics, especially if you get caught off-guard. I like to try and be supportive of others in the field even when we may have ideological conflicts, particularly when I know we also have intersections in what we’re trying to achieve and who we’re trying to best serve. I have had private exchanges with the NC in the past about some of their content when they have asked for my opinion or endorsement, as well.

At the time, I felt like that conversation was all I needed to have, especially since a lot of the conversation was not actually about me or a need to voice my own feelings as it was about my trying to help mediate, inform and finesse the larger conversation. Suffice it to say, this one video is hardly the only place I have recently seen sexism, and there simply aren’t enough hours, enough coffee or enough environment for primal screaming for me to voice every single one of my objections to sexism every time I see it, everywhere I see it.

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However, some of what was said in this blog entry bothered me, especially given some parts of the conversation I had with Larry about it, and I felt the need to say something that wasn’t private.

From that blog entry:

During my presentation I spoke about our work on the SexReally.com website and showed a video that became a hot topic of conversation during and after the conference. The video shows guys hanging out “in their natural environment” talking about sex. Later in the video, we cut to one of their girlfriends who says that it might not be so bad if she got pregnant and that her boyfriend would make a good father. Cut back to him and he’s talking about ogling some unknown woman (not his girlfriend) and we can conclude that he might not be as ready as she thinks. The point? Be careful, have a plan, make sure your partner’s plan is compatible with yours, and use contraception until you are both really ready.

The video was criticized for perpetuating stereotypes of men and women.

…I think that our audience understands that the depictions of men and women in the video are caricatures in which there are fragments of truth in order to be funny and provoke reflection. Do all guys talk like that? Of course not. Do some? I’m sure they do and often it’s meaningless, relatively harmless posturing. The point is to think about the decision of having a child, and your relationship, carefully.

This video is one of many that we’ve created and will create. We are trying to use a wide range of techniques to engage a broad spectrum of people in this messy, personal issue. Some things won’t work, or won’t work for some audiences. We can’t let that deter us.

…

I invite our readers, critics, and fans to work with us in this process. Do you have a great feminist comedian to recommend? Do you have an idea about another take on the “guys” video? We are all ears. Work with us.

If you’re saying you can’t let objections deter you in the messages you send or the ways you choose to send them, not even from many smart and experienced colleagues in the field, yet are asking for cooperation from others, you seem to be sending a mixed message.

I also don’t think it’s sound to present objections from the Abstinence Clearinghouse about the NC participating in a general sex education conference as the same as objections from a diverse collective of sex educators — not all who identify as feminist, a sweeping assumption as well as an exclusion — about gender stereotyping. Especially if one is presenting oneself or one’s organization as being about actual sex education, something the Abstinence Clearinghouse is likely to have a problem with no matter what you do, unless the sex education you give is “Just say no.” We’ve got a very broad and long-running consensus in sex education and public health that gender bias is a very serious problem and a very big barrier to effective sex education messaging and public health. That’s not an issue only feminists or feminist sex educators and health workers have, not by a serious long shot. For example, there is a very substantial history of conversation about that issue in HIV/AIDS work among men.

I’m also sure we don’t need a “feminist comedian” to do humor that isn’t misandrist or misogynist.

Over the many years I’ve worked in sexuality and sexual health, I’ve seen humor used often by people of all genders — and used it often myself — which didn’t come from either a feminist viewpoint or a “feminist comedian” but which also wasn’t misandrist, misogynist or enabling or reinforcing gender stereotypes or culturally constructed divides.

To be clear, and as I explained in the conversation Larry and I had, this video is being presented by some as misogynist primarily because a) it presents the woman in the video as clueless and stupid, b) it suggests she’s effectively responsible for contraception because “guys are assholes” and it makes something that is about men somehow about women’s responsibilties (are we their mommies?), and c) it also left, in the lone text of the video, a seemingly clear message that while one wouldn’t want to reproduce with “assholes” there’s no reason to stop having sex with them, which does tend to come off sounding like the NC thinks men are entitled to sex from women, even the men the NC thinks are horrifying.

That text, for the record, is “Guys are a@#$%^&. Be Safe. Every time.” I did double-check and ask if that message was intended for men who sleep with men, to be sure no one was leaping to any wild conclusions. I was assured that was not to whom the text was directed.

I haven’t heard as much conversation about it being misandrist (though the Sexademic did talk about it here very well), but that’s my own larger concern. That concern is part and parcel of my views as a feminist because what I want from feminism is gender equity: that means people of all genders being treated with care and respect, not just women or not-men.

Misandry is the male-directed version of misogyny: it’s contempt of men and boys, like misogyny is contempt of women and girls. And like misogyny, one doesn’t have to be of a different or opposite gender or sex to be misandrist. There are and can be misandrist men just like there are and can be misogynist women. Often misandrist men and misogynist women frame themselves as “better than” all other people of their gender, or try and suggest most of their gender, but not them, suck in some way so as to position themselves as superior, often for personal gain or as a way to hide their own crummy behavior.

“Men are assholes” is a strongly misandrist statement, much like statements like “men are pigs” or “men are dogs” are; just like statements like “Women are bitches” or “Women are golddiggers” are misogynist. (Of course, if you think men are such idiots, why is the message you’re giving to women to use contraception rather than not to get in bed with them at all? I digress.)

Presenting the way the guys in this video were behaving as something unilateral to all men — which is what you do when you follow it with a statement that says “men are…” rather than “these men are…” — is misandrist. I’d go a step further and say that presenting the challenges many men have in their relationships with other men as somehow being about women or something women need to manage for or around them is misandrist. Suggesting that men saying immature or silly things about sex to each other tells us something about their character is potentially misandrist, especially if you’re suggesting there aren’t groups of women who do the exact same thing (and there are). Suggesting that an over-the-top script written expressly for an organization to make their own point from their own agenda was “men in their natural environment” isn’t misandrist, but it seems disingenuous (as is suggesting the National Campaign is somehow without an ideology of any kind: all organizations have ideologies, it’s inescapable, even if they aren’t clearly stated).

I didn’t keep from laughing while watching this because I was offended by the men, I didn’t laugh because it just wasn’t funny, in the way a totally non-offensive but flat joke isn’t funny. “Why did the chicken cross the road?” isn’t a knee-slapper, but not because it is offensive to chickens or roads. It’s not funny because it’s punch line just doesn’t deliver. Same goes here.

I was offended, just not (for the most part) by the conversation the men in the video were having. I was offended by the makers of the video. Offended by assumptions I ought to BE offended by the men in the first place, and assumptions I needed them to tell me about how some men talk to each other about sex sometimes because I’m a moron. I was offended by the message that I needed a video like this to tell me about men, that the makers of the message thought showing us this conversation was doing us some kind of public service, and/or felt that a woman could glean less from her own sexual and interpersonal relationship with a man than she could from how he talked trash with his friends while drinking. I was offended by the way it presented men and women, as well as relationship and family planning choices, as a whole.

I also have got to ask: why should we as outsiders, including those of us who are women who may or do partner with men, be so offended if and when men say silly or juvenile stuff about sex when they’re hanging out alone together, anyway?

I’ve had to watch this video so many more times than I wanted to to be sure of this, but having done that, I must ask why these men ARE assholes. I didn’t walk away thinking they were. I walked away thinking whoever came up with, made and distributed the video was.

In listening to their statements, I heard the men in the video say things like that they like holding breasts, they like putting testicles on a sex partner’s face, that they are wondering what qualifies as a threesome (particularly since they have but one penis), that tight jeans make them think of yeast infections (me too!), and that they might consider giving another man head. I could only find one statement in the whole conversation that WAS, itself, misogynist and seriously creepy, which was the rape-enabling statement “Phil” made that if “she’s going to dress like that, who isn’t going to lift that up.” One statement. So, I guess I’ll give you that that one guy may well be an asshole.

There are some others issues of course, which fall a bit outside the misandry/misogyny issues, such as the suggestion that people can’t find others sexually attractive or of interest who are not their sexual partners and still be good partners or parents, something we know just isn’t true, especially since most people will always tend to be sexually attracted to more than one person n the world. Of course, this is an issue I think we can agree is more often made as a criticism of men than women, even though a large part of why has to do with unfounded cultural presumptions about women being inherently less sexual than men.

As I said to Larry in the conversation we had about it at sex::tech, I actually think there was a potentially good take on the primary content of this video that was missed or overlooked by the NC.

The video presented itself as being centrally about the relationship between one of the men and his girlfriend, even though that’s not the relationship we saw in it. It also suggested the male behavior was authentic between the men, but that the girlfriend was the one being snowed, when in reality, it’s more likely the men being dishonest with each other. Anyone at all who works in gender studies focused on men, or who does sexuality work with male groups is acutely aware of this issue and these kinds of dynamics. Why make something so clearly about men about women and what you think women need to do regarding contraception at all? How does what was presented in that video have anything to do with contraception? Why send the only message of responsibility in the video to women?

Why not use what you filmed/wrote with the men as an opportunity, for instance, to talk about why some men find it so hard to communicate honestly and without posturing about sex together? Why not open conversation on what all of us can do collectively and culturally to help men feel more able to be honest with each other and to posture less? Why not talk about what individuals and culture can do that they may not even realize is highly unsupportive of men talking about sex candidly and with more maturity?

Why not use a video like that — sans the girlfriend and the text pointed to women — to address that if men could learn how to communicate better with each other about sex and sexuality, it’d probably improve everyone’s sexual relationships, individual sexualities and their same-gender friendships? Why not use a video like that to elicit conversation about the ideas any of us may have about ways we feel are and are not acceptable or respectable to talk about sex, including any double-standards we may have or hold about if it’s acceptable for one gender but not the other? If that kind of conversation between men makes people uncomfortable, why not talk about why?

For that matter, if any organization or group — especially once where it is or may be men making these messages in the first place — thinks men as a whole are assholes strongly enough to make a PSA stating such, why not talk about where that feeling comes from, how to deal with it, and engage the men you think are being assholes? If it’s self-hating or self-loathing, why not unpack that, especially given how many men could probably benefit from unpacking that?

Just like the awful flaw of rape-prevention messaging only given to actual or potential victims, saying nothing to the rapists doing the raping, if someone thinks women need to protect ourselves because men really are assholes, wouldn’t all of us, of all genders, benefit most — and wouldn’t it also be a lot less patronizing — by at least attempting to address those men, not the people someone feels they might harm?

In case it isn’t obvious, I don’t think men are assholes. I also don’t think it’s sound to make my reproductive choices, alone or with someone else, based on something as trite as a round of silly talk with friends about sex, or on if a potential co-parent thinks someone else is hot. Too, we should all try not to malign the poor, defenseless anus quite so much. I grew up in Chicago with an Italian father, so letting go of “asshole” is no mean feat for me, either: “I love you, you big asshole,” is a common, albeit somewhat deranged, longtime term of endearment between myself and my Dad. I’m getting off-point, my apologies.

I think everyone can be an asshole. But I don’t think that’s about gender: my personal experience is that it’s very equal opportunity.

At the same time, I recognize that people, on the whole, often have a lot of growing to do, and that growth around and in sexuality and sex is an area where our collective, group or individual deficits can tend to show themselves often. I’m ell aware that there are some shared issues many men have, some shared issues many women have, and some shared issues many people of all genders have around sexuality that could stand some working out.

I haven’t met a single one of these issues that is universal to every member of those groups, mind, but I don’t think we have to avoid talking about some of the issues we may have found or find among those groups. I think it’s important we do talk about them, just that we talk about them with some measure of fairness, sensitivity and compassion, and that who we’re talking about them to is the appropriate party to address. If we don’t do all of that, I don’t see how we can earnestly improve anything, especially when some of what we’re criticizing is an inability to talk about sex with maturity and care. While we may all excel at that effort but fail at execution sometimes, if we don’t at least try to do all of that as best we can, I think we know who the asshole is.

P.S. I’ve used the term “asshole” here more than I’d have liked, more often than I even use it when giving prostate education, which is seriously saying something. It’s tough to respond to ugly sentiments without both restating them and also trying to turn them on their head a bit.

News Health Systems

Complaint: Citing Catholic Rules, Doctor Turns Away Bleeding Woman With Dislodged IUD

Amy Littlefield

“It felt heartbreaking,” said Melanie Jones. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

Melanie Jones arrived for her doctor’s appointment bleeding and in pain. Jones, 28, who lives in the Chicago area, had slipped in her bathroom, and suspected the fall had dislodged her copper intrauterine device (IUD).

Her doctor confirmed the IUD was dislodged and had to be removed. But the doctor said she would be unable to remove the IUD, citing Catholic restrictions followed by Mercy Hospital and Medical Center and providers within its system.

“I think my first feeling was shock,” Jones told Rewire in an interview. “I thought that eventually they were going to recognize that my health was the top priority.”

The doctor left Jones to confer with colleagues, before returning to confirm that her “hands [were] tied,” according to two complaints filed by the ACLU of Illinois. Not only could she not help her, the doctor said, but no one in Jones’ health insurance network could remove the IUD, because all of them followed similar restrictions. Mercy, like many Catholic providers, follows directives issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that restrict access to an array of services, including abortion care, tubal ligations, and contraception.

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Some Catholic providers may get around the rules by purporting to prescribe hormonal contraception for acne or heavy periods, rather than for birth control, but in the case of copper IUDs, there is no such pretext available.

“She told Ms. Jones that that process [of switching networks] would take her a month, and that she should feel fortunate because sometimes switching networks takes up to six months or even a year,” the ACLU of Illinois wrote in a pair of complaints filed in late June.

Jones hadn’t even realized her health-care network was Catholic.

Mercy has about nine off-site locations in the Chicago area, including the Dearborn Station office Jones visited, said Eric Rhodes, senior vice president of administrative and professional services. It is part of Trinity Health, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country.

The ACLU and ACLU of Michigan sued Trinity last year for its “repeated and systematic failure to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law.” The lawsuit was dismissed but the ACLU has asked for reconsideration.

In a written statement to Rewire, Mercy said, “Generally, our protocol in caring for a woman with a dislodged or troublesome IUD is to offer to remove it.”

Rhodes said Mercy was reviewing its education process on Catholic directives for physicians and residents.

“That act [of removing an IUD] in itself does not violate the directives,” Marty Folan, Mercy’s director of mission integration, told Rewire.

The number of acute care hospitals that are Catholic owned or affiliated has grown by 22 percent over the past 15 years, according to MergerWatch, with one in every six acute care hospital beds now in a Catholic owned or affiliated facility. Women in such hospitals have been turned away while miscarrying and denied tubal ligations.

“We think that people should be aware that they may face limitations on the kind of care they can receive when they go to the doctor based on religious restrictions,” said Lorie Chaiten, director of the women’s and reproductive rights project of the ACLU of Illinois, in a phone interview with Rewire. “It’s really important that the public understand that this is going on and it is going on in a widespread fashion so that people can take whatever steps they need to do to protect themselves.”

Jones left her doctor’s office, still in pain and bleeding. Her options were limited. She couldn’t afford a $1,000 trip to the emergency room, and an urgent care facility was out of the question since her Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois insurance policy would only cover treatment within her network—and she had just been told that her entire network followed Catholic restrictions.

Jones, on the advice of a friend, contacted the ACLU of Illinois. Attorneys there advised Jones to call her insurance company and demand they expedite her network change. After five hours of phone calls, Jones was able to see a doctor who removed her IUD, five days after her initial appointment and almost two weeks after she fell in the bathroom.

Before the IUD was removed, Jones suffered from cramps she compared to those she felt after the IUD was first placed, severe enough that she medicated herself to cope with the pain.

She experienced another feeling after being turned away: stigma.

“It felt heartbreaking,” Jones told Rewire. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

The ACLU of Illinois has filed two complaints in Jones’ case: one before the Illinois Department of Human Rights and another with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights under the anti-discrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act. Chaiten said it’s clear Jones was discriminated against because of her gender.

“We don’t know what Mercy’s policies are, but I would find it hard to believe that if there were a man who was suffering complications from a vasectomy and came to the emergency room, that they would turn him away,” Chaiten said. “This the equivalent of that, right, this is a woman who had an IUD, and because they couldn’t pretend the purpose of the IUD was something other than pregnancy prevention, they told her, ‘We can’t help you.’”

Commentary Sexuality

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday Must Become an Annual Observance

Raquel Willis

As long as trans people—many of them Black trans women—continue to be murdered, there will be a need to commemorate their lives, work to prevent more deaths, and uplift Black trans activism.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

This week marks one year since Black transgender activists in the United States organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday. Held on Tuesday, August 25, the national day of action publicized Black trans experiences and memorialized 18 trans women, predominantly trans women of color, who had been murdered by this time last year.

In conjunction with the Black Lives Matter network, the effort built upon an earlier Trans Liberation Tuesday observance created by Bay Area organizations TGI Justice Project and Taja’s Coalition to recognize the fatal stabbing of 36-year-old trans Latina woman Taja DeJesus in February 2015.

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday should become an annual observance because transphobic violence and discrimination aren’t going to dissipate with one-off occurrences. I propose that Black Trans Liberation Tuesday fall on the fourth Tuesday of August to coincide with the first observance and also the August 24 birthday of the late Black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson.

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There is a continuing need to pay specific attention to Black transgender issues, and the larger Black community must be pushed to stand in solidarity with us. Last year, Black trans activists, the Black Lives Matter network, and GetEQUAL collaborated on a blueprint of what collective support looks like, discussions that led to Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“Patrisse Cullors [a co-founder of Black Lives Matter] had been in talks on ways to support Black trans women who had been organizing around various murders,” said Black Lives Matter Organizing Coordinator Elle Hearns of Washington, D.C. “At that time, Black trans folks had been experiencing erasure from the movement and a lack of support from cis people that we’d been in solidarity with who hadn’t reciprocated that support.”

This erasure speaks to a long history of Black LGBTQ activism going underrecognized in both the civil rights and early LGBTQ liberation movements. Many civil rights leaders bought into the idea that influential Black gay activist Bayard Rustin was unfit to be a leader simply because he had relationships with men, though he organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Johnson, who is often credited with kicking off the 1969 Stonewall riots with other trans and gender-nonconforming people of color, fought tirelessly for LGBTQ rights. She and other trans activists of color lived in poverty and danger (Johnson was found dead under suspicious circumstances in July 1992), while the white mainstream gay elite were able to demand acceptance from society. Just last year, Stonewall, a movie chronicling the riots, was released with a whitewashed retelling that centered a white, cisgender gay male protagonist.

The Black Lives Matter network has made an intentional effort to avoid the pitfalls of those earlier movements.

“Our movement has been intersectional in ways that help all people gain liberation whether they see it or not. It became a major element of the network vision and how it was seeing itself in the Black liberation movement,” Hearns said. “There was no way to discuss police brutality without discussing structural violence affecting Black lives, in general”—and that includes Black trans lives.

Despite a greater mainstream visibility for LGBTQ issues in general, Black LGBTQ issues have not taken the forefront in Black freedom struggles. When a Black cisgender heterosexual man is killed, his name trends on social media feeds and is in the headlines, but Black trans women don’t see the same importance placed on their lives.

According to a 2015 report by the Anti-Violence Project, a group dedicated to ending anti-LGBTQ and HIV-affected community violence, trans women of color account for 54 percent of all anti-LGBTQ homicides. Despite increased awareness, with at least 20 transgender people murdered since the beginning of this year, it seems things haven’t really changed at all since Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“There are many issues at hand when talking about Black trans issues, particularly in the South. There’s a lack of infrastructure and support in the nonprofit sector, but also within health care and other systems. Staffs at LGBTQ organizations are underfunded when it comes to explicitly reaching the trans community,” said Micky Bradford, the Atlanta-based regional organizer for TLC@SONG. “The space between towns can harbor isolation from each other, making it more difficult to build up community organizing, coalitions, and culture.”

The marginalization that Black trans people face comes from both the broader society and the Black community. Fighting white supremacy is a full-time job, and some activists within the Black Lives Matter movement see homophobia and transphobia as muddying the fight for Black liberation.

“I think we have a very special relationship with gender and gender violence to all Black people,” said Aaryn Lang, a New York City-based Black trans activist. “There’s a special type of trauma that Black people inflict on Black trans people because of how strict the box of gender and space of gender expression has been to move in for Black people. In the future of the movement, I see more people trusting that trans folks have a vision that’s as diverse as blackness is.”

But even within that diversity, Black trans people are often overlooked in movement spaces due to anti-Blackness in mainstream LGBTQ circles and transphobia in Black circles. Further, many Black trans people aren’t in the position to put energy into movement work because they are simply trying to survive and find basic resources. This can create a disconnect between various sections of the Black trans community.

Janetta Johnson, executive director of TGI Justice Project in San Francisco, thinks the solution is twofold: increased Black trans involvement and leadership in activism spaces, and more facilitated conversations between Black cis and trans people.

“I think a certain part of the transgender community kind of blocks all of this stuff out. We are saying we need you to come through this process and see how we can create strength in numbers. We need to bring in other trans people not involved in the movement,” she said. “We need to create a space where we can share views and strategies and experiences.”

Those conversations must be an ongoing process until the killings of Black trans women like Rae’Lynn Thomas, Dee Whigham, and Skye Mockabee stop.

“As we commemorate this year, we remember who and why we organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday last year. It’s important we realize that Black trans lives are still being affected in ways that everyday people don’t realize,” Hearns said. “We must understand why movements exist and why people take extreme action to continuously interrupt the system that will gladly forget them.”

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