Professor Challenges Audience to Think Beyond Pink Ribbons

On Monday, GVSU professor Julia Mason delivered a lecture at Aquinas College titled “More Than a Cure: Examining Breast Health, Cause Related Advertising and the Environment.” In her lecture, Mason provided an interesting critique of breast cancer awareness campaigns and how they can distract the public from the causes of breast cancer.

The Aquinas College Women’s Studies Center hosted a presentation by GVSU Professor Julia Mason titled More Than a Cure: Examining Breast Health, Cause Related Advertising and the Environment. She provided an interesting critique of the proliferation of the use of pink ribbons and how it actually can distract the public from really thinking about what causes breast cancer.

Professor Mason began by talking about some of the basic realities in regards to breast cancer. About 2 million women in US are living with breast cancer and in 2006, breast cancer accounted for 1 out of 3 cancer diagnosis in women. Men can also develop breast cancer but that accounts for only about 1% of all people diagnosed with the disease. She also touched on the fact that there are cultural and social factors in the public understanding of breast cancer. Western medical traditions are rooted in male dominated ideology, so our understanding of breast cancer has historically been distorted.

The growth of consciousness-raising led some women to produce the resource Our Bodies, Our Selves. Women became their own health advocates, by talking with each other about their bodies and their sexuality. During the 1970s, breast cancer activists didn’t have a focused political agenda according to Professor Mason, but they did change the conversation about breast cancer. She mentions that environmental research pioneer Rachel Carson had breast cancer, but didn’t want to address it for fear that her research would be discredited. Mastectomies often happened without consultation between doctors and their female patients.

During the 1990s breast cancer activism finally became politicized and went mainstream. October is now breast cancer awareness month, with the pink ribbon as the main symbol. The pink ribbon, according to Professor Mason, has social significance, but the pink ribbon has also evolved with a broader meaning. The Pink ribbon “product” has promoted the notion of “shopping as activism instead of social change.” People just buy stuff with a pink ribbon on it and think it is making a difference.

At this point the presenter examined the media’s role around representation of breast cancer and what she called “consumer activism.” Breast cancer advertising is prolific, with many products displaying the Pink Ribbon on their packaging. Several large corporations are even spending lots of money to associate themselves with the “benign” social message of breast cancer. Professor Mason looked at two ad campaigns in particular; Avon and the Ford Motor Company.

Avon ads have raised $450 million for “breast cancer awareness,” but the speaker pointed out that what consumers need to is “look at what is being sold, especially what the environmental impact of the product is.” This commercialization of breast cancer puts its emphasis on a cure, but not prevention. “The largest drug companies who make cures also make carcinogenic products, which cause cancer.” Professor Mason referred to this phenomenon as Pink-washing, where companies distract the public from thinking about the causes of breast cancer to the feel good detection aspect. Pink-Washing is very similar to Green-washing, where corporations try to present themselves has environmentally friendly.

The Ford Motor Company campaign is called “Ford Cares.” They have created “Warriors of the Pink Scarf” with celebrities wearing this pink scarf. The messages are focused on personal health and personal detection. Ford also promotes Race for the Cure, but Professor Mason pointed out that chemicals in combustion may lead to breast cancer. Ford has donated around $87 million, but much of that amount has been on ads promoting the company’s role in breast cancer awareness.

What Professor Mason was demonstrating was that there needs to be an emphasis on prevention with breast cancer, the public cannot assume that because a package has a pink ribbon on it that it is for a “good cause,” and that people need to scrutinize the corporate roll in this issue. “Pink ribbons might cause us to become complacent and individualistic. We need to move beyond corporate sponsorship of breast cancer.” She encouraged people to investigate this issue on their own and suggested the Think Before You Pink campaign as well as support for the Sister Study.

Iraqi and US Women Suffer from Iraq War according to Recent Studies

Both women in Iraq and female soldiers serving in the United States military in Iraq are suffering from the occupation in unique ways, with both groups being targeted for violence under sysems of patriarchy.

Two recent studies have found that both Iraqi women and female soldiers within the United States military are suffering under the patriarchal structures of post-invasion Iraqi society and the United States military. A report released last week by the international women’s rights group MADRE titled “Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy: Gender-based Violence and the US War on Iraq” found that women in Iraq are targeted for violence from both Iraqi Islamists and the United States military. Helen Benedict, a professor at Colombia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, is currently working on a book about women veterans of the Iraq War and recently published a piece titled “The Private War of Women Soldiers” that examines how female soldiers in Iraq live under the constant threat of violence from their male comrades in the military. The perspective of both groups of women–Iraqi women and female soldiers–has been largely excluded from the debate about Iraq in the corporate press or in the government–just as women have frequently been systematically marginalized and oppressed under the system of patriarchy.

The MADRE report explains that from the start of the United States’ occupation of Iraq in spring of 2003, women have been violently targeted by Islamists–defined by MADRE as those who pursue a reactionary social and political agenda in the name of Islam–who are seeking to establish a theocracy in Iraq. This phenomenon has been largely ignored by the corporate media, the United Nations, and human rights organizations, as few examinations of civilian casualties in Iraq have aggregated data by sex. This omission has ignored the fact that women are attacked not only because they are civilians but because they are women, whom Islamists view as second-class citizens and as threats to their own power, as is shown by the killing of targeted killing of women with political power. Moreover, women are seen by many militias as “carriers of group identity” and have been targeted for the role that they play in maintaining communities.

Violence against women in Iraq has taken many forms according to the report. The framework for the violence has been given by the occupation and the United States’ support of Islamist political parties, as well as the United States’ refusal to codify legal protections for women in Iraqi law. There has been a concerted legal attack on the rights of women have been restricted beginning at the start of the occupation, when the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) replacing Iraq’s family law with one that allows discrimination and L. Paul Bremer’s refusal to consider the demands of Iraqi women for equal rights. This has continued with Iraq’s constitution, which legalizes violence against women by making numerous provisions that allow legal matters to be decided on the basis of religion. In addition to the legal attack on women, Islamists have used violence to impose theocracy by intimidating and killing women to force them into subservient roles with little opportunity for political participation. Much of this violence has been perpetrated by death squads backed by the United States who have turned their resources not only against militias hostile to the United States but also women whom they see as an obstacle to establishing their theocracy. At the same time, honor killings have increased</a. due both to the influence gained by Islamist political parties and a governmental system that allows disputes to be handled in "religious courts." Women have also experienced violence when detained by United States, British, and Iraqi forces, a form of systemic violence that is quite common under an occupation that is essentially run through a system of collective punishment. Women are frequently detained without due process, threatened with rape, raped, harassed, assaulted, or tortured.

The report assigns responsibility for this violence to a number of different conditions, while arguing specifically that the United States has failed to take the problem seriously. MADRE argues that since 2003 when a wave of kidnappings, abductions, public beatings, death threats, sexual assaults, and killings targeting women took place by Islamists, the United States has chosen to ignore the problem and instead has made political alliances with those committing the violence. Despite obligations under international law as an occupying power, the United States has failed to make a commitment to protecting women’s rights in Iraq. Instead, the United States has based its approach on flawed understandings of Islam that has viewed violence against women as at worst a “cultural” phenomenon or a “private” matter. This has ignored the reality that in many cases, women are targeted for political reasons. Despite this, the United States continues to provide financial and military support to the Iraqi government, which has in turn formed various alliances with groups such as the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army who have committed a campaign of terror against women using weapons, training, and money from the United States. It is also important to understand that violence against women in Iraq is not a distinct phenomenon from the larger civil war, but that the treatment of women and the sectarian violence are intertwined. This is perhaps most clear in Articles 39 and 41 of the Iraqi constitution, which codify gender discrimination by establishing separate laws on the basis of sex and religious affiliation.

Just as there has been little exploration of the way in which Iraqi women have been affected by the occupation, there has been little exploration of the conditions facing female soldiers serving in the United States military. As is the case with the treatment of Iraqi women, this may have something to do with the fact that comprehensive statistics on the experiences of female soldiers in the war have not been collected. Nevertheless, what has come out publicly indicates that the situation in Iraq for female soldiers is very dangerous. Journalist Helen Benedict writes that the situation is so bad that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2004 ordered a task force to investigate the situation and in 2005 published guidelines defining and prohibiting sexual assault in the military. While a few cases, such as that of Air Force cadet Beth Davis or Army Specialist Suzanne Swift have received occasional attention by the corporate media or the antiwar movement, the everyday experience of serving in the military under patriarchy has been ignored. Benedict has reported that women frequently arm themselves and live in constant fear of rape on military bases in Iraq and that on some bases women stop drinking water at 4:00pm each day because they are afraid to go to the bathrooms at night. At least three women soldiers have died of dehydration due to this practice.

160,500 women soldiers have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, with 1 in 7 soldiers being women (15%). More women have been killed and wounded in Iraq (71 and 450 respectively) than in the Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf wars combined. Despite this, the military has not recognized the contributions of women as equals and has instead persisted in viewing women as objects that exist for the satisfaction of men. Historically, women have never been well treated in the military and the military has always upheld the system of patriarchy by institutionalizing , normalizing, and ignoring sexual aggression in the military (while also using sexual aggression and violence as a weapon of war). A 2003 survey of women serving in Vietnam through the Gulf War found that 30% of women were raped in the military. A 2004 study of female veterans seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder from Vietnam on found that 71% of women said they were sexually assaulted or raped while in the military. A 1992-1993 study found that a staggering 90% of women reported being sexually harassed in the military. Much of this goes on unreported in the military as it is difficult to report harassment, assaults, and rapes in the closed and hierarchical military, especially when many of those attacking and oppressing women are in leadership roles or ignore the issue, providing the silent consent that is so often necessary for systems of oppression to continue to function.

One point not touched on by Benedict is the sexual assault and harassment faced by female recruits and potential enlistees who are often preyed on by military recruiters. A study last year found that more than 80 military recruiters had been disciplined for “sexual misconduct” in the past year. The study defined “sexual misconduct” as anything ranging from paperwork errors to rape and found 1 out of every 200 recruiters was disciplined for sexual misconduct. The study reported that female recruits, often between 16 and 18, are assaulted by recruiters in government cars and at recruiting centers after meeting the recruiters at malls or in their high schools. As is the case with assaults inside of the military, assaults are not always reported and must be evaluated within the context of a system that rewards misogyny and awards power to those higher up in the military’s hierarchy, making it difficult for female recruiters to both say “no” or to report crimes once they occur. Moreover, the military’s code of justice sets the age of consent at 16, making it possible for recruiters to attempt to prove that sex was consensual and thereby getting only a reprimand rather than a more serious punishment. This is the most common punishment, with most recruiters being disciplined administratively by receiving a reduction in rank or forfeiture of pay.

While it is easy to get lost amidst the staggering statistics that come out of Iraq–655,000 civilians killed, 500,000 children killed due to the United States’ sanctions, 3 million Iraqis forcibly displaced since the invasion–it is important to remember that women–both Iraqi and soldiers in the United States military–have experienced the horrors of war in unique ways. A focus on the ways in which women have been affected by the war can both enhance the movement’s understanding of the reality of occupation as well as provide a starting point from which the movement can begin to takes its understanding of the war to the next level by realizing the interlocking ways in which systems of oppression such as war and patriarchy are connected.

PETA Highlights Treatment of Chickens at Protest

Three activists with PETA visited Grand Rapids to “strip naked” as part of PETA’s coordinated effort to hold nude or bikini-clad protests around the country to raise awareness about KFC’s treatment of chickens served at is restaurant. However, as is frequently the case with PETA events, the treatment of chickens was minimized by PETA’s questionable tactics.

On Friday, three activists with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) held a protest at the Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) restaurant located at 945 Michigan NE in Grand Rapids. The PETA members, all of whom were women, wore nothing other than two banners that read “KFC Tortures Chicks” on the front and “Turn Your Back on KFC Cruelty” on the back. The protestors, who have staged similar events around the country as part of a coordinated effort by PETA members to hold either nude or bikini-clad protests, designed to increase awareness about Kentucky Fried Chicken’s treatment of chickens and PETA’s ongoing campaign to challenge the restaurant. The women were joined by two additional protests during the twenty minutes that Media Mouse observed the protest.

PETA’s Kentucky Fried Cruelty campaign was launched after two years of PETA attempting to work with KFC to improve the conditions under which the 850 million chickens slaughtered by the restaurant each year are raised. While other competitors such as Burger King and McDonald’s have made progress on animal welfare issues following PETA campaigns, KFC has refused to make substantive improvements and has attempted to mislead the public about its treatment of animals. Undercover investigations by PETA have shown horrible abuses of chickens at KFC suppliers in West Virginia, Maryland, Arkansas, and Alabama, as well at plants outside of the United States in the United Kingdom, Canada, and other countries. At a West Virginia plant that won a KFC “Supplier of the Year” award, workers were caught tearing chickens’ heads off, ripping them apart, spitting tobacco on them, spray painting their faces, and throwing them against walls. This kind of treatment has been repeatedly shown to be taking place at plants supplying KFC with chicken, yet the company has refused to do anything.

In order to improve conditions for chickens slaughtered by KFC, PETA has supported a “recommended animal welfare program” that was actually created by members of KFC’s own animal welfare board. The plan makes a series of broad recommendations that KFC could take to improve the treatment of chickens–all of which are consistent with industry practices–but KFC has refused to adopt the recommendations. The recommendations call for KFC to adopt the “Animal Care Standards” program that would establish guidelines to protect chickens on factory farms by covering issues such as ammonia concentration, lighting conditions, and living space in chicken sheds. It prohibits intentional starvation of breeding birds, and also requires that birds be provided with mental stimulation. The recommendations call for measures to attempt to make the slaughter process more “humane,” although no system that is based on the murder of 850 million chickens per year could ever be described as such. Nevertheless, it has been suggested that KFC replace electrical stunning and throat-slitting methods of killing birds–often done when they are conscious–with “controlled-atmosphere killing.” Improvements are also being sought for chickens’ lives before they are killed, with recommendations to switch to “less cruel” mechanized chicken gathering instead of manual chicken gathering from pens (resulting in less broken legs, bruising, and stress on chickens), breeding for health instead of rapid growth by ending the practice of using antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes. Perhaps the most important recommendation is for increased transparency and verifiability, with the recommendations calling for independent and unannounced third-party audits and disclosure of the results on KFC’s website.

PETA cites numbers showing that 95% of people want to see humane treatment of animals used for food, and the goals of this campaign represent are admirable both in their substance and that they are modest enough that both meat eaters and vegetarians and vegan can support them, with the goals representing the very minimum of what people should be doing to improve the deplorable treatment of animals raised for food by humans. However, these goals are often lost through tactics such as those used today by the naked PETA protestors in Grand Rapids. While these tactics occasionally get PETA press attention (although not always, as the Grand Rapids Press wrote about why they refused to cover a similar protest over a year ago), there are significant questions about how they reinforce patriarchal values. At the protest today, men driving by in cars honked at the women–not necessarily in support–but instead as they gawked at the sight of women standing naked on a street corner. PETA’s tactics downplay the relationship that exists between eating meat and the oppression of women, a relationship most famously raised by the feminist Carol Adams in her book the Sexual Politics of Meat. Adams has also written specifically on the subject of PETA and their use of pornographic imagery, arguing that PETA’s tactics inevitably add to the oppression of women under patriarchy and that she would not “liberate animals over the bodies of women.” PETA’s nudity reinforces the idea that women are acceptable objects for the male gaze and its alliances with institutions built on the oppression of women, such as Playboy, come at the expense of what could be a unified movement for animal and human liberation. Over the past several years, PETA has produced a number of advertisements that project objectifying and misogynistic portrayals of women, used questionable protests that use S&M and bestiality references, and even produced a web-only strip-tease video.

Moreover, however problematic and criticized PETA has been for its “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaign, nudity in that campaign was at least directly connected to the core of the campaign, the same cannot be said about the Kentucky Fried Cruelty campaign. The press release sent out about PETA’s Grand Rapids protest prioritized the “PETA Beauties” who would be in Grand Rapids to “bare all” by “wearing nothing but a banner” over the treatment of chickens. The release makes no mention of the endorsements that the campaign has gotten or the undercover investigations into the company’s treatment of chickens, instead hyping the nudity rather than KFC’s treatment of chickens.

bell hooks: “Feminist Revolution is one of the most Important Civil Rights Movements”

Author bell hooks spoke Monday night at the Fountain Street Church on “the positive power of feminism.”

At a well-attended lecture tonight at Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids, author and feminist bell hooks lectured on the “Positive Power of Feminism” at an event sponsored by the West Michigan Women’s Studies Council. During the lecture hooks emphasized the positive impacts that feminism has had and described how her own experiences growing up in the south in the 1950s and in the movements of the 1960s shaped her understanding of patriarchy and the radical feminist movement. hooks emphasized that feminism had touched everyone in the room and that everyone had benefited from the positive impacts of feminism. She explained that in coming out of the university she was excited to take feminism into her post-graduate life but quickly found that in working at a telephone company in the 1970s that patriarchy was alive and well despite the existence of a radical movement on campus. Feminism is still facing this issue according to hooks, who argued that there are still questions about the relationship between feminism in academia and in the work world and that the movement remains under siege via the “complete glorification of the white supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchy” in our culture, which hooks stated should be viewed as a direct attack on feminism. Despite the widespread familiarity with some forms of feminism, “people are not sitting around talking about patriarchy” and that the challenge of feminism is—in light of its power to transform lives—to “reignite the power of feminism” in order to challenge patriarchy.

hooks spent a considerable amount of time explaining how feminism relates to men and specifically boys whom she argued are—more than any other group—fed the lies and fantasies of patriarchy, with hooks stating that “socialization into patriarchy is socialization into war.” She described how in her work in elementary schools she has seen violent gender roles drawn at early age at the same time that the feminist movement has largely abandoned its early focus on children. hooks described that the children’s books that she has written are the result of direct requests from other feminists who have also identified the need for de-colonizing materials outside of the halls of academia and within the terrain of everyday life. Black males of color have been particularly affected by this shift in focus away from children, with hooks describing the fact that black males are becoming largely illiterate as a problem for the feminist movement to address. She asserted that this is so because the white supremacist capitalist patriarchal culture does not respect the critical intelligence of black males. Instead black males are often taught to be misogynists or consumers and that they do not need to read. For hooks, black men have been brainwashed and socialized by the dominant media to believe that they can only be “laborers in plantation culture” and not thinkers. To overcome this, feminism must work to spread a life-affirming vision of black masculinity while caregivers and educators must at the same time work to provide relevant materials that will encourage black male children to read. Even among men who have accepted and embraced feminism, hooks argued that men are often unsure of how to use it—a failure, she argued that the feminist movement must address. hooks argued that men—even those who have not embraced feminism—have benefited from it and that we need to work on finding ways in which we can help the dominator culture heal as they are suffering from racism, classism, and sexism. hooks also reminded the audience that critical thinking can enable men and women suffering under patriarchy to carve out a space in which one can create a wholeness of self until patriarchy is dismantled.

One of the aspects of hooks’ writing that has made her so influential is her willingness to turn a critical eye both on herself and on the feminist movement in order to bring to it a greater clarity and more insightful analysis. To this end, throughout the lecture hooks shared a number of critiques of feminism and praised the movement as one of the few that has been willing to address its mistakes and failings. hooks argued that no other social justice movement has been as willing to self-critique itself as feminism, a fact that has contributed to the movement’s successes. Despite these successes, there have been some failures—specifically when failing to deal with race early on, in ignoring males and not completely understanding the ways in which patriarchy harms people of all genders, and in ignoring the question of love. Her book Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center was written out of the desire to improve feminism and it remains a project in which she is engaged in order to help feminism grow and create a culture where sexism can end. hooks explained that she frequently has students who fear that if they align themselves with feminism that they will not be able to love or be loved, a common myth perpetuated in rightwing attacks on feminism. However, hooks pointed out that feminism is the only movement talking about love as it relates to radical politics and the asserted that without love there can be no justice and that the work of ending domination is doing the work of love. hooks also explained that the question of love also must involve self-love and the idea that women must come to love themselves despite the fact that masses of women feel that feminism and patriarchy demand that they become “superwomen.” These demands often have a crushing and paralyzing affect on women if they do not ground their work in self-love. In order to respond to failings within feminism such as this failure to rethink love, hooks argued that it is important to view feminism as a constant process in which one must remain critically vigilant. hooks also asserted that the primary place of struggle is where you are and that the point of power is in the present.

Libertarians Award Strip Club Owner “Guardian of Liberty Award”

Over the weekend, the Libertarian Party of West Michigan awarded local strip club owner Mark London their “Guardian of Liberty Award” for his ongoing legal battles with the city over the opening of his Showgirl Galleria club. The political party—which is to the right of the Republican Party on many issues—gave the award to London because they admired his willingness to take on the city government and praised him as a “Small Businessman” working to preserve free speech and property rights. According to an article about the award published in the Grand Rapids Press, London used to be the treasurer of the Kent County Republican Party and ran for the Michigan House of Representatives in 1982, but gave up his political activities once he got in the sexploitation business. On the Party’s website, the Libertarians approved of London’s speech in which he called for a balanced budget, limited government, and free enterprise. They also expressed confidence that London would support Libertarian candidates in the future.

Strip Club Owner Says He will Defy Grand Rapids’ Rules

According to reporting today in the Grand Rapids Press, Herb Newhouse, owner of the Red Barn Adult Theatre, will defy the city’s resolution restricting adult entertainment. Newhouse is quoted as saying that the resolution banning “all nude entertainment” and requires dancers to remain six-feet from patrons, is costing his 34-year old business $2,200 per day (or 80%). Newhouse says that with a maximum fine of $500 per ordinance violation, that it makes financial sense to defy the resolution. The Grand Rapids Press says that Newhouse “plans to tell his dancers to do business as usual, including performing lap dances.” WZZM 13 further reported that Newhouse is altering the physical layout of his club in order to attempt to setup his strip club in such a way that it no longer falls under the “sexually oriented business” classification subject to regulation. To this end, Newhouse is installing a wall to separate his adult bookstore and peep show from the dance club and is having dancers remain “partially clothed” which he believes will permit the club to offer lap dances and remain open all night. Mayor George Heartwell was quoted in the Press article saying that the courts have said that the ordinance is enforceable and that Newhouse can expect to police officers to visit his business, a legal threat to which WOOD TV 8 quoted Newhouse as saying “Let ‘em in. Have ‘em arrest me”

As has typically been the case in the corporate media’s coverage of the city’s adult entertainment resolution, there was no substantive discussion in any of the recent stories about why such a resolution was passed or how women working in the industry are treated. The corporate media has entirely ignored the relationship of strip clubs and other sex industry businesses to patriarchy, despite the fact today’s Grand Rapids Press article in particular, indicate that this is an issue that needs to be addressed. In the Press article, Newhouse’s comments indicate a patriarchal orientation with Newhouse being described (and describing himself) as the one who is losing money and explaining that he intends tell “his” dancers to perform lap dances. Significantly, Newhouse is not quoted as expressing any concern for female dancers employed at his business, thereby providing a certain degree of credence to the notion that the ones profiting from the sex industry are predominantly male and that it the treatment of women is of little concern as long as money is being made.

Federal Judge Allows Enforcement of Grand Rapids’ Ordinance Regulating Nude Dancing

A United States District Court Judge ruled yesterday that effective Saturday at 12:01am, the City of Grand Rapids can enforce a resolution regulating nude dancing in the city.

The corporate media reported today that United States District Court Judge Robert Bell ruled said in a preliminary hearing that the City of Grand Rapids can enforce its ordinance regulating nude dancing. The ordinance, which requires a minimal amount of clothing for dancers, keeps patrons six feet from dancers, and restricts operating hours, was allowed to go into effect because Judge Bell determined that a lawsuit filed by strip clubs challenging the ordinance did not have a “substantial likelihood of success.” Enforcement of the ordinance, passed back in April, had been delayed until Bell’s ruling as the City’s lawyers agreed to wait until for this preliminary hearing before enforcing the ordinance. As of 12:01am Saturday, the City can now begin enforcing the ordinance, although in the Grand Rapids Press Assistant City Attorney Catherine Mish said that whether or not it would be enforced tonight is “a question for Police Chief Harry Dolan.” Additional rulings on the strip clubs’ challenging the ordinance on constitutional grounds will be made on October 20, 2006 as Bell did not rule on the city’s request for dismissal of the lawsuits.

Showgirl Galleria—the proposed all-nude club in downtown Grand Rapids that in many ways triggered the ordinance—has still not opened in downtown despite initial plans to open in 2005. While the club did open temporarily as a sort of “publicity stunt” likely designed to gain media coverage, the Club has yet to open with nude dancing (a store selling “adult” merchandise is in operation) due in part to public and legal opposition. London was quoted in the media stating that his businesses (Showgirl Galleria and Sensations) will become “non sexually-oriented businesses” with dancers (London refers to them as “girls”) dressing in bikinis and covering their buttocks and breasts as of 12:01am Saturday. Other strip clubs—namely the Red Barn and Parkway Tropics—will be doing the same, with Parkway Tropics taping off a portion of their stage to keep dancers six feet from customers and requiring dancers to put on bikinis before approaching customers for tips. Of course, the fact that semi-nude dancing continues to be allowed means that more work remains to be done in combating the strip clubs and the negative consequences of pornography and the sex industry, with a considerable amount of work being left undone to confront the patriarchal aspects of such businesses instead of only confronting the moral aspects.

Michigan Supreme Court Overturns Rape Victim’s Right to Damages

BlackBox Radio reports that a rape survivor from Flint Township, whose $1.25 million jury verdict against Hurley Medical Center was recently overturned, has lost her appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court.

The Flint Township woman was sexually assaulted by a nurse’s aide while hospitalized at Hurley Medical Center for psychological problems in 1998. Five years later, a jury found that the medical center was partially responsible, and awarded the survivor $1.25 million in damages.

But the recent 5-2 decision by the Michigan Supreme Court revoked the woman’s right to damages when it ruled that the hospital couldn’t be held liable for the actions of an employee who was acting outside the scope of his employment.

Attorneys for the woman unsuccessfully argued that the Supreme Court has previously adopted an exception to this rule in cases where an employee was aided by his employment status.

The Flint Journal printed the survivor’s statement that read, “I am very upset with the Supreme Court. I think it’s horrible that I go into a place of treatment and I’m not protected, and that they are not responsible at all.”

Lorenzo Powell, the hospital employee who was accused of another sexual assault during his time at Hurley Medical Center, pleaded no contest to a felonious assault charge and was sentenced to a year in jail and ordered to pay the victims’ counseling costs.

Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture

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Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, is a book that examines a new phenomenon in popular culture that Levy has identified—the “female chauvinist pig.” According to Levy, the female chauvinist pig is a post-feminist woman who has decided that physical sexuality is the best way towards liberation and thus these women chose to ignore the reality that women remain in positions subservient to men whether it is with the lack of women producing popular entertainment or controlling large corporations. Instead, the female chauvinist pig asks “why throw away your boyfriend’s Playboy in a freedom trash can when you could be partying at the Mansion? Why worry about disgusting or degrading when you could be giving—or getting—a lap dance yourself? Why try to beat them when you can join them?” The female chauvinist pig that has essentially decided that rather than adopt a form of collective struggle against patriarchal society, they will instead embrace some of the most crass male desires and attempt to manipulate these for their individual gain. Of course, there remain differences between men and women, but Levy describes how female chauvinist pigs deal with their femaleness by acting like cartoon men who drool over strippers or by acting like cartoon women with big breasts and wearing little outfits while being able to explore their sexuality only by “dancing around a pole.”

Levy’s explanation of how female chauvinist pigs deal with their femaleness may sound harsh, but it is a statement proven again and again throughout her book. Indeed, the forte of Levy’s book is the wealth of examples that she gives of the new raunch culture. Levy shows a broad awareness of popular culture and easily shifts her discussion from the increased prevalence of breast implants to the contents of a variety of television shows. Levy provides numerous examples of the ways in which television shows such as G-String Divas, the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion shows, and reality television shows all aggressively promote the new raunch culture. The trend has permeated the publishing industry, with several x-rated titles being published by mainstream publishing houses and promoted by the publishing industry. Levy also describes the increased frequency at which women are believed to be attending strip clubs, the omnipresent scenes of women dancing with each other in sexually suggestive manners at popular dance clubs, and the new trend of “striptease” aerobic workout classes. Levy examines popular culture figures such as Paris Hilton, who in many ways epitomize the new raunch culture as her sex tapes and repeated flashing of the paparazzi demonstrate.

However, while Levy deserves credit for her willingness to write a book that is extremely critical of many simplistic “feminist” analyses of sex and hyper-sexualized behavior as a form of female power, her analysis leaves out an important aspect of feminist analysis—that of race and class. Of course, such an analysis was absent from early feminist writings, but for a contemporary feminist work, it is an unforgivable omission. The “female chauvinist pig” described by Levy is an almost exclusively middle or upper class person and quite likely white. If having access to the most exclusive and hyper-sexualized clubs and having money to spend on spring break trips to Florida are examples of the female chauvinist pig’s quintessential behavior, than it will follow that the cultural group that Levy is describing will be one that is made up primarily of those of a certain class and racial make-up. Still, while the class and race analysis is entirely absent, her book does examine how the mentality of the female chauvinist pig has permeated the GBLT scene, therefore showing that the through the dominant modes of cultural production—namely popular media—many of the characteristic behaviors of the female chauvinist pig spread to segments of society where they are typically not found. But while this analysis of popular media is important, different races respond differently to various forms of media, and as such, Sex and the City, may not mean nearly as much to the African-American population as rap does. One could probably argue that the many aspects of raunch culture cut across race lines, but without examining it, it remains nothing more that a hunch—and regrettably with Levy’s book—it is a hunch that remains unexplored. Similarly, with the ways in which Levy believes that the mentality and behaviors of the female chauvinist pig are coming to dominate high school youth culture, there could have been an analysis to explain how raunch culture spreads across classes in high school where the pressure to conform with the “popular” people is difficult to avoid.

Also absent is a through consideration of exactly who is benefiting from raunch culture. In the book, Levy makes it abundantly clear that women are not benefiting and her accounts of women who remain unsatisfied by sexual conquests, trips to strip clubs, or dressing in provocative clothing as a form of sexualized “feminist” rebellion certainly attest to this fact. However, one of the most important questions remains open—if women are not benefiting from raunch culture, who is? This question is broached somewhat in her brief discussion of the impacts of pornography on some of its participants, with Levy paying particular attention to Hugh Hefner and Jenna Jameson as examples of two aspects of the pornography industry. Throughout the book, Hefner’s assertions that he is a “feminist” ring hollow and would be laughable if they were not so enraging, as it is clear that Hefner has made millions of dollars off the women who are objectified in his magazine that is sold to men. While most men will not benefit from pornography in the way that Hefner does—and indeed will suffer if they chose to adopt the idea permeated through pornography that women are simply objects that exist to fulfill the sexual (and in pornography, often violent) fantasies of men—it is clear that they benefit in the sense that it is women, not men, who are expected conform to the physical standards and sexual expectations (i.e. submissiveness) of the pornography industry. Moreover, when talking about the “Girls Gone Wild” series, Levy aptly demonstrates how all college age women are considered by the series’ producers, and consequently its primarily male consumers, as potential candidates for its brand of pornography. Levy further describes these expectations when she talks about the origins of thong underwear in strip clubs, the prevalence of breast implants, and surgical alteration of the labia. However, Levy never comes out and clearly defines who is benefiting financially from these culture changes, which is of course white males. Perhaps the clearest indicator of who is benefiting is the fact that despite the power that some feminists may feel has come from these forms of sexual empowerment, as Eric Jong points out in Levy’s book the majority of men remain in the decision-making positions in society.

Overall, Female Chauvinist Pigs provides an intriguing introduction into a puzzling aspect of popular culture, but falls short of its potential. One cannot help but feel that the book is only half complete, with a wealth of examples included but the second half—a comprehensive analysis of the origins and consequences of raunch culture—remains unwritten. Female Chauvinist Pigs explores and documents a cultural shift, but it will be up to other feminists to fully examine it.

Ariel Levy, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, (Free Press, 2005).

Grand Rapids Radio Station WGRD Promotes Sexism and Misogyny through DJ David Fox

A new study by Media Mouse has found that local Grand Rapids alternative rock station 97.9 WGRD makes extensive use of sexism and misogyny to generate an appeal to its core demographic of 25 to 34 year old adults. The study, focusing on a month long period of monitoring this winter, found that DJ David Fox repeatedly made reference to prostitutes, strippers, sex, and “hot chicks” in addition to making racist and homophobic statements.

According to new research by Media Mouse local alternative rock radio station 97.9 WGRD (owned by Regent Broadcasting) is promoting sexism and misogyny through its continued airing of David Fox’s 7:00pm to 12:00am weeknight show on the station. This winter, Media Mouse monitored the station for a little over a month, randomly checking in on Fox’s show to determine whether the sexism and misogyny it had previously heard was an isolated occurrence and instead found that Fox’s show—and to a large degree the station’s programming as a whole—makes use of sexism and misogyny as a means of appealing to it’s core audience of 25 to 34 year old adults. According to both its marketing information and recent ratings information, WGRD’s model has proven to be successful and it is currently the fifth highest-rated station in Grand Rapids. As is frequently the case in patriarchal society, the effect that the station’s programming has on women is never taken into account when in the evaluations used to determine how successful the station is in appealing to its target demographic.

Media Mouse first became aware of WGRD’s pervasive sexism and misogyny when it was discovered that the station was promoting Tini Bikini’s “American Hottie” contest. At the time, Media Mouse saw the station’s involvement in the contest within the framework of a study conducted a year earlier by the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) that surveyed sexualized portrayals of women on the websites of local radio stations, with WGRD joining other stations in linking to objectifying images of women on its website. While the website has changed since the time of the GRIID study and some of the content has been removed, the station still prominently features a link to the “GRD Model of the Moment” where objectifying pictures of women wearing few clothes are found. In addition to sponsorship of events at Tini Bikini’s, the station has also done events at Hooters and has hired dancers from Perfect 10 Entertainment (a Grand Rapids company providing “exotic dancers” for parties and promotions) to appear at events and concerts hosted by the station.

On a whole, the station has directed much of its content towards a male audience; however, DJ David Fox has taken this to an extreme, creating for himself a program where there are almost constant references to sex, strippers, prostitution, and “hot chicks.” Media Mouse first became aware of David Fox on November 1, 2005 when David Fox and co-host Lukas D told a caller who asked a question that in return for the answer they wanted “some hookers” with Fox elaborating that “some whores down on the red light district sound sorta nice” and Lukas D adding that the caller should “send some of those Division girls up to the studio.” Following the discussion of prostitutes, Fox and Lukas D went on to discuss Tini Bikini’s and praised the club for being “the closest you can get to a strip club but it’s nice” as it has “cute girls” unlike strip clubs where the majority of strippers are “skanks” or “barfers.” Content such as this was frequently heard during the period monitored, with Fox making additional references to prostitution in Grand Rapids with Fox referring to female co-hosts as the “girls we got down the street” in reference to the popular notion that prostitutes are found on Division and also telling a caller with relationship problems to “swing over to the red light district on Division” and “pick yourself up one.” Content referencing strip clubs was considerably more common, with Fox referring his attendance at strip clubs and even bragging about how he sent a friend to Parkway Tropics to have his “girl Stacia and all the rest of the chicks treat him like a VIP.” He also frequently talked about the Korn song “Twisted Transistor” and its popularity at strip clubs. On a related note, Fox also seemed to have an intense interest in Paris Hilton, whom he referred to as “high class trash,a “slut,” and a “whore” while discussing who she has had sex with and referring to pornographic videos of her.

In addition to focusing considerable attention on women in the sex industry, David Fox also repeatedly refers to women as “chicks” a term that gives them both a lower status than males and less power than males. The “chicks” that Fox refers to are also given limited roles both on his program and in society in general, with Fox referring to a female co-host as a “hoe” and calling other female guests his “new slaves.” His inability to refer to women in a respectable way was taken to its most absurd level when Fox referred to a realtor who had bought advertising time on the station as a “little chick” and told listeners that they should contact if they are selling their home. When questioned about how why he refers to women as “chicks,” Fox simply told his audience “maybe this is the wrong station for you if you think chick is a bad word.” David Fox also claimed that men are more important than women are in a ridiculous discussion about who should have been allowed into the lifeboats on the Titanic.

The idea that Fox gives women a subservient role in which they exist exclusively to benefit males is nearly inescapable when listening to his show. This gains further prominence when one looks at who is actually running the station and thus who has the power at WGRD, and it should be no surprise that the on-air staff is predominately male and that the artists played on the station are overwhelmingly male. Women who call into the show are also addressed in a similar manner, with Fox asking a female caller if his comment “excited” her and telling her that she might get tickets if she can “sweet talk” him, but then later determining that “she might actually have to send a photo” before getting tickets. Women are thus given a role that allows them only to be objects of male sexual desire, a fact that is reinforced when Fox praises women who possess qualities that he likes, which aside from the aforementioned physical attributes, include women in bikinis that like Applebees, Arby’s, and Dairy Queen and women that watch watch Girls Gone Wild. Of course, it is important to remember that not only do these roles limit women, but they also give men considerable power to determine not only what is attractive but also what is appropriate behavior for women.

Not only does the show present a patriarchal view where males are dominant, Fox also routinely uses homophobic insults. For example, on November 1 Fox told a caller that did not agree with him “you are probably gay.” Fox also joked about his co-host Lukas D doing “Brokeback Mountain” things, joked about homosexual rape, and joked about how one of his friends has a less than masculine name. Of course, as is frequently the case with men who expose homophobic views yet benefit from patriarchy, Fox has expressed approval of lesbians who “kiss” or “make out” for the pleasure of male audiences. Fox specifically praised Sharon Stone for her “great lesbian scene” in Basic Instinct, which Fox described as “total tongues, man, awesome.”

Throughout his broadcast, David Fox also frequently shared “news” with listeners and occasionally discussed current events. Fox does not pretend to be a news reporter, so the discussion of news items was very much akin to the type of conversation that you might find in a high school locker room, no doubt due in part to his selection of topics. Many of these news items come in the form of short three sentence news updates and a sampling of the updates Fox chose to share with his audience reveal that they are neither worth more sentences or even air play in the first place. Some of the topics included 34% of women saying that if their dog were their boyfriend they would date him, a dentist training prescriptions for sexual favors, another dentist trading Oxycotin prescriptions for sexual favors, an evangelical group of women reaching out to strippers, and a man in Kalamazoo that got caught having sex with a sheep. Occasionally, David Fox did spend more time on news stories, although the topic selection and level of discourse remained juvenile at best. For example, on March 1st, Fox reported on a man who was arrested for drinking the urine of adolescent boys, a story which may have had some news value if it had happened in the Grand Rapids area and was properly contextualized instead of simply being shared “because it is pretty out there.” From time to time Fox also addressed current events and on February 15 discussed the Winter Olympics and reported a rumor about which Olympians are the “slutiest.” On February 9, Fox also addressed teenagers getting in trouble for posting pictures of themselves drinking at parties on MySpace, with Fox and his co-host Lukas D conducting an interview with a former East Grand Rapids High School student about the controversy. Of course, rather than address the topic in a serious way, Fox interrupted the interview to ask if “any hot chicks got busted.”

Moving beyond sexism and heterosexism, David Fox’s show also featured racist content during the study period. In one incident, in February of 2006, Fox discussed a news report read by a co-host that a trend in China was making your eyes rounder, to which Fox responded that he was not surprised because “you go over there and you got some nationalities and it’s hard to even believe that they can see” in reference to a prevalent and offensive stereotype about the shape of Asian peoples’ eyes. On March 1st, Fox aired an incredibly offensive song featuring numerous stereotypes of Arabs and people of Middle Eastern descent. The song, a parody of the Backstreet Boys’ “Backstreet’s Back” was called “Dubai’s Back” and expressed what the song’s composer felt was the excitement terrorists had over President Bush’s proposal to let the United Arab Emirates-based Dubai Ports World run some US seaports. The song equated all Arabs with Al-Qaida and featured the line “Hello Al Qaida we’ll let you in, so bring your guns and bombs,” conveyed the stereotype that Arabs cannot be trusted, referred to Arabs using stereotypical names such as “Punjab,” and suggested that Arabs had limited intelligence. While in this case the offensive language was not said by David Fox, he did chose to air the song and also described it as “pretty funny” with his co-host Lukas D praising it as being “classic.”

According to Regent Broadcasting Grand Rapids’ (the owner of WGRD) mission statement, the radio group aims to value its listeners and the community. Their mission statement has four components—“service to our community,” “service to our audience,” “service to our advertisers,” and “service to our company.” While clearly David Fox’s programming and the station as a whole appeal to the company’s bottom line in terms of continued ratings and serves some of its advertisers (especially sexist businesses in West Michigan such as Tini Bikini’s, Hooters, and various strip clubs discussed on his show), a strong argument can be made that airing David Fox is not providing a “service to the community” or even a “service to our [WGRD’s] audience.” Instead, Fox’s sexism, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia does more to isolate members of our community—women, gay/bisexual/transgendered people, people of color, and people of foreign origin than it does to build any type of “community.” Of course, Fox would likely point to the ratings that he has as proof that the community approves of his programming, but this bypasses the question of what other choices they have. Radio is currently dominated by sexist content and as such, there is really nowhere else for his audience to turn, as the same type of content is found on other stations in Grand Rapids. To that end, people must consider not only the offensive content on David Fox’s show but radio in general, and ask “is this serving the community?”

Unfortunately, while both Regent’s mission statement and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandate that radio stations serve the community as radio makes use of public airwaves, community members have limited means to hold broadcasters accountable for their content and their failure to serve the community. Of course, one way to do so is to call or write to the station to complain about objectionable content, but unfortunately, this method will likely do little to actually hold the station accountable and indeed someone called David Fox to tell him that his continued use of “chick” and portrayal of women is “degrading” to which Fox simply told the caller that WGRD is “the wrong station” for him. Still there is value in contacting the station’s management, as they have likely received few objections from the public and have no doubt received very few from people coming from a pro-women position as opposed to objections from an easily marginalized position of religious morality. The public can also hold WGRD accountable when its FCC license comes up for renewal when the FCC evaluates stations to make sure that they serve “the public interest, convenience, and necessity.” During this process people can file a “petition to deny” and provide written testimony outlining how station’s have failed to serve the FCC’s outlined needs, but unfortunately renewal periods last eight years and local radio stations are not up for renewal until 2012. In the case of David Fox on WGRD, members of the community can also file indecency complaints with the FCC if they believe that the FCC’s indecency standards have been violated. To meet the FCC’s indecency standard, obscene content must have aired between 6:00am and 10:00pm and must meet three conditions:

  • An average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find the material, as a whole, appeals to prurient interest;
  • The material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law;
  • The material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value

While the FCC is fairly stringent in defining what is obscene, a large amount of content Media Mouse heard on David Fox’s show appeals to the “prurient interest,” occasionally depicts or describes sexual conduct in a “patently offensive way,” and almost constantly lacks “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” Moreover, the complaint process can serve to “formalize” public objections to the station’s content and therefore is useful in increasing public pressure on the station.

When considering how best to register objections to the content on David Fox’s show, it is important to consider that all radio stations are required to keep a “public file” at their offices. While the file contains a number of mundane materials such as the station’s FCC license, its recent license renewal applications, and a copy of the FCC’s publication “The Public and Broadcasting,” it is also required to keep copies of “letters and e-mail from the public” as well as “material relating to any FCC investigation or complaint.” To this end, it seems that contacting WGRD’s General Manager Phil Catlett ( and Program Director Jerry Terrants ( via email or postal mail (WGRD / 50 Monore NW Ste. 500 / Grand Rapids, MI / 49503) is likely going to be the most effective way of applying pressure on the station.