James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘legitimate rape’

Should football players be raped more often?

Posted by James McPherson on March 20, 2013

rape cultureObviously the question in the headline above is a stupid one. No one should be raped.

Repeat: NO ONE should be raped. Ever. It doesn’t matter what s/he was wearing or drinking or smoking or saying. Or where. Or when. Or how old or “experienced” s/he is. I use the “s/he” advisedly until now, as victims include men and boys. But of course most are women.

And yet we now live in a rape culture. We don’t just objectify and ridicule women, we revel in that objectification, with all sorts of media (including those pretending to complain about the objectification) using it to draw an audience — as if that doesn’t cheapen whatever else the publication or site has to offer.

The degree to which we have become a rape culture meant that my planned media criticism class for the day went out the window. Instead, we critiqued some news coverage of the Steubenville rape convictions and of rape in the military. And being immersed in the issue — and thinking about the tangentially related issue of how much we value athletes and athletics over many, many more important aspects of life — has prompted me to avoid filling out a March Madness bracket for the first time in years.

Rape occurs seemingly everywhere, not just in those scary foreign places where it has become a weapon of choice for intimidation and social control. Incidentally, even in those places, at least one study suggests “that the most common perpetrators of sexual violence in wartime are husbands, partners or other family members — reminding us to wonder again why spousal rape wasn’t outlawed in all 50 states until 1993 (yes, 20 years ago, probably after you were born) and why some conservatives think we should return to those “good ol’ days.

Rape happens here. On college campuses, even Christian college campuses. At high schools, in churches, and sometimes even on the street (though not as often there as the media might lead you to believe).

And rape happens in incredibly alarming numbers among those whom we trust to defend us in the U.S. military — where one in four women can expect to be raped by her male colleagues, and where a victim is more likely to be raped multiple times than is a non-military rape victim — and among those we idolize for their faux war skills on a football field (also here and here) or basketball court. Some statistics suggest that one-third of campus rapes are committed by athletes. (And regardless of the exact numbers, we never seem to see the band geeks or the academic scholarship winners accused of such crimes).

And what do we do about it? Too often we look to blame people other than the perpetrators. Interesting context comes from an academic report from about five years ago, citing a University of Nebraska policy manual for student athletes:

The paragraph dealing with rape appeared to not so subtly place blame on the potential victim:
“Be careful, especially if you have been drinking, (sic) that you do not misread signals. Trouble has often occurred when a woman has remained alone with several men after a drinking party. While some may feel that this shows poor judgment on the woman’s part, it certainly does not justify rape (The University of Nebraska, 2000, pg.2.)”
The handbook author may not have officially intended to endorse drinking and blame the woman who might be raped, but athletes may have seen this paragraph as containing a hidden message. This message reflects the process of objectification of groupies as deceivers who deserve the rape. In addition, an athlete, in rationalizing his behavior, may feel unfairly persecuted by individuals outside the athletic culture.

Of course it’s not hard to figure out why athletes might feel “unfairly persecuted,” considering that their fans are all too willing to blame the accusers, both before and after the facts of a case become known. The Steubenville rape case showed us that (along with some of the best and worst of what social media have to offer), but so have many other cases — including another one, reported just one day after the Steubenville verdict, this one involving a 13-year-old alleged victim.

But then we already knew years ago that fans were willing to attack alleged victims, from the cases involving Ben Roethlisberger, Kobe Bryant and Jake Plummer (the first two of whom exemplify why I will likely cheer against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Los Angeles Lakers for the rest of my life).

But we expect fans to be morons. More troubling to me is the fact that if athletes are involved, too often media concern seems to be on the athlete — the famous or semi-famous or seemingly pitiful person that for some reason we want to believe the best about — and too few news people ask the question posed this week by Time: “What about the victim?” An leading example this week was provided by CNN, with the video below. Another troubling example from the same case is that all three of the major cable news networks saw fit to air the name of the 16-year-old rape victim.

A Jezebel article last November concluded with: “Can legendary college athletes also be rapists? Of course they can. Can they be ever be convicted rapists? That’s less clear.” Maybe now they will be, more often, after Steubenville (or maybe on-campus rapes will decrease). Maybe this will be “rape culture’s Abu Ghraib moment,” but I’m no more confident of that than I am that another gun massacre will lead to meaningful firearm regulations.

In fact, the only thing that I’m convinced would make most of America care about the frequency with which its young men commit rape would be if star athletes themselves were the victims — if some star football player or basketball player were held down, brutalized, urinated on, videotaped and cast aside.

And, sadly, even that might matter only if it were star male athletes.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 44 Comments »

Republican platform: gallows for GOP suicide?

Posted by James McPherson on August 25, 2012

It has seemed for some time as if the Republican Party is suicidal, and determined to make sure that Barack Obama wins re-election. Maybe Republicans just want to prove that a couple of professors who forecast a Mitt Romney win aren’t so smart. Because the schedule proposed platform for next week’s GOP national convention provide new evidence that Republicans either cluelessly think that they will win easily–perhaps by voter suppression in key states–or have simply decided that they can’t win and so might as well be entertaining as they go down in flames.

A positive sign for Romney is the fact that various media are now helping him do what he and his campaign have generally been unable to do–look more human. Though he was unfairly bashed for a ride on a personal watercraft, yesterday two major media sources–the New York Times and MSNBC–have produced largely flattering portrayals of the GOP nominee. OK, it may be stretching it to call MSNBC a major media source, but it is a generally liberal-leaning cable network that could help portray Romney as more moderate than his campaign has been. Both stories include what Times writer Sheryl Gay Stolberg calls a “crisis” narrative, details about Ann Romney’s multiple sclerosis and Mitt Romney’s auto accident in France (a head-on collision apparently caused by a priest who may have been drunk, killing a passenger in Romney’s car).

There also are signs that Romney is ready to reveal more about his faith (even if he won’t say the “M-word”), as demonstrated by a laudatory Bloomberg piece on Thursday, a Tuesday Seattle Times story picked up via the Associated Press by newspapers around the country, and the fact that the invocation for one night of the GOP convention will be given by a fellow Mormon. MSNBC has also taken advantage of Romney’s religion to do a “Rock Center” program about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on Thursday. Not that the religious aspects may matter much. As I’ve mentioned previously (demonstrating the decreasing influence of the Religious Right) it seems a bit ironic that if the Christian Right gets its way in November, for the first time ever there won’t be a single Protestant among the president, vice president and entire Supreme Court. But anyone on the far right will be voting against Obama, even if not for Romney–or, as some fruitcakes might phrase it, will favor the Mormon over the Muslim.

Bigger problems than religion come from the fact that Romney has run to the right to represent a party that is already “akin‘,” with controversies about”legitimate rape” (more evidence of the need for better science education) and a judge who suggests that Obama’s re-election could lead to “civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war” (considering that he’s a Texan, though, his stupidity may not be particularly surprising). Still, it might be moderately surprising that Republicans will apparently repeat their Sharron Angle/Christine O’Donnell/Joe Miller/Ken Buck Tea Party debacle of two years ago with a new round of questionable candidates–Todd Akin, Ted Cruz, Richard Mourdock, Deb Fischer and  Josh Mandel–who (along with repeat loser Linda McMahon) will likely keep them from gaining control of the Senate.

Still, it would be nice if voters would cast ballots based on the actual positions of the candidates. So while party platforms rarely matter much, I would recommend that everyone check out this year’s GOP draft version (thanks Politico)–just to affirm how thoroughly the party has given up on attracting the number of women, gays and people of color that it needs to win the presidential election in November. Some of the key points of the platform would:

Admittedly, all we have so far is a draft document. But it is a draft that the New York Times accurately depicts as “more aggressive in its opposition to women’s reproductive rights and to gay rights than any in memory.” Not a good sign, for a party scrambling to come from behind. A blogger for the Guardian compares it to a useless body part: “Like party platforms, the appendix’s role is a mystery to most people: it may be a useful harbour for bacteria but can also rupture, causing pain and misery.”

Speaking of misery, in fact, Republicans may want to start praying that Hurricane Isaac will reduce Americans’ exposure to official GOP ideas, just as Hurricane Gustov disrupted the GOP convention four years ago. If that does happen, perhaps Pat Robertson and other loonies will point out that Republicans must have offended God in some way (maybe, considering the male names of the hurricanes, with the party’s official anti-gay stance). On the other hand, if this election does drive off enough Americans to lead to the death of the Republican Party–or at least to generate a future GOP “crisis narrative”–perhaps Romney can baptize it after its demise.

P.S.: Just after I posted this, the GOP announced that Isaac will indeed cancel the first day of the convention.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics, Religion, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 45 Comments »