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 ‘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 »

If you’re going to write anything stupid in the future, don’t come to my class

Posted by James McPherson on December 21, 2008

Though the event boasted about as much security as Barack Obama’s inauguration will (and probably was even more expensive), Iraq’s public Christmas celebration yesterday was a good sign. Despite the security, chances are good that Bill O’Reilly or some other right-wing self-appointed “protector of Christmas”  will make some ludicrous comment tomorrow about it supposedly being easier to celebrate Christmas publicly in Baghdad than in Washington.

I expect that O’Reilly will overlook the fact that it may be more dangerous to be a Christian in Iraq today than at any time in history, and that millions of Christians have fled the country or been killed for their religious beliefs. Still, I was struck by a quote from an Iraq Interior Ministry official at the Christmas party, attended by many Muslims, that “All Iraqis are Christian today!”

The quote and the party are nice symbols of unity (though I didn’t see anything about the event on al-Jazeera today). Unfortunately, here at home, George “I’m a Uniter, not a Divider” Bush has again gone the divisive route by apparently deciding that conservative Christians should be allowed to dictate health policy for America as a whole.

That might explain why among his various lame-duck actions–which so far include attempts to ease offshore drilling, weakening the Endangered Species Act, trying to rewrite the history of his administration while dodging shoes (and perhaps other objects to come), and perhaps wondering whether to pardon Dick Cheney or just shoot him in the face–George W. Bush on Thursday announced its new “conscious protection” rule to keep health care workers from doing jobs they find “morally objectionable.”

The regulation is set to take effect the day before Bush leaves office (I guess he thinks there’s no real hurry), giving Obama’s administration one more thing to work on overturning one day later. Of course assorted feministes, rape victims, those in favor of legalized abortion, those concerned about teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, and other assorted people concerned about women’s health in general hate the new regulation.

My immediate reaction was similar to those in opposition–that this is yet another stupid, petty Bushian effort to impose the Religious Right’s beliefs on everyone else–but then I realized that, taken to its natural conclusion, this decision could make my own job as a college professor teaching journalism classes a lot easier.

See, I normally ask students at the beginning of a semester to write a short paper telling me why they’re in my class, what they hope it will teach them, and how they hope to use it in the future. I do the assignment mostly so that I can tailor the class to students’ needs, where appropriate. If I have several students in my media writing class who plan to enter public relations, for example, I’ll spend a little more time on that topic than if I have a class full of future broadcast journalists.

My obvious mistake is that I’ve made the assignment about them, instead of about me. In the past I’ve thought that it was my job to teach them the necessary skills to succeed in their chosen profession, and, if possible, to get them to look at things from a variety of perspectives. Since they’re adults, albeit young ones, I assumed that they might be capable of making the decisions that were right for them.

Yet many of those students eventually go on to write conservative columns, work for conservative politicians, or do public relations for conservative organizations. Despite the wailings of David Horowitz and similar fear-based donor-funded nuts, and to the probable dismay of some egotistical academics, we liberal professors just don’t have all that much political influence on our students (neither do the conservative profs, which, though outnumbered, still are relatively common).

So now when when I ask my opening questions I’ll be on the lookout for students who might plan to someday use any writing or editing skills picked up in my classes for evil purposes. Since I teach at a Christian university and most of my students are political conservatives, if we can get the latest Bush doctrine expanded, this might greatly reduce my workload.

A Christian myself, of course I’ll continue to teach journalism basics to the “right kind” of believers–those opposed to war and torture and in favor of tolerance, telling the truth, and helping the poor.

But as soon as a student suggests (as many have, over the years) that she hopes to go on to work in government or church activities, maybe even in a way that will help promote her own conservative views, I’m obviously going to have to know a lot more before I agree to share the wonders of the summary lead or the inverted pyramid.

Christmas Day update: Chrismas has been named a national holiday in Iraq for the first time, though there are far fewer Christians left in the country to celebrate it.

Posted in Education, Legal issues, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »