(France + Honey Boo) x NAWA = What's Next?

Last week, the news broke that France, under the direction of Nicolas Sarkozy’s former sports minster Madame Chantal Jouanno, adopted a bill to ban kiddie pageants.  I immediately wondered why our lawmakers don't have the cajones to pass a similar bill.  If I were an elected official, banning kiddie pageants would be the first thing on my agenda.  In fact, I would run on that platform.  I would print t-shirts and posters with Honey Boo-Boos’ mom’s picture enclosed in a circle with a fat red line through it.  I would push for mandatory jail time for parents who put their kids in pageants.  My first move:  jail Mrs. Boo Boo.  My second:  jail Mr. Boo Boo.

Is there a Mr. Boo Boo?

***

I must have been in middle school when I walked into the kitchen one morning to find my Dad reading the Flint Journal.  This wasn’t unusual.  Every day, he woke up, made his coffee and read the paper before work.  We said our good mornings and he seemed fine but suddenly bent close to the paper to read a story in the lower right gutter of an interior page.  He took off his glasses, rubbed his suddenly chalky face, got up, bracing himself on the table, and walked slowly to the bathroom where I heard him wretch.

He rarely got sick.  He’d fought in WWII, in the Battle of the Bulge.  As far as I was concerned, he was indestructible.  So, to see him get so ill, so suddenly, unnerved me.  I sat down at the table with my bowl of cereal and glanced at the open paper.  There, in the lower right gutter, was a story about a man who had kidnapped a 10-year-old girl, kept her in an underground bunker in his basement and repeatedly raped her for years.

All this while his family slept upstairs.

I could barely get my head around it.  It was a psychological blow; an unexpected punch to the gut.  Why would someone do that to another human being?

I’ve never been able to understand it.  Dissect it.  Figure it out.

Every time I hear about an act of violence against a woman, I think about that little girl and I imagine her fear and anguish.  I can’t resolve it.  And I wonder where she is now.  Is she alive?  Does she have a job?  A family?  Is she spiritual?  Does she volunteer at a local blood bank?

And I wonder if she’s ever had a moment’s peace.

***

A few weeks ago, Vice President Joe Biden invited his Democratic buddies over for sirloin burgers and ice cream sandwiches to honor his signature legislative achievement from the 1990s:  the Violence Against Women Act.  Between bites, he tweaked House Republicans, calling them ‘sort of a Neanderthal crowd’ for opposing an expansion of the VAWA earlier this year.

His comment was very Biden-esque:  slightly outrageous, smacking of truth, not a huge deal but it got a lot of coverage.  On the ABC News blog, there were over 100 comments on Biden’s quip.  By comparison, on March 7, 2013, the Associated Press site story -- about the passage of the expansion of NAWA -- received only a dozen comments

There weren’t many comments but the tone was definitely anti-NAWA.

This is a needless law, everyone is already protected. They don't need "special" protections.  Gays or women!

Okay, Mr. Neanderthal, consider this partial list (those that made the news, at least) of a few atrocities committed against women over the last few years and, after you read it, Mr. N, remind me (just once again) why the VAWA is ‘unnecessary.’

• Steubenville, Ohio teens rape a drunk 16-year-old.

• Ariel Castro abducts, repeatedly tortures and rapes three girls for 10 years in his Ohio home.

• Ten men (and I use that term loosely) gang-rape a 13-year-old girl in Texas.

• Four men gang-rape and murder a 23-year-old woman in India.

These, of course, are only a few of the thousands of cases that made the news last year.  So don’t tell me ‘everyone is already protected.'

Here are some additional statistics, Mr. N, from the Department of Justice:

• 89,00 rape cases reported in the US annually

• 60% of rapes are never reported to authorities

• 95% of college rapes are never reported to authorities

So, Mr. N, before you try to tell me that women are ‘already protected,’ get your facts straight.  This is a huge problem.  It’s a problem for men and women, kids and adults.  And I haven’t even mentioned the statistics of violence against the LGBT community.

This act, now with provisions to extend protections to Native American, immigrant and LGBT abuse victims was a first step.  It’s been two decades, though, and look what’s still happening.  If you’re saying it’s not necessary, you’re turning two blind eyes or sweeping it under an enormous rug or trying to protect a ‘good ol’ boy’ outdated, ignorant mode of behavior that has no place in civilized society.

***

Don't get me wrong:  I'm no censor.  I don't use Penthouse or Charles Bukowski novels as kindling for a Catcher in the Rye bonfire.  I'm all for responsible individual freedom and freedom of the press. That said, driving down nearly every street -- in the city and suburbs -- my kids are exposed to billboards of scantily clad women, women in submissive poses, women straddling poles, strip-club billboards shouting GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS!  Last year, before a Bears/Packers game, I spotted a LED sign with a bear humping a Green Bay Packer cheerleader -- completely animated -- on a building off the Edens.  I started to laugh but stopped when, from the back seat, my 9-year-old asked, "What was that?"

Reality check:  France is slapping the hands of pageant organizers with big fines.

Don't watch Honey Boo Boo and kiddie pageants.  That way, advertisers get the message that this kind of nonsense shouldn't be clogging the airways.  Change the channel to something wholesome, something like Sarah Palin's America or Real Housewives of New Jersey.

You know, shows that the rest of the world watch to see how, exactly, every American lives.

***

What does this constant barrage of super-sexual advertising and content (including the sexualization of child actors on Disney and Nickelodeon) do to us as a society?  It's estimated that kids are exposed to thousands of super-sexual messages every day.

Does this super-sexual barrage make it more or less likely for some to objectify women and, in turn, commit violence against us?

I started wondering if tougher laws actually reduce or prevent violence against women. I mean, how long does it take to turn a cultural ship around when this kind of violence has been going on since Biblical times?  I wondered how long it might take for a small but significant portion of men to not feel ‘entitled’ to abuse, rape, abduct, maim or otherwise harm women.

There have been small but significant drops in violence against women in the last two decades in the US.  But this might simply be due to the fact that many crimes aren't reported.  And that opens another buzzing nest of questions, doesn't it?

After the rape and murder of the 23-year-old New Delhi student, I found an interesting interview of psychologist Dr. David Lisak in the New York Times by Heather Timmons.  Dr. Lisak is an expert on violent crime, including murder and rape.  At the end of the interview, she asked, ‘Why would a group of men in New Delhi target a young woman?’

Dr. Lisak replied:

If they’re in a culture where there are a lot of messages about the entitled role of men, the culture can provide some very ready scripts for violence.

Women historically have been denigrated and objectified and viewed as the property of males around the world. It is only in the last several decades that our laws in the United States have come to reflect a different reality, and in many societies around the world it is still the case. To the extent any culture has those kinds of messages out there, that provides fertile ground for angry individuals to target individuals who are vulnerable.

And then, Timmons asked,

Q.  What would your advice be to the Indian government or law officials trying to curb these crimes?

A.  The military here in the United States is facing something similar.

The response has to be on multiple levels. First, there’s the safety of individuals — you need a criminal-justice response, you need to be more successful at capturing and prosecuting criminals to send a message, “This is criminal behavior that will be punished.

Then you have to look at why groups of men are doing this. If the Delhi government asked me what to do, I’d say, “Someone has to start talking to these men, or men like these men, and finding out why they view women as targets.” Why do they feel entitled to? What is the basis for their hatred?

This is the much more difficult challenge. Just as the military is now really starting to grapple with profound elements of the military culture, and it is very painful to do this self-evaluation, you begin to identify aspects of the culture that are feeding this. Then you talk about it.

It is obvious that women around the world are viewed as vulnerable and as legitimate targets for hatred and the exercise of power. A culture has to examine why that is and how it came to be and how it can be changed.

That last really comment struck me.  He’s reminding us, first, that it's not just going on in 'other places' but it's also going on in the good ol' USA.  He's saying, next, that a cultural response is needed. He’s saying that, as a first step, a step like crafting a law that makes it perfectly clear to some men that they are not entitled to commit violence against women, is mandatory.

So, yeah, thanks, Joe.

It does not mean, however, that, just because our cultural ship hasn't come into port, we should excuse individual acts of violence against women.  It means we should be outraged!  Furious! It means that we shouldn't make excuses for individual acts of cruelty.  But it also means that we -- as a society -- have one big, hefty arrow to pierce injustice.

But even NAWA couldn’t stop a few drunks from raping that young woman in Steubenville.  It didn’t stop Ariel Castro from abducting those young girls.  Or that Texas gang from raping that little girl.

It’s something, though.  It’s a flickering beginning.  A dim glow to lead us through the dark.

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    Christine Rice

    My most recent fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in THE URBANESS, THE GOOD MEN PROJECT, CELLSTORIES.NET and F MAGAZINE. My audio essays have been produced by Chicago Public Radio’s daily magazine EIGHT FORTY-EIGHT. I also manage an online lit mag (yes...another lit mag) called HYPERTEXTMAG.COM. My feature stories have appeared in the THE GOOD MEN PROJECT, CHICAGO TRIBUNE and Detroit’s METRO TIMES and METRO PARENT newspapers. I’ve been an adjunct professor in the Columbia College Chicago Fiction Writing Department since 1992, have chaired the Fiction Writing Department’s Young Authors writing contest since 2000 and am the faculty editor of Columbia College Chicago’s student anthology HAIR TRIGGER.

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