Pundits wrongly think contraception is controversial, and VH1 wrongly thinks emotional abuse is entertainment. Also, an interview with blogger Figleaf.
Links in this episode:
Welcome to a media criticism heavy episode of Reality Cast. I’ll be talking about the new hostility to basic contraception in the news media, and this upsetting new VH1 show that normalizes intimate partner abuse. Also, paradigm-smashing with pro-feminist sex blogger Figleaf, and how conservatives are going to use the fear of women’s sexuality as a tool to smash everything positive in sight.
Meanwhile, Neil Giuliano, the president of GLAAD is out there fighting back against people who use religion to promote bigotry.
- glaad *
Agreed. I’m sick of how people hide behind religion. The mere fact that you have a religious belief doesn’t mean that you are exempt from criticism. All this does is continues to encourage sexists and homophobes to adopt religion in order to shield themselves from criticism.
I wrote about this ridiculous hissy fit that House Republicans are having over the inclusion of family planning money in the economic stimulus package, but truly, this is a story that has many myriad angles to show exactly how screwed up this country is on the subject of sex and reproduction. What’s shocking is how many media types are willing to sign onto demonizing contraception. Contraception is an everyday part of life for most Americans, as unremarkable as toilet paper or house shoes.
But you wouldn’t know it from the way the media is responding like they just found out that people want to have sex for reasons other than procreation. I have to start off with Chris Matthews interviewing Representative Gingrey.
- pill 1 *
Oh hardy har har. I think Gingrey is a little confused about how birth control pills work. You swallow them and they suppress ovulation. You do not actually stimulate yourself with birth control. You need a good friend or your own hand for that. It seems we not only need sex education in schools but in Congress.
But did Matthews point out the obvious to Gingrey, which is that it’s completely insane to get upset over the use of contraception in the 21st century? No. He implied that the birth control pill is the first step towards communism.
- pill 2 *
Does Chris Matthews think the pills are mandatory if you’re on Medicaid? Because he’s conflating a voluntary program with the one-child policy in China, which is mandatory. The irony is that depriving impoverished women of contraception makes pregnancy mandatory in practice, if not in theory.
And then you have Neil Cavuto coming out and saying that forcing women to have children they don’t want or can’t afford is good for the economy.
- pill 3 *
What strikes me about these sort of things is how these male pundits seem to simply forget that women are human beings, not ambulatory uteruses. Matthews and Cavuto seem to think babies come from cabbage patches, because they talk about this issue strictly in terms of raising or lowering the birth rate, as if the fact that real women have to go through real pregnancies and raise real children with real money hadn’t even occurred to them. And for some bizarre reason, it’s going completely unmentioned in the mainstream media that a huge percentage, possibly even the majority, of unintended pregnancies that will result if this isn’t passed will end in abortion.
For reasons I fail to understand, it seemed that this right wing-concocted nonsense was considered important enough to make Nancy Pelosi go on TV and defend the inclusion of family planning in the bill.
- pill 4 *
George Stephanopoulos has lost his mind. Why is he pandering to right wingers by feeding this fuss over contraceptive funding? Since when is it considered part of the non-crazy discourse to insinuate that there’s something seedy and immoral about basic contraceptive use, which means that we’re casting doubt on the moral character of 98% of straight women.
This is misogyny, pure and simple. Not that George Stephanopoulos is a misogynist, but by grabbing onto this, he’s feeding a misogynist narrative. Count on Rush Limbaugh to come straight out and connect this issue to other expressions of misogyny.
- pill 5 *
What I liked most about that clip is that he literally sounds like he’s foaming at the mouth. You can hear the spittle flying off his mouth as he insinuates Nancy Pelosi is too old or ugly to be permitted into his view.
Anyway, I fail to see how this isn’t just raw misogyny. Limbaugh and company are projecting this world where women are condemned for aging, but also condemned for being young and fertile and needing contraception. You cannot win. This game is rigged.
- insert interview *
Big time hat tip to Bitch Blog for pointing out that VH1 has a new reality series called "Tool Academy", where bad boyfriends are supposedly trained to be good ones. Initially, I thought it was kind of funny and interesting that men are, for once, the subject of a self-improvement reality show program, but upon watching the clips, I have some serious concerns with this show.
On the good side, as the blogger at Bitch noted, the show demonstrates how sexism infects personal relationships and breeds abuse, which could be educational. However, they don’t come down hard enough on these guys, and worse, they seem to be normalizing the idea that staying in a relationship with an abusive man in order to fix him is something that could work. Here’s example #1, one of the boyfriends talking about how he’s "trained" his girlfriend into submission:
- tool 1 *
This hit me in the gut, because I’m feeling like we’re seeing emotional abuse, being put in front of us for our entertainment. Help Guide, in their page on domestic violence, says abusers need to dominate and will often treat victims like possessions or servants. My ill feeling was reinforced when the guy coughed up the disingenuous apology.
- tool 2 *
By no means am I an expert, but I couldn’t help but feel the pride he took in forcing her submission and the half-assed apology, especially considering the way she blamed herself, and I thought, no this relationship just needs to end, period. Despite his apologies, he spent most of the show berating her. But do the producers do the responsible thing and help this woman get the help she needs to get out? No, by the end of the show, she’s engaged to him, as if that’s something to celebrate.
Here’s another bad boyfriend:
- tool 3 *
Blaming his girlfriend for his own choice to throw the chair, taking pride in it, being invested in strict gender roles—again, all red flashing signs that indicate that someone may be prone to domestic violence.
Some of the guys have other problems, such as cheating or just generally sucking. The consistent theme is that the women with them can’t see that they just need to walk out the door, because our culture eats up women’s self esteem with shark like efficiency. Like this poor woman:
- tool 4 *
And in the next episode, we get this horrible scene between that woman and her boyfriend.
- tool 5 *
The VH1 website describes these clips and others with words such as "hilarious", "funniest", "ridiculous", and condescending phrases like, "getting in touch with their sensitive sides". The ads on the videos are almost completely for products aimed at women, like women’s shampoo and deodorant, so it’s clear that the intended audience is female.
Two of the major reasons that women stay in abusive relationships, especially early on, is that they tell themselves it’s not that big a deal, and they believe that if they stick around and love him enough and work with him, then he’ll stop his abusive behavior. Both beliefs are wrong, but this show promotes both to its female audience, with the trivializing language and the incorrect premise that working on the relationship will improve things.
There’s an elimination round to get rid of men who the producers think are insincere, which I think is all of them. Sadly, 2/3 of the contestants stay with the men even after elimination.
And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, Limbaugh really lost his mind a long time ago edition. Rush Limbaugh didn’t used to be some anti-contraception nut, but check it out, he’s attacking contraception funding to pro-choice organizations.
- Limbaugh loses it *
As I documented in the first segment, this appears to be the growing right wing strategy, to simply remove the possibility that women have agency from the discussion. Offering women an opportunity to control their fertility is conflated with "imposing" infertility on them. What they’re ultimately communicating is this idea that women, especially poor women, women living in 3rd world countries, and women of color, have no agency. In conservative eyes, women are just walking wombs. We don’t make choices. Being assisted is being imposed upon, because it’s assumed that women simply cannot think for themselves.