North Dakota, Steubenville, and Getting Government Out of Your Crotch


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On this episode of Reality Cast, I’ll talk to anthology editor Sari Botton on getting a conservative government out of your crotch. North Dakota looks at a ban on abortion at 6 weeks of pregnancy, and the Steubenville rapists are found guilty in juvenile court.

After enduring a shocking rampage of online abuse months ago when she started to raise money for a video series on sexism in video games, Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency has now started to release the videos. The first is on the prevalence of the “damsel in distress” storyline in video games. She starts off with what sounds like an address to her critics who tried to silence her before she even had a chance to express her opinion.

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You can love something while being adult enough to be critical of its politics. Of course, I suspect many of Anita’s critics are perfectly happy with the reactionary and even misogynist politics in many video games, and that’s why they got so angry.

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Until now, state restrictions on when you can get an abortion are rationalized politically as not being abortion bans because they supposedly give women sufficient time to get an abortion. Anti-choicers are counting on misogynist stereotypes about women being fickle and stupid to imply that bans on abortion after 20 weeks or now in Arkansas 12 weeks are okay, because they’ll supposedly only affect women who were too lazy to do it earlier or something. In reality, most women who wait until 12 weeks or even 20 weeks have a good reason to do so, often because of health problems or access problems. But anti-choicers pretend otherwise. But now the charade about giving women enough time to decide has ended, in North Dakota, where the legislature passed an abortion ban at 6 weeks.

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At this point, I don’t see why not just ban abortion after a woman finds out she’s pregnant. You can abort right up until you take that pregnancy test, but once you know for sure, no more abortions for you. As a bonus, such a ban allows the police to ransack women’s homes and garbage cans, looking for pregnancy tests. We can leave it up to individual states whether or not women will have to have a transvaginal probe during the search process. The beauty of this is it creates a perfect loop where no single abortion can get through, but you can still pretend that you haven’t banned abortion. Win/win.

So why is the ban so early? What’s the rationale? As usual, it’s the heartbeat nonsense.

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What’s interesting is that is a blatant lie, since anti-choicers claim to believe that “life” begins at fertilization, not at the heartbeat. It’s not indisputable, since they themselves dispute it! Nor is there any biological reason to claim that life begins with a heartbeat, since many creatures and plants and one-celled animals don’t have hearts and are yet still alive. Of course, all these people eat plants and animals, so “life” is not actually what they’re protecting. By and large, we all also accept that if a person’s brain dies, they are dead even if you can artificially pump their heart into infinity. Additionally, a pair of Siamese twins that share a heart but have two separate heads would get two names. It’s clear that we think of people as being their brains, not their hearts. Anti-choicers are only trying to change the rules because embryos have hearts but don’t really have brains in the same way we do.

Not that any of this matters, because you also know who has a heart AND a brain? The pregnant woman. But because she’s had sex, I guess, she forsakes the basic right to control her body.

The appalling dishonesty on display from supporters of the heartbeat bill came out during debate.

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He neglects to mention that the court then went on to argue that a woman’s interest in bodily autonomy outweighed state interest in the fetus before viability. Overlooking this can’t be chalked up to ignorance. Anti-choicers know what Roe v. Wade is, believe me. This line of argument suggests that the legislature knows that their bill will be overturned by the courts, but they are willing to use taxpayer funds to mount a pointless court battle anyway, in the slim hopes that it will go to the Supreme Court and Roe will be overturned. In a sense, however, this is all symbolic politics, despite the money that will be spent. The larger threat comes from the bill requiring admitting privileges to the local hospital, one that will be passed with the full knowledge that the North Dakota clinic doesn’t need and won’t therefore be able to get those privileges.

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insert interview

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After months of contentious coverage and debate online, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond of Steubenville, Ohio, have been convicted of rape in juvenile court.

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Since both young men were tried as juveniles, they received relatively light sentences, with Richmond getting one year and Mays getting two. However, they are juveniles, which means those are minimum sentences and they can be held until they’re 21, if the state determines they aren’t fit to be released. Their names will be added to the sex offender registry. What was remarkable about this case is that there was such an overwhelming crush of evidence against the defendants. Not only were there videos, pictures, and eyewitness testimony, but Mays sent out a flurry of text messages to his friends and the victim that resulted in a tacit admission of guilt. Because of this, the verdict isn’t really a surprise, especially since it was only a judge making the determination, which made it harder for the defense to distract him from applying the law fairly by making a fuss over how unpopular the victim is.

The defendants and their friends left a massive trail of evidence of the rape on social media for a fairly obvious reason, which is that they were proud and excited about this, because they live in a sexist culture that teaches that abusing women makes you edgy and cool. There have been young men raping women and then bragging about it to their friends long before cell phones and Twitter, so it’s not a surprise that they’d use these new technologies for the same old purposes. Unfortunately, some of the responses have made it sound like the technologies are to blame, as if young rapists never thought to brag about their crimes before they could do so on Twitter.

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Uh, “cautionary tale”? That makes it sound like the problem wasn’t the rape itself, but recording it in such a way that it makes it easy to prove you did it. Calling this a cautionary tale implies that the lesson to be taken from this is that if you rape, you should do a better job of covering your tracks. Sadly, even the judge implied as much, scolding the defendants for using social media. In reality, we should be glad they recorded their actions and talked about their crimes online and in text. Because of that, we have proof they did it and can hold them accountable. In that sense, social media and the transparency it creates is a good thing.

Unfortunately, the inability of so many people to understand that rape is a violent crime was put on full display in the media reaction to this verdict. CNN, for some reason, decided to cover the young rapists with a “tragic hero” narrative. Poppy Harlow said this:

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Not a word about how hard and emotionally devastating it has been for the victim, even though she too broke down in court when pictures that were taken to humiliate her were shown to her on the witness stand. Nor was a word given to the fact that she endures harassment all the time from local residents who are mad their star football players can’t play anymore. The coverage continued like this, with Candy Crowley asking legal expert Paul Callan about the verdict.

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Look, I know that it’s important to cover how emotional this is for these young men and their families, but the passive language here is absolutely infuriating. Lives aren’t being randomly destroyed. These young men actively tried to destroy a young woman and paid the price for it. They did this to themselves. I struggle to imagine any other crime that would be covered as if the criminal just stumbled into making the active choice to hurt and humiliate someone like this. We need to start talking about rape as a choice rapists make and not as something that just happens to them. Until rapists are held morally accountable for rape, rape will continue.

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And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, they will never stop obsessing over Sandra Fluke edition. Sandra Fluke suggested birth control is a good thing, and conservatives will never forgive her for it. Ann Coulter took a swipe at Fluke during CPAC, of course.

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Ironically, Ann Coulter spent much of her speech complaining about Republicans saying stupid stuff, and then she went ahead and continued to abuse a woman for supporting contraception access, which 99% of women use. If you want to have people stop thinking you’re radical misogynists, perhaps start by not attacking the health care needs of 99% of women.

Follow Amanda Marcotte on twitter: @amandamarcotte