Why Law & Order: SVU Matters

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, a popular spin-off of the hit television show Law and Order is famous for its intense, emotional episodes with true-to-life stories. The show has been running for 17 seasons, with many of the original cast still involved, and doesn’t look like it will stop anytime soon.

I love this show for its sensational appeal. It is an interesting, thought-provoking television show that works to keep up with the times and remain relevant to what is happening in our world right now. But the show has a much deeper impact than just being good television. It’s bringing awareness to important issues in a significant way.

Law and Order SVU deals primarily with sex crimes. With many of the story lines pulled from newspaper headlines and true stories, the show doesn’t exaggerate the problem: rather, it sheds light on the crisis that our country is facing. Sexual assaults are on the rise; Approximately every 2 minutes, an American is sexually assaulted (rainn.org). This is especially true on college campuses, where it is estimated that 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted by the time they graduate. We live in a culture where sexual assault is no longer seen as an anomaly- it is viewed as the norm.

The reason this show resonates is that the stories are real, and the people playing them do an excellent job of portraying them accurately. Not every victim in the show gets justice; This sadly is the case in real life as well, with 68% of sexual assaults going unreported, and 98% of rapists never seeing a day in prison (rainn.org). Law and Order SVU has been calling attention to the fact that sexual assaults are not treated as a horrible crime in our culture. They are seen as a cultural norm.

Law & Order: SVU tackles other important issues too. Since the beginning of the show, they have been addressing transphobia, homophobia, racism, and classism, along with the obvious addressing of rape culture and slut shaming. As a feminist, this show is inspiring to me for many reasons, including its bravery with topics, the number of POC who are in starring or supporting roles (the M.E., Melinda Warner, and one of the lead detectives to name a few) and the way it stays true to reality, even if reality sucks. Law and Order SVU is easily one of the best, most progressive, shows on TV right now.

 

 

Sexting: Is It Actually That Bad?

SEXTING. Many people, when they hear this word, think immediately of racy pictures, sent to people who then turn around and exploit them. We read stories of people whose lives were ruined when their nudes were leaked. But how much of a problem is it, and how much of it is misogynistic hype designed to make women ashamed of their bodies?

When I attended the annual Amnesty Human Rights Conference a few weeks ago, the first workshop I listened to was presented by a lawyer from the Nassau County Human Rights Commission, a woman who works on cases concerning juveniles and sex crimes. She was intense, at times scary- pelting the audience (who were mostly high school students) with laws and statutes about sexting. Now, it is clear that her intent was to educate us about the dangers of sending sexually explicit messages, and to discourage us from making poor decisions. However, even though I recognized the good intent behind her lecture, it reeked of misogyny and a culture that shames women for existing as sexual beings.

I do not disagree with laws that protect young girls and boys from engaging in sexual activity, such as sexting. There is a clear necessity for consent laws that protect young teens from being pressured into sexual activity. Furthermore, it’s obvious why a 30-year old man possessing sexually explicit images of young girls is a criminal. But when a teenager is engaging in sexual activity of their own volition, with another teenager, how is that a crime?

Telling a teenage girl that she is a criminal for sharing images of her body with a romantic partner serves to slut-shame her. Contrary to many adults’ beliefs, it is possible for a teenager to engage in sexual activity simply because they want to – they can be capable of understanding the risks, consenting, and enjoying it. Sending “sexts”, as they are frequently called, is a way to connect intimately with your partner and demonstrate interest. And while many adults will argue that teenagers are too young to be sexually active, that’s simply untrue.

Girls (not boys) are taught from a young age that their bodies are pure, until they become sexually active- then, they become “damaged goods.” As Jessica Valenti points out in her book “The Purity Myth”, a female’s worth is predicated on whether or not she is a virgin.

How does this connect to the issue of underage sexting? Well, more often than not, the person being shamed for sending sexts is the girl. Why is a girl engaging in voluntary sexual activity with a partner a criminal? By instituting laws that make her one, we tell her that she is incapable of making responsible decisions, and furthermore, we treat her as a child. Teenagers are capable of being in safe, mature, and even loving relationships, and as many adults know, sexual activity (both in-person and through messaging) is a healthy part of relationships.

Of course, there is a time and a place for laws that prevent sexting. When one of the people involved is a adult and the other a minor, there is a clear violation of the law (except in Romeo-Juliet law cases). If a boy shows a picture of his girlfriend or hookup and she becomes bullied for it, that is a different story. But, in my opinion, simply sending a picture to your boyfriend or girlfriend should not constitute a crime. In an age where we constantly tell girls to be ashamed of their bodies, why should we punish the ones who are not, and who are healthy, sexual beings?

 

The Issues with Male Feminists

The other day, in my Spanish class, my teacher brought up feminism. At first, I was so excited- it’s rare to see a teacher, especially a male one, bringing this up and educating their students about it. But as the discussion (or, more accurately, lecture) proceeded, I became aware of how problematic this teacher was turning out to be.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The fact that my teacher even brought up the subject is a massive step forward in the right direction, and I certainly appreciate his efforts. But, the problem with his rhetoric was that it was male-oriented. For the duration of the class, my teacher spoke about feminism- his personal view on it. When the women in the class attempted to speak about their experiences, he shut them down very quickly.

Why is this a problem? Let me explain. While it is wonderful that more and more men are becoming allies to feminism, the fact remains that, for the most part, the movement is not about them. When we speak about things like the wage gap and sexual discrimination, the war on reproductive rights, and other, horrific things that happen to women, we’re not looking for men to tell us their opinions on these subjects. We need to listen to the stories of women who have actually endured these things. Men need to learn that sometimes, their voices are not the most important. It’s a hard lesson to learn, when society constantly amplifies mens voices, but it is a necessary one.

It’s the same thing white people have to learn when discussing race- let People of Color tell their stories and amplify the marginalized voices. It’s the same thing cisgender people have to learn when discussing trans issues- let the marginalized group tell their stories, and feel safe doing so.

While every single person who identifies as a feminist and supports the movement is helping the movement progress and grow, every one of us needs to learn how to best support the movement. For men, that is ensuring that women’s voices are heard, and sometimes, learning to be the listener rather than the speaker.

 

 

While We Talk About Paris, Do Not Forget About Beirut.

On Friday night, the entire world was rocked by the news that Paris had been the target of a devastating terrorist attack orchestrated by ISIS. 129 dead, countless others critically injured. People who had been out, enjoying a normal Friday night with friends were murdered in cold blood. Immediately, the world spoke out: Nation’s leaders like Barack Obama made announcements that they would stand in solidarity with France. Monuments all over the globe lit up with the colors of the French flag.

What happened in France was tragic. It is a horrible attack on the free world and the values we all hold dear. But it is not the only attack orchestrated recently by ISIS, and to pretend so is another tragedy in and of itself.

On Thursday, just a day before the attacks on Paris, Beirut (a city in Lebanon) was the victim of a double suicide attack. 43 people lost their lives. But where is there story? Where are the world leaders pledging their support to the country of Lebanon? Where are the world monuments lit up with the colors of the Lebanese flag? (Which is red, white and green if you were wondering). They’re nowhere to be found. The attack in Beirut was swept under the rug by most popular news outlets. Elie Fares, a Lebanese doctor, put it perfectly: “Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in THOSE parts of the world.”

The fact is, when horrible things happen in parts of the world we ourselves do not identify with, we brush it off. We say it is typical of that region. But, when something happens in Paris, a city so similar to American cities like New York City and Los Angeles, it shakes us to our very core. Why are we only concerned about people like us? Why does our compassion not extend to countries like Lebanon? Do we not care?

It is right to mourn the horrible attack on Paris. But, while we are mourning that loss, remember that there are other regions of the world that are suffering their own losses. Paris was not the only victim. In order to defeat ISIS, we have to acknowledge every one of their victims; otherwise, we are weak while they remain strong.

Cultural Appropriation and Halloween

This Saturday is one of the most fun holidays of the year- Halloween. It’s fun to plan your costume and to go out candy-hunting (or, as most call it, trick-or-treating) with your friends. But there is a line that some costumes cross, a line where having fun crosses over into offensive cultural appropriation.

What exactly is cultural appropriation? It’s when a dominant group (for example, white people) adopt an aspect of a minority group’s culture (say, Native American headdresses) and use it as a costume or as a fun fashion accessory. This is a problem for so many reasons. Amandla Stenberg put it perfectly when she called out Kylie Jenner for wearing dreadlocks: “Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated but is deemed as high-fashion, cool or funny when the privileged take it for themselves.” Furthermore, when a privileged person takes an aspect of a minority group’s culture, they don’t have to deal with the prejudice and racism that minority groups have to face on a daily basis.

When we talk about cultural appropriation, we have to ensure that we are creating space for people of minority groups to have a voice. While it is great for white people to recognize that there is a problem, we can’t be the dominant voices in this conversation. We need to be allies to minorities, and work to create an understanding of what cultural appropriation is and how to avoid it.

Part of creating space means not getting offended when cultural appropriation is discussed. Too often conversations becomes focused on white people, to put it bluntly, whining about how their “freedom of expression is being crippled” or that “[insert minority group] is being too sensitive, it’s just a costume.” When I hear white people complain like this, it makes me feel sick. Privileged groups have the horrible tendency to make conversations about themselves, when we really need to be focusing on the experiences of minority groups. If we make it all about white people and how they feel slighted, we miss the point of the conversation entirely.

Halloween is meant to be a fun holiday, and all it takes to keep it that way is a little sensitivity. It is ok to dress up as a specific historical figure that you admire, like Barack Obama or Cleopatra. What is not ok is taking parts of a minority group’s culture (say, an indian spirit dress or dreadlocks) and wearing it as a funny costume, without recognizing the historical experiences of that group, and realizing the social implications someone of that minority group has to deal with for wearing what you have taken as a costume. Cultural appropriation is a massive issue, and I don’t understand all the nuances and complexities of it. But it is important that everyone tries to be kind and respectful every day of the year, and especially with your costumes on Halloween.

The Myth of “Innocence”

*Author’s Note: This article focuses on the experiences of women because the author is a female, and so has direct experience with that perspective. This is not intended to say that men do not also suffer from related issues, but that this specific problem is primarily felt by women.

The dictionary defines innocence as “freedom from sin or moral wrong; harmlessness.”  This is the traditional meaning of the word. Society has created a second meaning; An “innocent” girl is one who is not sexually active. This second definition is incredibly prevalent in school communities, like Friends Academy; Female students that are not perceived to be sexually active are seen as innocent and good.

Why is a woman’s worth so directly tied to whether or not they are sexually active? And why is a woman who isn’t sexually active seen as superior to one who is? These misguided and outdated beliefs likely stem from a variety of issues, such as a lack of comprehensive sexual education in high schools and media sources that reinforce the idea that women who are sexually active are “sluts.” But it boils down to the fact that society as a whole continues to maintain that sex is bad…if it’s a woman who is sexually active.

The cold, hard truth is that a woman owning and even *gasp* being proud of her sexuality scares people. Women who engage in consensual sex, especially while in high school, often get a reputation among their peers as “slutty” or “promiscuous;” Yet, men who are sexually active are applauded for their actions. Furthermore, women are encouraged to retain their virginity and remain “innocent”, whereas men are applauded for losing their. Why are women shamed for doing the same thing men do? Why do we still buy into this horrifyingly sexist double standard?

As a society we should be striving to be progressive, and to be fair, we have taken steps in this direction. But no society can honestly call itself progressive while it still enforces this double standard for men and women. Unfortunately, these sexist beliefs are so deeply ingrained in our culture that we do not notice even when it affects our behavior. We give women this ideal of innocence to strive for in order to be seen as “good.” In this way society reinforces the harmful notion that women should be ashamed of their sexuality.

Innocence itself is not the criminal here. It is a word, and a word only has the power that we choose to give it. But this word is far too often used to praise women who are not sexually active, helping society to maintain a sexist double standard. Someone’s “goodness” should not be based on whether are not that person is sexually active. All women should be respected, regardless of their perceived “innocence.”

Why You Should Be Supporting Bernie Sanders

I am a staunch supporter of Bernie Sanders. Even though I will not be able to vote in the next election (sadly), I am hoping and praying that the rest of America have the good sense to vote for Sanders.

As others have pointed out, Bernie Sanders is not perfect. But he is the best option. He is a progressive Democrat, adamant in his stances on race, education, women’s rights, and healthcare. He is actually talking about hot-button issues like climate change, help for veterans and immigration. He is not just saying things in order to gain popularity with voters- these are views he has held for decades. What other candidate can say that?

Bernie Sanders is not a perfect ally to people of color, but he is adamant in his beliefs in equality. He frequently tweets statements such as “People should be elected to office based on their ideas, not their religion or the color of their skin” and “Let’s stop the racism. Sanders acknowledges that people of color suffer from four central types of violence: physical, political, legal, and economic. He acknowledges that we are allowing a system of oppression to continue in our society. But more than talking about these issues, he is proposing solutions: Give everyone a fair shot at attending college. Ban prisons for profit. Re-enfranchise the more than two million African Americans who have had their right to vote taken away by a felony conviction. Demilitarize our police forces so they don’t look and act like invading armies. These ideas are radical, but he is willing to promote radical change to get our society moving in the right way.

One of the more controversial parts of Bernie Sander’s campaign is his proposal to eliminate tuition fees for undergraduates at all public colleges and universities. Many are railing against this proposal, saying that it will cost American taxpayers too much, that we shouldn’t be giving away education for free. But why shouldn’t education be a universal right? Why are some people more deserving of higher education than others? Who decides that distinction?

News recently broke that the Republican-led House voted to defund Planned Parenthood, an organization dedicated to promoting women’s health. We are at risk of going back to the days when women had to risk their lives to end an unwanted pregnancy. Women’s bodies are being policed by the government, and this should not stand. If Bernie Sanders is elected president, he will not let gender inequality continue. He has already advocated for years on these issues, and has been a staunch supporter of feminism and women’s rights since he was a college student. We should want a president that will stand up for birth control rights, for the rights of domestic abuse survivors.

Bernie Sanders will not lead our country into ruin, like Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina or Mike Huckabee would. He is the candidate who will help solve some of our most pressing issues right now. If you’re not planning on voting for him, I ask you to seriously question what you value in your life, and #FeeltheBern.