About That Viral Jared Fogle Cover Story Image

Less than two weeks ago, I used a pen to fix a cover story in The Washington Post on Jared Fogle. I crossed out the word “underage sex” and wrote in “statutory rape” in the headline, and then changed a few more words in the story: “having sex with” and “sexual encounters with” became “raping” and “rapes of” underage girls. Then I took a picture and posted the image to Twitter and Facebook.


The image went viral. Using the most conservative estimates that don’t account for people copying and pasting on their own, the image has been shared well over 40,000 times. I want to talk about why that image resonated so strongly and make some suggestions about where to go from here.

People are sick and tired of rape culture. Rape culture is the way media, law, language, sexism, and social norms interact to create a world where sexual assault is commonplace. It manifested in the Post story by wrapping Fogle’s sexual misconduct with minors in the language of consensual sex.

We can, and should, talk about why this happened. It happened, in part, because of the inadequacy of the charges against Fogle: “Distributing and receiving child pornography, and conspiring to do so, as well as repeatedly traveling to engage in commercial sex acts with underage minors.” Here’s the problem: Legal language and technicalities can obstruct telling it like it is and pursuing justice to the point where it becomes an open question whether the law is designed to protect victims of sexual crimes or powerful, popular men like Jared Fogle and Bill Cosby.

In plain language and the lived experiences of victims of sexual assault, if a person is unable to consent to sex – it’s rape, and that includes the circumstance of an adult preying upon minors below the age of consent. The exchange of money does not override other factors that make a person unable to consent to sex. Fogle engaged in criminal sexual conduct with minors – and while journalists can say that, they can’t say he raped them unless or until the law says he did.

The general population is pretty unaware that one of the largest concerns about reporting on rape within newsrooms is making sure you don’t get sued. So, The Washington Post couldn’t have said that Fogle raped those girls or young women, even though tens of thousands of people agree with me and wish they could have. Part of our ire should rightfully be focused on the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Indiana that offered Fogle the plea deal that allowed him to avoid rape charges.

That said, The Washington Post must be held accountable to an open accounting of its editorial standards surrounding sexual crimes, and revising them to avoid the appearance of victim-blaming. The article in question is hardly the first time the newspaper has reported criminal sexual conduct in the language of consensual sex, or published outrageous things about rape victims – last year, columnist George Will suggested victimhood is “a coveted status that confers privileges” on campus. Tell that to Willa Murphy, who was told to leave Georgetown after she was raped and her academic performance suffered a setback.

The headline on Fogle could have spotlighted that a plea deal meant he avoided rape charges. The text of the story could have referenced the charges explicitly by name, and then paraphrased them later as “sexual misconduct” rather than “sexual encounters.” Language really matters.

We do not use the language of consensual practices to describe other crimes. We don’t read stories about people sharing their wallets with the criminals who robbed them, or offering their lives to the murderers who killed them. We should not do the same with criminal sexual conduct – no matter the other circumstances of the victim’s life, and no matter the celebrity of the person facing charges.

While less relevant to the Fogle story, there is an important, additional step The Washington Post can and should take in its reporting moving forward. It should not call victims “accusers” and/or present the facts of their personal lives, but instead place the emphasis on charges and the people facing them. “Accuse” carries a hostile connotation that reflects upon the person doing it. It is time to use the language of crime to report all crimes, including sexual crimes.

Editorial standards need to change. It’s also pretty clear the application of law does, too. Judging by the shares of the image I created recently, people of all political persuasions on the Internet are leading the way.

It’s Still Rape

It’s still rape when the rapist is famous, or well-liked. “A family guy.” That kind of bullshit.

It’s still rape when the rapist is a friend, date, hook-up, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife. Rapists are people — and usually not strangers.

It’s still rape when it happens in the LGBT community.

It’s still rape when the victim is underage. No matter what she was wearing. No matter what he said in class. They could be “asking for it,” doesn’t matter — when the person is underage, it’s rape.

It’s still rape when the media calls victims, “accusers,” and rapes, “sex.”


It’s still rape when you’re fucked up on alcohol or drugs. When you said yes before you said no. When you’re a person who likes sex, yes, just not rape.

It’s still rape when Whoopi Goldberg is friends with the rapist. When the military protects its chain of command. When the Vatican says it shouldn’t be held responsible.

It’s still rape when politicians are too busy trying to control abortion to listen to victims and give them the dignity and support they deserve.

It’s still rape when the victim has chosen to identify as a survivor (heck yeah!).

We need a new conversation on rape, immediately. We need to insist upon it. We need to make corrections the moment they are due. Otherwise, we are all part of the problem.

Video: Thanksgiving Weekend November 2014 To The Contrary Appearance

I appeared as a panelist on this week’s episode of To The Contrary, and discussed fraternities and rape on campus, gender inequality in the workplace, and feminism and motherhood. You can watch a video of the show here:


VIDEO: April 2013 To The Contrary Appearance

I appeared on this week’s To The Contrary with Bonnie Erbé, discussing a sexist attack on The New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson, a new film about Saudi women’s rights, and students using social media to fight sexual assault on campus. You can watch it here:

NRA President David Keene’s Rape Joke Isn’t Funny

“We [the NRA] could be serial rapists and have a higher favorable rating than Congress.”

David Keene, NRA President

When will the rape jokes stop?

Wednesday, National Rifle Association (NRA) President David Keene spoke at Harvard and popped a rape joke in defense of his increasingly indefensible organization.

Why doesn’t he compare their favorability rating to Congress anymore? Let’s not draw attention to the NRA’s slipping numbers. Let’s have a laugh about rape and “government” instead.

This comment has gone virtually unnoticed.

This is exactly what rape culture looks like.

Rape culture hides in plain sight.

Rape is not a punchline.

Rape is rape.

Rape happens every day. Someone, often a woman or a girl, is sexually assaulted in the United States every two minutes.

She may be screaming right now. She may be crying as quietly as she can. She may be closing her eyes and praying to live through this.

Can you hear her?

Rape is violence. Dismissing gun violence with rape violence is missing the entire point. All violence against women must end.

Rape culture feeds gun culture and gun culture feeds rape culture.

Rape culture and gun culture are part of the same culture of dominance and violence — and men exercising power without sharing it equally and equitably with women.

Strangers are not the danger, and let’s be real, the face of the stranger our culture says to be afraid of is an African American man who, like a woman of any ethnic background, rarely gets to contribute to public policy debates about guns, rape, violence and, for that matter, everything else under the law.

Racism has never lessened the epidemic of violence in this country.

Racism is a form of violence in itself.

Racism feeds more violence.

Racism is used to stoke fears by those who make piles and piles of money

from racism

and sexism

and violence.

The faces to be afraid of are the white men who lead our country almost totally by themselves while insisting there’s nothing wrong with that.

While not passing the Violence Against Women Act.

While not doing something about the fact that women are more likely to be shot by an intimate partner than a stranger.

While not doing something about the fact that women are more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone they know.

While parading out a woman who will say that guns are fashionable, which they are not.

While parading out a woman who will say that guns will protect a woman from rape, which they do not.

While parading out a woman who will say that they have a “second amendment right to choose” that means everyone — women, men, criminals — is eligible buy a gun without a background check, or military-style weapons, or military-style ammunition.

A rape joke is not going to make this go away.

A rape joke makes it worse.

Shame on the National Rifle Association.

Shame on gun culture.

Shame on rape culture.


Keep Beloved: Banning Books About Rape And Slavery Won’t Help Affluent White Boys

Today’s Washington Post brought the headline “Fairfax County parent wants ‘Beloved’ banned from Fairfax County school system” above a photograph of a white woman with her arms crossed inside what appears to be a very tony home.

It seems last year Laura Murphy’s son had nightmares after reading Toni Morrison’s book Beloved, an important yet difficult story about race, rape and slavery. Now she wants the entire school system to ban the book. The article goes on to quote her son, Blake, presumably also white and affluent, on reading Beloved during his senior year at Lake Braddock High School in Virginia:

“It was disgusting and gross. It was hard for me to handle. I gave up on it.”

Quoting straight from the article:

Currently, students can opt out of books assigned in class that they find uncomfortable to read. But the policy should be stricter for books with mature themes, Murphy argues.

Laura Murphy tried and failed to get the book dropped entirely from the AP English curriculum, after bringing the matter to the superintendent, the school board and the taxpayers who subsidize their time. Today she is working to have  the entire state of Virginia change reading policies to mirror “family life” (sex ed) policies in which parents are able to receive notice before certain topics come up, and remove their children — some of whom may be legal adults — from the class.

And with that, it’s all here in this real-life story: Race, class, privilege, elitism, sexism, sexuality taboos, rape culture, male dominance, control, the power of omission, science taboos, ignorance, euphemisms, ‘family values,’ religious right policy frameworks, censorship, fear of ‘the other,’ teaching slavery in a former slave state, public education in the suburbs versus public education everywhere else, the promise of an elite Advanced Placement program most frequently realized by those who don’t have the largest issues paying for four years of college.

It is a perverse twist on a scene from Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird  that made me uncomfortable, and never left me, where the tattered books from the rich white children are sent off to the poor black children. In that I read a juxtaposition of good intentions and/or a ‘desecration is appropriate for certain people in certain contexts’ mentality on one side, and a longing for better conditions on the other. And no difference in essential humanity between the two, just unquestioned customs and the accident of what body you were born in.

What I’m saying is that as a child in an affluent, primarily white suburban public school system, I read To Kill A Mockingbird and began to think about race and racial privilege in a more critical way. It was life-changing. Continuing to push myself into more of that discomfort is a lifelong process. That lifelong process began by reading a difficult book about race in public school.

Rather than use the space of this post to ridicule Laura Murphy and Blake Murphy and those who believe censorship is a good idea, or that the real experiences of oppression should be sanitized, or that whitewashing history will help everyone to sleep better, I’m going to observe instead the power of the written word and specifically fiction to further realize the promise of a democratic society.

It is in reading the immersive stories of others that we learn empathy for those we are segregated from, those with less than us, those with different experiences than us, those with more resources than us. Emotions are important, yes, but this is what democracy and pluralism are all about. Rather than insist everyone be the same, we all need to know how to work together. Further, by learning about injustice, creating a language for injustice, having a framework to talk about injustice, we can help unravel the secrecy it requires to continue.

Toni Morrison is one of the best novelists alive today. For Beloved she was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. This bizarre story in Virginia feels almost like something she would write into one of her novels, so that we might embrace a little more fear and learn a little more compassion.

I Read Banned Books Woman Reading Image

Elections! Elections! Elections! (Femfreakingtastic, Okay!)

Progressive feminist values jumped out of a cake, and they are singing our names! All of us, you and me and everyone! The 2012 election returns presented, on the whole, a night coated in awesome. Here are some of my favorite moments:

1. President Obama is re-elected.
We worked together. We knocked on doors, we made telephone calls to people who told us to buzz off, we did not get down, we just kept on going. Re-electing this president, who had been called the most vulnerable incumbent in 20 years, was no small task. When he made missteps (during his first term, as well as that disastrous first debate), feminists and reproductive justice advocates spoke up and held him accountable to being a true champion for women. It paid off this election. And this strategy of demanding accountability to work for women should be continued in his second term.

2. Mitt Romney is defeated.
Increasing inequality and division between the haves and the have-nots is a great moral stain upon our time – and Mitt would have turned that beast into a bigger one. He presented a grave threat to abortion rights, reproductive health and the composition of the Supreme Court. Mitt’s defeat also shows that all the unregulated, undisclosed money in this post-Citizens United world can’t necessarily buy an election. That’s something to celebrate in itself.

3. Marriage rights win on the ballot for the first time EVAR.
Before yesterday, every single time the civil right to marry was placed on the ballot, voters awarded same-sex couples with an inferior set of constitutional rights. Not yesterday! Minnesota defeated a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to a man and a woman. Maine, Maryland and Washington state gave same-sex marriages the go. With the president with equal marriage rights, the majority of the population with equal marriage rights, and the overwhelming majority of the youth population with equal marriage rights, last night’s victories are a game-changer. Anti-gay bigotry has disproved itself as a successful get-out-the-vote tool, and we can expect the party that typically profits from these efforts to take notice. If you’re not smiling yet, two Maryland women got engaged at the Obama victory rally in Chicago last night.

4. The Republican party gets a No Rape Mandate to the price of the U.S. Senate.
Lots of jokes about God intending for Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock to lose, but their defeats in races that should have been winnable for the GOP are no laughing matter. Look, last night’s victories sent a clear message that it’s actual, not speculative, political suicide to say horrible things about women who have been raped. It is a validation of every person who has been raped, doubted, minimized, trashed, called a slut. We can bemoan that the conversation was there in the first place, but these defeats have the power to change the dynamics of a party that has empowered the most sexist of viewpoints.

5. We get the brink of a movement-building moment for reproductive justice.
In the past two years, more than 1,000 bills restricting reproductive rights and women’s health have been introduced in Congress and the state legislatures. Last night’s election doesn’t call an end to the War on Women (reference the election of leading anti-Planned Parenthood bully Rep. Mike Pence to Governor of Indiana) but it does present an opportunity for abating the attacks, strongly suggested by last night’s results to be a losing strategy for the House of Representatives in growing allies in the Senate and the White House. This is a great time for reproductive justice advocates to get much louder about full funding and availability of full reproductive health care, and yes, I mean calling for federal dollars to abortion care.

6. Check out these women in the Senate – a record number at 20!
Elizabeth Warren wins, presenting a major victory for what the late Senator Paul Wellstone called “the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.” Tammy Baldwin wins, becoming the first out lesbian Senator in the history of our country. One out of five is not anything close to proportional, and no one should be satisfied here, but the bottom line is that progress is moving in the right direction and we’ve picked up some amazing new women to add to the bunch.

7. Surely there are more things to be added to this list.
So many wonderful things just happened – Tammy Duckworth elected, a voter suppression initiative failed in Minnesota, an anti-abortion rights initiative failed in Florida, there are so many more – add your favorite moments in the comments!

Todd Akin Is Mainstream Republican Party Politics

Todd Akin is no fringe on the rug. Todd Akin represents and clearly articulates mainstream Republican party politics in 2012.

Let’s look at some examples:


Akin Says “Legitimate Rape”: Akin defends his no exceptions anti-abortion rights view, saying a woman is less likely to get pregnant by a “legitimate rape,” because a woman’s body can just “shut that whole thing down.”

House Republicans Already Tested “Forcible Rape” In A Bill: The attempt to redefine rape to “legitimate” or “forcible,” particularly in the context of abortion, is an existing GOP priority. In this 112th Congress, H.R. 3 (they are numbered in order of priority) the “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act” contained these provisions.


Akin Opposes Abortion Rights In All Cases, Including Rape.

Republican Party Platform Opposes Abortion Rights In All Cases, Including Rape. Further, the latest anti-abortion rights bill introduced by House Republicans, the D.C. 20-Week Abortion Ban, had no exceptions for rape. Mitt Romney supports ‘personhood’ measures awarding constitutional rights to fertilized eggs (outlawing not just abortion but also forms of birth control), and his running mate Paul Ryan cosponsored a ‘personhood’ bill with Akin.

80 percent of people in the United States disagree with the Republican no-exceptions approach to abortion rights.


Akin Says A Woman Elected Official Is “Unladylike”: Akin trashes his opponent, Senator McCaskill, with a sexist slur: “unladylike.”

Republican National Convention Applauds A Joke That A Woman Elected Official Is Shrill: To the applause of the Republican National Convention, Governor Huckabee uses a sexist, ‘political women are shrill’ slur to compare Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz practicing a speech to “an awful noise.”


Akin Admits Arrest Blocking An Abortion Clinic, Operation Rescue Style: Akin said he was arrested demonstrating against abortion rights a few decades ago.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner’s Chief of Staff Meets With Randall Terry: In the limited time between the election assuring his speakership and taking the gavel, Boehner’s staff met with a terrorist.


It doesn’t end there.

Out of the elected official category, Mike Huckabee, Trent Franks, Newt Gingrich, Jim DeMint, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum (and presumably his arsenal of big funders) have all jumped publicly on board. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has hinted it may take Akin back.

Because Akin is one and the same with mainstream Republican party politics, it’s critical for everyone — not just people in Missouri — to vote. Many undecided voters do not follow politics closely, and may not realize the guy painted on TV as the outlier is actually mainstream. Debunk the idea that Akin is a lone wolf, as the Republicans try to paint him. He is, dangerously, a leader of the pack.


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