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.

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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.

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Wired Claims Exposing Sexism Is Just Like Being Exposed As Racist

Uh-oh, looks like the editorial team at Wired got their garbage and their clean towels confused!

In a new piece, Why You Should Think Twice Before Shaming Anyone on Social Media, writer Laura Hudson claims that getting flak for sharing racist bullshit on Twitter is just like reporting a climate of sexual intimidation at a tech conference, and requesting some help, and then getting fired from your job because you, unlike the white guys you exposed, are a woman of color and therefore just as guilty.

Say what?

As a publication that holds itself out as an arbiter of tech, it is disturbing that the Wired editorial team can’t leave crappy enough alone. It has been more than four months since Adria Richards was fired for making it clear that forking and dongle jokes don’t belong at tech conferences. That she is a woman of color exposing routine sexism, and by the way paying a pretty big price for it, makes it even more outrageous that she is being put on the same plane as people who are racists.

Just like exposing sexism and being a racist are totally separate things, so are embarrassment as a tool for social change versus shaming. As I have written before, these are totally separate tactics. People should be embarrassed when they are caught being an oppressive bigot. It helps to dispel future oppressive bigotry. Shaming, on the other hand, is attacking the core of who someone is. No one, at their core, is a bigot. Bigotry is learned social behavior. Very bad learned social behavior that relies, among other things, upon false claims in service of the status quo.

Why I Am Not Posting Pregnancy Photos To Facebook

I am a pregnant woman. Never in my adult life have I had fewer rights under the law, more intrusive comments and questions from people in the public space. I don’t need to be objectified any more than I already am. This is not a body for you to glance at, scroll down, expand the window, draw your own conclusions about and “Like.”

That is why I am not posting pregnancy photos to Facebook.

We, as a culture, live in public. I, as a human being, made a strategic decision to live in public several years ago. I believe that a woman telling her story has the power to change society.

That is why I rely strongly on personal narrative, because I want you to know I’m proud to be pregnant and pro-choice, I’m proud to be pregnant and an eating disorder survivor, and I want you to be proud to be whoever you are and tell your stories without shame — whether you relate to my experiences or not.

So why am I drawing the line at pregnancy photos?

Because I want to share my pregnancy in the way I experience it and choose to share it, not in a way for others to see it and choose to interpret it.

Because carrying a wanted pregnancy is an act of immense love and sacrifice that is, at its core, an astonishing and sacred experience of beauty. For me. This time.

Others’ experiences are, I’m sure, different.

I am fortunate to have, to be able to have, a loving spouse with whom to share doubts, fears, glee, joy and stomach troubles during these most private of times.

I am offended to imagine breaking the spell of our intimacy as a couple and family, and my integrity to sense of self as seen fit to share by posing, anticipating others looking at me and calling it “cute.”

A number of friends have begged for photos. I know you mean well. I know you want to share this time with me. I am happy to “Like” your pregnancy photos if you choose to share them with me. I encourage you to be happy that I am sharing this time in my life on my level.

If you are itching to honor me during this time, or do something quick online to lift my spirits because I’m pregnant and my back hurts, I will point you directly to the Meet the Press website where you can, in solidarity, share your alarm that recently they had one token woman against reproductive rights and four men discussing the new six-week abortion ban in North Dakota, the most restrictive abortion law on the books. By presenting reproductive rights as a matter of public morality, mainly as judged by men, rather than the lived and incredibly visceral experiences of individual women, the mainstream media is colluding in the massive infringement of my civil and human rights.

When the silencing of people like me in mainstream media and public policy is so extreme, it is hard for me to get excited about the voyeurism of cutesy pregnancy mania on social media. It is hard for me to believe the pressure to perform for the camera and the pressure to keep my mouth shut about my human rights are not interconnected.

Maybe if we all get together socially and “Like” one other’s pregnancies it will be okay. But it’s not. One of us might find ourselves pregnant and in the wrong place at the wrong time. And then, in the name of someone else’s abstract notions of morality enforced by the state, one of us might die. Or have a forced C-section. Or be incarcerated or detained because we were pregnant.

I refuse to be a smiling snapshot of this awful era for pregnant women. Opting out is my act of difference. Speaking out is my act of defiance.

Team Peggy: Super Bowl Ads Are So Sexist Because We Need More Women Creative Directors

As anyone knows, watching the Super Bowl ads are part of the sport itself. During these spots, it is typical to see the blatant sexism flag fly. Last night viewers on my Twitter feed took particular umbrage with an Audi spot depicting a surprise kiss sexual assault, and a moronic Go Daddy spot divvying up two sides of the business with a “sexy” woman and a “smart” man.

Glorifying male aggression and casting women as idiotic objects is stupid business — women make 85 percent of consumer decisions, and 91 percent say advertisers don’t understand them — Mad Men indeed.

As a former advertising creative myself (I was a copywriter), I can tell you the problem isn’t because agencies don’t have access to sophisticated research or smart people to make ads. The problem is that creative departments are overwhelmingly male. White male, to be exact.

A few numbers:

In 2010, 94 percent of Super Bowl ads created by advertising agencies were done under the supervision of white male creative directors. The remaining six percent were led by white women creative directors.

In 2011, the numbers didn’t get much better. The creative directors of the Super Bowl ads were 94 percent male and 93 percent white.

Less than ten years have passed since legendary creative director Neil French shared his opinion that women don’t make it to the top of creative departments because “they don’t deserve to.” This is quite contrary to what I saw in my experience as an advertising creative. The few women who make it into creative departments tend to work harder and produce better work than everyone else, because they have to to earn their spots.

First, advertising agencies tend to be so segregated by gender that it’s easy to guess that virtually any woman you see in an agency belongs to account or any department but creative. A friend, a woman, is one of the most talented and creative visual artists I have ever seen. Her talent is exploding; she is better than most of the admittedly talented men I have worked with. But instead she is an acclaimed account executive, meaning she works with clients. That is just what women do in advertising. We really haven’t progressed much far from the days when Peggy had to hope to get noticed. There are exceptions, but not enough.

Second, it is all in the hiring and the assignments. People tend to hire, mentor, place and promote people who look like them. In advertising creative departments this tends to play out in a similar fashion. This business relies upon camaraderie, the ability to “hang out and be cool,” and many times beer and games within the team. Not all, but many, creative areas in agencies have the feel of a frat house.

Now I know that some of my friends and other advertisers will read this and say this leaves out the women who are doing great work, and that is not my intention at all. I acknowledge and celebrate their work. But having been in that position, and having also left the industry, I know that I’m also in a space where I have the freedom to say things that maybe some of them can’t.

I will never forget a time when I saw some comps on the table that were going to a client who sold small project paints. The concept on top had a photograph of a glistening, practically naked woman with an arched back. Knowing the creative team (all men, like I said, they almost always are), I walked into one office, slammed it down on the desk and yelled: “What the fuck is this?”

Watching the ads last night it was very easy to tell there remain very few women — much less a critical mass — there to yell “What the fuck is this?” within the advertising industry’s glorified (and very fun, let me tell you it is a great job) creative departments, and even fewer in leadership roles that lend more power than peer pressure. It is reasonable to expect that correcting this problem would help profits go up, not a bad thing in a struggling economy.