Violence Against Young Women

“In San Francisco last year, a man stabbed a woman in the face and arm after she didn’t respond positively to his sexually harassing her on the street. In Bradenton, Fla., a man shot a high school senior to death after she and her friends refused to perform oral sex at his request. In Chicago, a scared 15-year-old was hit by a car and died after she tried escaping from harassers on a bus.” 

In her article“Street Harassment: Is a Man Running Over a 14-Year Old For Refusing Sex Serious Enough?” feminist blogger Soraya Chemaly details the street harassment against young women. The stories not only disturbed me, but I am outraged. Why can’t  young women make it home safely without some man harassing/stalking them?

The article reminded of my own experiences (and stories my friends have told me), walking down the street as teenagers. A good friend from high school told me about the time when she was 14-years old waiting for a bus. A man in his 30’s/40’s circled the stop in his car. Eventually, he got out of his car and invaded her personal space. He leered at her “Does your boyfriend like to play with your big boobs?” My friend said she was so scared, she didn’t know what to say. Luckily, other folks walked up to the bus stop.  The man hopped back in his car and drove away.  I remember when I was 16-years old and waiting for a bus.  At the time, I was wearing braids. Two grown men passed me. One of the men tugged my braids.  Of course, I gave him a dirty look, as he touched my body without permission. He just laughed. He then started saying vulgar things to me. I ignored him. Because I wasn’t responding like he wanted, the guy got angry and started cussing me out.  He walked up to me like he was going to hit me. His friend stopped him and pulled him away. “Come on man, she’s just a kid” He said.  I shudder to think what would have happened if this guy had been alone. I was scared as hell.

Young women are vulnerable to street harassment. They often walk home alone from school or rely on  public transportation. They have also been conditioned to submit to male privilege/authority. We don’t empower our young women to know that they have a right to their bodies/personal space. We live in a society that tells all women, but especially younger women, to smile/be nice/be helpful/be polite/be non-threatening. As Chemaly discussed in her article, when you add-on race, class, and disability, it makes this issue even more alarming. Young women of color are more likely to be harassed as they have been stereotyped as “fast” and overly sexualized in the media. Young women of color in poorer neighborhoods, the rate of street harassment/violence skyrocket. Women/younger women with disabilities are also more likely to be assaulted. Chemaly noted, “Consider the experiences of people with disabilities. For example, women in wheelchairs have to be on the lookout for men who push their groins into their faces.  An “architecture of aggression” renders people with disabilities far more vulnerable to harassment and potential violence. Add to the suggestion that disabled people, especially disabled women, should consider themselves especially “lucky” to get any attention.”

Our society has failed at  making the streets safe for young women. It is not a joke that young women are being stalked down streets. I know some folks don’t think catcalls/whistles are a big deal,  but usually this behavior escalates.  Male privilege allows men to think they can walk up to a woman and invade her space/act any way they want.  Or even sitting down. I encourage folks to check out the tumblr  “Men Taking Up Too Much Space on The Train.”

In order to stop violence against younger women/women, folks need to support organizations that are committed to this work. Grassroots/DIY groups like INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence and Hollaback! are working towards ending oppression/misogyny against women. They relay on donations and word of mouth support.  Men also need to hold other men accountable. Do not just sit by and watch as a man terrifies a young woman. Speak up for the young women/women in your community.

Photo from: www.thesaudavoice.com
Photo from: http://www.thesaudavoice.com

 

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Randomness: My Black is Beautiful Inspiration Kit

This past summer, I wrote about the “My Black Is Beautiful” documentary. The short film was shown on BET (of all places). Any who, the “My Black is Beautiful” is really a movement to empower young black women. In a society that works hard to make them feel less than, black girls between the ages of 10-18 need to know that they do matter and they are worthwhile. It’s hard for many of them to believe this when everyone (including black media) is telling them their hair isn’t long/blonde enough, butts not big enough, skin too dark, etc.  So, despite this campaign being heavily product driven, I am all for what they are trying to do.

The organization offered limited free “My Black is Beautiful” Inspiration Kits.  I was able to get one . It arrived in the mail last week. I just cracked it open and it’s a small kit filled with empowerment activities for young women. There’s a Vision Board and Personal Manifesto to post photos, quotes, magazines images, to redefine what  beauty is. There’s encouragement  to write a I heart Me list  to write down the things young women like/don’t like about themselves and to work on this list everyday. The idea is that eventually they will have more good things than bad. There’s also information about how to start a journal. I think that journal writing is a good way for young black women to purge their oppression.

It’s a cute and thoughtful kit and makes me wish I had a daughter to give it to 🙂

Photo from: www.icravefreebies.com
Photo from: http://www.icravefreebies.com

When People Show You Who They Are…

“I think they are prejudiced upon even from the African Americans too. I think that the reason we have AIDS…I did a movie called ‘Previous’ and when I was doing the research for ‘Precious,’ I walked into the gay mens health crisis center in New York City and I expected to see studying [of] AIDS and HIV, I expected to see a room full of gay men, but there are nothing but women that are there – black women with kids, I thought I had walked into the welfare office – but they service black women with AIDS, why? “Because black men can’t come out. Why? Because you simply can’t do it. Your family says it, your church says it, your teachers say it, your parents say it, your friends say it, your work says it. And so you’re living on this DL thing and you’re infecting black women.”–Lee Daniels

Umm,  so many things wrong with this statement. (1) the stereotype the black community is more homophobic than other communities (2) associating a welfare office with black women.

I used to defend the movie “Precious.” Unlike other folks who only saw the movie, I had read the book.  Many black moviegoers were upset at what they perceived to be a stereotypical black characters. The book is a complex journey of a young black woman who struggles to overcome her invisibility at home/society. Maybe,  that’s why the book resonated with me.  As a black woman living in a system of whitesupremacist capitalist patriarchy, there is always the challenge of getting people to “see me.” While I have never been abused like Precious,  I understand this can be reality for SOME black folks.  I was not offended by the book or  the movie.

But, after reading Daniels’s comments, I ‘m now unsure.   It’s obvious Daniels has hatred/low opinion of black women (I mean, why would a welfare office be the first thing to pop in your mind?) It’s hard not to believe  that his misplaced anger hasn’t creeped into his films.  Maybe  that’s why Mo’Nique’s character was so extreme.  Maybe that’s why Daniels casted Paula Patton as Ms. Rain, when she is clearly described in the book as a dark-skinned/natural haired black woman. The point was that Precious sees this confident/intelligent black woman (her reflection) and decides she wants more out of life. Maybe this concept was hard for Daniels to grasp. Two (dark) black women loving/bonding in sisterhood/rejecting their oppression.

But, why am I surprised? I mean, this is the same man who made “Monster’s Ball.” A film about an abusive black mother, who sleeps with the white executioner of her black husband. Blah…

 “The Butler” won’t be getting my money. oh well, it’s been getting poor reviews anyway.

My Black is Beautiful Documentary

The “My Black is Beautiful (MBIB)/Imagine a Future” documentary aired on BET (Black Entertainment Television), last week.  The documentary looked at how white/black beauty standards affect the self-esteem of some black girls/women.  The documentary is now available in full on YouTube.

I enjoyed the program, although I did have a few problems with it: (1) The irony that the documentary was shown on BET. If ya ask me, BET has contributed to the distorted images of black womanhood. I wouldn’t be surprised if BET played a music video filled with ambiguous looking booty shaking women, right after the documentary ended (2) I have mixed feelings that a blonde haired black woman showed the young woman around Africa. It seemed contradictory to me, but then again she was a hairdresser. I understand they like to experiment with different hairstyles.  (3) Once again, black men/boys were left out of the conversation. It’s interesting how gendered this issue has become. I mean I get that women tend to be judged more harshly for our looks, but it’s hard to believe that black men have not been affected by beauty standards, as well. Whether it’s their own struggle with embracing their skin tone/hair texture, or how they interact with black girls/women who do/don’t live up to these oppressive standards (4) The program was wayyyy too short.

But, you can judge for yourself:

Rachel Jeantel

There has been a lot written about Rachel Jeantel, the friend of Trayvon Martin.  So much so, that I feel it isn’t necessary for me to write my own post.  Many writers have articulated my disgust of the treatment of Jeantel. This is a young woman who heard her friend get murdered. I can only imagine the trauma it has caused her. Yet, ignorant folks bashed the teenager’s looks and dialect.

One of my favorite posts written about Jeantel, comes courtesy of the Blog Snob website:

Jeantel made some uncomfortable because she was too much like how some black people are. We all have relatives or have known someone like this or perhaps have even been Rachel Jeantel ourselves. And the self-loathing that is instilled in most of us to dislike ourselves — especially those who are darker and heavyset and remind us of the stereotypes we are running from — is real and it was on display in real time on Twitter. It wasn’t surprising, but it was disappointing that those commenting, often with spelling errors and poor grammar of their own, were allowing their fear of “the white folks are going to think we’re all like this” cloud the fact that Jeantel was simply being herself.

Read the rest of the post at: http://blacksnob.com/snob_blog/2013/6/27/the-zimmerman-trial-rachel-jeantel-and-you.html#.UdB169j3N74

Black Girls CODE – Summer of CODE 2013 – The Remix

Help fund the next generation of tech and expose 2,000+ girls to coding during our expanded CODE summer program. Donate Today!

Check out their Indiegogo campaign to learn more:

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/black-girls-code-summer-of-code-2013-the-remix?browse_v=new

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Genarlow Wilson

Back in April, I organized an event in support of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  I hosted a film showing of NO! The Rape Documentary.  The film looks at sexual violence/assault in the black community.  I believe it’s important to give space to how  black women  navigate differently around this issue. Whether folks want to admit to it or not, there is a lot of sexism/oppression of black women/girls in the black community.  There are many black women who willingly thrown themselves under the bus in favor of black men, when it’s often not reciprocated.

This has never been more telling, than in the recent case of Genarlow Wilson.   I learned about the case from one of my favorite blogs, What About Our Daughters.  I have been keeping tabs on the happenings of Genarlow Wilson, via the website. Recently, the blogger posted more detailed information about the assault of  the 17-year-old black girl, that Genarlow Wilson participated in (from WAOD website):

LM, went to a party with her fellow athletes and when she fell unconscious, possibly after they drugged her, Genarlow Wilson and his buddies raped her, repeatedly and video taped it. That’s not what I say, that’s what the Georgia Court of Appeals describes in Wilson vs. State of Georgia.

A group of teenagers rented adjacent rooms at a motel and held a raucous, unsupervised New Year’s Eve party.  Among the participants were 17-year-old Genarlow Wilson, 17-year-old L.M., and 15-year-old T.C.   The next morning, L.M. reported to her mother that she had been raped.   Police were notified, and the motel rooms were searched.   During the search, a videocamera and videocassette tape were found. The tape showed Wilson having sexual intercourse with an apparently semiconscious L.M. and T.C. performing oral sex on Wilson. Wilson v. State.

I was floored after reading this.   I had tears in my eyes. It’s disturbing to me what happened to these young women. It’s not only that the black community has turned their backs on these young victims, but that Genarlow Wilson  has been given support and perks not available to his victims. While he has been able to make the media rounds, his victims can’t even show their face in public. While he was given a free scholarship for college, they probably fear going on a college campus. While he gets praising articles, they are written with scorn and disregard. 

Some folks say, well he was a young kid too. He made a mistake. Sexually assaulting an unconscious young woman, is not a mistake. Genarlow Wilson and his friends, videotaped the incident. Ain’t no mistake in that. Also, the fact that Genarlow Wilson doesn’t seem apologetic about it. If he were more genuine in his horror of his behavior/worked with other young men about this issue/offered some of his perks to his victims, than maybe one wouldn’t be as disgusted.

I lamented on the WAOD website what can we do to support these young women? She stated by helping her get the transcripts of the Genarlow Wilson case. She wants to make a film about this incident from the young women’s perspective.  Please donate if you can:

http://www.gofundme.com/genarlowwilsontranscript

Kenyan model Ajuma Nasenyana fights skin lightening

There has been an ongoing agenda in mainstream/black media to wipe out images of darker skinned black women. In the 70’s and 80’s dark/brown women were frequently featured on magazine covers, television, and in movies.  Who woulda thunk that in 2013 representations (or lack of) of dark/brown women, would be worse 30-40 years later?    There has been a white supremacist push to encourage people of color to lighten their skin. As I noted in a previous post, the lightening of black women celebrities, is disturbing. It’s not just women, though:

Reggae artist Vybz Kartel lightened skin
Hip Hop artist Vybz Kartel lightened skin
Sammy Sosa lightened skin
Sammy Sosa lightened skin

“They” have worked diligently to make us hate ourselves. It takes a consistent conscious effort to resist being colonized mentally. It’s worse for black women,  because women in general, tend to be judged/have more valued placed on their looks. Since black women are regularly placed on the bottom of the lookist social ladder, it creates an urgent need to be accepted, even if it means bleaching one’s skin.

That’s why I was happy to read these comments from Kenyan model, Ajuma Nasenyana:

“It seems that the world is conspiring in preaching that there is something wrong with Kenyan ladies’ kinky hair and dark skin,” Kenyan model Ajuma Nasenyana told the Daily Nation. Nasenyana wonders why European skincare companies that push lightening creams are entering Kenya marketing the European standard of beauty. “Their leaflets are all about skin lightening, and they seem to be doing good business in Kenya. It just shocks me. It’s not OK for a Caucasian to tell us to lighten our skin,” she said.

Ajuma Nasenyana
Ajuma Nasenyana

Read the rest of the article at Clutch Magazine: http://thegrio.com/2012/06/27/kenyan-model-ajuma-nasenyana-fights-skin-lightening-and-european-standards-of-beauty/

Yelling to The Sky

I am a big movie watcher. I like going to the movies or renting movies or surfing Netflix. So, I will often blog about movies, I have watched. The other day, I had the opportunity to re-watch “Yelling to The Sky. “  It’s now streaming on Netflix. The film was written and directed by Victoria Mahoney.

I initially watched the film, after waiting a year  and some months, for it to be released in theaters. The film debuted at the Berlin Film Festival in 2011, then sat on the shelf.  Finally,  back in December 2012, the film was released online and DVD.  I was excited. I watched the film as soon as it was available for viewing.

I was a bit disappointed, after waiting so long to see the film.  I decided to watch it again, to see if it really didn’t live up to my expectations, the first time around.

SPOILERS!! SPOILERS!! SPOILERS!!

The  film is about 16-year-old, biracial/multicultural Sweetness O’Hara (played by Zoe Kravitz).  She lives with her older sister, black mother, and Irish father. The dad is verbally and physically abusive. The mom is mostly absent. The sister is pregnant and angry all the time.  At school, Sweetness is harassed by bully, Latonya (played by Gabourey Sidibe). Eventually, her stressful home/school life, overwhelms  Sweetness. She decides she will longer be the bullied, but become the bully.  Sweetness trades in her drab clothing and makeup free face, for more stylish clothes and bright red lips.

She starts selling drugs and harassing other kids. Sweetness eventually wins over two of Latonya’s cronies. They form their own crew.  They strut down the school hallways, daring anyone to get in their way.  I loved the premise of the film. It’s why I was so interested in seeing it. However, after watching the film two times, I still feel like something is missing.

There are some good scenes in the movie, but they never seem to quite come together. The acting was decent. Kravitz didn’t blow me away or anything, but she played a sullen Sweetness, well enough. I did enjoy the character Ola, played by Antonique Smith.  I kept thinking she looked familiar to me. I Googled her, and realized she portrayed Faith Evans, in the film “Notorious.” The film was based on the life of the late rapper, The Notorious B.I.G.

In her role as Sweetness’s big sister, Smith made the film tolerable. Her natural acting abilities, makeup for Kravitz’s bland portrayal of Sweetness.   Of course, when I watch films, I like to look at how black women are represented. The mother in the film (played by Yolonda Ross), is mostly silent.  She is routinely abused by her husband.  She often deserts her children. It’s alluded to that she might have mental illness. Other than that, you really learn nothing about her. Strangely, the abusive white father is given more air time.

The absent mother, like the Latonya character, is portrayed by a darker skin black woman.  Skin tone plays a role in the film. I am not exactly sure what the director is trying to say, with her actress choices. I know that she identifies as a biracial/multicultural woman.

I know the film is supposed to be semi-autobiographical. I understand that biracial/multicultural  girls/teens are sometimes harassed by their black classmates. Still, it was a bit disconcerting to see all the dark skin girls/women be either bullies or an unavailable mama. To be fair, the older sister (and Sweetness at times) are shown being violent, but there’s context to their violence. The dark skin girls are  bullies cuz they hate light skin girls?

The film also moves at a slow pace. My mind would start wandering, because the storyline just isn’t strong enough. Once again, something was missing. It’s still a decent film to check out. I am interested to see what the director does next. She has potential…