It's a Lot More Prevalent Than You Might Think
Rapper and Hustle + Flow judge T.I. has gotten some attention in recent days for his truly upsetting comments regarding his daughter's anatomy on the Ladies Like Us podcast.
Specifically, T.I. expressed a special interest he's taken in the condition of the mucosal tissue known as her hymen. Historically speaking, an intact hymen has been interpreted as proof of virginity when determining if a girl or woman was marriageable, while a torn hymen was taken as an indication that she had been "ruined" and should therefore be shunned or even killed. T.I. seemed to take pride in announcing that his 18-year-old daughter's hymen is intact.
T.I.'s Gynecologist Visits With His Daughter Deyjah To "Check Her Hymen" For Virginity Gets Backlash www.youtube.com
If we can take T.I. at his word, he insists on yearly trips to his daughter Deyjah's gynecologist, where he receives confirmation from her doctor that her genitals haven't been the site of any p-in-v sex. In the interview, T.I. even recounts the doctor's attempt to protect Deyjah's right to medical privacy, as well as his own deft (and illegal) work in undermining those rights: "The doctor's maintaining a high level of professionalism. He's like, 'You know, sir, I have to, in order to share information.' I'm like, 'Deyjah, they want you to sign this so we can share information. Is there anything you would not want me to know? See doc? No problem,'"
It's not clear what T.I. was planning to do if the word came back that his daughter was an "impure woman," but the reality is that the condition of a hymen has a very limited relationship to sexual activity. It may be torn during a myriad of other activities, can actually remain intact during penetrative sex, and is sometimes simply absent after the onset of puberty. Treating such an arbitrary piece of anatomy as a record of "virtue" may seem barbaric, inhumane, cruel, and patriarchal in the worst sense of the word…because it is. But that doesn't mean it's out of character for American society—particularly when religion gets involved.
We often think of these customs as relics of other times and other cultures, but so many sects of American Christianity interpret the bible as the inerrant word of God, particularly when it comes to questions of sex and gender and the control of women's bodies. And some continue to fight international efforts to treat women as equal to men. T.I., who calls himself "The King of the South," is a devout Southern Baptist. He has rapped about his faith and done some truly great things in the name of Christianity. Unfortunately, that faith also entails a literal interpretation of the bible, and while the World Health Organization has declared these virginity tests a form of violence, the bible still endorses them.
Deuteronomy 22: 21 states that if a newly married woman cannot prove she is a virgin, "she shall be brought to the door of her father's house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father's house." It's hard to imagine where else T.I. could have gotten the idea.
A popular christian depiction of the familial hierarchy
While T.I.'s particular method for dehumanizing his daughter is vivid and disturbing, the issue goes far beyond one misogynist rapper. It belongs in a context of prevalent sects of American Christianity habitually reducing women to commodities, with a value attached to their anatomy, to be guarded against the ruins of their own sexuality.
Let's consider the fact that 25 states have no minimum age for marriage in cases where certain exceptions are met and that evangelical groups have pushed to keep it that way. Often, one of those exceptions is pregnancy, and a teenage girl is pushed into marrying her rapist—because abortion is out of the question, and marriage is the only way to cleanse her "sin." And what about the prevalence of "purity balls," whereby teenagers make a purity commitment to their fathers, in an homage to a marriage ceremony; the daughter's virginity is asserted to be under her father's protection until marriage.
This misogyny is built into literalist ideology. It's in that excerpt of Deuteronomy and in dozens of other verses calling on women to serve their husbands—with nothing mutual about it. This is why so many Christians hate Planned Parenthood, why they insist on invasive transvaginal ultrasounds, and don't want insurance to cover birth control pills.
A woman's virginity, from this perspective, is more precious than her rights. It's a far more pervasive problem than we might like to think, and it is truly toxic.
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The quarterback said "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country." And then he tried to apologize. And only made it worse.
Drew Brees, a man who makes literally millions of dollars for throwing a ball, has come under fire for insensitive comments he made about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality.
"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said in the interview with Yahoo Finance. He clarified that this was in part because he envisioned his grandfathers, who fought in World War II, during the National Anthem. He continued, saying, "And is everything right with our country right now? No. It's not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together. We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution."
This isn't the first time Brees made it clear that he cares more for the idea of a make-believe unified America than he does for actual human lives. In 2016, he criticized Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem, saying it was "disrespectful to the American flag" and "an oxymoron" because the flag gave critics the right to speak out in the first place.
Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest of racist police brutality
Of course, the flag's alleged ideals have been proven to only be applicable to wealthy, white men—men like Brees. Sure, his grandfathers did a noble thing when they fought under the US flag during WWII, and no one, including Kaepernick, has ever said that sacrifice isn't worth respecting. Thanks to the sacrifices of many people (including the enslaved Black backs upon which this country was built, including the scores of routinely abused Black soldiers who fought for American lives), America has offered opportunity and peace for many, many people. In particular, Ole' Glory has been very kind to men like Brees: rich, white men who still control the majority of the power and the wealth in the United States.
But what about the rest of us, Drew? What about George Floyd whose neck was crushed by a police officer who kneeled on him so casually that he didn't even take his hand out of his pocket? What about Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot for the crime of being Black and going for a jog? What about Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was murdered by police in her home in the middle of the night for a crime that had nothing to do with her? What about Tony McDade, Drew–have you heard his name? Have you heard about the 38-year-old Black trans man who was gunned down in Florida last week? Do you understand why these people's family's may harbor just a bit of disrespect for your precious flag?
Is it possible for you to realize, Drew, that your wish for "unity" is not a wish for progress, but a wish to maintain the status quo? When you call for unity under the American flag, you're talking about your flag, the flag that represents a long, sordid history of racial oppression and violence. There is no unity where there is no justice. When you say that "we are all in this together," what you're saying is that we all have roles to play in the version of society that has served you so well. For your part, you'll be a rich, white man, and for Black people's part, they'll continue to be victims of state-sanctioned murders– but hopefully more quietly, hopefully in a manner that doesn't make you uncomfortable?
When you say, "We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution," what you mean to say is that POC and their allies are at fault. Sure, you probably agree that Derek Chauvin took it a bit too far, and you probably feel a little self-conscious that he's brought all this "Black rights" stuff up again. But when you say "all," you place blame on the victims who are dying under a broken system. And what, exactly, do you expect POC to do differently, Drew? Ahmaud Arbery was just out jogging, and still he died. George Floyd was just trying to pay a cashier, and still he died. POC and their allies try to peacefully protest by marching in the streets or taking a knee at a football game, and still white people condemn and criticize. Still the police shoot.
After much criticism, Brees did attempt an apology on Instagram, where he posted a hilariously corny stock photo of a Black and white hand clasped together. His caption, though possibly well-intentioned, made it even clearer that his understanding of the movement for Black lives is thoroughly lacking.
Highlights of the "apology" include his immediate attempt to exonerate himself from culpability, claiming that his words were misconstrued, saying of his previous statement: "Those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character." Unfortunately, Drew, white people like you are the "enemy," as you put it, because by default you are at the very least part of the problem. No one is accusing you of being an overt racist, Drew; no one thinks you actively and consciously detest Black people. But your lack of empathy, your apathy, and your unwillingness to unlearn your own biases are precisely what has persisted in the hearts and minds of well-meaning white Americans for centuries.
Next, you say, "I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the Black community in this movement." No, Drew. Just no. Black people don't need white people's savior complexes to interfere in their organizing; what they need is for us to shut up and listen. What they need is for us to get our knees off of their necks.
Finally, you say, "I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy." This, Drew, is suspiciously similar to saying, "But I'm one of the good whites!" The fact of the matter is that feeling the need to prove your allyship is not about helping a movement; it's about feeding your own ego. Not only that, but your emphasis on "ALWAYS" does a pretty good job of making it clear that you don't think you have a racist bone in your body and that you have taken great offense at any accusations to the contrary. I have some news for you, Drew: Every white person is racist. Sure, the levels vary, and while you may not be actively and consciously discriminating against POC, you have been brought up in a racist system, and your implicit biases are as strong as any other white person's. Your job now is to unlearn those biases and confront those subtle prejudices in yourself and in other white people. Maybe the first step in doing so is just shutting your f*cking mouth about kneeling at football games. Maybe you should even consider taking a knee yourself.
For other non-BIPOC trying to be better allies, check out one of these 68+ anti-racism resources.
Being scandalized about teens learning about sex work is out of touch with reality.
When's the last time you talked to a teen about prostitution?
On Sunday, Teen Vogue tweeted an article titled, "Why Sex Work Is Real Work," and many clutched their pearls at the audacity of talking to teens about sex work. In April, sex therapist Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng published an op-ed that argued for global decriminalization of sex work. Her central argument was that sex workers provide services that help people meet and understand their sexual needs in the same way that her sex counseling does. She wrote, "I do not believe it is right or just that people who exchange sexual services for money are criminalized and I am not for what I do. Is a medical degree really the right measure of who is deserving of dignity, autonomy, safety in the work place, fair trade and freedom of employment? No. This should not be so. Those who engage in sex work deserve those things, too."
Conservative talking heads quickly posted their disdain: "Why is a teen magazine promoting prostitution to their 13-year-old readers?" Others falsely equated sex work with sex trafficking, such as Lila Rose, the founder of the pro-life organization Live Action, who posted, "Thousands of little girls are sexually exploited and trafficked every day by manipulative rapists & pimps and @teenvogue is telling them it's like getting a job at a smoothie shop. Teen Vogue is a sex trafficker's best friend."
One commenter pointed out that Teen Vogue is a part of Condé Nast in order to falsely equate discussing sex work with pedophilia. The user wrote, "Owned by @condenast which is where the Ars Technica guy worked who was just arrested for soliciting kids for sex (and had been posting weird stuff on internal boards according to reports). Seems like Condé Nast needs to answer some questions."
Of course, Dr. Mofokeng's article defends nothing other than the safe exchange of sexual services between consenting adults. Her piece aims to demythologize the industry and destigmatize the perception that it's always devious or perverse. She writes, "So, what exactly is sex work? Not all sex workers engage in penetrative sex, though, undeniably, that is a big part of sex work. Sex-worker services between consenting adults may include companionship, intimacy, nonsexual role playing, dancing, escorting, and stripping. These roles are often pre-determined, and all parties should be comfortable with them."
While abusive situations entailing violence, forced prostitution, or sex trafficking do unfortunately occur, it's been widely noted by experts that decriminalizing sex work is the most pro-active step towards reducing rates of exploitation and abuse.
Furthermore, scandalized reactions to teens learning about sex work are out of touch with reality. About 40% of high school teens report to be sexually active, making conversations about sexual health and women's issues crucially relevant in teens' lives. Yet 30% of teens report that their parents have never broached the topic of sex with them. But silence on the issue, both at home and in he media, is only damaging, as years of data on sex education in the United States have shown that rates of STDs and pregnancy among teens aren't reduced by abstinence-only sex education. Overall, trying to obscure the fact that people are sexual beings not only leaves teenagers uninformed as they explore their own sexuality, but silence also fosters stigmas associated with sex, including sex work.
Amy Lang, a sex education expert, says, "Sexuality is something that most people try to pretend is not an inherent part of being human." She surmises, "As a culture and even as individuals, we don't want to embrace the fact that we're sexual creatures." As a result, teenagers are left adrift when they begin expressing their own sexuality. "They come into their sexual relationships thinking they already know how to do it. What's missing is that they don't have a fundamental understanding of sexuality—the social, cultural, emotional, inherent aspect of being human," Lang adds.
As a publication targeted at teen girls, Teen Vogue has evolved in their mission from giving fashion and beauty tips to speaking to its target demographic more realistically about what it is to discover one's identity. The publication even describes itself on Twitter as "the young person's guide to conquering (and saving) the world." In 2017, former Teen Vogue editor Elaine Welteroth described a "watershed movement" after Trump's election. The publication became more political, because the fact is that teenage girls are political, and they deserve to be informed about politics and invited into political spaces. "We have to give her [the reader] more," states digital director Phillip Picardi. "I thought it was really important to talk about reproductive rights, gender. To dig into politics and the news cycle. Basically, by omission, we were kind of assuming that she's not interested."
A healthy portion of Twitter uses agree, writing, "People have issues with Teen Vogue writing about this topic? Wait until they find out that Most teens have the internet." Others highlighted the educational articles about queer sexual health the publication has posted during Pride Month: "Congratulations, Teen Vogue is doing a better job at teaching sex ed than your schools."
Ultimately, keeping teens uninformed about sex only makes them vulnerable to high risk sexual behaviors. In the same way, criminalizing sex work between consenting adults only raises the risk of exploitation and abuse. Teen Vogue just pointed out that, in 2019, teenage girls can be interested in both fashion trends and political issues that will affect their future.
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