Sexual Assault and the US Military’s War on Women

The Invisible War

Directed by Kirby Dirk (2011)

Film Review

As of 2011 (when this film was made), an estimated half million military women (20%)  had been raped. Likewise an estimated 15% of incoming male recruits had either attempted or successfully committed rape.

Officers who engage in rape are often repeat offenders. In 2011, the only option a rape victim had was to report it to his/her commanding officer. Obviously when the commanding officer committed the rape (in 25% of cases), the woman didn’t report it. Nor when the the perpetrator was friends with the commanding officer (in 33% of cases).

When military rape victims do report the crime, the vast majority are pressured to withdraw their complaint with the treat of punitive retaliation. This can range from court martial for filing a false report, adultery, public intoxication, demotion or undesirable discharge without benefits. The PTSD rate is higher for rape victims than combat survivors, and 40% of homeless female veterans report a history of being raped.

Aside from the fact that the woman’s commanding officer is often the perpetrator, military officers (unlike civilian prosecutors) have no training whatsoever in law or criminal investigation.

Approximately 1% of military men (an estimated 10,000 troops) report experiencing sexual assault in the past year. They are even less likely to report it than women.

The documentary includes excerpts of interviews with dozens of military rape victims, as well as from four Congressional hearings on the issue.

In 2011, a group of military rape victims filed a lawsuit against former secretaries of defense Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates for failing to protect them from sexual assault. The court dismissed the case, ruling that rape is an occupational hazard of military.

The film ends with a postscript that on viewing the film, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta changed the rape reporting procedures to allow victims to report the crime to officers higher up in the command hierarchy. Given their lack of legal investigative training, this doesn’t seem to have increased conviction rates – or reduced the incidence of military rape. By the Pentagon’s own admission, the incidence continues to increase. See  US Supreme Court Hears Case of Military Rape and Statue of Limitation

The issue resurfaced last July this year with the high profile murder of Vanessa Guillen. See Texas Fort Hoos Vanessa Guillen Body Found Suspect Suicide Army Soldier

The full film can be viewed at: https://www.documentarytube.com/videos/the-invisible-war

Ken Loach: A Filmmaker Speaks Truth to Power

Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach

Directed by Louise Osmond (2016)

Film Review

My favorite for many years, Ken Loach is the only filmmaker anywhere to unflinchingly portray the exploitation, oppression, injustice and physical and emotional abuse endured by working class women. In doing so, he is one of a tiny handful of directors to speak up for society’s voiceless.

He first announced his retirement in 2014 at age 74, only to come out of retirement two months later to make his “final” film I, Daniel Blake, released in 2016. Then in 2019, he released Sorry We Missed You.

Loach was born in Warwickshire England to a working class Tory family. He became interested in theater while studying law (which he never practiced) at Oxford. When the government launched BBC 2 in the early sixties, Ken and his working class mates were hired to write, direct and produce working class dramas for the new network.

Loach first received worldwide attention for his TV drama Cathy Come Home, about a woman who loses her three children to social welfare when she becomes homeless. His 1969 feature film Kes (about a working class boy who raises and trains a kestrel hawk), won a British Film Institute. In 1971 he released Rank and File about the betrayal of grassroots union members by trade union bureaucrats and the Labour Party.

Unable to release any films with Thatcher in power, he mainly directed TV commercials during this time. Distributors initially refused to release his 1990 Hidden Agenda, produced in 1990 – until it won the Special Jury Award at the Cannes Film Festival. The film is a political thriller film about British state terrorism in Northern Ireland.

Other films highlighted in the film include:

  • Riff Raff (1992), about the misery of British working life following the massive deindustrialization that occurred under Thatcher.
  • Raining Stones (1993) about a man who turns to petty crime to his daughter a First Communion Dress.
  • Ladybird, Ladybird (1994) about a battered woman who loses her baby to social welfare.
  • Land and Freedom, 1995, about the people’s army that fought in the Spanish Civil War
  • My Name is Joe, (1998) about an unemployed former alcoholic
  • The Angel’s Share, 2012, about a working class Glaswegian who narrowly avoids prison when he helps smuggle Scotch whiskey out of a distillery (Angel’s Share refers to the portion of whiskey lost to evaporation during aging).

In his pursuit of genuine authenticity and intimacy, Loach frequently casts working class actors with no prior acting experience. To make their responses more spontaneous, He typically films them one scene at a time without letting them see the rest of the script.

For example, in Land and Freedom a brilliant and charismatic (female) evolutionary is shot and killed in the middle of the film. The rest of the cast have no idea this is coming, and the shock and distress they manifest is surreal.

 

 

The School to Prison Pipeline: Abuse, Trauma and the Criminalization of Black Girls

Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls

Directed by Jacoba Atlas (2019)

Film Review

In the US, it is quite common to see African American girls excluded from school for “insubordination.” The label tends to have a very different meaning for white and Black teachers. It is common for white teachers to misconstrue a Black girl’s distress over heavy family responsibility or bullying as a bad attitude.

  • In primary school, Black girls are six times more likely than white girls to receive one or more suspensions.
  • In high school, they are three times more likely than white girls to be suspended.
  • At all levels, they are three times more likely to be physically restrained.
  • In high school, they are twice as likely to receive corporal punishment.
  • In high school, they are three times more likely to be referred to law enforcement.
  • The suicide rate of Black students of either sex is twice that of white students.

Overall there is growing concern about all US teenagers being stripped of their First and Fourth amendment in public schools. The film refers to a 12-year-old Black girl being forcibly strip searched by her principal for “being too happy.”

The filmmakers interview an African American judge who reveals that sexual abuse and/or neglect is the common denominator for Black girls who end up in the criminal justice system. When they are pushed out of school for “attitude” problems, they are the drop-outs most likely to be assaulted and/or sex trafficked on the street. And despite being the victims of sex trafficking, the girls themselves are targeted for prosecution.

Much of the film was shot in a New York program where teachers receive specialized training in working with traumatized students and employ resource materials openly acknowledging the oppression experienced by African American girls and their families. In an environment free of surveillance, policing and a punitive attitude towards discipline, students learning to de-escalate their anger and openly express their vulnerability.

Public library patrons can view the full film free at Beamafilm.

 

The Man Card: White Male Identity Politics from Nixon to Tump

The Man Card: White Male Identity Politics from Nixon to Trump

Directed by Jackson Katz (2000)

Film Review

This documentary reveals how Trump’s tough guy, misogynist persona isn’t a new phenomena – that it results from a 50-year-old Republican strategy to steal white working class votes from the Democratic Party.

Filmmaker Katz credits Nixon campaign advisors Roger Ailes (who would go on to launch Fox News in 1996) and Lee Atwater with instigating the strategy. Inspired by George Wallace’s ability to win five states as the American Independent Party candidate, Ailes tapped into the growing Southern backlash (which had voted Democratic since the Civil War) over Lyndon Johnson’s 1968 Civil Rights Act. Ailes could sense growing anxiety among all white working class males for what they perceived as the “feminization” of society by expanding rights for women, gays and minorities. Ailes would go on to craft a Nixon campaign that would do nothing to improve livings condition of working class men. Instead it  would entice them to vote Republican by defending their cultural norms.

Nixon (1969 – 74)

The Nixon campaign would emphasize a strong military (and support for the Vietnam War) and a tough on crime stance, while simultaneously portraying McGovern as a pacifist  liberal elite (despite McGovern’s strong labor background and status as a decorated World War II pilot).

Reagan (1981 – 88)

Republicans would amplify the strategy during the 1980 Reagan campaign, portraying Reagan (a prominent member of California’s country club elite) as a cowboy and man of the people and Carter as too soft and sensitive to stand up to the Soviets. It was during the Reagan campaign that the Republican Party captured the votes of white evangelical Christians experiencing growing concerns about threats posed to their traditional patriarchal order by feminists, gays and women working outside the home.

George H W Bush (1998 – 92)

Bush senior, the next Republican president, also had a wimp problem owing to his elitist Ivy League background. However with Ailes and Lee Atwater as his advisors, he successfully reversed Dukakis’s initial l 17 point lead by portraying Dukakis as wimpier.

Clinton (1993 – 2000)

In 1992 Clinton won back some of the working class vote, by positioning himself as tougher on crime (supporting the death penalty, harsh law and order initiatives and major welfare reform) than Bush. However this would not stop Rush Limbaugh, other right wing talk radio hosts and Fox News from exploiting white male anxiety about their changing roles. The result would be the Republicans’ recapture of the House (under Newt Gingrich) for the first time in 40 years.

George W Bush (2001 – 2008)

Bush junior would deliberately purchase a ranch in Texas (to conceal his own elitist background) to prepare for his presidential campaign. He would be constantly depicted in the media wearing cowboy hats, driving pickups and clearing brush. In Bush’s case, the strategy would be less effective. Exit polls and evidence of computerized vote rigging suggests Democrat candidates Gore and Kerry won both the popular and electoral college vote in 2000 and 2004.*

Obama (2009 – 2016)

Although Obama lost the white male vote in 2008 and 2012, he more than made up for it in other demographic support. Fox News and other right wing media outlets would foment a massive backlash against the election of an African American to the White House. This would result in the the formation of the Tea Party, Minutemen and “Birther” movement (alleged controversy over Ovama’s birth certificate), in which Donald Trump was a major figurehead.

Trump (2017 – )

Trump has been a master at tapping into white male anxiety. According to Katz, he easily won the Republican primaries by ridiculing the manhood of his Republican opponents. He portrays himself as a “blue collar” billionaire, glorifying gun culture and tapping into evangelical masculinity (despite his playboy reputation), while running an unapologetically misogynist campaign. His rise to power parallels the rise of strong misogynistic leaders around the world (eg Bolsonaro, Putin, Xi Jingping, and Erdogan).


*See https://wincrit.icopa2014.org/ebook-ready/was-the-2004-presidential-election-stolen-exit-polls-election-fraud-and-the-official-count

Hidden History: The 2014 Revolution in Burkina Faso

Burkinabé Rising: The Art of Resistance in Bukina Faso

Directed by Lara Lee (2017)

Film Review

Burkinabé Rising is about the 2014 revolution in Burkina Faso which overthrew dictator Blaise Compaoré after 27 years in power. To the best of my knowledge the event received no coverage whatsoever in the Western media. The vast majority of Americans have never even heard of Burkina Faso. I confess I first discovered the west African country when I  heard their music performed at Womad* in 2000.

Burkina Faso is bordered by Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Ivory Coast. It has a population of 20 million (four times the size of New Zealand). They received their independence from France in 1960.

The primary focus of the film is the historical use of art (music, modern dance, hip hop, visual arts, slam poetry, drama, and traditional masks and mud hut architecture) to raise revolutionary consciousness among young Bukinabé.

Music and dance have been especially successful in evading censorship while  preserving the memory of revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara and investigative journalist Norbert Zonga. Both were assassinated by Compaoré  and his family (Sankara in 1987 and Zonga in 1998).

The use of art in preparing the Bukinabé for full self-government has continued since Compaoré’s ouster in 2014. The role of women, the breadwinners of two-thirds of the country’s households, is of prime importance. At present several grassroots campaigns focus on women’s literacy and the education of girls, as well as the participation of women in civic organization.

There’s also a major emphasis on reviving indigenous languages and reducing food imports by banning GMOs and returning to traditional organic agriculture.


*Womad (World of Music, Arts and Dance) is an international arts festival celebrating the world’s many forms of music, arts and dance. My local city New Plymouth hosts Womad every March.

Rape Culture: The UK Failure to Prosecute Rape

Abandoned Survivors

Press TV (2017)

Film Review

This is a 2017 Press TV documentary about the British failure to successfully investigate and prosecute rape cases. The statistics they uncover are appalling:

  • Between 2013-2017, Britain experienced a 150% increase in rapes. During this period, only 3% of rape complaints went to trial.
  • Between 2016-2017, Britain experienced a 30% increase in rapes, simultaneous with a 30% cut in police resources.
  • British police accuse rape victims of lying in 20% of cases.*
  • In 30 years, Rape Crisis London has experienced only one successful rape conviction.
  • Only 5.7% of suspected rape suspects go to prison for their crime.
  • Convicted sex offenders (including child molesters) only spend an average of four years in prison (sentences are much shorter than for theft and drug offenses, presumably due to their low economic impact).
  • Most convicted rapists re-offend (ie commit rape) within one year of leaving prison.
  • Increasingly British gangs employ rape for vendettas because the sentences are so short.

Although the film is limited to an examination of the British criminal justice system, the US and New Zealand experience similar low prosecution rates for rape.


*”Why It’s So Unlikely Any Woman Would Lie About Being Raped” – see https://www.usnews.com/opinion/civil-wars/articles/2018-01-10/women-dont-lie-about-being-raped

The film can’t be embedded because YouTube has banned Press TV from their platform. You can view it free at  http://presstvdoc.com/post/15961

How Gender Roles Trap Men

The Empathy Gap: Masculinity and the Courage to Change

Directed by Thomas Keith (2015)

Film Review

This documentary asserts our culture traps men in a stereotypical gender role, just as it does women. Stereotypical masculinity requires contemporary men not to express feelings (except anger), not to show empathy or vulnerability, to control and dominate (with violence if necessary), to excel at athletics, to degrade women, and to accumulate material possessions.

Research indicates boys tend to be open about expressing feelings until age 14, when they become terrified of being labeled “faggots” or “wusses” if they are at all open with emotions or feelings of vulnerability.

Contemporary society also socializes men to have little interest (outside the sexual arena*) in the experiences of women. Our culture typically portrays women as incompetent, unreliable, and emotional. Most of this socialization occurs very early in life via the media.

The filmmakers share vignettes five-year-old children of both sexes consistently choosing boy dolls as “smarter” and girl dolls “as nicer.”

According to Keith, Donald Trump, more than any other contemporary male figure personifies this stereotypical masculinity. The latter carefully cultivates an image of being tough, distant, and demeaning to women. As part of this script he nearly always addresses conflict with aggression and rarely displays any emotions other than anger.

Sadly little has changed in fifty years. A comparison of the idiocies broadcast by right wing commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Erick Erikson reveals little difference between their personna and that of the fictional Archie Bunker in the 1970s TV series All in the Family.

Research shows men in groups are more likely to exhibit toxic masculinity than men on their own.


*In my experience, most men aren’t very interested in women’s sexuality, either.

Anyone with a public library card can view the film free at Kanopy. Type “Kanopy” and the name of your library into your search engine.

Enough with Catcalling: Fighting Sexual Assault in Brail

Enough with Catcalling: Fighting Sexual Assault in Brazil

Directed by Amanda Kamacheck and Fernanda Frazo (2018)

Film Review

This documentary concerns a female-led campaign to reduce sexual assault levels in Brazil, including verbal aggression commonly known as catcalling.* Brazil, where a woman is raped every 11 minutes, is fifth highest in the world for its rate of femicide. Eighty-one percent of Brazilian women report being emotionally distressed by catcalling. Forty-four percent complain of touched without their permission.

In contrast one-third of Brazilian men blame rape victims for being raped. Twenty-six percent agree that women who reveal too much of their bodies deserve to be raped. As for catcalling, a majority feel it’s okay – because it doesn’t invade women’s space and “women should accept it as a compliment.”

In Brazil, men are raised to believe they have the right to control women’s bodies and comment on them. The filmmakers interview female academics who echo views presented in Feminist City and Invisible Women They lament women’s age-old battle to be present in urban spaces (as opposed to being confined at home), despite women making up 50% of the workforce “since the beginning of time.”

Like Leslie Kern and Caroline Priado Perez, they agree the layout of Brazilian cities (favoring residents with cars) has made them less safe for women who walk, cycle, or wait for buses, especially at night. They also agree that the the solution to verbal, physical, and sexual aggression against women is to make women more conscious of the level of aggression men subject them to. They find social media extremely helpful in increasing consciousness levels.


*Catcalling: The act of publicly shouting at women with harassing and often sexually suggestive, threatening, or derisive comments.

People with a public library card can view the film free on Kanopy. Just type Kanopy and the name of your library into your search engine.

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

By Caroline Criado Perez

Vintage Books (2019)

Book Review

Although women make up over 50% of the global population, under patriarchy there’s a perverse tendency for political and social institutions to regard “male” as the default sex and “female” as an aberration. The result, according to author Caroline Criado Perez, is major suffering for women in three main primary areas 1) society’s failure to accommodate major ways women’s bodies are different from men’s, 2) society’s failure to acknowledge the vast amount of unpaid work women perform, and 3) society’s failure to address the ubiquitous threat of male violence against women.

The most serious threat to women’s lives occurs in the medical and military/security area, owing to the failure of doctors and military planners to appreciate distinct features of women’s anatomy and physiology. Perez cites research revealing that doctors (of both sexes) continually misdiagnosis life threatening illness in women as “hysterical” or “in their head.” They still fail to recognize that many common illnesses (for example heart attacks*) present differently in women.

Women’s health (and lives) are also seriously jeopardized by military and police regulations that fail to account for women’s physical differences. Among the most striking examples are the frequent pelvic fractures female recruits suffer. According to Perez, this stems from requirements they match the stride length set by men and carry rucksacks (designed for men), with ill-fitting straps that lack padded hip belts. Their masks and boots (women’s feet are narrower and have higher arches than men’s) don’t fit, either. Nor do their rubber gloves, which frequently get caught in machinery.

There is also a deplorable lack of funding for start-ups and research related to women-specific medical conditions.**

The issue of women’s invisible unpaid labor has (mainly child care and elder care) been a bugbear of the feminist movement for nearly 40 years. However I was previously unaware that the world’s elite economic institutions (eg World Bank, IMF) made the deliberate decision to exclude unpaid work from GDP.

They claimed it was “too difficult to measure.” However Perez asserts unpaid labor is very easy to measure with “time-use” surveys. Thanks to the growing popularity of major all-volunteer projects like Wikipedia and Open Source software, economists are finally acknowledging the importance of unpaid work, as well as employing “time-use” surveys to measure it.

The result, according to Perez, was the discovery that significant GDP growth starting in the late 70s largely resulted from more women getting paid for previously unpaid work (eg child and elder care). Likewise, the decline in GDP growth stemming from post-2008 global austerity cuts reflected women’s women’s withdrawal from the labor market to perform child and elder care. They had no choice when most industrialized countries drastically downsized publicly funded care programs.

In discussing her third major area of concern (the ubiquitous threat of male violence), Perez addresses many of the same issues as Leslie Kern highlights in Feminist City, mainly related to fear and risk of violence women experience when they use public transport or enter certain city spaces on their own.


*With heart attacks, women are more likely to present with stomach pain and nausea (in contrast to the chest pain in men). Additionally, women’s ECGs tend to be inconclusive and their angiograms tend to be negative because their heart attacks are less likely to be caused by occlusion (closed-off coronary arteries). Because doctors are slow to diagnose heart attacks in women, they make up only 25% of patients receiving life-saving percutaneous coronary interventions (eg stents).

**Perez gives the example of a female inventor who couldn’t get startup funding (despite studies showing women-run startups generate twice the revenue of male startups) for a better fitting, quieter, more efficient breast pump and female researchers who couldn’t get funding to research the most effective treatment available for menstrual cramps (Viagra!), pelvic floor training (37% of women have pelvic floor dysfunction after childbirth), or sodium bicarbonate infusion for weak birth contractions (number one cause of maternal death in childbirth).

 

Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-made World

Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-made World

by Leslie Kern

Book Review

Feminist City is about “feminist geography,” a field that studies the failure of city planners to anticipate the needs of women. Because women do the vast majority of unpaid work (ie child care, elder care, and homemaking) they use the city much more intensively than men. Except on weekends, the latter use city spaces mainly on the way to work.

Historically the first women in public spaces were prostitutes (20% in the early 18th century). As distinctions of rank diminished with new fashions, the desire not to be misconstrued as a “public woman” put great pressure on middle class women to stay at home.

It didn’t help that working class women who came to the city to work in factories and domestic service were condemned  (according to Engels) for destroying families. Nor that author Charles Dickens proposed to compel “fallen women” to be sent to colonies with a surplus of men.

According to Kern, the male gender of the vast majority of city planners creates major difficulties for women in paid work, who must also transport children to school, daycare, and after school activities and children and elders to medical appointments. Since only a minority have cars, they must rely on public transportation, which is very poorly designed to accommodate them. Beyond Tube and subway stations inaccessible to women with strollers, most buses and trains accommodate strollers poorly, if at all. Public transport is also far more expensive for women – due to the high number of trips they take and the additional fares they pay for children they can’t leave at home.

Other ways women are disadvantaged in accessing city spaces include

  • Inadequate public toilets, a major problem for women managing pregnancy or periods, infants, or toddlers undergoing toilet training.
  • Inadequate safety planning for single women fearing potential male violence and microaggression in using public transport at night or in poorly light and/or low traffic areas.
  • Inadequate planning for girls’ recreational areas to complement the skate parks,

The most interesting section of the book addresses the threat women pose in a patriarchal system when they opt out of marriage and heterosexual monogamy, seek out female friendships in preference to romantic relationships, exist in public spaces on their own (without an accompanying male) or express themselves as individuals (politically, artistically, journalistically, or on social media).

The default expectation is that a woman alone is presumed to be available to men or craving a relationship. Kern blames this expectation for the persistence of the urban tendency to “punish” solitary women with catcalling, whistling, unwanted touching or, most intrusive of all, being approached by male strangers and told to smile.

With the advent of the Internet, socially prominent women face far worse, with ubiquitous social media threats to injure, rape and kill them. In a few cases, these threats are carried out, as with British MP Jo Cox in 2016