TIME feminism

Stop Fem-Splaining: What ‘Women Against Feminism’ Gets Right

Young woman using laptop on bed
Getty Images

The charge that feminism stereotypes men as predators while reducing women to helpless victims certainly doesn’t apply to all feminists — but it’s a reasonably fair description of a large, influential, highly visible segment of modern feminism

The latest skirmish on the gender battlefield is “Women Against Feminism”: women and girls taking to social media to declare that they don’t need or want feminism, usually via photos of themselves with handwritten placards. The feminist reaction has ranged from mockery to dismay to somewhat patronizing (or should that be “matronizing”?) lectures on why these dissidents are wrong. But, while the anti-feminist rebellion has its eye-rolling moments, it raises valid questions about the state of Western feminism in the 21st century — questions that must be addressed if we are to continue making progress toward real gender equality.

Female anti-feminism is nothing new. In the 19th century, plenty of women were hostile to the women’s movement and to women who pursued nontraditional paths. In the 1970s, Marabel Morgan’s regressive manifesto The Total Woman was a top best seller, and Phyllis Schlafly led opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. But such anti-feminism was invariably about defending women’s traditional roles. Some of today’s “women against feminism” fit that mold: they feel that feminism demeans stay-at-home mothers, or that being a “true woman” means loving to cook and clean for your man. Many others, however, say they repudiate feminism even though — indeed, because — they support equality and female empowerment:

“I don’t need feminism because I believe in equality, not entitlements and supremacy.”

“I don’t need feminism because it reinforces the men as agents/women as victims dichotomy.”

“I do not need modern feminism because it has become confused with misandry which is as bad as misogyny, and whatever I want to do or be in life, I will become through my own hard work.”

Or, more than once: “I don’t need feminism because egalitarianism is better!”

Again and again, the dissenters say that feminism belittles and demonizes men, treating them as presumptive rapists while encouraging women to see themselves as victims. “I am not a victim” and “I can take responsibility for my actions” are recurring themes. Many also challenge the notion that American women in the 21st century are “oppressed,” defiantly asserting that “the patriarchy doesn’t exist” and “there is no rape culture.”

One common response from feminists is to say that Women Against Feminism “don’t understand what feminism is” and to invoke its dictionary definition: “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” The new anti-feminists have a rejoinder for that, too: they’re judging modern feminism by its actions, not by the book. And here, they have a point.

Consider the #YesAllWomen Twitter hashtag, dubbed by one blogger “the Arab Spring of 21st century feminism.” Created in response to Elliot Rodger’s deadly shooting spree in Isla Vista, Calif. — and to reminders that “not all men” are violent misogynists — the tag was a relentless catalog of female victimization by male terrorism and abuse. Some of its most popular tweets seemed to literally dehumanize men, comparing them to sharks or M&M candies of which 10% are poisoned.

Consider assertions that men as a group must be taught “not to rape,” or that to accord the presumption of innocence to a man accused of sexual violence against a woman or girl is to be complicit in “rape culture.” Consider that last year, when an Ohio University student made a rape complaint after getting caught on video engaging in a drunken public sex act, she was championed by campus activists and at least one prominent feminist blogger — but a grand jury declined to hand down charges after reviewing the video of the incident and evidence that both students were inebriated.

Consider that a prominent British feminist writer, Laurie Penny, decries the notion that feminists should avoid such generalizations as “men oppress women”; in her view, all men are steeped in a woman-hating culture and “even the sweetest, gentlest man” benefits from women’s oppression. Consider, too, that an extended quote from Penny’s column was reposted by a mainstream reproductive-rights group and shared by nearly 84,000 Tumblr users in six months.

Sure, some Women Against Feminism claims are caricatures based on fringe views — for instance, that feminism mandates hairy armpits, or that feminists regard all heterosexual intercourse as rape. On the other hand, the charge that feminism stereotypes men as predators while reducing women to helpless victims certainly doesn’t apply to all feminists — but it’s a reasonably fair description of a large, influential, highly visible segment of modern feminism.

Are Women Against Feminism ignorant and naive to insist they are not oppressed? Perhaps some are too giddy with youthful optimism. But they make a strong argument that a “patriarchy” that lets women vote, work, attend college, get divorced, run for political office and own businesses on the same terms as men isn’t quite living up to its label. They also raise valid questions about politicizing personal violence along gender lines; research shows that surprisingly high numbers of men may have been raped, sometimes by women.

For the most part, Women Against Feminism are quite willing to acknowledge and credit feminism’s past battles for women’s rights in the West, as well as the severe oppression women still suffer in many parts of the world. But they also say that modern Western feminism has become a divisive and sometimes hateful force, a movement that dramatically exaggerates female woes while ignoring men’s problems, stifles dissenting views, and dwells obsessively on men’s misbehavior and women’s personal wrongs. These are trends about which feminists have voiced alarm in the past — including the movement’s founding mother Betty Friedan, who tried in the 1970s to steer feminism from the path of what she called “sex/class warfare.” Friedan would have been aghast had she known that, 50 years after she began her battle, feminist energies were being spent on bashing men who commit the heinous crime of taking too much space on the subway.

Is there still a place in modern-day America for a gender-equality movement? I think so. Work-family balance remains a real and complicated challenge. And there are gender-based cultural biases and pressures that still exist — though, in 21st century Western countries, they almost certainly affect men as much as women. A true equality movement would be concerned with the needs and interests of both sexes. It would, for instance, advocate for all victims of domestic and sexual violence regardless of gender — and for fairness to those accused of these offenses. It would support both women and men as workers and as parents.

Should such a movement take back feminism — or, as the new egalitarians suggest, give up on the label altogether because of its inherent connotations of advocating for women only? I’m not sure what the answer is. But Women Against Feminism are asking the right questions. And they deserve to be heard, not harangued. As one of the group’s graphics says, “I have my own mind. Please stop fem-splaining it to me.”

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

TIME campus sexual assault

UConn Settles Sexual Assault Lawsuit

STORRS, Conn— The University of Connecticut has settled a federal lawsuit filed by five women who claimed the school responded to their sexual assault complaints with indifference.

The bulk of the settlement, $900,000, will go to a former UConn hockey player who joined the Title IX lawsuit last December, a month after it was originally filed by four other women. She alleged she was kicked off the team after reporting she had been raped by a male hockey player in August 2011.

The other four women will receive payments ranging from $125,000 to $25,000.

The Associated Press obtained settlement documents in advance of a planned Friday morning announcement by the university and plaintiffs.

The school, which has repeatedly defended its policies for responding to sexual assault complaints, did not admit any wrongdoing.

“It was clear to all parties that no good would have come from dragging this out for years as it consumed the time, attention and resources — both financial and emotional — of everyone involved,” said Larry McHugh, the chairman of the school’s Board of Trustees. “In order to do this, compromise was required on both sides, which is reflected in the settlement. I hope this resolution will help the students find closure on this issue.”

Messages seeking comment were left for the women’s attorney, Gloria Allred, who planned hold a news conference at 1 p.m. Friday.

The lawsuit alleged discrimination based on gender and retaliation in violation of Title IX, which guarantees equal educational opportunities to students at schools that receive federal funds. It sought unspecified monetary damages and changes in university policies.

The U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights began a Title IX investigation in December based on complaints filed by four of the plaintiffs and three other women. That investigation, which could include the loss of federal funds for the school, continues even though these four women also have withdrawn their complaint to the Education Department.

School officials said they would continue to cooperate with that investigation.

The two sides issued a joint statement, which includes an acknowledgment by the plaintiffs that “certain UConn employees provided compassionate care and assistance to them” while contending the response of the school as a whole, showed deliberate indifference.

One plaintiff, Kylie Angell, said she was told by a police officer that, “Women need to stop spreading their legs like peanut butter or rape is going to keep happening until the cows come home.”

Angell receives $115,000 in the settlement. Carolyn Luby will get $25,000; Rosemary Richi receives $60,000 and Erica Daniels receives $125,000. The Associated Press normally does not release the names of victims in sexual assault cases, but those four have made their names public at news conferences. The hockey player has not.

None of the men involved in the complaints ever faced criminal charges. The attacks allegedly occurred between 2010 and 2013, while the women were students at the school.

UConn officials have detailed numerous steps the school has taken to ensure women can report sexual assaults to police or schools and receive proper guidance and counseling. The school also said it has expelled 27 students since 2005 who have been the subject of sexual misconduct allegations, including 15 in the past five years. The school could not say how many complaints had been filed during that time.

“This lawsuit may have been settled, but the issue of sexual assault on college campuses has not been,” said school President Susan Herbst. “Our hearts go out to all victims of sexual violence. The University has taken many positive, important steps in the battle against sexual assault in recent years, which are described in the joint statement, but there is still more to be done.”

Reported by By Pat Eaton-robb

TIME Crime

Here’s What Happens When You Get a Rape Kit Exam

It takes a lot longer and is more invasive than you think

+ READ ARTICLE

Updated: July 22, 4:00 p.m.

Getting a rape kit collected is no picnic. The process can last up to four hours, and involves getting poked, prodded, swabbed and photographed in exactly the places a rape victim would have been violated in an attack.

“There’s a lot of myths about there, myths about prostitutes coming in to get free medical care, but this is a very invasive 2-4 hour plus exam,” says Kim Hurst, director of the Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner program in Detroit. “We’re doing pubic hair pulls or combs, we’re doing swabs of the outside of the genitalia… and then we’re doing a speculum exam [which is internal] and taking swabs that way, and if there was an anal assault we’re doing swabs there. And then we use a colposcope [a specialized medical camera] to take pictures of genital injury.”

The exam is usually performed in a hospital before the kit of evidence is turned over to the police for their investigation. The DNA from the kit and potential rapist is entered into CODIS, a national FBI database that helps law enforcement track serial offenders across the country.

But as TIME reported this week, thousands of rape kits across the country have been shelved and forgotten without being tested. According to a 2011 report from the National Institute of Justice, 18% of all unsolved rapes between 2002 and 2007 involved forensic evidence that had never been processed. In 2009, over 11,000 forgotten rape kits were discovered in a Detroit police warehouse, which means 11,000 potential victims went through the rape kit collection process, only to have the evidence discarded. Detroit prosecutor Kym Worthy has been setting an example for how best to clear the backlog and prosecute the cold cases, but other cities could follow her lead; Phoenix has almost 3,000 backlogged kits, Dallas has over 4,000, and Memphis has over 12,000. That’s why the House of Representatives recently passed $41 million to test backlogged kits and investigate the cold cases.

“The bottom line, by testing these rape kits, we can identify serial rapists, put them behind bars, and bring the ultimate nightmare of the women raped to an end,” said Vice President Joe Biden when he asked Congress in March for the backlog funding in Obama’s 2015 budget. The bill has yet to pass the Senate.

Pick up this week’s issue of TIME to find out more on how investigators in Detroit are leading the way in clearing the rape kit backlog and getting victims overdue justice, or follow this link.

 

With special thanks to Monica Pombo and the Crime Victims Treatment Center at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s in Manhattan.

TIME Egypt

Egypt: 7 Jailed for Life for Public Sexual Assaults

Egyptian men sentenced to life in prison for sexual assaults on women during a number of public rallies in Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square, attend their trial at a court in Cairo, July 16, 2014.
Egyptian men sentenced to life in prison for sexual assaults on women during a number of public rallies in Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square, attend their trial at a court in Cairo, July 16, 2014. Aly Hazza—El Shorouk/AP

Three of the men received multiple life sentences as Egypt's new government cracks down on sex offenders

Correction appended 9:25am ET

A court in Egypt has sentenced seven men to life in prison for committing sexual assaults during protests in Tahrir Square, the Associated Press reports.

Three of the men received multiple life sentences for taking part in different assaults. These are the first heavy sentences against sexual abusers since Egypt’s new president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, vowed to toughen penalties in June.

The sentences stem from four separate incidents of sexual assault, including one that occurred during celebrations for Sisi’s inauguration.

This last assault may refer to an incident during the June 8 celebrations, when a video emerged showing a young woman being stripped naked and beaten by a crowd in Tahrir Square.

The timing of the brutal attack was particularly embarrassing given Sisi’s election promise to end the frequent assaults occurring in Tahrir Square.

The president vowed during his campaign to “restore the sense of shame” to sexual abusers. Before Sisi’s inauguration, the interim president Adly Mansour said physical and verbal sexual harassment was punishable by six-month to five-year prison sentences.

Egypt’s long-standing problems with sexual assault came into focus following the 2011 uprisings which ousted former president Hosni Mubarak. Though women protested shoulder to shoulder with men they were persistently subjected to sexual assaults during the mass protests in Tahrir Square. CBS News journalist Lara Logan was among the victims of assault in 2011.

The original version of this story, based on an Associated Press report, misstated the number of men sentenced. It was 7.

[AP]

TIME Education

More Than 60 Colleges Attend Dartmouth’s Sexual Assault Summit

Administrators face pressure to end the mishandling of assault investigations and put effective prevention measures in place

Dartmouth College President Philip Hanlon wants parents of women on his campus to know that the school is working to address the issue of sexual assault. During a hour-long conversation on New Hampshire Public Radio Tuesday, Hanlon said the school is “open” and “upfront.” “You should not be worried if a campus is talking about [sexual assault],” Hanlon said. “You should be worried if a campus is not talking about it.”

And Dartmouth is certainly talking about it. The school is hosting nearly 300 representatives from over 60 colleges, national experts, and government officials for a four day summit on preventing campus sexual assault, just days after a Congressional survey found that 41% of colleges polled have not investigated a sexual assault on their campuses in the past five years.

The Department of Education also launched investigations into 55 schools across the country this year, including Dartmouth, for allegedly mishandling of incidents involving an assault. This week’s summit is an opportunity for school and government officials to discuss best practices for addressing the issue, with representatives from Duke University, Rice University, Pomona College and Georgetown University on hand to discuss interactions between students and school administrators.

Hanlon said Tuesday that Dartmouth intends to position itself as a national leader in the effort to combat sexual assault on campus. He’s been in office for one year and named the issue one of his top priorities. In June, the college implemented a new policy for handling reports of sexual assault that requires outside investigators to look into complaints The policy also requires mandatory expulsion for some perpetrators of assault.

“As a nation we will reach a tipping point where nonconsensual sexual encounters on our college campuses are a thing of the past,” U.S. Representative Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) said Sunday at an opening session of the summit. Research has shown that one in five college women will become a victim of an attempted or actual sexual assault while on campus. A TIME cover story from May detailed the crisis, which has been called an epidemic, and also examined the efforts to curb the trend.

On Monday, representatives from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice addressed the summit attendees affirming the federal government’s commitment to keeping student’s safe. “Every student needs to be safe,” said Catherine Lhamon of the Department of Education’s office of Civil Rights. Attendees have also been actively engaged on Twitter where conversations around the absence of males, student voices, and the need for more collaboration proliferated.

https://twitter.com/DartmouthChange/status/488760727008989184 https://twitter.com/DancingGrapes/status/488716002776322049

TIME Opinion

16-Year Old Gives Television Interview After Alleged Rape Photos Went Viral

Victim was mocked with #jadapose until supporters flooded the hashtag with encouragement and outrage

A 16-year old girl who says she was drugged and raped at a party spoke out on Houston local TV about how it felt to have images of her alleged assault circulated around social media.

While rape victims are are usually kept strictly anonymous, some survivors are beginning to speak out against their attackers, especially when the assault makes its way onto social media. Daisy Coleman, the Maryville teen who was viciously cyberbullied after she publicly accused a fellow high school student of raping her, was one of the first survivors to publicly identify herself, but others are following suit. Some victims have even taken to Twitter to publicly discuss their experiences with sexual assault.

“Anonymity has always been the default,” said Jennifer Marsh, VP of Victim Services at Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. “But in the cases we’ve seen recently—everything is already out there. Her face was out there. So at that point it’s a question of regaining control of the narrative of what happened to you.”

The Houston teen, identified only as Jada, said she went to a party with friends where the host gave her a drink she now believes was spiked with a drug. She passed out, and doesn’t remember anything from when she was unconscious. It wasn’t until Jada saw disturbing pictures and tweets on social media, that she believed she’d been raped. “Everybody knows,” Jada told KHOU 11. “And everybody’s texting me are you OK? You’re going to be OK, and I was like alright.” (TIME doesn’t usually identify rape victims, but we are making an exception in this instance because Jada wanted to come forward.)

It’s not immediately clear who originally tweeted the photos, because the photos have been mostly removed and some Twitter handles of people close to the incident have been de-activated. But the pictures soon went viral under the hashtag #jadapose, allegedly referring to the position of her body in the photographs. The alleged rapist was reportedly denouncing Jada and her story before his Twitter account was deactivated, including one tweet that said “HOW ITS RAPE? YOU HAD 2 MONTHS TO SAY SOMETHING BUT YOU AINT SAY [SH*T] TILL YOU GET EXPOSED?”

Other Twitter users followed suit, using the hashtag to mock Jada:

https://twitter.com/lowkeyitsmoe/status/486718561075724288/photo/1

The original photographs have since been reported and mostly removed and Jada’s supporters have started a Twitter backlash and used the hashtag in her defense.

And now she’s angry. “I had no control,” said Jada. “I didn’t tell anyone to take my clothes off and do what they did to me.”

The circumstances of Jada’s decision to come forward are truly horrific and no teenager should have to endure the double violation of a rape and then a social media maelstrom at her expense, and no victim should feel she has to identify herself in order to stop abuse. But maybe there’s a silver lining in this strategy for survivors. By coming forward, Jada traded her anonymity for a face and a voice, and with identity comes a certain kind of power.

 

 

TIME Sexual Assault

1 in 5: Debating the Most Controversial Sexual Assault Statistic 

Independent Womens Forum Rape
Sabrina Schaeffer, executive director of the Independent Women's Forum, speaks at an Independent Women's Forum panel discussion at the Fund for American Studies in Washington on June 26, 2014. Amber Schwartz

Does America really have a "rape culture"?

A conservative women’s group is trying to debunk the claim that one in five women is a victim of sexual assault in college.

The startling one-in-five statistic has become a rallying cry for campus judicial reform and entered the public lexicon through widespread dissemination by the media and the Obama Administration. Obama created a White House task force on campus sexual assault earlier this year, and Congress is currently considering proposals to combat sexual violence on campus.

At a Senate hearing Thursday, the one-in-five statistic was invoked in opening statements. Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary of education for civil rights, said that “sexual violence is pervasive” on many college campuses and James Moore, compliance manager in the Clery Act Compliance Division of the Education Department, said we are experiencing a “crisis of sexual assault” on campus. (The Clery Act, passed in 1990, requires colleges and universities to publish annual reports on security and crime statistics, as well as publish information about sexual assault policies and programs.)

But the Independent Women’s Forum, based in Washington, D.C., hosted a panel Thursday for about 100 people at The Fund for American Studies that questioned the validity of one-in-five figure.

“I do not believe that the one in five statistic is trustworthy,” said Christina Hoff Sommers, self-titled “factual feminist” and resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “Inflated statistics lead to ineffective policies. Worse than that, they can breed panic and overreaction, and that’s what I think we have right now. I believe that the rape culture movement is fueled by exaggerated claims of victimization.”

Is it exaggerated? The oft-touted statistic comes from a 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice. The study was a Web-based survey circulated to a random sample of 5,446 undergraduate women at two major public universities. The survey found that 19% of the female respondents had experienced completed or attempted sexual assault since entering college.

Yet the survey response rate was 42.2% and 42.8% at the two universities, and Sommers believes the fact that less than half the women chose to respond to the survey points to a troubling selection bias in the respondents. “The people who feel the most strongly about the survey, for whatever reason, are the most likely to respond,” she said.

Sommers and other members of the IWF panel also question the ways this study defined sexual assault. In the executive summary of the 2007 study, the researchers wrote, “Legal definitions of sexual assault factor in one’s ability to provide consent, and individuals who are incapacitated because of the effects of alcohol or drugs… are incapable of consenting.”

In other words, this survey classified sexual encounters that occurred while the woman was intoxicated as a form of sexual assault, regardless of whether the perpetrator was responsible for her intoxication or she consumed the substances on her own. “I can imagine many cases where someone was incapacitated, unconscious: could not consent,” said Sommers. “But there are other cases where it can be quite debatable.”

“Proponents [of the 1/5 statistic] are exaggerating the threat, too often confusing regretful sexual decisions made while under the influence of alcohol or drugs with actual rape,” Sabrina Schaeffer, executive director of IWF, wrote in a statement circulated before the panel.

“If sexual intimacy under the influence of alcohol is by definition assault, then I would say a significant percentage of sexual intercourse throughout the world and down the ages would qualify as a crime,” Sommers said. (Sommers wrote an article for TIME in May 2014 about the “panic” she sees surrounding this issue.)

Cathy Young, columnist for Newsday and contributing editor at Reason magazine, believes that conflating drunken sex with more serious assaults undermines the gravity of the issue: “This is trivializing to the experience of women who unfortunately have had the experience of being violently raped,” she said.

Instead of one in five, Sommers believes the real number is closer to one in forty. In 2005, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report called “Violent Victimizations of College Students, 1995-2002,” with a section specifically dealing with sexual assault. This study also has an expansive definition of sexual assault (“Sexual assaults may or may not involve force and include such things as grabbing or fondling. Sexual assault also includes verbal threats”), but does not have the same restrictive view of alcohol as the Campus Sexual Assault survey. “They made it clear they were asking about a serious violation,” Sommers said.

The response rate for this survey was 80% to 88%; double that of the 2007 survey, and the results showed an annual rate of sexual assault against female students to be six per one thousand, which translates to about one in forty over four years. This means that 2.5% of women are sexually assaulted in college, not 20%. It is worth pointing out that the figures in the Bureau of Judicial Statistics survey are at least 12 years old.

“Sexual assault on campus is a genuine problem,” said Sommers. “But to get smart solutions, inflated statistics are not the answer.”

But whether the statistic is one in five, one in forty, or somewhere in between, Andrea Bottner, former director of the Office of International Women’s Issues in the George W. Bush administration, believes that those aren’t the numbers we should be worried about.

“One in five does not bother me too much as a statistic,” she said. “Frankly, I think it’s the wrong statistic to be focused upon. The number that comes to my mind is sixty percent. About sixty percent of rapes in this country are never reported… To me, every time a victim comes forward, I imagine two more next to him or her who don’t. Those are the people we need to reach.”

TIME Media

Sexual Assault Awareness Campaign Uses Disney Princesses to Make a Point

Princest Diaries
Saint Hoax

The disturbing images send a strong message

Artist Saint Hoax is appropriating some of the world’s most beloved cartoon characters to call attention to victims of sexual assault. Her new poster series, “Princest Diaries” shows Disney princesses being forced to kiss their fathers.

It’s disturbing, but that’s the point. The series of images—which have already gone viral—are meant to raise awareness and encourage victims to report cases of domestic abuse. The bottom of each pictures reads, “46 percent of minors who are raped are victims of family members. It’s never too late to report your attack.”

That statistic is from a 1992 report by the Department of Justice, which found 46% of victims under the age of 12 were assaulted by a family member. The study also stated that 20% of victims aged 12 to 17 were assaulted by a family member. A more recent report in 2000 by the U.S. Bureau of Justice that’s cited by the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) found that 34.2% of sexual assaults of juveniles were committed by family members, and 58.7% of minor victims are attacked by an acquaintance.

The corruption of a childhood fantasy—what little girl doesn’t dream of growing up to be a Disney princess?—brings the true horror of domestic sexual abuse to light. The artist also hopes that the Disney princesses will appeal to the young girls she is trying to reach. Their faces are familiar ones, and in theory young girls might feel more comfortable telling someone about their abuse if they know their heroes suffered the same.

See all the images on her website.

Princest Diaries
Saint Hoax
Princest Diaries
Saint Hoax

Organizations and hotlines for victims of sexual assault:

RAINN

National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence

Pandora Project

TIME Education

Watch The Daily Show Get Hilariously Real About Campus Sexual Assault

"But not all men are bad..."

The Daily Show
Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,Indecision Political Humor,The Daily Show on Facebook

 

Jon Stewart was surprised to find out that three students at James Madison University who allegedly sexually assaulted a classmate—and filmed themselves doing so—were punished by being expelled after graduation. Yep, that’s right: after graduation. James Madison is just one of 55 schools being investigated by the federal government for mishandling cases of sexual assault on campus.

So Daily Show correspondents Jessica Williams and Jordan Klepper (dressed in typical college garb) took it upon themselves to give students some safety tips. The way they take on gender-related injustice is hilarious: they even get a “not all men” reference in there.

TIME Aviation

It Sounds So Last Century, but Cabin Crew Are Still Hassled by Sex Pests

481520649
Getty Images

From Coffee, Tea or Me? to The Swinging Stewardesses to the Singapore Girl. For years, books, movies and marketing campaigns have sold us the story that flight attendants are sexy girls who serve, not working men and women. Years of organizing and activism has helped alter this perception and has dramatically improved working conditions in many parts of the world. But decades after Continental promised to “move our tails for you,” there are those who still feel free to return an attendant’s smile with a wink and a leer — or even a casual grope.

Thankfully, legislation is slowly changing that. Last week, Hong Kong became the latest jurisdiction to take action on the issue after officials proposed an amendment to the territory’s sexual-harassment laws that would make sexual harassment of service providers illegal, even if it happens outside the territory. Under the Sex Discrimination (Amendment) Bill 2014, airborne sex pests would face civil action in Hong Kong courts. “Some people think they can run away from their actions — well, maybe they can’t run away anymore,” says Dora Lai, who heads the flight attendants’ union for local flag carrier Cathay Pacific. It’s a far cry from the 1970s, when the airline used to market itself with a nudge-nudge play on its code: “Try CX. You’ll like it.”

Though all this may sound like an improbable 1960s throwback, in-flight harassment is an enduring, industry-wide problem. Global stats are hard to come by because such behavior often goes unreported, or may be logged as an in-flight “incident.” But veteran flight attendants with international experience say it is a semiregular occurrence and an unfortunate fact of the job. The new rules in Hong Kong, for instance, follow a survey by Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunity Commission, which found that 27% of Hong Kong flight attendants reported being sexually harassed in the past year.

Statutory protection is a step in the right direction, but is still limited in scope. In drafting their proposal, Hong Kong officials looked to existing laws in Canada, New Zealand and Australia — a small slice of the travel pie. Some markets still lack harassment laws, many the will to enforce them. And it is notoriously tough to pursue claims against someone who may live and work elsewhere.

Part of the problem is that in-flight offenders are emboldened by a perception that they will not be called out. Airlines are certainly not the only place where this happens — creeps and criminals are universal — but there is something about flying that seems to bring it out, says Kathleen M. Barry, author of Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants. “There has always been that sense that there is something distinctive about being on an airplane, it is a space apart, away from your family, removed from normal constraints of a service relationship.”

Airline marketing has not helped. In 1974’s Sex Objects in the Sky: A Personal Account of the Stewardess Rebellion, Paula Kane observed a link between the rise of sexy ad campaigns (“Fly me”), salacious depictions of stewardesses and real-life, one-the-job harassment. Her businessmen customers felt entitled to a “pinch or a pat.” Some still do.

Today, few would venture to grab a bank teller’s breast, or to casually show a shop assistant or receptionist part of their anatomy without expecting consequences. But both still happen in-flight, cabin crew say. One Chinese employee for a German airline told me in an email how the mere act of pouring a beverage — a humdrum part of the job — prompted one passenger to joke about ejaculating on her. (Fearing repercussions at work, she asked to withhold her name.)

Flight attendants have led the charge to change the industry. Bolstered by the civil rights movement and feminist activism, workers at U.S.-based airlines successfully campaigned for an end to things like age and weight limits and the requirement that stewardesses stay single. They also fought for better pay and benefits. In doing so, they helped changed the perception that working on an aircraft is somehow not real work at all.

Current conditions vary widely across regions and carriers. The International Transport Workers’ Federation last year called out the United Arab Emirates and Qatar for “flagrant abuses” of aviation-workers’ rights (including restrictions on marriage and pregnancy). Hong Kong–headquartered Cathay Pacific has a strong and vocal union, but flight attendants in mainland China cannot organize. Major Chinese airlines still have height and age requirements. At a 2011 recruitment pageant, prospective hires had to walk a runway in swimsuits and were evaluated on the shape of their legs.

Of course, it is not really about what recruits wear, or how they look, but about power. Flight attendants could wear potato sacks and still get hassled. Stopping would-be offenders means showing passengers and staff alike that abuse will not be tolerated, says Heather Poole, an industry veteran and the author of the bestseller Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet. “There’s a reason foreign carriers like to keep their flight attendants young,” she says. In her experience, young people, who often have less job security, may be hesitant to speak up.

When, as a rookie, she was groped by a passenger in first class, she fled to the galley and did not report it. “I had just started flying, and I didn’t want to lose my job by causing a problem with an important passenger,” she recalled in an email. “I still don’t [know] who I’d go to for something like that. The union? Human resources? A 1-800 number?”

For Hong Kong–based crew, at least, the new rules may provide some help. And at least the issue is being discussed. But tackling the problem globally will require all jurisdictions, and airlines, to step up. Not to mention passengers. “I’d suggest that any person with a propensity to act out in this manner consider traveling as if their mother is sitting next to them,” Poole says. “An 18-year-old new hire may handle a situation differently than a flight attendant with 10 years’ seniority and a black belt in Taekwondo.”

Creeps: consider yourself warned.

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