Thoughts from my study of Horror, Media, and Narrrative

Archive for April, 2009

Undercover Mother

When I sat and thought about what was going on, I couldn’t say that this girl was entirely mistaken. Sure, her method of lying to caseworkers certainly wasn’t entirely honest but her goal of making an organization accountable was certainly something that I could support.

Yeah, I said it.

True, I write these articles on behalf of a Planned Parenthood affiliate and I initially found myself incensed by what was occurring, but I realized that I was just being defensive and protective of an organization that with which I had come to align myself.

One of the problems with all of this is that Lila’s videos are designed to provoke powerful emotions from people on both sides of the fence and having a strong feeling about an issue is one thing, but acting from that same place only leads to brash behavior.

The reality is, however, that these situations often require a measure of tact. It’s easy for us to sit back and judge this scenario with a clear-cut mentality when we see it played out on YouTube but anyone who has been in a room with a patient (especially a teenage one) knows that things are never this easy. I certainly do not purport to be a counselor but I have had enough experience to know that situations between a professional and a client need to be handled with extreme care, thought, and discretion. How do you serve the greater good when a 13-year-old tells you that she had sex with a 31-year-old? I imagine that the focus of the clinician at that point immediately revolved around the girl whether viewers realized it or not:  Was she raped? What is her thought process in wanting to abort the baby? Is a violation of her trust outweighed by my duty to report a crime? How would the reporting of this particular situation affect the willingness of future girls to come forth? To me, the situation depicted in the videos is nothing more than this:  the actions don’t always follow the letter of the law but might very well abide by its spirit.

If you’ve seen Lila’s videos and immediately react, take a second and think about what you’ve learned from watching television. On medical dramas, we are routinely bombarded by examples of doctors doing things that are illegal, immoral, or unethical in order to accomplish a goal. Sometimes, efforts to subvert presiding laws cause chaos because the character needs to learn a lesson. Other times, however, things work out because these actions are in the best interest of a patient. We have seen examples of a Chief of Surgery coercing a comatose patient’s wife to pull the plug so that six other individuals could get a kidney on Grey’s Anatomy; Private Practice has had doctors cross boundaries in an attempt to do what they thought was best, and every medical drama in the history of television has had a doctor become too involved in his work due to a personal situation.

How do you know when to uphold the law and when to declare the rule unjust? In the end, it’s a judgment call.

For example, Private Practice just featured a teacher sleeping with her student. When doctors discovered this transgression, they experienced conflict over whether they should report the teacher to the police:  Arguments were made that statutory rape was a crime and should always be reported; other doctors mentioned that the relationship was consensual and heard a rejoinder that minors can’t give consent. But, doctors ultimately came to question if the act of reporting would do any good for either party.

The answer? Not so much.

Without question, this whole situation represents a complicated dilemma. Recall a time when you helped a friend cover up a mistake and you might understand the mindset of the Planned Parenthood employees. Thinking about the videos again in this light, perhaps what occurred in these videos wasn’t right but I’m not entirely sure it was wrong.

Cruel and Not So Unusual

T.S.Eliot once wrote that “Aprilis the cruelest month.”

While I don’t know if I would call it cruel, I will admit that, between work, the weather, and life, things have been pretty bad in the past few weeks. For example, my alma mater has been mentioned on the news several times for incidents regarding student safety with one item in particular causing a fairly strong reaction from students and staff on campus.

Reading the article, I found myself appalled. I will never be able to understand how the campus community can mobilize so quickly to evidence blame and hate. Some student reactions to the incident have mentioned that the girl should have expected nothing less from a fraternity party, that she was drunk and/or slutty, or that she felt regret about having sex and called rape unfairly. Other students made light of the situation by noting the implausibility of such an incident occurring in a fraternity house that holds a reputation for having a number of gay members.

“Why do you think the vast majority of people on here don’t believe this girl’s story? They’ve heard it too many times before.”

“Also to the girls who got raped, waking up the next morning and feeling bad about being a slut is no reason to suddenly cry rape, don’t go to these parties if you don’t want sex and intoxicants.”

“It may not be the case here, but when girls make bad decisions (i.e., get too drunk and make a mistake like hooking up with a random dude), crying “rape” can be a way to receive sympathy instead of scorn. This may not be the logic of many (or even most) girls, but there is a segment of the female population that does this.”

“However Lambda has a great defense as nearly 1/2 the house is gay. Most girls leave that house at 3am with better clothing, hair and make-up then when they left home earlier that night.”

For all the good things the school does, there are times when I am absolutely disgusted by my peers who think and feel this way. Regardless of who this girl was or how many drinks she had, she did not deserve to get assaulted (allegedly). I do not see how people cannot have compassion for her or how people can disparage this young woman’s character. Suppose that this girl was not actually assaulted but just thought that she had been—does she not still warrant some measure of respect and sympathy? Even if it were later discovered that she had called rape falsely, does the matter not deserve to be investigated and treated sincerely?

However, just because the alleged perpetrator is at fault does not mean that the female student isn’t wrong. Let’s be clear, I’m in no way blaming this girl and while no woman (or man, for that matter) deserves to be raped, it seems like smarter choices could have been made all around.

Undoubtedly this is not the first incident of sexual assault on a college campus, but all of these girls are someone’s daughter, possibly someone’s sister, and perhaps someone’s future mother. More than that, these women are people and fellow human beings—doesn’t that count for something? What man would ever say, “It’s okay that my female relative got raped. She secretly wanted it.”? I don’t think that all men are evil or to imply that fraternity parties are inherently bad—I get the spirit of having fun at a house and I certainly have no moral qualms about consensual (safe!) sex even if it’s on a somewhat suspect couch that may or may not glow under a black light (Not that I’ve ever done that. Seriously.)—but I do think that college students need to actively engage in, and evaluate, their environments in order to figure out which ones are suitable for them.

Think with Your Head


On the bottom shelf of my dresser sits a shirt from my college days. Back when I almost exclusively wore t-shirts with slogans on them, I had an item from a company called Blacklava that said “Got Privilege?” on the front and sported pictures of various items on the back. At the time, I thought that I was cool for bringing various plights to light by wearing a t-shirt (yes, it was silly) and I honestly haven’t thought much about the garment for a while—I’ll still wear it every now and again but no longer with the hope that I’ll get questions. Memories of the shirt came flooding back, however, when I happened upon some comments by one of my students

I had to stop for a second and look at the screen. “He can’t be serious,” I thought to myself as I quietly began to lose my composure. There are few things in the realm of sex and sexuality that really shake me, but I could feel myself quickly getting to a place were all I could feel was anger. In front of me lay a half-formed argument that men have some sort of divine prerogative to be leaders because they were created before women in the Bible (God made men first so they must be more important, right? There’s no way that a book written by men would use religious influence to disenfranchise women.)

“It is not your responsibility,” I wanted to scream, “to fight injustice and be a provider because you are a man, but because you are a person. Because you are a human being.”

Digging my nail into my palm, I took a measured breath. It is this kind of thinking that makes it unacceptable for men to make less money than their wives or for males to be bested in something that they care about. I mean, it’s all right that women know how to cook and clean, because that’s what they’re supposed to know—real men don’t do that sort of thing. But a woman who is an expert in sports? An authority and not just interested? Dangerous. In my mind, all of this stems from a desire to keep things simple, to keep people in easily defined boxes, and to have an unwavering sense of gender roles and identity. Men like this will tell each other to “be a man” or to “have some balls,” not realizing that it comes from the same hateful place that considers being called a “pussy” or a “fag” an insult.

The student went on to argue that, even biologically, men were designed to be the penetrators perpetrators of action. That is how rape happens. Thinking that possessing a penis grants you some sort of God-given right to be the dominant force in a situation is precisely the foundation for forcing yourself upon someone else.

I blinked.

I willed the tension to go.

These thoughts swirled in my mind as I remembered the t-shirt that lay in my drawer. Sure, “Got Privilege?” was a great way to get people to start thinking about the issue but how would I go about making them feel it? Maybe part of a poem by D.A. Clarke would help.


It’s simple really, privilege

Means someone else’s pain, your wealth

Is my terror, your uniform

Is a woman raped to death here, or in Cambodia or wherever

Wherever your obscene privilege

Writes your name in my blood, it’s that simple,

You’ve always had it, that’s why it doesn’t

Seem to make you sick to your stomach,

You have it, we pay for it, now

Do you understand?


Do you understand?

The Gloves Have Come On

“It’s not a big deal,” I wrote, “But if you could pick some up while you’re in New York, I would greatly appreciate it.”

With a contented sigh I sent my request zooming to Ross’ e-mail inbox. “One more thing accomplished,” I thought. For a second after I clicked the send button, I felt a brief sense of unease–was it weird that I was asking someone else to procure condoms for me? I had always gotten my own in the past and although I certainly was not embarrassed by the issue, I certainly wasn’t proud of the fact that I was engaging in safer sex.

I remember that obtaining condoms in high school was quite a harrowing experience–I would go to the drug store and have to stand in front of the wall of condoms (mortifying enough) while deciding which kind to purchase and then actually face the check-out attendant on my way out. If I can recall correctly, not even the knowledge that having condoms meant that sex would happen shortly was enough to prevent a reconnaissance pass or two down the condom aisle.

New York, however, is attempting to change all of that.

A few years ago, on my first trip to New York, I noticed that the city had rolled out a public health campaign to introduce the New York City Condom–complete with a design the recalled the various subway lines that are a hallmark of the area. I admit that I was instantly drawn to the campaign because the condoms were like little practical souvenirs. And, let’s just go ahead and admit it: I’m cheap and the condoms were free. But, as I thought about what was happening, I began to realize that the city really did have a good thing going for it.

Condoms were available at hundreds of locations across the city, and not just at public health clinics or hospitals. Condom containers popped up at bars, clothing stores, and hair salons–places that people frequently went to. Now, instead of potentially having to agonize over buying condoms in a store, you could simply pick one up as you went about your daily routine. The ubiquitous nature of the condoms would also serve to dispel the stigma of being seen with a condom–they were everywhere, everyone had them, and they were normal.

Los Angeles has regrettably yet to see something similar pop up in our midst–there was the Proper Attire campaign that was put on by Planned Parenthood a while back but I have to say that, while I enjoyed the project, it didn’t work in the same way that the New York City Condom campaign has. As state and county budgets are slashed, the prospect looks bleaker, but I still hold out hope that we, as a community, will eventually realize that this endeavor is a worthwhile project, not to mention a lifesaver.