big data and violence prevention

Thanks to a post in Fast Company’s Design blog, the Google Ngram Viewer came to my attention today. In brief, it’s an online phrase-usage graphing tool which chards yearly count of letter combos, words, or phrases across a database of more than 5 million books published between 1500 and 2008 which Google has digitized.

Out of curiosity – and since it’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), I ran the terms “rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, and violence prevention” through it; the results are interesting:

screenshot of data graph

snapshot of usage of violence terms via Google’s Ngram Viewer

A sobering reminder of the road ahead of us; we’ve been talking about rape for a long time, but sexual assault and domestic violence have really only been part of the conversation since the second wave of the feminist movement, and “prevention” — clearly there’s a lot of catching up to do!

Again…

So, it has happened again. And once again America will celebrate its macabre parade: the repeated images of grieving families and shocked onlookers; the headlines and special report segments across newspapers, TV, and cable; the questioning of “why?”, “how could this happen?”, and the brazen attempts by news media – as well as legislators and politicians (is there a difference?) – to convey grief but steer clear of taking a substantive stance on the presence of guns in our communities.

First, yes, again it was a male. And again those of us in the violence prevention movement decry for this culture to take serious stock of how we raise boys to be men. How we continue to keep boys boxed-in at a place where they think violence and aggression are the only acceptable means of emotional expression. That anything else makes them like women – and we all know how bad THAT is; to take stock of misogyny and homophobia and the lengths we go to keep the gender divide in place by playing to men’s fears of women, gay men and women, transgender and gender non-conforming people.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, layered on top of it all is a culture immersed in an epidemic of gun violence. Some of the press coverage, and many of the comments on Facebook and Twitter, have brought mental illness into the picture – and while I, too, believe that this individual’s lack of ability to deal with his pain in any constructive way eventually led to his actions and the senseless deaths of he and 26 other human beings, I must admit I get weary of bringing the conversation to the level of mental illness. As if this, and all other incidents, are isolated actions played out by madmen. As if all those struggling with mental illness are mad, out of control, or resort to violence.

Owning guns is a mental illness; it is the collective mental illness that we, as a nation, are in the grip of…

There is no reason – no reason – to own a gun, except to contend with the “boogie man” that resides in your own mind. Gun ownership is the tangible manifestation of a philosophy of life where conflict is resolved by asserting power over others, and where one’s own perspective and experience of reality is the only one. The owner of a gun asserts that because of something – one’s race or national identity, or economic class, or the balance of wrongs that one has endured in life add-up to a sense of entitlement – they are imbued with the right to be judge, and if circumstances warrant, jury and executioner.

How did it get to this point? How does the right to bear arms, written at a time when we were in a struggle with the British crown over sovereignty and control of our destiny, get turned into a manifesto for the rights of individual citizens to have access to weapons of mass destruction (and really, what do you call something with a 16 round clip)? We won that fight. We have a democracy where we get a say in what happens. We have avenues and pathways to address disparity, unfairness, oppression, and violations of the common law that we all swear allegiance to. We no longer need guns, really.

Except, of course, there are those that profit from their manufacture and sale, and therefore profit from the proliferation of a culture of fear and the concept that any problem you have can be kept at bay or wiped out. At the end of the barrel of a gun.

Finally…

Sorry for the radio silence. The past month has been jammed packed, and tension-filled. It culminated in a nail-biting, down-to-the-wire cliffhanger which, I’m pleased to say went my way: I got offered a job.

Actually, two jobs; after over two years of job hunting – some 310 job applications and 42 job interviews (a few of those second and third interviews for the same job) – I found myself in the enviable position of having to choose; and not just choose between a mediocre job and a so-so alternative – these were two viable, exciting, interesting jobs in a field I actually have a strong passion and commitment for: ending violence.

In the end, I was flattered to be offered a new job – one that I will have a hand in shaping and building – as the Violence Prevention Communications Coordinator for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault (WCASA). I will start later this week, as Sept. turns to October. I look forward to it with much excitement and anticipation.

That also means that things might be on the slow side here; I will be spending the first part of this week traveling (returning from a visit on the east-coast with family and friends) and better part of the next two weeks acclimating myself to a new work environment and schedule. As soon as I get a chance to come up for air, I’ll have some stories and thoughts to share here. I promise.

Speaking of which, I’m so please that my last post has garnered so many comments – especially because many among them are folks who were able to avoid falling for a fake condo ad thanks to my warning; happy to do my part in the cause to prevent a**holes from using Craigslist (and the web in general) to steal people’s personal information.

now I’ve really seen it all : a video game about rape…

*** DISCLAIMER: the following post features quoted text which contains offensive language and violent situations. I’m including the quoted text not to arouse or exploit but because in confronting misogyny in our culture and working to end violence I believe it is very important to quote the perpetrators and analyze it ***

We have it slightly luckier here in this country; all we have to contend with is Grand Theft Auto [wikipedia], what with its depictions of prostitutes and murder and theft and so on. Well, all of this seems a bit tame in comparison to what one Japanese software vendor is peddling.

I have done anti-violence work for the last seventeen years (and counting); I have seen or read or heard things that really challenge at times the sense of hope I try to hold for the human race. The depths of degradation – the intensity of the violence, the harshness of the language, the blatant misogyny – can be astounding. After all these years, I thought I’d seen it all. I was wrong.

From last week’s British Telegraph, courtesy of the Prevent-Connect listserv, an article about a video game being pulled from Amazon.com (thankfully) by a Japanese game-maker called Illusion, called “Rapelay”. From the article:

In Rapelay, gamers direct a character to sexually assault a mother and her two young daughters at an underground station, before raping any of a selection female characters.

Ahem.

Further, if your stomach isn’t already doing flip-flops, various video game sites refer to this title, and other absurd offerings from the same company, in straight-forward language, as if describing game-play where players choose to rape any number of female characters is no different than a player, say, selecting from among a series of furnishings for their Sim home, or choosing one of several different maps or locations to play in. To wit [courtesy of GiantBomb.com]:

Introduction:
RapeLay is a 3D “rape simulator” by Illusion Soft, makers of the Artificial Girl series. The player takes the role of a rapist who stalks a mother of two named Yuuko Kiryuu for a while and eventually rapes her.  Once he is “done” with the mother, the rapist gets his hands on Yuuko’s two daughters, Aoi and Manaka.

Gameplay:

Rapelay’s gameplay is divided in three main parts:

  • Phase one
    The games begins with the player following the victim on the train station. In this first phase one of the few thing you can do is pray the gods for a quick squall of winds that will blow up the victims skirt. 
  • Phase two
    Once on the train the actual groping start, once the victim aroused the train will stop and the next phase of the game begins.
  • Phase three
    The third and final phase of every scene is the actual rape scene NPC [non-player characters -ed.] rapers can be called in to participate in the event. The location in which this happens varies with the victims. The actual location of the rape depends on the characters being raped. Yuuko’s location is the park, Aoi gets raped in a bathroom and Manaka in her bed room.

And it goes on from there.

The casualness of the language, the manner in which it is written – as if it’s merely technical writing describing the way a piece of software, or a microwave, works – offends me no end. It puzzles the mind that human beings exist that can so blatantly co-opt violence in order to make a buck selling a video game, without any comprehension of the reality of the impact of violence on women. This is the crux of the issue when it comes to ending sexual assault and dating violence: the actions have become so normalized that they are portrayed in video games (and movies, and music, and tv) as if they are valid behavioral choices. We need to re-draw the line; you know, that line you don’t cross. Re-draw it in bright, flashing neon.

Illusion’s web site is unfortunately in Japanese and yields little detail in terms of contact information (at least to this English speaking visitor). I am intending to do some sort of formal follow up – even if it’s just a letter of protest (though perhaps a petition is more called for); please stay tuned…

By the way, if you have an interest in violence prevention, and are curious about other un-believable examples of rape culture language in advertising and pop-culture media, when I find things I try to post them to the Men Stopping Rape blog at Tumblr: http://menstoppingrape.tumblr.com/.

Disagree II

Thanks to Guy Kawasaki for tweeting this post from Psychology Today (PT): “Women Have Better Things To Do Than Make Money (Part II).”

The author, Satoshi Kanazawa, wrote a two-part piece looking at discrepancies in salaries along gender lines from an evolutionary standpoint. Well written piece, even though I whole heartedly disagree with his premise. My response, just posted to the comments section on the PT blogs:

While it’s true that there are differences between genders, the vast majority of “difference” is largely attributed to a much out-dated value system that continues to view female attributes (or anything presumed to be feminine) as less-than, or of lesser value (either monetarily or inherently), than that which is masculine or male.
It is not that men seek achievement in their work, but rather that they live in a culture that continues to tell men that they should seek such achievement, and that such achievement is their means of having value (and gaining not only a salary but the attention of women); this is the same culture that perpetuates a billion-dollar pornography industry and continues to tell women that their only means of having value within the culture is through the use of their body and sexuality.
It is not, as Mr. Browne puts it, that “many jobs that pay higher wages require their occupants to work longer hours…or work in dangerous and unpleasant conditions” but rather that men are raised in a culture that teaches us not to complain about such conditions – lest we be labeled “wimps”, or worse: women.
And it is not that “women are unwilling to pay the price and make the necessary sacrifices” but rather that they’ve come to understand nobody should be treated in an inhumane way just because you’re providing a salary.
With no intended disrespect to Mr. Kanazawa, nor disregard to the field of evolutionary psychology (which has many good things to teach us), it seems a bit reckless to analyze the monetary realities of our current culture from an evolutionary perspective without putting in context or calling into question the cultural imperatives that continue to reinforce and exalt masculine identity at the expense of equality.

et tu, Tina?…

O.k., so first the “disclaimer”: I am a big fan of Tina Fey, and of 30 Rock. It is really one of the best sitcoms currently running on TV; it passed the litmus test enough to be added to my modest DVD collection (Seasons 1 & 2). This post is not meant to slam, defame, or in any way dissuade anyone from tuning in to watch 30 Rock, buy the DVD’s, or view episodes on NBC or Hulu.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve been doing men’s anti-violence work [12/6: for some reason, the server for Men Stopping Rape, Inc. appears to be down, sorry] for the past seventeen years, and once you’ve been attuned the prevalence of rape culture – the manner in which sexual violence is so deeply ingrained in our culture that is practically accepted as normal (and therefore it persists; dominant cultural paradigms of misogyny, oppression, and violence perpetuate across generations by virtue of going un-examined or questioned, etc.) – you can not tune it back out.

This can be a good thing; the more we start to point this stuff out and bring it to the forefront and discuss it, the closer we get to a world where violence will be less acceptable and therefore less likely. But it can also ruin otherwise good moments. To wit: on the Season 2 Special Features, there is a video recording of a live performance of a 30 Rock episode done at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in NYC as a fundraiser for folks on the show who were put out of work by the 2007-08 Writer’s Strike.

The episode, #208, featured a character played by Edie Falco; Ms. Falco was not there for the live performance, so one of the SNL staff writers, Paula Jean Pam (I hope I heard that name correctly) stepped in to play that part. This information is dispensed to the audience by Tina Fey, who takes on the role of M.C. for this live performance. While introducing the episode, she adds that Ms. Pam and Alec Baldwin “know each other well so I think he might rape her tonight.”

This improvised (?) comment draws raucous applause from the theatre audience. 

Now, since I am an actor myself, I understand that sometimes playing in front of a live crowd, especially if you’re trying to warm them up and drum up laughs, things get said that step out of bounds; sometimes you take the risk of being offensive in order to get a laugh. To Ms. Fey’s credit, she got one. But what a sad commentary on our current cultural climate that the bit worked so well; and it worked so well on two levels: not only did it get a laugh about rape, but it also managed to get an ironic laugh about rape – that is, the rape was going to happen because these two actors knew each other very well. As anyone who has ever done any work in the sexual violence prevention movement would know, the vast majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows (by 80%).

This raises that age old question: is rape ever an appropriate topic for humor? For myself, I feel the tug-of-war inside where my fan-dom for the show and the performers bumps up against the activist in me and my need to hold those who would joke about this accountable in some manner.

But how? Boycott? An angry letter? (not my style) A cordial, open letter to the writing staff or Ms. Fey herself by way of “thanks for all the good laughs you’ve given me over the years, but try and back off on the rape jokes, o.k.; my friends, co-workers, partners, and dozens of students that I speak to at workshops in the public schools and local universities who have experienced rape in their lives don’t find it a funny thing and by using the term in the context of playful, friendly, sexual play between two friends you help to reinforce the myth that forced intercourse is acceptable and you diminish the voices of victims…”

I haven’t quite decided yet. For now I’m starting by writing this post. I had thought of posting the video either here or on YouTube, but decided against it because, since it is a video recording of a live performance for which people paid admission it is copyrighted material and I don’t want to move into the land of legal challenges.

Any thoughts, feedback, welcome…