What do VAWA and Seth MacFarlane Have in Common?

Post going up a bit late, but here it is…

This week the Violence Against Women Act hits the house floor―again. And I’m feeling angry in a week already shadowed by misogyny and sexism, no-thanks to Seth MacFarlane. His performance on Sunday night exemplifies America’s cultural attitude toward women which, instead of getting better, only seems to get sicker.

Here’s a quick reminder, in case you’ve already moved onto preparations for NBC’s 4th season premiere of The Voice: Calling 9-year old girls the C-word, sexually harassing actors in a “boob song,” joking about sexual violence, you name it. It’s happening every day, from the loudest pop culture platforms―recall the recent Super Bowl advertisements―to private homes and the senate floor.

As with every debate, not everyone agrees that MacFarlane was sexist and racist.

For example, CNN slapped MacFarlane lightly on the wrist with their front-page headline: “Sorry, MacFarlane, the verdict is ‘meh.’” Funny, if you click the link the headline changes to “Sorry, Seth MacFarlane, but not everybody loved you.” Excuse me? CNN feels the need to apologize to MacFarlane? Instead, CNN should demand an apology from MacFarlane to everyone watching. Last time I checked, I don’t feel “meh” when I am sexually harassed, verbally or physically assaulted.

Bottom line: the prevailing complacent attitude in the mainstream media responses is unacceptable.

So what do attitudes coming from the red carpet have to do with the Senate floor?  If all the Republican senators were laughing their asses off at MacFarlane’s inexcusable “jokes,” then I see little hope for theVAWA passing through their white, privileged hands. Although Senator Claire McCaskill tries to go out of her way not to comment on her colleague’s votes, I will. A vote against the Violence Against Women Act is an act of violence itself.

Here’s the thing that often gets left out of the conversation: where sexism and racism exist, violence often does too. The “sticks and stones” logic used on “offensive” words falls flat on its face. Moreover, using the word “offensive” to cover up outright sexism and racism is cowardly in the face of ignorance pretending to be humor. Using “classic Hollywood” to class-up ignorant humor is sexist and racist.  Just as giving one group of victimized women privileges over, say, LGBTQ victims of violence and Native American women, as the current iteration of VAWAdoes, is sexist and racist too.

Alyssa Rosenberg over at ThinkProgress wrote: “Rather than choosing a popular figure who would appeal to a younger, more male audience, while retaining the ability to translate—and maybe even to sell them on—movies they might not have seen, the Awards ended up with a host who, despite his stated penchant for classic movies, appeared not to be familiar with the substance of much of what he was presenting” [italics mine].

And isn’t that the truth when it comes to “women’s”―human rights―issues up for vote, as well? From Todd Akin “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down” to Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a “slut.”

Hearing these sexist comments over and over again is beyond exhausting, but knowing that there are so many groups, organizations, lawmakers and regular people working to change this world shores me up. I think First Lady Michelle Obama nailed it when she said, “[these movies] reminded us that we can overcome any obstacle if we dig deep enough and fight hard enough and find the courage within ourselves.”

But where’s the Oscar for a film like Miss Representation, which examines the media’s sexual exploitation of portrayal of women, or a documentary like The Invisible War, one of the Oscar nominees, about rape in the militaryI’m not surprised that The Invisible War didn’t win. But I’m consoled by their mission: “The Invisible No More coalition seeks to ensure that the theatrical release of the film The Invisible War serves as a catalyst in creating a movement to cause lasting change in how the military handles sexual assault.”

The movement keeps going step by step, action by action. Before the election last fall, I donated money to “Send Our Bodies, Ourselves to Congress!” They believe that: “Everyone deserves access to accurate, evidence-based information about sex-ed, reproductive health, and women’s bodies — especially those who write the laws!” I’m crossing my fingers that the VAWA lawmakers are reading it now.

That leaves MacFarlane and the Awards with homework: a thorough reading of “Our Bodies Ourselves,” and a screening of Miss Representation. I hate to even ask, but did they even see The Invisible War?

And if MacFarlane and company chose to accept this mission, they will quickly understand why a song about boobs is not funny, and neither is a vote against VAWA. Like MacFarlane’s frat boy humor, the Republicans voting against VAWA are not just out of touch.  They’re out of line.

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