The First Lady is campaigning in New Hampshire today and has turned her rally speech into an impassioned discussion of sexual harassment, assault, and rape.
Updated to Add:
I had put this as a comment in BettyC’s thread, but given the nature of the First Lady’s speech, decided I’d append it to this post. This is excerpted from a 2014 report I wrote on sexual assault, harassment, and rape for the US Army when my Commanding General was asked to look at the problem from the strategic and cultural levels:
American Cultural Concerns: Women’s Status in America and Attitudes Towards Women
As Gen. Welsh, as well as Zenko and Wolf observed in May 2013, no one enters the US military as a blank slate. Every Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine brings with them at least two decades of socialization and acculturation to overall American norms and values, as well as to their numerous regional variations, those of their families, ethnic communities, and/or religious denominations. While America made great strides through the 20th Century towards greater inclusivity towards women, as part of the larger trend towards more inclusive civil rights and liberties for all American citizens, these gains are not uniform throughout society. Americans from more rural areas, from specific ethnic groups, and adherents to more traditional forms of religion often tend to hold more traditional views of sexuality, the interaction between men and women, and the appropriate roles for men and women in both the public and private realms of life(11). Often these bleed over into the popular consciousness, such as when women’s employment opportunities are limited due to things such as physical appearance.(12)
There is, however, an even more troubling socio-cultural downside to this. Sometimes it is referred to or reported as rape culture: the attitudes, norms, and values that allow men to view women as not being fully autonomous humans, but rather as objects to whom things can be done without their consent. It is this concept that is at the heart of the discussions and debates of incidents like the Stuebenville rape case, a similar incident in KS that actually drove the family from town, as well as a seeming rash of law enforcement officers sexually assaulting women under cover of law or officials directing law or rules against victims.(13)
While all of these incidents, and the ones that go under or unreported, begin to paint a disturbing pattern regarding a set of persistent negative norms and values towards women in America. What is even more disturbing are the hundreds of incidents where women were determined by law enforcement, courts, and medical personnel to be less than fully autonomous human beings, and therefore subject to having their rights and liberties curtailed for either being pregnant or because they might be pregnant.(14) Paltrow and Flavin document over 500 cases of pregnant women having their civil rights and liberties involuntarily curtailed, usually for trivial reasons such as a patrol officer’s concerns that the seat belt strap might harm the pregnant woman’s developing fetus, simply because they were or were suspected to be pregnant. While it would be an understatement to say that America has unresolved political and social issues regarding issues of women’s health, conception, and contraception, Paltrow and Flavin document a disturbing trend: if a woman in America is or could be pregnant, she is at risk of being reduced to second class citizen status due to others – law enforcement, medical professionals, and jurists – attitudes regarding women, their place, and their role in American society.
This abrogation of American women’s rights is both a disturbing socio-cultural trend, but it also points to a larger culturally bounded normative issue: in 2014 women’s legal and social status as fully and completely equal human beings and citizens is still not set and fixed. This is also reflected in other areas of American life, such as the still unclosed pay disparity between men and women, as well as the continued underrepresentation of women in corporate boardrooms, at the heads of major corporations, and in the state and federal legislatures. While the US military has often taken the lead on integration matters for women, ethnic minorities, and now on LGBT issues, the opening of the traditional male domain of combat arms is another place that the military is ahead of significant portions of the American citizenry. It is possible that the popular pushback in some segments of American society will contribute to the problem that Gen. Welsh, as well as Zenko and Wolf identified. Everyone that comes to the US military comes from an America that has conflicting norms and values regarding women, their roles, status, and rights. This may contribute to sexual violence in both America overall and within the US military.
11 Sally Daniels, Bradford Fay, and Nicholas Tortorello, “American’s Changing Attitudes Towards Women and Minorities”, The Public Perspective, DEC/JAN 1998,http://www.ropercenter.uconn.e…../91047.pdf.
12 “Iowa Dental Assistant Faces Challenges Raising Young Family After Her Dentist Boss Fired her for Being “too Attractive” and a ‘Threat’ to his Marriage”, Daily Mail, 2 AUG 2013,http://www.dailymail.co.uk/new…..sa-Nelson- moving-court-ruling.html and “Elementary School Aide, 23, Suspended After Racy Modeling Photos were Sent to Staff”, Daily Mail, 23 JAN 2014,http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article- 2544560/Elementary-school-classroom-aide-23-suspended-racy-modeling-photos-sent-staff.html.
13 David Edwards, “Texas Student Reports Rape and gets Suspended for ‘Public Lewdness’”, Raw Story, 23 DEC 2013, http://www.rawstory.com/rs/201…..orts-rape- and-gets-suspended-for-public-lewdness/, David Edwards, “Texas Cop Arrested for Handcuffing and Raping 19 Year Old at Traffic Stop,” Raw Story, 24 NOV 2013, http://www.rawstory.com/rs/201…..ffic-stop/, Eric W. Dolan, “Texas Deputy Accused of Raping Mother in Front of her Children Resigns”, Raw Story, 15 AUG 2013, http://www.rawstory.com/rs/201…..-front-of- her-children-resigns/.
14 Lynn M. Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin, “Arrests of Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973- 2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Health”, Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law, 15 JAN 2013.