When Women Are Fair Game

Many readers are aware that the student newspaper at Carnegie Mellon University came under fire for an April Fool's edition that used the N-word in a "humorous" cartoon about killing African Americans. The editor said the issue was intended as "satire."

What folks may not know is the issue also featured an astounding series of anti-woman pieces including: a poem about the rape of a teacher, a full page illustration of an ice skate blade aimed at a woman's genitalia, an ode to Asian pornography, and a faux-film review of "Girl on Girl on Ape." Most media accounts skimmed over these issues.

I'm not down with racist humor, nor am I suggesting we should argue about which -ism -- racism, sexism, heterosexism -- is more demeaning, disturbing or derogatory. I just want to know why violence against women is less worthy of media attention or activist response.

Sure, official representatives from the university president to the student body president to the director of student activities condemned the newspaper's content. Alexander Meseguer, the paper's editor, publicly apologized and later resigned (though the latest word has him running for reelection April 29).

And, yes, the managing editor stepped down, the cartoonist was fired, and the newspaper ran an apology.

But throughout the campus furor -- which also included a forum organized by the paper and a rally called by a black fraternity -- the reported outrage centered around the use of the N-word, not the fact that rape and mutilation of women, whatever their race, is not satirical by any stretch.

Overwhelmingly attention focused on race and gave "humorous" violence against women a pass.

Missing voices -- or just missing the point?

Take a look at Google News for the month of April. Media coverage of the CMU incident and campus response prevailingly led with the racist cartoon, giving the anti-woman issues one sentence, if any mention was made at all.

Only one media account I read had a quote from a sexual assault survivor. None included reaction from the LGBT community, female faculty, Asian American students or any combination thereof.

News coverage and protest should take on all offensive content The Tartan's dubiously qualified staff plastered across the 12 pages of the April Fool's edition. Why pick one element of the controversy and elevate it above another? Isn't the campus community affected by it all?

When 25% of women in this country are sexually assaulted in their lifetime, the men in their lives -- whether father, brother, friend, lover or son -- also pay a price. The most vulgar of ethnic slurs harms African American women and men equally.

Reducing women to sexual trophies, which is part of the stereotype of the exotic, overly-sexual Asian woman, demeans all women. And finding humor in equating lesbianism with bestiality? Do I really need to break that down for anyone?

CMU student organizations are numerous and varied -- Greeks and Greek governing councils, followers of nearly every religious faith, clubs for various ethnicities, the LGBT community, feminists, social justice advocates, proponents of animal rights, even jugglers. Yet reportedly no one spoke up specifically about the misogyny smeared throughout The Tartan.

Or maybe they did, but the journalists at Pittsburgh's media establishment and wire services decided it wasn't newsworthy.

Beyond CMU

While I'm not part of Carnegie Mellon's community, I live in an average all-American city. The issues CMU faces aren't dissimilar to those we all face. The questions aren't much different.

When a newspaper publishes a poem about raping a teacher and no one steps up, what does it say about the acceptance of violence against women on campus and in the community at large? If someone did step up and their voice was ignored by the press, what message is sent?

When a campus rallies against the publication of a racial slur but does not organize to decry the misogyny inherent in "humor" about lesbians and apes, how safe does the LGBT community feel about speaking out? What is lost by not hearing their voices and those of their allies?

And the whole ice-skate-aimed-at-genitalia issue. Why is suggested female genital mutilation less outrageous, less condemned and less reported than the publication of a racial epithet?

CMU isn't alone in getting busted for seriously bad news judgment, nor is it the only place in the country giving short shrift to the issues of violence against women. But it is a campus ironically in the middle of promoting a previously scheduled series of events highlighting Sexual Violence Awareness Week.

A weeklong info table and single candlelight vigil seem small solace when the campus newspaper, national media and fellow students think the publication of multiple examples of violence against women aren't enough to warrant protest.

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