(Revenge) Pornography, Sexting, and a New Journal

I am so excited to have my work on revenge pornography published in the brand-new journal Screen Bodies. 

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An interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal, Screen Bodies publishes work addressing the intersections between screens (broadly defined) and the body. As noted in its Aims & Scope,

“The journal considers moving and still images, whether from the entertainment industry, information technologies, or news and media outlets, including cinema, television, the internet, and gallery spaces. It investigates the private experiences of portable and personal devices and the institutional ones of medical and surveillance imaging. Screen Bodies addresses the portrayal, function, and reception of bodies on and in front of screens from the perspectives of gender and sexuality, feminism and masculinity, trans* studies, queer theory, critical race theory, cyborg studies, and dis/ability studies.”

The article I published, “The Politics of Revenge (Pornography),” briefly traces the emergence of revenge pornography websites during the 2010’s and contextualizes them within broader discussions of postfeminism, neoliberalism, theories of the gaze, and pornography. For those who are unfamiliar with revenge pornography, it is the distribution of intimate photos without the consent of the individual who is pictured, often with the intent to humiliate said person.

While it’s encouraging to see how many states are passing legislation intended to curtail and prevent revenge pornography, what continues to disturb me is the amount of victim blaming that goes on when it happens. As Dr. Amy Adele Hasinoff* notes in her fabulous book Sexting Panic: Rethinking Criminalization, Privacy, and Consent, our cultural attitudes about sex and sexuality far more punitive for members of historically marginalized groups (women, people of color, non-heteronormative persons, etc.) than for white, cis, heterosexual men. In my own research for this project, it was shocking how many women are featured on revenge pornography websites compared to men. It was probably tens of thousands versus mere hundreds.

Although Dr. Hasinoff writes about teenaged sexting and not revenge pornography per se, I would argue that our cultural response to both can be understood as a moral panic: the fear that something (often related to sex) threatens the well-being of a society, a fear that is often compounded and exacerbated by media coverage.

Examples of moral panics: AIDS, sexting, and pornography

Without fail, every year my students tell me that the unit I teach on sex, pornography, and the Internet is one of their favorites. The ways that digital media are changing sex and intimacy are important and worth discussing. It does far more damage, I think, to dismiss activities like sexting and perusing revenge pornography as something only “bad” or “immoral” people do, when digital intimacy is actually an increasingly normative part of contemporary relationships.

* Dr. Hasinoff also maintains an excellent blog that is worth checking out!

Summer Fellowship: “Critical Data Studies: Where is the Human in the Data?”

This has been an exciting year! In addition to receiving an IDF for next year, this summer I am one of nine graduate students being funded by the University of Minnesota Informatics Institute.

This year the competition’s theme was “Critical Data Studies: Where is the Human in the Data?” My project uses interviews with developers of smartphone applications and websites intended to provide mental health support to respond to that question.

I am honored and excited to have received this support, and looking forward to presenting my findings in the fall at an event co-sponsored by the University’s Institute for Advanced Study.

Catalyst Wedding Magazine: Redux

When I first learned about Catalyst Wedding Magazine I was skeptical: too many times I have seen rhetoric from feminism’s first and second waves co-opted and used in advertising, marketing, and PR campaigns. Therefore the idea of a “feminist wedding magazine” seemed to be the pinnacle of feminist-chic: using feminism and its rhetoric to appear trendy, cool, but not feminist.

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Rhetorics of female freedom and empowerment are now commonplace in our consumer culture, wherein women are encouraged to attain freedom not through activism, but by purchasing.

I was then contacted by Liz Susong, Catalyst‘s Editor-in-Chief, and asked whether I would be interested in writing a piece about weddings, particularly whether or not it is possible to have one that is feminist.


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 serves an important function in our culture (one where the average cost of a wedding is upwards of $26,000, and one in which queer persons and people of color are noticeably absent from the industry): it aims to represent people of from varying religious traditions, sexual orientations, gender identities, and ethnicities in their pages.

And the Catalyst team certainly works hard at what they do, for in addition to publishing a magazine, they host {un}conventions for those who are – or would be – considered “disruptors” of wedding traditionalism.

Although when I wrote the piece I did not believe a that a feminist wedding is possible (and, honestly, I still don’t), I’ve enjoyed seeing the ways that Catalyst both critiques the wedding-industrial complex and works to change it from within. Their work is valuable and important, not just for persons who are getting married, but in facilitating discussions about commitment, love, marriage, traditionalism, religion, sexual orientation, and more.

Learn more about Catalyst Weddings (and order their beautiful magazine!) on their website.

You can read my published statement (why I do not believe a feminist wedding is possible) here

Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship Awarded

This morning I received some wonderful news: I was awarded an Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship (IDF) to fund my dissertation writing for academic years 2016-2017.

Conducted through the University of Minnesota’s Center for Bioethics, my project involves writing a history of telemedicine (particularly telepsychiatry), and the ways that its practice has fostered the development of mental health applications for smartphones.

More information on the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship program, including past winners, can be found here.

“Dialogue” Requires (At Least) Two Voices

I was (pleasantly!) surprised to find that the videos from the University of Minnesota’s recent conference on Human Subjects Research (see my last entry) included Dr. Carl Elliott’s presentation, which had critiqued the ways the University’s administrators had attacked him personally, professionally, and to the detriment of human research participants in our community in the wake of the Dan Markingson case.

Yet I am not surprised – although I am disappointed – that the YouTube channel where films of the conference presentations are now available has disabled public commentary on every. single. video.

 

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At the time of writing, commenting is disabled for all 9 conference videos.

Conferences – and academic meetings in general – are most productive when they facilitate the three D’s: debate, discussion, and dialogue. Initially, when it came to this particular conference, I was disappointed that not everyone who wanted to attend was initially granted the opportunity to do so (myself included). I took heart, therefore, when the choice was made that there would be a simultaneous webcast that live-streamed the conference to people, like myself, who weren’t granted access.

The aforementioned “D’s” (debate, discussion, dialogue) were present in full force at the conference, and while priority during Q&A periods was given to those who were present in the physical space of the auditorium, some questions were indeed taken from those viewing the webcast (although how those questions were selected, and who engaged in those selections, I do not know).

But now, even though the footage is available for anyone and everyone to see who has access to YouTube, the administration has decided that there is no more room for dialogue, debate, and discussion.

Nobody can comment on the films; everyone can watch, but we are all silenced.

To me, at least, this seems extremely disingenuous. I’ve been to many conferences, despite the fact that I am relatively new to academia (at least compared to more established scholars), and I have never seen a conference organizer deliberately quash any opportunity for engagement with the issues to continue during the post-conference period.

Perhaps it is my mistake: I had been hopeful that University administrators, even those whose actions were implicated by the mishandling of the Markingson and Huber cases, genuinely wanted to progress past their historical pattern of refusing to engage in discussions of research misconduct (that is, until Minnesota’s Legislative Auditor verified unequivocally that these cases had indeed been mishandled and inappropriate responses by the administration were the “normal” response to these critiques).

But, for the umpteenth time, the “conversation” continues to be one-sided: administrators put forth an image, an announcement, a statement that (they hope) reflects that things are getting better, that they are indeed striving to make the University of Minnesota an institution that is “beyond reproach“.

A one-sided “conversation” is nothing more than a facsimile of engagement, not only with our geographic community, but scholarly, research communities as well. Unfortunately, these most recent actions highlight the University’s inability to make material changes to a long-standing culture of ignoring critiques and disregarding opportunities for productive community engagement.

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The mission of the University of Minnesota.

How do administrators reconcile that they are employed at a research institution that, as illustrated above, claims to be committed to research, education and outreach, yet deliberately prevent dialogue, discussion, and debate from happening on matters that matter to our collective identity and purpose?

I am at a loss, disappointed, but also resigned to the fact that, unfortunately, these feelings probably haven’t surfaced for the last time.

 

Reflections on the “Research with Human Participants: The National Debates” Symposium

If you saw my last post, you are aware that I made it into Wednesday’s conference by the skin of my teeth. At 10:30 the night before, in fact, I received a message that tickets had become available and there was room for me to attend if I wanted to (which I clearly did).

I teach in the mornings, but as soon as class was over I headed over to Coffman Auditorium where the event was being held. Although I unfortunately missed some opening remarks, I found a seat in the front row before the first presentation began. I was surprised to see that the room was nowhere near capacity, as the use of the wait list that I was initially on had indicated (and, I believe, media coverage of the event incorrectly asserts).

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The room was far from filled, although the turnout was impressive.

The presentations were engaging, thoughtful, and addressed a variety of important issues facing researchers today. An excellent job was done of bringing important scholars and researchers into our community to facilitate and participate in productive discussions, so many sincere congratulations are owed to the conference planners and organizers.

Yet the problem (why must there always be a problem?) was that the impetus for this conference  (that is, the importance of transforming the University into an institution that is “beyond reproach“) was never addressed. I sat in the audience for the first 3 hours of the conference, waiting for someone, anyone, to address the elephant(s) in the room to no avail: the Markingson case, the University’s attempts to discredit and humiliate former research participant Rubert Huber, and last spring’s tumultuous release of the legislative auditor’s report.

Let me be clear: I don’t want to re-hash past mistakes for entertainment value. The University of Minnesota is my home, my school, my community; I moved across the country to be here and  I believe that I have a right to be concerned – and invested – in its practices, critiques of its practices, and institutional responses to those critiques. But I also believe that refusing to address mistakes – which is what caused the decade of fallout from Dan Markingson’s death – leaves little to no opportunity learn and grow from errors.

If the conference was genuinely intended to facilitate productive discussions about how to avoid unethical research practices in the future, then invested parties must also be willing to talk about the past.

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Panelists from “Multiple Perspectives on the National Debates & Consent Challenges” during Q&A.

The tide turned when it was Dr. Carl Elliott’s turn to speak on the panel titled “Multiple Perspectives on the National Debates & Consent Challenges.”

Carl Elliott speaks at the University of Minnesota’s human research symposium.

Elliott contributed a case study that redirected audience attention to the roles of researchers and administrators in determining the outcome of cases of research misconduct. Unfortunately, as his presentation highlighted, the University of Minnesota’s actions have rendered it not unlike other institutions that similarly punish, discredit, and abuse whistleblowers.

I sincerely hope that this conference marks an era of transition for the university, as we can no longer cultivate a culture of secrecy and protection for those who engage in research misconduct. The University of Minnesota must embrace transparency and a willingness to discuss its mistakes with others from peer institutions.

Despite University President Eric Kaler‘s notable absence during Dr. Elliott’s presentation, I assume he understands that it is his job to lead initiatives that embrace transparency and collaboration, not just to regain prominence and approval from peer institutions, but community members as well.

If there was one theme that reverberated throughout the hall yesterday afternoon, it  was that no university, college, or research institution has all of the answers. Generating and implementing ethical research practices requires not only collaboration and transparency, but a willingness to do more than host a conference on the issue of research ethics: it requires material change.