jessica valenti

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I am so tired of seeing female characters getting raped, beaten, and killed—all for titillation or to move along a male character’s arc. Call her the Manic Pixie Dead Girl.

Or ‘raped girl’, for that matter. I won’t be watching the new season of [SPOILER] because I found out that a major female character will be sexually assaulted. It’s become impossible to enjoy most quality television shows because the hurt or endangered women device is so frequently used. And if a character is pregnant, forget it—you pretty much know she’s a goner.

Yes, dead or harmed women in television is nothing new. There are entire series dedicated to the practice (I’m looking at you, SVU!). But lately, I’ve just found it too…stressful. I watch my favorite female characters with my heart in my throat, just waiting for the inevitable to happen. Women have to fear and anticipate violence and sexual assault in their everyday real life—I don’t want to fear for it in my entertainment as well. It’s bad for my soul.

Edgar Allan Poe once wrote, “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.” Too many male writers and directors buy into this narrative. But I don’t have to.

Manic Pixie Dead Girl: Why I’m Done with TV Shows, my latest at The Nation

But the one thing that nature lovers don’t ever seem to ask themselves is this: Why does an innate state of affairs take so much work to maintain? After all, shouldn’t it come… naturally? As primatologist Barbara Smuts wrote (quoted in Natalie 
Angier’s fantastic Woman: An Intimate Geography): “If female sexuality is muted compared to that of men, then why must men the world over go to extreme lengths to control and contain it?” If only heterosexuality is natural, why would interest groups need to fight to enshrine it in law? If women’s natural place is the home, why do so many of us willingly—and happily—leave it?

from "Why ‘Natural’ Often Means Bad for Women," my latest at The Nation

Seriously, if we believe a 14 year old is too immature to know how to take a pill, do we really think she’s adult enough to handle an unwanted pregnancy?

The truth is that the age restriction is completely arbitrary, tied only to our puritanical comfort levels. And listen, I get it; I think it’s fair to say that most people are uncomfortable with the idea of a 14 year old having sex. But here’s the thing - access to Plan B isn’t about keeping a 14 year old from having sex - by the time she gets to the pharmacy, that ship has sailed - it’s about keeping a 14 year old who has already had sex from getting pregnant. And despite what urban legend (or past embarrassing FDA memos) may tell you, making emergency contraception more available is not more likely to make young teens have sex - it will just make them less likely to end up pregnant.

We can’t let our discomfort with teen sex trump young people’s right to sexual and reproductive health and we can’t continue to let politics trump science. If we care about young women’s health and bodily autonomy and integrity, we’ll drop all age restrictions from emergency contraception. Anything less isn’t just illogical - it’s immoral.

"Hey, FDA: Drop the Plan B Age Restriction," my latest at The Nation

And the core of these death throe attempts to hold onto a version of marriage that never really existed is the idea of women—chaste women—as a stabilizing force in society…

…The truth is that this desperate nostalgia for traditional marriage and antiquated gender roles will never be stronger than women’s will to be free from constraining norms.

Conservatives need to understand that what they’re pushing for is an impossible sell: Women’s subservience to the domestic as a cultural grounding force, while men get to work and explore and create? No thank you. We don’t want the good of society on our relationships’ shoulders.

The Marriage Con, my latest at The Nation.

Here’s the thing - when you argue that it’s impossible to teach men not to rape, you are saying that rape is natural for men. That this is just something men do. Well I’m sorry, but I think more highly of men than that. (And if you are a man who is making this argument, you’ll forgive me if I don’t ever want to be in a room alone with you.)

And when you insist that the only way to prevent rape is for women change their behavior - whether it’s recommending that they carry a weapon or not wear certain kinds of clothing - you are not only giving out false information, you are arguing that misogyny is a given. That the world will continue to be a dangerous and unfair place for women and we should just get used to the fact. It’s a pessimistic and frankly, lazy, view on life. Because when you argue that this is “just the way things are,” what you are really saying is - I don’t care enough to do anything about it.

Rape Is Not Inevitable: On Zerlina Maxwell, Men and Hope, my latest at The Nation