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2/10/10 G. B. Trudeau on Sexual Harassment

I want to give a shoutout to G. B. Trudeau, creator/artist behind Doonesbury. Over the 15 or so years that I've been aware of him, his strips have provided some of the sharpest, most consistently thoughtful political satire, commentary, and insight that I've seen anywhere. More than anything else, though, he's repeatedly demonstrated the courage to tackle issues that most others avoid.

This week, he's tackling sexual harassment of servicewomen. "Melissa", the blonde character in the strip below (from Monday), we met a year or two back, in a VA support group. One of the long-term characters, B. D., had lost a limb in Iraq*, and he met Mel, who had been raped by a fellow soldier. Over time, she decides to re-up, and is now back on active duty. Which brings us to this week:

But Trudeau doesn't mask the multi-dimensionality of the issue. Sexual harassment is usually defined as Unwanted sexual attention that makes the recipient feel threatened. Note the words "unwanted" and "feel" - sexual harassment is in the eyes of the recipient. The object of the objectification. The same actions can feel threatening to one person and not to another, which Trudeau addressed in Tuesday's panel:

These women are both receiving heightened levels of attention, but while one is enjoying it, the other, a rape survivor, has to fight to endure it. The difference is completely internal, and very real.

Here in Morocco, most unmarried women will receive attention from men whenever they go out in public. Some women find it flattering. Indeed, one of our Language/Culture Facilitators (our Welcome-to-Morocco tutors, more or less) said that if she doesn't get catcalls, she feels unattractive and has a bad day.

She's young and attractive and dresses in form-fitting, western-style clothes...but we all get stared at. Young women more than older women; foreign-looking women (Caucasian, Asian, African-descended) more than local women. And while some, like that LCF and the brunette from this week's Doonesbury strips, find the attention flattering and welcome...for others, it's a painful invasion.

And some of us react like this, from today's cartoon:

...and, like Mel, not all of us get support in our reactions from our friends.

I'm eager to see how Mel's story will continue in the coming days, and grateful that Trudeau is using his enormous bullhorn to draw attention to this complex issue.

* The fact that a cartoon character is a wounded vet - an amputee, at that - is just another breathtaking example of Trudeau's unflinching courage in addressing the important issues of our day.

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