MTV and Rape Culture

MTV:  Where it’s not just sex that sells, it’s rape.

Update: Please see this post for my reaction to the email sent by the attorney for Kenny Santucci and Evan Starkman, requesting I remove their names from this post.

MTV has settled the lawsuit brought against them by Tonya Cooley, who alleges she was a victim of sexual battery while filming a Real World/Road Rules Challenge. Of the many infuriating aspects of this case, is the fact that MTV/Viacom’s defense didn’t consist solely of them denying the allegations, instead saying that:

“[Cooley] failed to avoid the injuries of which she complains. [She] was frequently intoxicated, rowdy, combative, flirtatious and on multiple occasions intentionally exposed her bare breasts and genitalia to other contestants.” (via Jezebel)

Hasn’t every victim of rape in history “failed to avoid” their injuries? MTV/Viacom are not even hiding the fact that they are saying that she was asking for it. And that, my friends, is the exact definition of rape culture. Think you aren’t affected by rape culture? Take a look at what my very articulate and insightful friend, (redacted) had to say:

“Real World: Chicago was my very first behind-the-scenes gig in the entertainment industry. I remember Tonya being very difficult. She clearly had some issues and seemed slightly unhinged most of the time. However, I also remember our wrap party, where she stood in front of the entire crew (many of whom couldn’t stand her) and not only thanked us for our hard work–she was the only cast member to do so–but apologized for her erratic behavior. I remember thinking how that took some guts, and I’ve been rooting for her ever since.

Even so, when I heard about this lawsuit I wondered about its authenticity. Tonya Cooley has been a fixture on the various RW/RR Challenges since her original appearance on Real World. I thought, maybe she’s out for more publicity. I had watched most of the seasons of the show, including all of Evan Starkman and Kenny Santucci’s appearances, and despite my feeling that they were both reprehensible assholes without a decent bone in their bodies, and DESPITE their frequent sexist and misogynistic remarks and behaviors toward the women who appeared on the show, I STILL somehow wanted to take their side: “They probably just edited them to look like douche bags.” “They wouldn’t really do anything serious, they’re just playground bullies.” “She always wants attention; I’m not being fair.” When it came down to it, I didn’t trust my own gut feeling about these guys or Tonya.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is how systemic rape culture works. It is ingrained in us to believe a woman should not be taken seriously, that all of her past behaviors should be entered as evidence, and that men are to be given the benefit of the doubt no matter what. We always err on the side of blaming the victim. I am posting my thoughts on this to show that it isn’t always men who refuse to hear a woman’s voice when she speaks out against her attacker. The problem is far more insidious and complicated than that, and I think it is often tied to the self-loathing we females are taught we should feel as part and parcel of our femininity.”

I quote her so extensively because I couldn’t have said it better myself. I want to be very, very clear:

Rape is not the natural consequence of drunken, flirtatious behavior. It is the result of rapists. Period.

Another point I’d like to make, is that even though MTV/Viacom doesn’t deny the sexual battery took place, they continue to hire them. Evan Starkman hosts an online show related to The Challenge, and Kenny Santucci is the host of the Jersey Shore After Party. These are men who:

“According to Cooley, just after this, she passed out on the floor. She later learned that Santucci and Starkman slapped her in the face several times to try and wake her up. When they could not, they inserted a toothbrush into her vagina. From the complaint:

The following morning, unaware of the sexual assault, Plaintiff noticed that she was sore in her vagina and had lacerations/rash like abrasions on her labia. Plaintiff assumed the lacerations/abrasions were some sort of rash caused by her participation in various physical challenges.”

Add to that, the fact that attached to every article on this settlement, even those that have a clear slant to Ms. Cooley, are only posting her photo. Where are the photos of Starkman and Santucci? MTV/Viacom are publicly blaming and shaming Tonya, where is the shaming of the (alleged) victimizers?

Evan Starkman

Kenny Santucci

Angry? I hope so. Here’s what you can do about it:

  • Complain to MTV. I think the best way for this to go viral is to do this publicly, via their message boards, or Twitter. If you tweet “.@MTV” (notice the period in front of their Twitter handle) it will not only show up in their feed, but yours as well, which makes it easily re-tweetable by your followers. Whether you believe the men guilty of rape or not, you can let @MTV know that you don’t find their frequent sexist and misogynistic actions to be entertaining. 
  • While you’re at it, let @theevanstarkman and @KennySantucci know the same. Inform them that lack of respect for women is what breeds rape culture.
  • Share this post, or another like it on your Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Make it a point to be aware of how you are complicit in rape culture.

Any other suggestions? Please make them in my comments.