Since its inception Uber has rarely been out of the news, but not all the coverage it has been positive. The Silicone Valley rideshare service may have attracted investors in droves, expanded internationally in rapid time, and be worth a reported $41 billion, but — and pardon the pun — it’s been a bumpy ride
As you’d expect, much of the company’s trouble has come from taxi drivers who regard Uber as unfair competition, especially as the service is significantly cheaper than taxis in many parts of the world. Uber has been banned in Spain for this reason. After months of protests by taxi drivers, the Uber app was banned in Germany this September. Uber is challenging the ruling and is continuing operations in Germany. In a bid to win hearts and minds the company slashed fares on the budget UberPop service in October and asked the public for support.
More worrying are reports of sexual assaults on passengers and poor background checks on drivers. The most high profile of these happened in New Delhi after a woman was allegedly raped by an Uber driver who was subsequently arrested. New Delhi banned the app within days. But that’s hardly the first case. Numerous passengers have reported being sexually assaulted or harassed by their drivers.
Earlier this year, a Chicago woman sued Uber after her driver allegedly sexually assaulted her. Hers was not the first complaint. There have been several reports of driver and passenger conflicts, and claims of sexual harassment and assault.
Here’s another one. A Los Angeles woman was taken on a 20 minute detour by her Uber driver, and driven to a deserted parking lot. The woman claims she repeatedly protested, but the driver ignored her. After screaming at the driver, he eventually turned the car around and drove her home. She regarded this as an attempted kidnapping and complained. Uber regarded it as merely an inefficient route. The company has also added a $1 extra charge for the UberX “safe rides” feature — meaning that there is effectively a tax on not getting assaulted by your driver.
Getting into a car with a stranger can be dangerous, and I have had a couple of unpleasant experiences with taxi drivers (you can read about it here) so I find Uber worrying — or at least, I wouldn’t use the service if I was alone.
I am curious about your experiences? Have you ever used Uber, in any country? Does the bad press worry you? Or is Uber merely having teething problems?
Once back in the mists of time — well, truthfully, last year — I went on an OKCupid date with a man who had more than a passing interest in my shoes. Before the date he emailed me to ask how tall I was. I had neglected to include this nugget of information in my personal info for two reasons: firstly, I don’t care about height, either my own or a man’s; and secondly, I can never remember. Seriously, I know I’m “average” and somewhere over 160cm — hold on, I’ll check! I have just measured myself and it appears I am just over 164cm or around 5’4”, which is pretty average for women in Ireland — and taller than I thought!
You’d think I might have remembered this because I measured myself last year and sent the information to my date. He was French, and I’ll call him Pierre. Pierre expressed relief. He was on the short side, he told me, but taller than me. “Fantastic! You can wear high heels!” he joyfully informed me. I was less than thrilled by this, since I hate high heels and only wear them when I absolutely have to.
On the evening of the date I considered wearing heels, but it was a cold and miserable day. We were meeting for a drink, and personally I don’t see the point in getting dolled up to the nines for the pub — or for a man I didn’t know, for that matter. Heels would also have required a taxi, as the pub was more than ten blocks from my bus stop. I didn’t fancy either wet or painful feet, or worse, both. Taking all of this into consideration, I decided to wear boots. Pretty cool boots, even if I say so myself, and sexy in a Nancy Sinatra “these boots are made for walking” way, but definitely flat.
For the next few hours, Pierre quizzed me about my shoe choice. How often did I wear heels? How many pairs did I own? Were any of my shoes designer? Would I wear heels if we went out a second time?
Perhaps Pierre had a shoe fetish, or perhaps, like his countrymen, he just found high heels a lot sexier than flats. A study conducted by the French social scientist Nicholas Gueguen found that men are more likely to respond positively to a woman if she is wearing heels.
Gueguen conducted an experiment with a young woman dressed soberly in a black suit and white shirt. She approached various men asking them to take part in a survey. When she was wearing heels, 83% of the men she approached said yes; when she was wearing flat shoes the number of willing men dropped down to 47%.
Gueguen was also interested in whether or not this preference would be noticeable in “mate selection” and he wasn’t disappointed. It took men on average 7.49 minutes to approach women wearing high heels in a bar. For those wearing flat shoes, it took 13.54 minutes.
Gueguen hypothesis seems to correct — most men prefer women in heels. But meh — so what? I prefer to walk in comfort, and not risk bunions, hammer toes, nerve damage, stress fractures and ankle sprains. I don’t care that only 47% of the men I might encounter would respond to a request for help, or that it would take me a whole six extra minutes to find a dude in a pub if I was so inclined. Men may prefer high heels, but lots don’t care that much — and those are the men I prefer.
It won’t be much of a surprise when I tell you I never saw Pierre again, which was just as well. He was quite entitled to his preferences as I am to mine, Either way, we were not a good match. He hated my favourite boots; I hated being quizzed about my sartorial choices, especially by a man whose hair could have done with a wash… I don’t care about shoes, or height, but basic grooming? That’s just good manners.
There is an internet truism — don’t read the comments. This is particularly true if the article in question is about rape. The necessity of avoiding the poisonous outpouring of anonymous asshats becomes all the more urgent if the victim could be cast as somehow at fault, by being drunk let’s say; or if the perpetrator is sympathetic, such as a young, attractive, successful sports star. But sometimes people surprise you.
It’s obvious that I am talking about Ched Evans, the former Sheffield United striker who was convicted of raping a drunk 19 year old woman at a hotel in 2011. He was convicted in April 2012 for 5 years but released this October. Evans maintains his innocence, and it seems a Stuart Gilhooly, and Irish solicitor agrees with him. Gilhooly wrote an article for the Professional Footballers’ Association of Ireland arguing that Evans was innocent. The PFAI has since removed the article.
Gilhooly’s argument boils down to two somewhat contradictory statements. First off that the crime wasn’t that serious: “There was no violence and thankfully the victim has no recollection of it. This, I hasten to add, does not make it right, or anything close to it, but it is nonetheless a mitigating factor.”
Then Gilhooly suggested that the rape of drunk women is so common that it hardly counts as a crime at all: “If having sex with a drunk woman is rape then thousands of men are guilty of rape every day.”
Gilhooly appears to be arguing that having sex with a person too drunk to consent is wrong, but not that wrong since lots of men do it. Whether or not thousands of men are guilty of rape doesn’t mitigate Evans’ crime; if anything it highlights the flaws in the justice system. He also compared Evans to the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six, an insulting and specious argument since Evans was not a victim of police brutality or evidence tampering.
On the run-up to his conviction, articles about Evans tended to attract a huge amount of ire and victim-blaming. The woman at the centre of the case was named on Twitter; Sheffield United’s Connor Brown allegedly made offensive remarks about her; and hundreds of people seemed convinced that the victim had come forward since she was seeking fame and money.
Given all this, I was pleasantly surprise to see that the vast majority Irish internet commentators were not buying Gilhooly’s argument. I was even more delighted to note that while Gilhooly is prepared to see thousands of men as rapists, Irish men were rightly insulted by the implication. By far the majority of male commentators thought Gilhooly’s argument was “sick”, “appalling” and “disgusting” and many noted that he appeared not to understand the seriousness of rape.
Arguments like Gilhooly’s create a climate where it is difficult for victims — male or female — to come forward. Rape and sexual assault is depressingly common, but that doesn’t mean that rapists are. Most predators commit multiple assaults and continue to do so until they convicted. It is a crime that has a high rate of recidivism too, and those released back into society are very likely to reoffend.
Gilhooly suggests that Irish men don’t know the difference between having sex with a woman who has had a few drinks, and one who is too drunk to consent. They do. By suggesting that thousands of men have sex with blackout drunk women every day, he implies that most men have raped someone. They haven’t.
Julien Blanc, a so-called “pick up artist” has had his Australian tour cut short and his visa revoked. Protests have dodged Blanc’s tour and many venues had already cancelled their bookings. Australia’s immigration minister Scott Morrison waded in and cancelled the visa calling Blanc’s schtick “abuse” and “derogatory to women.” It is.
I don’t have an issue with “game” as a general rule. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be better at meeting women or trying to make yourself more attractive to the opposite sex. Not everyone is naturally socially confident or drop-dead gorgeous, but there are things you can learn that go a long way to help. I was a shy, awkward teenager but I learnt to fake confidence — and eventually got confident — because I wanted to meet boys.
Some of the advice, such as that given in Neil Strauss’ best-selling book, The Game, is pretty sensible and not that different from the tricks I used myself. These include paying attention to your grooming; having something interesting to say, even if you need to prepare it beforehand; finding out where interesting parties or events are happening; not worrying too much about rejection and accepting it graciously; and generally being the kind of person other people — men and women — want to spend time with. Strauss also advices not starting with a sexual come on, but rather making friends with everyone in the group, and building rapport with them and the person you fancy, before escalating to the next level. Not exactly revelatory stuff — it’s the kind of advice your mom would give you — and it is hard to monetise that.
As with many things in life, money causes the problems. After the success of Strauss’ book, the PUA scene exploded and people realised there was money to be made. Men pay hundreds, sometimes, thousands of dollars to attend seminars or bootcamps with well-known PUA coaches. But it is a crowded field, and each PUA coach has got to have a unique approach to distinguish himself from the herd. Some of the advice is straight-up ridiculous; some of it is close to advocating rape.
Blanc works for a company called Real Social Dynamics. RSD grew out of Project Hollywood, the house Strauss shared with his PUA coach Mystery. RSD is a company. Like most companies, it is dedicated to making a profit. But since the advice dispensed by the original PUAs like Mystery and Strauss is widely available in cheap paperbacks or on the net, nobody is going to pay for it.
Julien Blanc’s PUA advice is to grab a woman and force her head towards your crotch. Until recent days he was tweeting using the hashtag #ChokingGirlsAroundtheWorld. That’s not “game” — that’s sexual harassment. Grabbing someone and not letting go is assault. Some of his defenders argue that Blanc spent time talking to the women before doing this. That doesn’t make it better — it’s still sexual harassment.
Blanc is a racist, sexual predator who advices men that, “In Tokyo, if you’re a white male you can do what you want.” Here’s a clip of his seminars. At the end you’ll get to see Blanc in action. None of the women look pleased. Their body language says it all — pushing away or hunched up as small as possible to minimise physical contact with him.
When women complain about “rape culture” this is the kind of thing we mean — normalising sexual harassment and aggression as pick up techniques. Where Strauss advices being charming, Blanc suggests assault. There’s a world of difference there.
Good news guys! You can escape the dreaded friend zone. All you’ll need is a shockingly hideous bomber jacket, fancy ass shaving equipment and some fripperies. Oh yeah, and around €4500 to drop on this stuff.
This advice is brought to you by Esquire magazine’s fashion blog, and obviously it shouldn’t be taken too seriously as a guide to being successful with the ladeez. However, the underlying messages play into a number of exasperating stereotypes about men, women and sexual attraction. So yup, I’m going to ignore my own damn advice and take it seriously.
First off, a minor quibble. The article plays into the tired old trope that all women love fashion, therefore all it takes to woo us is a streamlined shirt and some nice shoes. Sure, being nicely dressed is probably a good idea if you’re on the hunt for sex or love, but even the most directional lambswool sweater is not a substitute for chemistry and attraction. Nor will dropping a whooping $485 on a classic shaving kit cause any woman to “recalibrate your standing in her life”, except perhaps to wonder why you throw money around like confetti at a wedding.
Which brings me to my second point… Most of your must-have items to escape the friend zone come with a hefty price tag. The bomber jacket costs an eye watering $3,495. The jeans aren’t exactly cheap at $210, and the sunglasses cost $575, despite looking like something you could pick up for a fiver in Penny’s. The unspoken message here is not just that women like fashion, but expensive fashion. Yup, flash some status symbols around and your lady friend will want to bed you, because at heart, all women are shallow, gold-diggers.
For years, magazines have been selling the same bullshit fairytale to women. Buy this dress, wear these shoes! Voila! You’re Cinderella! It doesn’t work for women either. The average dude won’t fall in love with you because you’re rocking designer gear. Neither will the average lady.
Finally, there is no such thing as the “friend zone” — there’s just friends. The friend zone seems like a gender-neutral term, describing a situation where one person secretly hankers after a romantic or sexual relationship with a man or woman who doesn’t feel the same way. However, the term is often used to suggest that “friend zoning” is something capricious, selfish women do to so-called nice guys — manipulating their feelings, using them for emotional support and keeping them dangling.
You know what, I’m not going to argue that these women don’t exist. I am sure they do. But if that’s the case, why the hell are you even friends? If a friend is prepared to play with your feelings, why would you want them to be your lover or partner? That person is an asshat! Boning won’t make them a better person, especially since the emotional stakes are higher. You can do better, even without a $350 denim shirt!
Wanting someone who doesn’t feel the same way about you is a shitty situation. I’ve been there, and so have many of you. Sometimes a friend might have a change of heart and see you in a new light, but mostly they won’t. But that’s not the friend zone, that’s just plain old unrequited love.
The annoying thing about the friend zone concept is that it suggests that men and women can’t be friends without sexual attraction getting in the way. They can. Sure, some times it is an issue, but the more friends you have of the opposite sex (or whatever sex you are attracted to), the less of a problem it becomes. It also suggests that a woman’s friendship has no value — that if you can’t fuck her, hanging out, going for drinks or to the movies is a big waste of time. If that’s the way you feel, then the asshat is you — and that’s why nobody wants you. Your clothes are irrelevant.
On Tuesday morning my news feed was full of images of Renee Zellweger at the Women in Hollywood awards. A gasp of shock could be heard across cyberspace, and thousands of people went online to note that Zellweger looked completely different.
By Tuesday evening the conversation was starting to turn and op-eds began to appear arguing that Zellweger’s appearance was the result of our culture’s obsessions with youth and beauty, and that actresses who have made their name playing ingénues and rom-com heroines are expected to remain eternally youthful and castigated if they don’t or if their plastic surgery is too obvious. Exceptions may be made for character actresses like Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep or Melissa Leo, but being over 40 — and worse, looking it — has you assigned to the Hollywood scrap heap.
Now I am not going to argue that Hollywood is a meritocracy or that older actresses don’t have a hard time finding work. A 2013 study from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that actresses received only 28 percent of all the speaking roles in Hollywood films in 2012 — a five year low. The film industry has a preference for young, beautiful faces, and today’s “sweetheart” becomes tomorrow’s non-entity. Meg Ryan, once the most bankable woman in Hollywood, has been conspicuous by her absence.
You could argue that actresses, like sports stars and models, have short careers and are richly rewarded for it. And you could also argue that many male stars who made their name as the “hot guy” in their twenties and early thirties are no longer being offered starring roles. You’d get no arguments here. But with Zellweger something different is afoot.
Now I love a good opinion piece with a feminist slant on popular culture, but Zellweger, who is now in her mid-40s, doesn’t look younger — she looks different. There is no getting away from the physical evidence that her face, eyes and cheekbones seem to have radically altered.
Zellwegger has, predictably enough, denied using plastic surgery, claiming her new face is the result of ageing and of being at peace with herself. Whatever the truth, like Mickey Rourke, she appears to have morphed into an almost different person entirely. There’s no getting away from that. But whether or not we, the movie going public, have a right to nitpick over a star’s face and body and subject it to critique is another matter. But in this case, the public outrage, or confusion, surrounding Zellweger is understandable.
While Zellweger was hogging the headlines for all the wrong reasons, you may have missed the news the Monica Lewinsky has reinvented herself as a public speaker tackling cyberbullying. If anyone can relate to what it is like to be the target of ire for millions of strangers, it’s Lewinsky.
The public outrage that still surrounds Lewinsky is a whole lot less forgivable, particularly twenty years after the fact.
Predictably enough, under the articles I read, the content of Lewinsky’s speech was glossed over in favour of jokes about cigars, blow jobs and stained dresses mixed in with comments on Lewinsky’s looks. Like Zellweger, many suspect that she has had plastic surgery because at 41 years old, Lewinsky is presumed to looked “better” than she did at 22 years old.
Has Lewinsky had plastic surgery? Possibly. I don’t know. I’m not sure it matters except that if she has, it is probably a reaction to the sustained abuse she has received over the years. One of the ugliest aspects of the scandal was the constant stream of bile calling Lewinsky ugly and overweight.
The comments proved Lewinsky’s point — in the age of social media, there is no escaping the cyberbullies. Not that you’re likely to have forgotten it, but what exactly was Lewinsky’s great crime? Nearly twenty years ago, she gave someone a few blow jobs — that’s it, but Lewinsky has become such a whipping girl and figure of ridicule that huge amounts of people immediately react to her with derision or anger.
Piers Morgan — himself no stranger to social media flame wars — blamed Lewinsky of the her own downfall and summed up what many people were thinking.
“If you’re a 22-year-old intern working at the White House and you embark on an affair with your married President, then most people would probably say the shame-ometer probably starts right there and then.”
Yes, Bill Clinton was definitely married, but if you believe in the sanctity of marriage vows then it was up to him to keep them. Lewinsky wasn’t breaking any solemn promises of sexual fidelity — Clinton was. Besides which, Lewinsky was just 22 years old, and Bill Clinton was the most powerful man in the world, and a well-known rogue in the mould of JFK to boot. That a young woman was dazzled by his Southern charm, good looks, and most particularly, his position, is complete understandable.
Despite the huge coverage the scandal received many people think that Lewinsky broke the story herself, which is factually incorrect. She was betrayed by her colleague Linda Tripp who taped their conversations about the affair, and gave the evidence to Kenneth Starr, who then kicked off the presidential impeachment nonsense.
There was no way Lewinsky could have predicted what came after. Most people who have affairs with married men or women do so in secret, and they certainly don’t expect to become the target of the world’s media or a political witch hunt. Unlike someone like Rebecca Loos, Lewinsky initially tried to distance herself from the affair and went into hiding. She gave a rare interview to Time magazine in 1999 hoping to rehabilitate her image, but she has turned down several offers, and millions of dollars, to write a book about her indiscretion. While Clinton has gone on to be a respected elder statesman and beloved public speaker, Lewinsky has spent the past twenty years trying to dodge the scandal but no-one is prepared to let her forget it. From her Vanity Fair piece on shaming earlier this year, it seems she has decided to embrace the scandal and turn it into a cautionary tale about cyberbulling and slut shaming.
Although very different women with very different public personas, Zellwegger and Lewinsky make an interesting comparison. While Zellweger cannot escape the star image we have of her as the fresh faced chubby cheeked twenty something of Empire Records and Jerry Maguire, Lewinsky cannot escape the image of the fresh faced chubby cheeked twenty something intern in a stained blue dress.
John Grisham, the best-selling author of legal thrillers The Firm and The Pelican Brief, took on the American judicial system in a recent interview. Grisham argues that American prisons are full of people who shouldn’t be there, such as black teenagers on minor drug offences, white collar fraudsters like Martha Stewart and “sixty year old white men” who look at child porn.
His views seems to be largely based on the conviction of an old friend who was jailed for looking at child porn.
“His drinking was out of control, and he went to a website. It was labelled ‘sixteen year old wannabee hookers or something like that’. And it said ’16-year-old girls’. So he went there… He shouldn’t ’a done it. It was stupid, but it wasn’t 10-year-old boys.”
First off, you are extremely unlikely to accidentally stumble upon child pornography. Porn producers are very, very careful about the age of performers; hosting services and search engines automatically scour the web looking for anything dodgy and most child porn is hidden in the deep web.*
Secondly, why are sixteen year old girls seen as less problematic than ten year old boys? They may be teenagers, on the brink of adulthood, and legally allowed to have sex with other teenagers (in most American states as well as here) but they are still very young girls who cannot legally consent to perform in porn. Therefore it is impossible to know under what conditions the images or films were produced, or if coercion or force were part of the equation.
Finally, Grisham seems to think that child porn is a victimless crime, since the person viewing it did not touch anyone. He overlooks the fact that the child in the image was hurt, and anyone who views child porn creates the market for more and more of it to be produced – which means more and more children are harmed.
Grisham argues that people who look at child porn are not pedophiles. That may be true in the sense that anyone viewing child porn may never have touched a child, nor have any intention of doing so. But it is hard to square that with the fact that when most people search for porn, we search for the scenarios, images and people that we find sexually exciting, not the ones that leave us cold. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t leave a child alone in the company of someone whose porn preferences were for children.
You could certainly make a case that the US government is far too fond of locking up its citizens, particularly young African American men – and since Grisham is a lawyer as well as an author, he would have been in an ideal place to open up the conversation since he is on the road promoting his new book Gray Mountain. Unfortunately, his bizarre views on child porn are sure to make any nuanced discussion impossible as well as dodge his new novel. What a pity.
*It is possible some images of underage people were part of the “Snappening” – an unauthorised release of stored Snapchat photos.
Jennifer Lawrence recently spoke out about celebrity hackergate. In an interview with Vanity Fair, the actress called the release of her private naked images a “sexual violation” and said that, “It is not a scandal. It is a sex crime.”
Lawrence makes an interesting point. On the one hand, technology has given us new ways to interact sexually with one another. Whether you send a nude image, engage in long-distance sex play over Skype or make a porn at home, we all recognise that this behaviour is sexual. Therefore, the theft and distribution of sexual images could be seen as a sexual violation. On the other hand, you could argue that seeing this as a sex crime does a disservice to victims of sexual assault. After all, Lawrence’s images – not her body – were the target.
Just after Lawrence’s interview became public, trolls defaced her Wikipedia page, replacing her picture with one of the stolen naked images. Luckily Wikipedia caught that and the page was returned to normal within 20 minutes. Someone, it seems, was not happy about being called out on their behaviour.
What do you think: is stealing, distributing and using someone’s sexual images a sexual violation or just a privacy violation?
I am a big fan of sex, and a big fan of technology, but there are times when the two don’t mix. A case in point is Good2Go, an app designed with the idea of curbing sexual assaults on American college campuses. Lee Ann Allman, who created the app, was apparently inspired by a discussion with her college-aged children.
You may be aware that California recently introduced a “Yes Means Yes” consent law on college campuses. This is partly in response to a number of high profile reports on the extent of sexual assault at American universities. College authorities have been ignoring the problem for years. It seems an institution’s “brand” is more important than their students. While any measure to reduce sexual assaults is a good thing, I am at a loss as to how Good2Go could help. If anything, it puts users in a more precarious position than before.
First off, consent can be withdrawn at any time – even if you are naked and in bed, you are allowed to change your mind and your partner has got to respect that decision. If he or she doesn’t, it is sexual assault. If you’ve answered Yes with Good2Go there is a greater chance you may feel pressured into continuing; or your partner may think he or she will be able to force you without any consequences since they have a record of your initial consent. This means that victims would be less likely to speak up for fear that they would not be believed.
Secondly, who the hell would this appeal to, other than rapists? I can see the point in the Good2Go app if sexual assault is your thing. You could steal a victim’s phone before the assault and answer Yes; or you could force them to download the app and “consent” at knifepoint. Good2Go might not be legally binding, but the courts will take any evidence of consent into considerations, and this may be enough to convince a jury that a rapist is innocent.
The only people this app could reasonably protect is students afraid of being falsely accused of rape. While there is a lot of discussion about this online, the chances of actually being falsely accused are slim. Various studies suggest 1 or 2 percent of all reported rapes are false, but these very, very unlikely to make it to court due to lack of evidence and the accuser recanting.
As far as I can see, the only people who need be worried about a “false” rape accusation are rapists – not jump-out-at-you-with-a-knife rapists, but those who target victims who are too drunk to consent, or who pressure an unwilling partner into sex. These rapists may kid themselves that what they do is fine because they don’t use force, but it is sexual assault. Giving them any tool, such as an app where they can protect themselves is madness.
In the US, sexually assaults on campus are generally investigated by the university instead of the police. This is supposed to protect students because the university doesn’t have as high a bar for evidence as the courts, but even when a student is found guilty, the university generally won’t expel the rapist, withhold transcripts or enact any real punishment anyway. The sad fact is that in a closed community like a campus, a rape victim is more likely to become the target of malicious gossip than a rapist.
And finally, if you find discussing sexual consent so icky that you have to do it via an app, you are not Good2Go because you are in no way emotionally mature enough to have sex. End of.
Here is a relatively tricky quiz from Buzzfeed about sex. It should be no surprise to anyone that I did very well on this quiz. After all, I have been writing about sex for a *while* now. Go on, you know you want to…