Posts Tagged ‘rape culture’

N is for Not Thinking

University is back in session for the 2013-2014 school year, and apparently some students can’t make it through frosh week without being stunningly offensive. Which is bad enough coming from random students, but worse when it comes from the student president.

It’s a pretty common line to get hurled at feminists, especially in discussions of rape culture, to say that not all men are rapists. But stuff like this is why that doesn’t matter, because men who aren’t rapists are still quite capable of legitimizing sexual assault through other means. Now, I can believe the guy when he says that he never really thought that much about the words before, but the fact that he and other students were saying them matters more than whether or not he meant to say “raping drunk teens is good”. What we say and hear has an effect on how we think, and this chant is a pretty blatant example of rape culture to boot. I can’t get past the fourth line of it–“N is for no consent”–and I’m not sure what is the more disturbing aspect of this incident–students repeating this chant for years without realizing that hey, this is endorses rape, or that someone came up with it in the first place. When we talk about rape culture, we’re not just talking about people raping, or sexual harassment. We’re talking about this kind of unthinking parroting of ‘edgy’ material that some people find funny and others find frightening. I have my own twisted sense of humour, but this goes beyond funny for me because this kind of stuff actually happens. Regularly. It is taking horrible experiences that too many people have to deal with and making light of it. As a bonding mechanism, no less.

In a startling contrast, just a few days earlier and a few miles away, rival Dalhousie University posted an anti-rape video (Two, actually).

SMU, you lost this round badly.

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“Less Romantic Than It Sounds” for $200, Alex

I’ve talked before about how our ideas of romance tend to be rather effed up, presenting women as objects to be won and generally giving lousy relationship advice. This last week has provided me with an example that hits both of those, while describing as ‘romantic’ abusive actions.

tellher
Tell her, why she’s perfect for you. Pick her up. & tickle her until she can barely breath, she’ll scream and fight you, but secretly she’ll love it. Protect her. Hold her hand when you talk to her. Look at her like she’s the only girl you ever want to be with. When she least expects, it, pull her in close & kiss her hard. Tell her she looks beautiful. Get her mad, then kiss her. Let her fall asleep in your arms. Call her. Give her piggy-back rides. Kiss her forehead. Be slow. Don’t push anything. Make her feel loved. Kiss her in the rain. And when you fall in love with her, tell her.

Some of the advice in there is decent (“Don’t push anything”), some falls back on harmful cultural narratives but isn’t necessarily bad advice (“Tell her she looks beautiful”), and a couple really should not be anywhere near something that claims to be relationship advice. Can you spot them?

Pick her up and tickle her until she can barely breath, she’ll scream and fight you, but secretly she’ll love it.
There’s a time and place for stuff like this, but as blanket advice it’s terrible. Ignoring a ‘no’ of any sort should not be a default action, but rather something that gets negotiated between two people who know each other well. The best description I can think of is ‘mild rape culture’–while it’s not actually about rape, it still encourages men to ignore boundaries, to believe they know what a woman wants better than she does, that ‘no’ doesn’t actually mean ‘no’. Having your boundaries ignored isn’t endearing, it’s frightening.

Get her mad, then kiss her.
The first term to come to mind for me when I read this was ‘gaslighting’. This isn’t quite that, but I’d say it’s in the same ballpark. First of all, people who care about others don’t deliberately make them mad. And the kiss follow-up puts me in mind of men who say “You’re cute when you’re angry”. It’s dismissive of her anger, treating it not as something that deserves validation and resolution but as something to be ignored, endured, or even found endearing, with a possible side order of “See, I love you so much even your anger can’t change that”. It’s manipulative, and a real relationship doesn’t rely on manipulation.

The icing on this particular crud-cake is that it was posted on a page entitled, “Boyfriends who actually treat their girlfriends like princesses”. Guys, if this is what you consider treating a person like royalty, I’m afraid to ask how you behave around everyone else.

Anatomy of a rape joke

Yeah, I know I’m a little late to the party on this one. It’s a hazard of blogging on Monday.

So any of you who pay any attention to feminist spaces at all have probably already heard about the recent incident with Daniel Tosh and an audience member. For anyone who hasn’t–he was claiming that rape was funny, an audience member said it wasn’t, and he replied that it would be funny if she got raped by five people then and there. Some people are saying she deserved the response she got (gee, where have we heard that one before?), others are saying he didn’t mean she should actually get raped (See also: ), and some are just yelling, “Free Speech!”.

There are a couple ways that Tosh went way wrong on this one (three if you count his attempt at an ‘apology’). Jezebel covers one of them fairly well with Lindy West’s article: don’t make the victim the butt of the joke. I don’t necessarily agree with the examples she gives (though her third one is quite good), but the primary problem with trying to joke about rape is the fear and pain it evokes in people. When the victim is the butt of the joke, you’re not only evoking those emotions, but trivializing them, trying to make people laugh at them.

To side-track a little, there’s a couple pop culture characters that I think kind of get this right (I say kind of because both fail at times, and they are still both problematic). One is Quagmire from Family Guy, the other Howard in the first couple seasons of Big Bang Theory. Both treat women in very, very wrong ways. However, for the most part the comedy from both of them comes from the characters themselves–they are not held up as role models, rather their bad actions towards women make them the ones we laugh at. They fail, things backfire, and if anyone gets hurt it’s usually them. Howard in particular works because of the contrast with Leonard, not to mention Penny just plain not putting up with him.

My personal thought on black humour is that the further from reality you get, the better off you are. Tosh usually stays on the far side of this line–between his delivery and his actual material, he’s easy to laugh at because he’s hard to take seriously. The same jokes coming from many other comedians would fail hard. And this is where I think the ‘but he didn’t MEAN it’ crowd is coming from. In this case though, it doesn’t matter, because the ‘joke’ itself taps into a very real and ever-present fear that women live with, not to mention painful memories for many people. For women, rape and sexual assault is a constant threat. We make decisions around that possibility all the time–what we wear, where we go, where we park, how we act…some women even take self-defense classes and/or carry pepper spray and tasers in response to that possibility. We contemplate the possibility of unwanted sexual advances and how to deal with them, and not for the mental exercise–pretty much all of us have dealt with some level of it at some point, sometimes even from friends. So Tosh didn’t have to be making a threat, because the threat is already there. He simply tapped into it. Worse, he aimed it at a specific person and made her the butt of the joke. Simply put, his response was too real to be funny. (We can see this principle at work elsewhere–we’re a lot more okay with kids watching Elmer Fudd shoot Daffy Duck and making his bill spin around his head than we are with letting them watch something like Terminator.)

I’m not in the ‘rape is never funny’ crowd–I think anything can be funny in the right circumstances (though I also understand why some people think otherwise) and I’m rather fond of black humour. Tosh just fails hard on this particular subject.

Women Welcome! If you don’t mind rampant misogyny…

It’s happening again. Someone points out the lack of visibility of women in some geek community (OpenSource, video games, comic books, etc.) and a bunch of people who prefer a steady boat to addressing real issues come out of the woodwork to declare that there is no problem, women are just being too sensitive about guys being guys, as if it’s wrong to want to feel welcome rather than being ‘allowed’ to hang out in these spaces.

As a life-long gamer, this is somewhat old hat to me, but it’s frustrating nonetheless. And nothing highlights that frustration more than when progress actually is made and you get a glimpse of just how much better things could actually be. Geek culture–and I’ll stick to mostly gamer culture here–tends to hover anywhere between pretending women don’t exist to being openly hostile and patronising. In the former category you have the issue of the majority of games having a male protaganist–this has gotten better due to many games now giving you the option to play as female, but in games where you aren’t given that option, you will almost always be playing male (The three biggest exceptions are Metroid, Tomb Raider, and Portal, and in two of those cases your character is nearly invisible). And even when you DO have that option, there will be times that it is obvious that you are expected to be a (straight) male. Saints Row is a good example–between almost all the women you’ll meet being sexualised to some extent and the occasional lap dance you get from a female stripper, it can be very hard to ignore that the developers didn’t consider you as a possible customer because of your gender. Which sucks, because otherwise it’s fun as hell. And then you have companies like Blizzard, who are fully capable of writing good women into their stories but rarely bother. Lets not forget the chain-mail bikini phenomenon, where a piece of equipment that looks perfectly functional on a male model become extremely revealing on a female model–it’s far faster to name off games where that DOESN’T happen.

In the category of openly hostile, you have the trash talk among gamers that tends to be very dismissive of women, and often heavily laden with rape imagery. (And I hate that I feel this need, but I do feel obligated to point out that this is not the case in all gaming spaces. Maybe not even in most. But with more and more games having some online component to them and the way the web has expanded traditional gamer communities, it’s becoming harder to avoid.) The rape language isn’t even really a feminist issue, aside from it more often affecting women–it’s more a don’t-make-light-of-serious-topics issue. Even outside of that, though, you’ll have ‘jokes’ like “Get back in the kitchen” and “There are no girls on the internet*”, as well as people getting upset with you beating them, not because you won but because you did so while female. I (somewhat fondly**) remember one guy describing it as ‘bullshit’. While many people will dismiss it as just being general trash talk, gender and sexuality are often used as put-downs, implying that being female and/or gay is inferior to being straight and male.

All in all, it’s an issue of not being exclusive rather than being inclusive. Sure, there’s no “No Girls Allowed” sign on the door, but there are still a lot of people within the culture who assume that girls just aren’t into video games, and that turns into an environment where us females who are present are frequently reminded that we’re NOT expected to be there, even when things aren’t openly hostile. And that simply sucks some of the fun out of an otherwise enjoyable pastime.

*To add extra frustration, this one usually gets pulled out immediately after I identify myself as female. While I don’t feel the need myself, it certainly sheds light on why some women choose to hide their gender when they can.

**Fondly because it wasn’t a game I’m particularly skilled at, so getting under a person’s skin like that was rewarding. Otherwise it would have just bothered me.