Tag Archives: we live in a culture of casual misogyny

I Am Not Your Wife, Sister or Daughter

18 Mar

I don’t have to tell you that Steubenville is all over the news.

I don’t have to tell you that it’s a fucking joke that Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, the two teenagers convicted of raping a sixteen year old girl, were only sentenced to a combined three years in juvenile prison. Each will serve a year for the rape itself; Mays will serve an additional year for “illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.”

I probably don’t even have to tell you that the media treatment of this trial has been a perfect, if utterly sickening, example of rape culture, with its focus on how difficult and painful this event has been for the rapists who raped a sixteen year old girl then bragged about it on social media.

And I almost certainly don’t have to tell you that the world is full of seemingly nice, normal people who want to go to bat for the convicted rapists. I’m quite sure that you already know about the victim-blaming that’s been happening since this case first came to light. You know about the fact that people have actually come out and said that the real lesson to be learned here is that we need to be more careful with social media (i.e. go ahead and rape but make sure you don’t get caught). You already know that people seem to think that being a sports star and having a good academic record should somehow make up for the fact that you are a rapist.

I don’t have to tell you any of that because it’s all par for the course.

What I do want to tell you is that you need to stop using the “wives, sisters, daughters” argument when you are talking to people defending the Steubenville rapists. Or any rapists. Or anyone who commits any kind of crime, violent or otherwise, against a woman.

In case you’re unfamiliar with this line of rhetoric, it’s the one that goes like this:

You should stop defending the rapists and start caring about the victim. Imagine if she was your sister, or your daughter, or your wife. Imagine how badly you would feel if this happened to a woman that you cared about.

Framing the issue this way for rape apologists can seem useful. I totally get that. It feels like you’re humanizing the victim and making the event more relatable, more sympathetic to the person you’re arguing with.

You know what, though? Saying these things is not helpful; in fact, it’s not even helping to humanize the victim. What you are actually doing is perpetuating rape culture by advancing the idea that a woman is only valuable in so much as she is loved or valued by a man.

The Steubenville rape victim was certainly someone’s daughter. She may have been someone’s sister. Someday she might even be someone’s wife. But these are not the reasons why raping her was wrong. This rape, and any rape, was wrong because women are people. Women are people, rape is wrong, and no one should ever be raped. End of story.

The “wives, sisters, daughters” line of argument comes up all the fucking time. President Obama even used it in his State of the Union address this year, saying,

“We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence.”

This device, which Obama has used on more than one occasion, is reductive as hell. It defines women by their relationships to other people, rather than as people themselves. It says that women are only important when they are married to, have given birth to, or have been fathered by other people. It says that women are only important because of who they belong to.

Women are not possessions.

Women are people.

I seriously cannot believe that I have to say this in 2013.

On top of all of this, I want you to think of a few other implications this rhetorical device has. For one thing, what does it say about the women who aren’t anyone’s wife, mother or daughter? What does it say about the kids who are stuck in the foster system, the kids who are shuffled from one set of foster parents to another or else living in a group home? What does it say about the little girls whose mothers surrender them, willingly or not, to the state? What does it say about the people who turn their back on their biological families for one reason or another?

That they deserve to be raped? That they are not worthy of protection? That they are not deserving of sympathy, empathy or love?

And when we frame all women as being someone’s wife, mother or daughter, what are we teaching young girls?

We are teaching them that in order to have the law on their side, they need to be loved by men. That they need to make themselves attractive and appealing to men in order to be worthy of protection. That their lives and their bodily integrity are valueless except for how they relate to the men they know.

The truth is that I am someone’s wife. I am also someone’s mother. I am someone’s daughter, and someone’s sister. But those are not the things that define me, or make me valuable in this world. Those are not the reasons that I should be able to live a life free from rape, sexual assault or any kind of violent crime.

I have value because I am a person. Full stop. End of argument. This isn’t even a discussion that we should be having.

So please, let’s start teaching that fact to the young women in our lives. Teach them that you love, honour and value them because of who they are. Teach them that they should expect to be treated with integrity because it’s a basic human right. Teach them that they do not deserve to be raped because no one ever, ever, ever deserves to be raped.

Above all, teach them that they are people, too.

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National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

7 Dec

When I was a kid, my mother had a button that looked exactly like this:

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I couldn’t find a very large image of this button, but in case you’re wondering, around the edge it reads: “In commemoration of the 14 women killed in Montreal, December 6th, 1989 and all women who have suffered from violence.”

Every year, after my mother retired her Remembrance Day poppy sometime in mid-November, she would break out her rose button and pin it to the lapel of her coat. As a small child, I remember coveting the button, because I liked the picture on it. When I was older, it made me uncomfortable; I didn’t like that my mother wore a pin to commemorate a mass murder, and the look on her face and the tone in her voice when she explained the story behind it frightened me. Strangely, the story itself didn’t frighten me; it seemed too remote, totally removed from my day-to-day life. It was a freak accident; a tragedy, yes, but nothing that could ever happen to a person like me.

Later still, when I was a teenager and irritated by everything my mother did, I found the button obnoxious and sanctimonious. I’d grown up hearing my mother referring to herself as a feminist, a term that I refused to apply to myself. It seemed to me that most boys hated feminists and, when I was a lonely high school student with low self-esteem, the last thing I wanted was to do something that would cause the boys I knew to reject me even more. When they made jokes about women, jokes whose real punchlines were how stupid and pathetic women were, I laughed. Sometimes I joked back, making fun of the way girls dressed, of how many guys they slept with, how idiotic and shallow they were. Sure, I was a girl, but I was on their side – I wasn’t one of those girls. Never mind the fact that I probably would have given my eyeteeth to be cool enough to be one of those girls.

Back in those days, whenever late fall rolled around and my mother broke out her shabby, rusting rose button, I would roll my eyes. He was crazy, I would tell my mother. Like, mentally ill. It had nothing to do with women, he was just nuts. What if he’d killed only Dutch people? Would we have national day of remembrance and action on violence against Dutch people?

When I was a teenager, I thought that feminism was pointless at best, and a way of angering and alienating people at worst. It hadn’t yet occurred to me that sometimes angering and alienating people was a good thing; that there might be situations in which I wanted people to feel negatively about me and the things that I said. At the time, I couldn’t imagine not wanting to please every body, just like I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to kill me simply because I was a girl.

Now I know differently.

I’m not saying that anyone’s out to get me specifically, because as far as I know, they’re not. It probably helps that I come off as fairly non-threatening – I’m a small, mousy white woman who doesn’t work in a male-dominated field. I’m a shy, quiet woman who pretty much totally followed the status quo – I finished high school, went to university, then married a nice guy and had a kid before I turned 30. Probably the most threatening thing I do is blog (extensively) about women’s reproductive rights, but that hasn’t generated any death threats or anything.

But there are still people who hate me because of my gender. I mean, maybe not openly, maybe not obviously, but they do. We live in a culture of casual misogyny. A culture where over 600 First Nations women are missing or have been murdered in Canada, only to have our government do nothing about it. A culture where female sex workers are treated as objects instead of people. A culture where women are told to be less angry when they talk about the events of December 6th. A culture where women are constantly being ridiculed, judged and set up in competition against each other. A culture where my sister, an avid World of Warcraft player, has been asked repeatedly to turn on her webcam and show other players her breasts in order to “prove” that she’s a woman.

When Marc Lépine went to the École Polytechnique 23 years ago today, he entered the school with the intention of killing feminists. Feminists, he said in his suicide note, had ruined his life. Lépine had applied to the École Polytechnique in both 1986 and 1989 but had been rejected both times because he lacked the CEGEP courses necessary for admission. In Lépine’s mind, however, he wasn’t admitted to the school because women had taken too many of the available spaces. Women, he thought, had taken everything important, and left nothing for him.

Lépine killed 14 women just because they were studying engineering. Lépine killed 14 women for daring to want careers in a male-dominated field. Lépine killed 14 women for being women.

I was seven years old when École Polytechnique Massacre happened. I want to think that the world has changed since then, but really, has it? Women are still the butt of the joke. Women are still lacking in positions of power. Women are still being told that they need to compete against each other. There is still a persistent bias against women in the worlds of math and science. If there’s anything that can be learned from the latest American election, it’s that there are still men who hate women. A lot of men. Powerful men.

I don’t know if my mother still has her rose button. Probably not – I haven’t seen it in several years, and the last time I did, it was looking pretty beat up. I wish she did, though, and I wish that she lend it to me. These days, I would wear it with pride.

Rape Jokes and The Oatmeal

5 Dec

Yesterday, Matthew Inman from The Oatmeal wrote a comic about the “delicate relationship” that he has with his keyboard.  This was the final panel of the comic:

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The comic in its entirety was about how he feels and behaves towards the various keys in his keyboard. This panel specifically was about trying to get a webpage to load when you have a slow connection, with the joke centering around Matt “raping” his F5 key in order to make the page load faster. Yes, it’s a rape joke. No, I’m not surprised. Yes, it’s supposed to be funny. No, no one would ever  actually “rape” a computer key. Yes, in spite of all that, I’m still grossed out. Now that all that is out of the way, can we talk about how terrible this is? Because it’s terrible. Really, really terrible.

The panel above is the type of joke that normalizes and trivializes rape. Instead of showing rape as an act of sexual violence that will haunt someone for the rest of their life, it’s hilariously portrayed as pushing your F5 key one too many times. What it tells readers is that rape is no big deal, that it’s just this thing that happens. It tells readers that rape is not a powerful word, but instead is a term you can use to describe any kind of forceful action. It tells readers that rape is normal, and even worse it tells rapists that rape is normal. The problem with jokes like this is that not only do they make rape victims deeply uncomfortable, they make rapists feel comfortable.

And I mean, you know what? As far as rape jokes go, this one isn’t that bad. I mean, not really. It’s not graphic, and it’s not even describing a plausible situation since, again, computer keys can’t be raped. If we didn’t live and participate in rape culture, this joke on its own wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But you know what? If we didn’t live in a culture where rape was constantly aided and abetted, a culture where rape is so normalized that we think nothing of making light of it, a culture where rape victims are frequently hushed up, dismissed or outright disbelieved, this comic would never have been made. This comic is a product of rape culture and it perpetuates rape culture. The message that this comment sent out to The Oatmeal’s nearly 800,000 Facebook fans (and the myriad other readers who follow the comic on Twitter or directly on The Oatmeal’s website) is that rape is no big deal.

It is a big deal, though. And when some readers of the Oatmeal told Matt Inman that rape jokes are a big deal, this was his response:

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I mean, first of all, it seems bizarre to blame Daniel Tosh for this backlash. Just because Daniel Tosh was called out for making a rape joke doesn’t mean that he was the first to do so, or that he invented rape culture. This joke wouldn’t have been funny before Daniel Tosh, and it sure as hell isn’t funny now.

Second of all, it’s really great that Matt Inman donated money to a battered women’s group. But that doesn’t give him license to say whatever he wants. It’s not like making a one-time donation gives him some kind of immunity to ever being called out on misogynistic shit that promotes rape culture. That’s not how it works.

Third of all, this isn’t censorship, and I hope that Matt Inman never lives in a place where true censorship exists. Freedom of speech means that you can say whatever you want, sure, but it also means that I get to call you out when you’re being a dick. You get to make jokes, and I get to tell you when they’re offensive. We are both afforded the privilege of freedom of speech. And you know what? I’m not even offended by this comic; I’m not going to give anyone that satisfaction. See, Matt Inman wants to believe that he’s done something so cool, so edgy, that regular, Family Circus-reading folk will be “offended”. Well, I’m not. I’m contemptuous of this comic, and I’m contemptuous of you, Matt Inman. Every time you make a joke like this, I think less and less of you. So no, you’re not being censored; you’re just hearing the reactions of people who aren’t on board with what you did.

I’m sure that there are people who will accuse me of being so wrapped up in feminism, so focussed on seeing misogyny wherever I look, that I’m just not able to recognize humour anymore. There are people who probably want to tell me that nothing is so sacred that you can’t joke about it, that “censoring” comics is the worst possible thing you can do, and that if I don’t “let” people make rape jokes then I’m some kind of fascist.

First of all, anyone who would think that should look up the definition of “fascist”.

Second of all, I don’t think that all rape jokes are bad. In fact, I even think that some of them are funny. The thing is, in order for a rape joke to be funny, it needs to do two things:

1. Not make rape victims the butt of the joke

2. Challenge the status quo, i.e. rape culture

Below is a video by Louis C.K. in which he makes a joke about rape that’s funny. If you are a comic, or aspire to be one, you might want to take notes:

See, what he’s doing in this joke is challenging the idea that rape is sexy or desirable. He’s challenging the idea that some men would leap at the chance to take a woman without her consent, while she is repeatedly telling them no, just because she’s giving out some kind of vibe. He’s challenging a culture that persistently insists that women don’t know what they want, that they play hard to get, that they lie and manipulate and shouldn’t be taken at their word.

That is a joke that challenges the way we think in a humourous way. That is what comedy should do.

Matt Inman did, thankfully, end up removing the rape joke panel, and tweeted the following earlier today:

It’s not the greatest apology, but at least it’s an apology, you know? I wish that he hadn’t included the “if”, because obviously people were upset, no ifs about it; it would have been better had he just flat-out apologized for the fact that people were hurt and upset. However, this apology is better than nothing, and it’s waaaay better than artists who continue to defend themselves after they’ve been called out for inappropriate behaviour. So I guess there’s that.

Sometimes stuff like this feels so relentless, like there’s no way to fight against it because you’ll just never win. Working to bring down rape culture feels overwhelming, because it’s literally everywhere. How do you fight nearly every movie you’ve ever seen, every book you’ve read, every casually misogynistic word that’s ever been spoken to you? Where do you even start?

Every once in a while, though, you do get someone who reconsiders what they’ve done and issues an apology, and that feels like it’s maybe the beginning of something. And like I said, maybe it’s not a great apology, but hopefully it will start people thinking. Maybe this will get fans of The Oatmeal really considering what that rape joke really meant, and why it wasn’t funny.

I think that if even one person who laughed at that comic sits back, thinks hard and changes his opinion, then this fight is worth it. If this post gets even one person to change their minds about how they view rape, and especially rape jokes, then I’ll be happy. Hell, even if this post does nothing more than get people who agree with me to start a conversation about this, then I’m good. The fact is that talking about this stuff, getting it out into the open and engaging people about it, is a huge first step to changing the status quo.

And I really, really want to change the status quo.

How The Oatmeal Turned Me Into A Humourless Feminist

23 Sep

There’s this comic from the Oatmeal that’s been making the rounds on my Facebook feed. It’s called My dog: the paradox, and it’s basically a sequence of short vignettes about how stupid and crazy (but ultimately loveable) this dude’s dog is.

Most of it is funny and cute, but the seventh panel really rubs me the wrong way. The image is of a woman (wearing a tank top, short skirt and heels) being confronted by a furiously barking dog. Said dog is being restrained by his frustrated-looking owner. The text is as follows:

He’s hostile towards people that I’d like to get to know better.

Woman: Aw, what a cute dog. Can I pet hi-

Dog: I’LL KILL YOU! MAKE-UP SLATHERED HORSEBEAST STILLETOS AND PERFUME LYING HORSEBEAST SLAGBUCKET

Let’s be clear about a few things here:

1. I know that Matt from the Oatmeal is trying to be funny

2. I know that this is not his opinion on women

3. I don’t think that he was trying to be cruel or malicious

4. I know that most of you will say that I’m overreacting (and maybe I am)

I can’t help it, though. I read stuff like the words written above, and my heart starts to beat a little faster. I start to feel a little nervous, maybe even a little panicky. That kind of language, used against any woman in any context, makes my hands go clammy.

The thing is, even though I get that this is supposed to be a joke, I can’t find it funny. I can’t find it funny, because that line of thinking up there? Isn’t actually that uncommon.

I know, I know, it’s not real life, and the whole damn comic is supposed to be about how stupid the damn dog is, anyway. I mean, right? Only a stupid, crazy dog would think things like that about a woman. Certainly no nice, rational human being would ever say stuff like that.

Except that I’ve known nice, rational human beings who have said stuff like that. Maybe not in those exact words, and maybe not with such vitriol, but certainly the idea behind the words was the same.

She’s wearing too much makeup

She dresses like a slut

If she gets raped, it’s her own fault

All women lie

All women play games

All women are crazy

We live in a culture of casual misogyny, you guys.

We live in a culture of casual misogyny, and when Matt from the Oatmeal writes out words like the ones above, he is contributing to it, even if he doesn’t mean to. Every time someone laughs at what he’s written, and maybe thinks they find a tiny grain of truth in it, they’re contributing to it. Every time someone dismisses another person’s concern and tells them that they’re overreacting, or don’t understand the humour, or just plain need to get over it, they’re contributing to it.

What I want you to remember is this: whenever you use words like this, even as a joke, you are helping to normalize it. You are helping to perpetuate the idea that it is okay, or even funny to talk about women this way.

If you still don’t see why this bothers me, try looking at it this way: imagine that instead of being a woman, the character in the comic is Jewish, or a person of colour. Imagine that instead of saying lying horsebeast slagbucket, the dog is saying, greedy hook-nosed kike, or lazy nappy-haired n-word, or any other type of hateful speech. Would you still be fine with it?

I’m not angry, and I’m not offended. Mostly I’m disappointed, because I thought that The Oatmeal was smarter and better than this. Mostly I’m tired, because my kid was up puking all goddamn night and instead of going to bed, I decided to just start writing this post, and then I couldn’t stop. Mostly I’m sad, because I dunno, everything kind of makes me sad sometimes.

When I was a teenager, I used to get so irritated with my mother, because she would dissect everything I found funny and explain to me why it was offensive and gross. And now I get it. God help me, I get it. I’ve finally turned into the humourless feminist my mother always wanted me to be.

Don’t worry, though – I still think poop jokes are hilarious.