Advertising Awareness

Although it was all over my Facebook wall a month or so ago, I never forwarded the Always #LikeAGirl ad before today, nor did I choose to say anything on JALC about it.

My hesitation was similar* to that when Pantene urged women “Don’t let labels hold you back” several months ago, in an ad Sheryl Sandberg helped take epically viral, or when the Dove “Real Beauty Sketches” ad went epically viral some months before that:

My feelings about these female empowerment campaigns ad campaigns are always pretty similar, one to the next. Basically, I feel conflicted. On the one hand, these ads do bring up aspects of my own lived experience, whether it’s the double standards I’ve faced around being “bossy” or “bitchy,” or my habit of being hyper-self-critical, around my physical appearance and, sometimes, pretty much everything else about me.

On the other hand, it’s a little bit galling — okay, a lot galling — to have these quasi-empowering “accept yourself” messages come from companies for whom a significant percentage of the profit margin is based on the proposition that women will feel bad enough about themselves to buy your product so that we can be groomed, tweezed, moisturized or shampooed in such a way as to overcome our innate debased female-ness and become more socially acceptable.

Quite frankly, my conflicted feelings about this trend have reached a high enough level that I never even bothered to watch the Always ad above, or Pantene’s went-viral-one-month-ago “Sorry Not Sorry” ad before tonight when I was preparing this post for JALC.

So, yeah, I’ve never been in the corner of Dr. Bernice Ledbetter, who writes over on HuffPo that these ads are “truly a banner in the battleground of the feminist movement.”

I actually find that perspective quite sincerely and incredibly baffling. Do you not see how the women in the Dove ad are mostly, white, thin, not-too-old, and conventionally attractive to such a degree that the deeper message of the piece can easily function as little more than “The hearts of conventionally beautiful women can grow a little warmer today”? Can you explain to me how women getting shinier, bouncier hair is a viable solution for misogynist attitudes and prejudices against female intelligence, agency and ambition? As Emily Shire observes about the #LikeAGirl ad:

Yes, it’s far more appealing on the surface to have pads and tampons promoted as somehow part of a larger goal to change the meaning of “like a girl.” But the campaign is shamelessly emotionally exploitative. It demonstrates real problems—femaleness as a derogatory statement, decrease in self-confidence as women mature—in a beautiful and clear way, but then pretends a corporate manufacturer of panty liners meant to “help you feel fresh ever day” can solve them.

(And again, notice here how problems that are deeply-rooted and systemic, based in cultural norms, problems that are perpetuated and policed as much by external messages as by internalized ones — the very nature of what I call “the miasma of misogyny” — are presented as something to be solved by women’s policing of their femaleness and their female bodies.)

And yet, however much I’m able to see the problematics in these “short films,” their innate and even troubling limitations, I still admit I kind of like them. My affection hasn’t been strong enough for me to join in amplifying their viral distribution, or perhaps my awareness of the flaws has been too strong to allow me to join in the fun. But I don’t have it in me to work up the same kind of feminist outrage about these ads as I’ve displayed here on other occasions.

Which is why I so appreciate Natalie Baker over at Bitch Magazine for reminding me today that it’s possible to live in a yes/and rather than an either/or place.**

So here we are, once again, stuck in another good vs. not good enough debate: either these ads are radically tackling sexism through a historically appalling medium or it doesn’t matter what these ads say because corporations don’t actually care and will say anything to make a buck.

What if it’s both? That is to say, what if these companies are forwarding feminist messaging despite not actually caring about it? And what if that still helps us?

Like Jezebel said back when the Always ad was first released:

While all ad companies are bullshit liars to a point, willing to do or say whatever it takes to get your money, I would rather have empowerment cheese over shame-based guilt, which seems to be the two usual suspects in a capitalist economy.

That’s a sentiment I can get on board with, especially when I think back to Super Bowl Sunday’s usual dreck. To return to Baker:***

For those of us who surround ourselves with intersectional anti-oppressive ideology, what’s considered progress in the mainstream can feel like a joke. But that’s our piece of the jigsaw—to be progressive is by definition to be ahead of the curve. While we don’t need to be naively over-celebratory about billion-dollar conglomerates pandering to female consumers, I do get immense enjoyment from the fact that such companies are doing so, not because they want to, but because they have to. . . . I can get down with those messages, even when they’re being generated out of corporations’ self-interest.

In fact, I like that they’re doing it out of self-interest. I don’t want feminism to be charity. I want companies to consider supporting feminism to be necessary for their survival.

(Emphasis added.)

son-you-throw-like-a-girl-raised-in-a_12707Yeah, it’s all advertising, so at some core level it’s all inherently corporatized and bullshit on account of that perspective. On the other hand, if the growing prevalence of these ads indicates (and even encourages) movement towards the tipping point when the patriarchy/kyriarchy transmutes? I can get on board with that.

So, maybe less of a banner moment (sorry, Dr. Ledbetter!) and perhaps more of a weathervane. Showing the shifts in the cultural currents, a change in the wind of how people think and talk and feel.

* Okay, my hesitation was a little different because I hadn’t yet revived JALC, so I didn’t have to make the “blog or not to blog” call on it. Just the (arguably more public) “to Facebook or not to Facebook” call.

** Yes, this was posted 3 days ago, but I read it today. As such, she reminded me today. And I am grateful for that.

*** In case I haven’t said so clearly enough, please go read the entire post in its entirety. All of it.

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Image credit: http://www.funniestmemes.com/funniest-memes-son-you-throw-like-a-girl-raised-in-a/

Knock on Wood

In addition to lots of laundry and lots of sleep, one other thing I’ve been doing since getting back home from The Trip is catching up on the video lectures and quizzes for the Coursera course I’m taking about the Beatles.*

In a lot of ways this is a “gimme” course: I’ve watched, listened and read enough about the band and its members to be reasonably well-informed from the get-go. Still, it’s fun to hear this professor’s take on things, and I have learned a new thing or two along the way.

Like the full story embedded in the lyrics to Norwegian Wood.

In the song, a young mad is “had” — i.e., fooled — by a comely lass when he accompanies her to her (pretentiously under-furnished) apartment expecting sexytimes, only to be rebuffed when she says she needs to get a good night’s sleep prior to the next workday.

That much I’d understood. But this next part was the part I’d missed: when he wakes up the next morning alone, the song’s narrator sets the girl’s apartment on fire in revenge for the (so-called) cock-blocking.

To quote Paul McCartney (the co-lyricist), looking back at many years’ distance:

[A] lot of people were decorating their places in wood. Norwegian wood. It was pine really, cheap pine. But it’s not as good a title, Cheap Pine, baby…

So she makes him sleep in the bath and then finally in the last verse I had this idea to set the Norwegian wood on fire as revenge, so we did it very tongue in cheek. She led him on, then said, ‘You’d better sleep in the bath’. In our world the guy had to have some sort of revenge. It could have meant I lit a fire to keep myself warm, and wasn’t the decor of her house wonderful? But it didn’t, it meant I burned the fucking place down as an act of revenge, and then we left it there and went into the instrumental.

He sets her apartment on fucking fire. (Who knew? Okay, bad question: evidently everyone in the world knew but me.)

Norwegian_wood__by_CyberfishTalk about a disproportional response to sexual rejection. In his discussion of this song and the story its lyrics tell, the professor said something mild about how the song could be seen as “sort of misogynistic,” and I found myself spluttering at the computer screen, “you think?!?”

I kind of get why the professor chose not to open up the topic for much further exploration. Although some elements of historical and cultural context are inevitably coming into the discussion, his chosen approach is primarily to be taking a musicological quasi-close-reading approach to the stylistic features of the songs and albums — melody, harmonics, orchestration, lyrical complexity, etc. At some level, I suppose I could be thankful he at least called out the misogyny of the scenario, rather than allowing the song’s portrayal of sexual entitlement to remain normalized.

Still, I am so wishing I had magic access to Paul McCartney right now to ask some follow up questions. When you decided that in the song’s world, this guy deserved his revenge, did you mean to portray that as a reasonable response, or an UNreasonable one? You were about 23 when you wrote the song — do you think you’d want to tell a similar or different sort of story if you were writing about sexual miscommunication and rejection today? What acts of friendliness are permitted between two individuals before one is seen as “leading the other on”?

Alas, my press pass is expired (on account of me never having one), and I still haven’t made an appointment with Mr. Ollivander to collect my magic wand. So my curiosity will have to remain unsatisfied.

By the way? Check here for a handy-dandy chart that’s been making the rounds to let you know when a woman owes her partner sex. And despite the geneder-specificity of the graphic, it really cuts both (all?) ways: no individual (gender-inclusive) ever owes another individual (again, gender-inclusive) sex.

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Image credit: http://www.deviantart.com/art/Isn-t-it-good-Norwegian-wood-165422713

* Yes. I am an epic nerd. I’m okay with that.

When the Fat Lady Sings

BrunnhildeI am about a month behind the times in commenting on this, but back near the middle-to-end of May, I saw an NPR post about a distressing batch of reviews responding to Tara Erraught’s performance as Octiavian in Der Rosenkavalier at the Glyndenbourne Festival.

As summarized by Anastasia Tsioulcas (from a compilation gathered by Norman Lebrecht on his blog Slipped Disc),

What is stunningly apparent is just how much a woman’s body matters onstage — way more, if these five critics are to be believed, than her voice, her technique, her musicality or any other quality. . . . Bonus disgrace points to [Rupert] Christiansen [of The Telegraph], by the way, for going after the other lead in Rosenkavalier for having the temerity to be a working parent: “Kate Royal … has recently sounded short of her best and stressed by motherhood.” Kudos for pinpointing motherhood as the source of Royal’s putative shortcomings. She couldn’t possibly have been overbooked, or feeling under the weather — couldn’t have been any other reason, right?

Tsioulcas observes that the lone dissenting voice in this chorus of fat-shaming was a female opera critic; she also does a bit of counterpoint to see if these critics are as likely to mention issues of weight/stature when reviewing the work of male classical singers. (They’re not. In other news: water is wet.)

As tempting as it might be to reduce this controversy to some simplistic formula like “men critics are bad patriarchal meanies while women support each other,” that kind of reductiveness is not entirely what I see going on here. To shift to Maclean’s summary of the point-counterpoint:

Elle magazine accused critics of “fat-shaming” Erraught, who isn’t even particularly heavy by normal standards. It seemed to many like the culmination of at least a decade of unrealistic expectations for opera singers’ looks, especially among women. . . . Alice Coote, a star English mezzo-soprano, blogged on the music news site Slipped Disc to defend Erraught and remind critics that opera is “all about the human voice.” And Elle’s Natalie Matthews wondered “why bring up her weight at all?” finding the issue irrelevant to opera singing.

Others argue that it isn’t irrelevant at all. They fear that the view expressed by Coote and others could bring back the days when singers like Luciano Pavarotti were cast for singing alone, even in parts they were physically unfit for. “I don’t believe opera is all about singing,” says Wayne Gooding, editor of Opera Canada. “It’s all about music theatre. There are many reasons why somebody may not be appropriate for a particular role: wrong kind of voice, or wrong timbre, too old or too young, and yes, wrong look.” [Conrad L.] Osborne adds that “physical appropriateness, within reason, is a perfectly legitimate artistic consideration.”

(Okay, yeah, that passage also lends itself a bit to gender bifurcation, considering that once again the voices defending Erraught are female, and the voices defending body-policing are male. But that wasn’t what I was intending to look at. Move along, nothing to see here…)

Let me hone in on the pieces I wanted to chew over: the emphasis of opera as musical theater, and the tricky territory of artistic vision in creating a stage production of any show. As Anne Midgette summarized last week in the Washington Post*– the column that got me thinking that maybe, weeks later, it still was worth writing about this:

On one side of this debate are those who hold that opera is a musical experience and therefore looks are not as important as sound (witness the success of extremely large singers such as Luciano Pavarotti and Montserrat Caballé). On the other are those who aver that opera is also a theatrical experience and that appearance matters. Guess what. You’re both right. I’ve been at opera performances where the staging was awful but the singing was glorious, and nothing else mattered. I’ve been at opera performances where the production was so compelling that I was willing to overlook so-so singing. These things have to be taken on a case-by-case basis. Any time you make rules about what art “has” to be, you’re doing it wrong.

I do want there to be room for artists and creators and theater companies to be able to communicate a unique vision in their artworks, whether that be a painting, a poem, or a stage production. And it’s an uncomfortable truth that if your artistic creation has any focus to it, then there are likely other viable choices and representations that have been excluded in the creation of a particular emphasis.

Off the top of my head, I can think of three vastly different productions of Macbeth — one I attended, one was directed by a friend of mine, and the third had a friend as a member of the acting company. They all had fascinating “hooks” to them — one a meditation on ethnic violence with stagecraft that alluded to the Serbo-Croatian wars in the 1990s; one an all-female cast that thoughtfully turned the all-male productions of Shakespeare’s day inside-out; and the final one an exploration of the legacy of European colonization and of military dictatorship. Each one of these was a worthwhile lens through which to explore the original text, and there is absolutely no way that all three of those lens could have co-existed in a single production. So maybe it’s perfectly legitimate for a director to prioritize whatever he wants to prioritize in casting a show, whether it’s weighing voice over looks or vice-versa.

Except.

There’s a reason I used the gendered pronoun “he” in talking about directors, above. HuffPo: “According to Fandor, women make up a total of five percent — five percent! — of the directors in Hollywood, down from nine percent in 1998.” The Guardian: “Only 24% of directors employed by the theatres during 2011-12 were women. Looking at creative crews as a whole (directors, designers, sound designers, lighting designers and composers) only 23% of the total employed were women.”

To quote Midgette again:

The reason that “Taragate” has blossomed into such a focus of opinion and argument is that it encapsulates current flash points in our society: how we talk about weight and think about weight and how we look at and evaluate women and women’s bodies. . . . [T]here’s also a disingenuous way in which male critics (and the majority of performing-arts critics are still men) protest that it is perfectly relevant to criticize a woman not for what she does, but for how she looks. . . .

I will defend the right of critics to have strong opinions and unpopular opinions and to offer blunt and unflattering descriptions of performers. And I continue to aver that people would be even more upset if critics went away and there were no criticism at all. But it’s naive in a #YesAllWomen world to deny the implicit sexism of the discourse here. And to offer it is less an offense to our womanhood than to our intelligence.

Are there times that the emphasis on physicality can have artistic integrity to it, and if so, when and under what conditions? And when is that emphasis just another vehicle to reinforce patriarchal/misogynist cultural standards?

———-

One of the reasons this all has been so top-of-mind for me is that I am trying to decide whether to audition for a show this upcoming week. It’s been a production/audition cycle that’s been on my radar since I first started thinking about community theater a month ago, and I still haven’t figured out what I’m going to do.

I’ve felt the pain of not receiving a part, knowing (and sometimes even having it acknowledged) that I was a better singer and actor than the woman cast, but also knowing that the woman cast was thinner and prettier than me. And so I wonder whether there’s any chance of goodness stemming from bringing my “overweight” body into the audition hall, or if that’s just such a set-up for judgement and rejection that it’s not even worth engaging in.

I’d better figure this out soon. ‘Cos if I’m going to do it, I need to choose in time to actually make the audition window. And if I choose against auditioning, I want that to be an actual conscious choice, rather than me dithering until the window of opportunity closes on its own and I never actually had to take ownership of my life and choices.

This lady’s still (and forever?) fat. Is she singing? The jury’s out.

* See, they do have some respectable journalists on staff!

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Image credit: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/it-aint-over-until-the-fat-lady-sings.html

Either George Will or He Won’t

[Trigger warning: discussion of rape and other sexual assaults; quotations that show profound misogyny, slut-shaming and victim-blaming; and rebuttals that share stats and stories about rape and rape culture, and yeah, with a lot of profanity. A LOT of profanity.]

causes-of-rapeI am totally cheating tonight. The Day 7 prompt for Writing 101 is about creating a sense of contrast: “Focus today’s post on the contrast between two things. The twist? Write the post in the form of a dialogue.

But I am currently so enraged and stabby-feeling over George Will’s latest exercise in newspaper-subsidized misogyny that it was inevitably going to be my topic tonight, no matter what I had to do to shoe-horn it into the Writing 101 structure. (Honestly, as far as ideological contrast goes, we have that in abundance. As far as dialogue is concerned? That’s more of a stretch.)

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Women, Higher Education, and Sexual Assault: a Point-Counterpoint Between George Will and Mezzo Sherri

Colleges and universities are . . . learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous (“micro-aggressions,” often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.

Dude, even though it didn’t exist by the same name, the conceptual underpinning for our current understanding of microaggression has been around since at least 1905, when Freud first theorized about the sublimated violence/victimization cycle in so much of modern humor. And even if your current status as rich, urbane, white male — sort of the royal flush of the privilege poker hands — makes it hard for you to perceive microagressions with “an untutored eye,” here’s a tip from Charles Davis at VICE: “You don’t need a reference manual to not make people feel bad; you just need to listen every once in a while, learn a thing or two, and try to be more considerate, particularly around people you just met. Since when did stopping to think before you open your stupid mouth become such a bad thing?”

And excuse me? Being the target of sexual violence is a “coveted status”? In whose bizarro world is that true? After all, the rest of your column just oozes compassion and acceptance for those individuals who have experienced sexual assault. Oh wait: the rest of your column is actually “contributing to a society that is utterly dismissive of their experiences.” (PolicyMic)

Consider the supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. “sexual assault.”

1. Here’s some basic set theory for you: all rapes are indeed sexual assaults, but not all sexual assault is rapes.  (Or, to break it down even further, here’s how I used to explain that concept to my SAT students back in the day: All of my bracelets are jewelry, but not all of my jewelry is bracelets.) I point this out just because if you’re going to use irony quotes to make fun of a term, it might be best to actually understand the term you’re mocking, and oh, maybe to check in and see if your mockery actually functions as humor or instead just shows your own woeful ignorance about a topic. (Also see above, re: microaggressions.)

2. Supposed epidemic? Really? I know you’re gonna quibble with this statistic later on below the fold, but let me just lay it out there anyhow. The CDC reports that 19% of undergraduate women had experienced “attempted or completed sexual assault” since entering college. Now this is a statistic you’ll see reproduced by lots of advocacy and service organizations (sometimes rounded up to the “1 in 5” phraseology we’ll be discussing soon), but please note I did not go to a partisan or activist source here. I went to the C-D-motherfucking-C. 19% of undergraduate women experience some sort of sexual assault, and 37% of female rape survivors are first raped between the ages of 18-24. And yes, that final age range admittedly extends beyond the usual age window for undergraduate students, but still. How much more of an epidemic do you need?! How many women need to suffer before you can get up a compassion boner for them?!?

Herewith, a Philadelphia magazine report about Swarthmore College, where in 2013 a student “was in her room with a guy with whom she’d been hooking up for three months”

Slut-shaming at its finest. Because of course, once you’ve said yes at one time in one context that means automatic consent for all future times in all future contexts. And by the way, just emphasize how foul your perspective is:

“They’d now decided — mutually, she thought — just to be friends. When he ended up falling asleep on her bed, she changed into pajamas and climbed in next to him. Soon, he was putting his arm around her and taking off her clothes. ‘I basically said, “No, I don’t want to have sex with you.” And then he said, “OK, that’s fine” and stopped.. . . And then he started again a few minutes later, taking off my panties, taking off his boxers. I just kind of laid there and didn’t do anything — I had already said no. I was just tired and wanted to go to bed. I let him finish. I pulled my panties back on and went to sleep.’”

Six weeks later, the woman reported that she had been raped.

Well, she reported having been raped because that’s actually the legal definition applicable to the events as described here. But hey, why should an insignificant thing like factuality matter between friends?

Now you’ve been nice enough not to state the most evil of your assumptions outright, but they’re palpably there, oozed between the lines of suggestion and innuendo.

Why didn’t she fight harder after saying the first “no”? Because we’ve been trained (over and over again) NOT to do so! Even if it’s slightly off the subject, perhaps this video will help explain the level of understood threat that might cause a young woman to decide against “fighting back.”

I had a friend in college who was date-raped sophomore year. (I know: I must be lying about this, and this event couldn’t actually have really occurred because George Will has decreed that college sexual assault is merely a “so-called epidemic.”) She carried some guilt for a while about not having “struggled more” — and I remember her sharing the moment of insight that emerged during a session with her therapist where my friend realized that she had, to the best of her ability in the midst of this awful experience, made a threat assessment and consciously concluded that if she didn’t stop struggling that she would be killed, or at least seriously, seriously wounded. It is perfectly understandable that someone may make a decision to stop resisting, wether because of cultural programming, threat assessment, or some other reason(s). That choice to cease actively fighting back in no way excuses a rapist from the legal and moral responsibility of having committed such a harmful act against another human being.

(This is also, by the way, why affirmative consent standards are so necessary. Yes means yes!)

Why did she wait so long to report this crime?* Maybe because she knew that jerk faces like you would blame her or doubt her. Maybe because even the most “casual look at our criminal justice system, military justice system and the academic disciplinary system under scrutiny right now reveals that each tend to punish survivors, not reward them.” (Salon, emphasis added.)

I could find story after story that demonstrates the ways women reporting sexual assault get interrogated about their clothes, alcohol use, sexual history, and general behavior/decorum, but to save us all some time, here’s a photo gallery that both captures many of these victim-blaming attitudes but also wonderfully eviscerates them.

(I’m skipping ahead a few paragraphs because I only have enough patience to dialogue with one last passage.)

The statistics are: One in five women is sexually assaulted while in college, and only 12 percent of assaults are reported. Simple arithmetic demonstrates that if the 12 percent reporting rate is correct, the 20 percent assault rate is preposterous. Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute notes, for example, that in the four years 2009 to 2012 there were 98 reported sexual assaults at Ohio State. That would be 12 percent of 817 total out of a female student population of approximately 28,000, for a sexual assault rate of approximately 2.9 percent — too high but nowhere near 20 percent.

Oh, I see what you did there: it’s like SAT algebra all over again! (98 over x equals 12 over 100; and then once you solve for x put that number over the total population number to get your percentage…)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: CDC. The 19% assault rate has been confirmed by the C-D-motherfuckin’-C.** So rather than taking the 12% report rate as the hard-and-true fact and using that to invalidate the CDC’s confirmed statistic, why not try this idea on for size: maybe the 12% number is wrong! And that notion is even kind of awfully plausible, since this figure can only ever be “an inferred estimate, because there is no directly measured number of unreported assaults.” (Pharyngula.)

Oh, and by the way? If a 2.9% rate of sexual assault is “too high” by your assertion, and considering the fact that the actual assault rate of 19% has been confirmed by the C-D-motherfuckin’-C, do you want to go back and rethink any of your prior statements about a “so-called” epidemic?

Just wondering.

* I almost put the word crime in those mocking irony quotes (as I assume George  would have done), but I just couldn’t do it.

** I swear, if I ever go back to writing anything based on my dissertation research, I am working this phrase in there somehow.

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Image credit: http://michonnemicheaux.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/before-you-make-excuses-for-rape-tw/

Permission to Speak

One week later and I’m still reading and link-collecting and doing a lot of thinking about the Isla Vista murders. Part of me feels apologetic about this, even self-indulgent. After all, I wasn’t even remotely affected directly by these events. I have no six-degrees-of-separation ties to any of the individuals involved or to the locations where the events occurred. (I mean, yes, I was born in the same state, but we moved away from CA before I turned two, and I have zero sense of myself as a west coaster.* I don’t even know where Santa Barbara is in geographic relation to my birthplace.)

gag orderSo there’s lots of ways that I’m privileged to have some distance from these events: a fact for which I am extremely grateful, and one which also makes me somewhat embarrassed to be giving it such brain-space and blog-space. I even felt the temptation to title “Yet Another Post” from me about these events with some variant on the plea “Stop me, before I post again!

But then I read this post from the Standing on the Side of Love blog.** In it, the author juxtaposes the legacy of Elliot Rodger’s misogynist writings and videos with the passing of Maya Angelou and her legacy of speaking out about the existence and effects of sexual violence. Then both of these events were further counterpointed against the simultaneously bombshell and matter-of-fact observation that in the week prior to writing her post, the blogger herself had been sexually assaulted.

These milestones all occurring this week make it so clear to me that patriarchy still rules our society, that sexual assault and misogyny are not limited to one incident but are a ubiquitous threat, in varying levels, to all of us. The humanity of every person is threatened by this reality. I wanted to share my story both to help me heal personally, and to provide information that yes, all women, and all people of all gender identities might find useful.

And then, in following the links from that post and my Facebook feed, I came across two other sites. First, a report on a study which reveals the way adolescent and tween girls understand (and wildly under-report) sexual harassment “as ‘normal stuff’ that ‘just happens’ because it’s what ‘guys do.'” Then there’s the tumblr analogue of the #YesAllWomen twitter movement: When Women Refuse, a collection of stories about domestic and sexual violence that is intended to demonstrate “that Rodger’s mass murder was not an anomaly, but instead part of a larger cultural pattern of violence against women.”

And I thought about my own checkered history of experiencing sexual violence, street harassment and misogyny. The rape in college. Years in Philly which were very mild, all things considered, but still contained a few catcall/honking incidents, the occasional groping, and a couple drunken “encounters” where I wasn’t entirely sure in my (inebriated) head that it’d be a good idea to “back out now.” And all of that happened soaked in the cultural miasma of a patriarchal system. For example: the many incidents throughout my schooling where the message from peers (and some teachers/administrators) was that I was too smart, too ambitious, too opinionated for a girl to be. And so part of the lessons I took from my childhood were about learning to live small, stay quiet, conceal the truth of my mind’s intelligence and my heart’s wisdom.

I am not sharing this in hopes of earning my own “victim cred,” nor to make a simplistic point about how my past experiences make it “okay” for me to be as deeply affected by last weekend’s events as I have been. Well, maybe it’s a bit of yes and no on that last point. Yes, it’s likely my resonance with these events and the ensuing discourse has been deepened by my own past traumas. But no, I don’t need any sort of excuse to be thinking or feeling deeply about this — or about anything else, for that matter.

It’s a messy tangle, rather than a straight line trajectory (this is why the metaphor to miasma is so present with me right now), but I am certain there’s a web of connections between the cultural expectations of women’s silence,docility, and availability; the patterns of sexual violence, harassment, and patriarchal retribution that have come so harshly to light this past week; and my own instincts towards self-silencing as I considered writing “Yet Another Post” touching on these issues.

But it’s a knot that needs untangling. And so I keep writing — even if sometimes all I’m writing about is about the right to write.

Every hard-fought sentence, every awkward phrase, every word a prayer. May we release this. May we be healed.

* Nope. I’m a New Englander, through and through, no matter what my birth certificate says.

** Yay, Unitarian Universalists!!

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Image credit: http://ravenblackcat.com/blog/2012/5/18/countdown-to-blackout-anxiety-a-gag-order.html

More on #YesAllWomen

CassandraBoxGreat Galloping Gaia, it’s 10 PM and I’m just now starting to write. This does not bode well for my sleep quantity tonight or well-restedness tomorrow.

Ugh.

I was trying to come up with something coherent to say about the propagation of the #YesAllWomen hashtag that wouldn’t just be a bricolage of quotations from other authors about the topic.

And then somehow, I started re-reading this post & comment thread about street harassment, and then this one about the ongoing mental calculations so many women must compute when faced with the question of  “Schrodinger’s rapist.” And down the rabbit-hole I went.

Yes, dear reader, I was a small part of the conversation when that term was coined and first unpacked. No wonder I’m so exhausted by this latest unfolding of bearing witness and backlash. I was charred by a small firestorm of bearing witness and backlash during JALC’s first life-cycle, 5 years ago.

My small hope is that perhaps this time around, there’s more of a chance for widespread awareness-raising and maybe just maybe some cultural change. Because at least this time, the bearing witness has leapfrogged out of the feminist blogosphere into wider communications channels. Here’s a few:

However, I’ve seen mentioned along the way that the woman who started #YesAllWomen has actually locked down her twitter account due to the level of harassment she was receiving in “thanks” for her activism. That’s not exactly the kind of detail that makes me feel optimistic for humanity’s evolution towards kindness and empathy.

And then there’s the ugliness of my own sexism and envy.

Don’t get me wrong: in my heart, I know that the patriarchy is bad for everyone, and that the best way to evolve past it is for everyone — woman and men, cis and trans, gender-neutral and any other form of gender self-identification I’m too ignorant to know — to work together.

In that spirit, the better part of me is glad and grateful to see the voices of male allies in the #YesAllWomen conversation.

Still, when I see a male author making a point like this?

and this is important, so listen carefully—when a woman is walking down the street, or on a blind date, or, yes, in an elevator alone, she doesn’t know which group you’re in. You might be the potential best guy ever in the history of history, but there’s no way for her to know that. A fraction of men out there are most definitely not in that group. Which are you? Inside your head you know, but outside your head it’s impossible to.

This is the reality women deal with all the time.

There’s a really ugly part of me that’s annoyed. Because this is the exact same kind of point we were making 5 years ago in the original “Schrodinger’s rapist” thread on Shapely Prose. And we got excoriated for it. Gas-lighted, name-called up down and diagonally across the feminist bingo card, the whole damn ugly she-bang.

And I want very much to defuse my annoyance. Phil Plait (the Slate author who inadvertently got my back up) has done nothing wrong. He’s respectful, insightful, he even walks himself back from the possibility of straying into mansplaining territory. In short: everything I would wish for in the family of allies working to build a less sexist and more humanist culture.

Still. D’you ever feel like you’ve been living the life of Cassandra? Why did so many years, so many deaths, so many acts of violence large and small have to occur before this kind of message was even remotely able to be heard across a wider landscape?

Maybe I’ll be more open-hearted and less cross and churlish after a good night’s sleep. (Which I might get tomorrow night, if I’m smarter about starting my writing earlier in the damn evening!)

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Image credit: http://mysteryarts.blogspot.com/2009/12/breaking-curse-of-cassandra.html

 

 

 

Misogyny Taking Aim — Again

Isla-Vista-memorial-900x600Here we go again. Six murdered, 13 wounded, by a young man swearing “retribution” against the women who “never gave [him] a chance.

Although news of the Isla Vista murders broke into my awareness yesterday morning (as I’m sure they did for many of the east coasters who were safe a-bed when the shootings occurred), I couldn’t find the words or the courage in last night’s blog-post to touch into my feelings about this latest explosion of misogynist violence.

After all, last time I dipped my toe into these waters, it prompted a festival of “not all men” defensiveness and mansplaining that wore me the hell down in ways I can scarcely articulate.

[Sidebar]  Let me get this on the table from the get-go. If your first reaction in the face of these events and whatever I have next to say about them is to enter a self-avowed feminist space (see that tagline, above, about me being “fat, feminist and feisty”?) in order to proclaim some variation of “not all men are like that” and/or “patriarchy hurts men too,” then you, my friend, are part of the fucking problem. Please go do some self-edumacating about the ways those observations — though in their own way true — can function in the wrong contexts as yet another expression of patriarchal privilege. (And just to be super-duper crystal clear: this place at this moment would be one of those wrong contexts.) [/Sidebar]

Of course, the horribly, bleakly comical aspect for me at this very moment is that after this whole big lead-up, I can still scarcely find words to express my anger.

At some bone-deep culturally and emotionally worn-down place, I can scarcely find my anger among the feelings of cultural exhaustion and repetition. Because Elliot Rodger’s rampage, and the videotaped and diarized vitriol that has emerged in the two days since, are incredibly awful and horrible and exceptional and at the same time so very, very banal and familiar.

As Katie McDonough writes in Salon:

But it also denies reality to pretend that Rodger’s sense of masculine entitlement and views about women didn’t matter or somehow existed in a vacuum. These things matter because the horror of Rodger’s alleged crimes is unique, but the distorted way he understood himself as a man and the violence with which discussed women — the bleak and dehumanizing lens through which he judged them — is not. Just as we examine our culture of guns once again in the wake of yet another mass shooting, we must also examine our culture of misogyny and toxic masculinity, which devalues both women’s and men’s lives and worth, and inflicts real and daily harm. We must examine the dangerous normative values that treat women as less than human, and that make them — according to Elliot Rodger — deserving of death. [. . .]

I have seen these videos before. Women have heard these threats before, and been forced to consider how seriously they should take a man who tells them on Twitter that he knows where they live and that, “You are going to die and I am the one who is going to kill you.” If Rodger had posted his angry monologue to YouTube or fired it off in an email to a woman online and then gone about his day — seething privately and without violence about his wounded sense of entitlement and the sting of having his resentful and warped desires unfulfilled — the country wouldn’t be talking about him. Because until the moment that he is alleged to have killed six women and men, Elliot Rodger was every bit the same as the other men who are defined by their resentment toward women and their sense of bitter victimization in the world.

McDonough and I are far from alone in having this awful sense of deja vu all over again. The Belle Jar and The Guardian both remind us that just last month, a young woman in Connecticut was stabbed to death for the ultimate crime of declining someone’s invitation to prom. The Free Republic connects the dots between the Isla Vista murders and numerous similar hate crimes, including the Ecole Polytechnique shootings that came strongly to my mind, both five years ago and yesterday.*

Even the connections between Rodgers and the Men’s Rights and Pick-Up Artist communities feel terrifyingly old hat to me. I don’t know for sure that George Sodini was involved in similar groups/endeavors — my five-years ago post doesn’t make it clear, and I only have the stomach tonight to pull links on two sets of misogyny-fueled crimes, rather than three — but it certainly has that tone on it in my memories.

[UPDATE] Because the scholar in me is constitutionally unable to leave dangling assertions without back-up, I’ve done a bit more digging in the clear light of morning. Sodini did indeed attend some “pick-up artist” seminars, and was at least marginally connected to that community. So yeah: the more thing stay the same, the more things stay the same. [/UPDATE]

So, what is there left to say? All I have tonight are a few semi-coherent musings.

The patriarchy is broken. Please, by all that is ethical and holy, let us as a society — as a humanity — find a way to break beyond these structures.

If you have any doubts that the attribution of these crimes to a seed of misogyny is disproportionate, check out the diversity of sharings being offered online via the hashtag #yesallwoman. As observed in The Atlantic:

Like all widely embraced hashtags, #YesAllWomen encompasses content so diverse that everyone is bound to disagree with some of it. I submit that the vast majority of men who explore it with an open mind will come away having gained insights and empathy without much time wasted on declarations that are thoughtless. I hope that the inevitable backlash doesn’t dissuade anyone from taking a look.

And finally, all I can say now is a variation of what I said five years ago. The more that we as a society (ad our media outlets) paper over the connections between Rodger’s misogynist views and the matrix of patriarchy and misogyny that infiltrates contemporary culture, the less of a chance we will have to evolve beyond this tragic state of affairs. And the more inevitable it will be that more shootings, more stabbings, more violent rampages will occur in the name of patriarchal pride and of women’s assumed role as sexual property.

“Why do men feel threatened by women?” I asked a male friend of mine. So this male friend of mine, who does by the way exist, conveniently entered into the following dialogue. “I mean,” I said, “men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power.” “They’re afraid women will laugh at them,” he said. “Undercut their world view.” Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, “Why do women feel threatened by men?” “They’re afraid of being killed,” they said.

Margaret Atwood, Writing the Male Character

* The Belle Jar made a similar connection in an earlier version of her post — that text was deleted between last night and today, and I, for one, am sorry to see it go.

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Image credit: http://www.thechannels.org/news/2014/05/25/isla-vista-community-mourns-tragedy-with-candlelight-vigil/