Monday, 19 March 2012

Can't we all just get along? Even though you're being stupid?

I seem to have spent a lot of time already talking about feeling empowered to call someone out when they're being a caca doodie head (like here, here, here, and here). I feel it only fair to now focus a bit on trying to find middle ground during some of these potentially heated exchanges.

There are occasions when there is no singular right answer or response. Take, for example, the Slutwalk movement as a response to systemic victim-blaming and sex-shaming. Many people will not be able to feel comfortable supporting a cause with such a provocative name. Many people will never put in the effort to find out what the cause is really about and will dismiss it outright because of the name. This does mean that it does not have an important place in starting conversations about rape culture, and it does not mean that the positive experiences of those who have found a voice and solidarity in the movement are invalid. And those positive experiences don't mean that movements like Take Back The Night have run their course and are no longer relevant. There is plenty of room to agree to disagree.

Disagreement itself can also be healthy. None of us are perfect or omniscient (even if yours truly comes breathtakingly close). When we're disagreeing with people (or they with us) I think it's important to decide if in our desire to stick to our guns we may not be missing some important and credible critiques. Sometimes we can skip over that concern - goodness knows I'm not missing out on something lifechanging that could alter forever my appreciation of the cullinary arts when I mock trolls who make "sammich" jokes on feminist forums.

But outside of obvious trolls, I think it important to consider giving the poster the benefit of the doubt and holding back our desire to immediately squash debate.

For example, again going back to Slutwalk, this past summer the issue came up of persons of colour not being adequately represented within the Slutwalk movement. On its face, to supporters who have been aiming to be as inclusive as possible from the start, this was a distressing accusation. But, the Slutwalk founders listened to this criticism and are now endeavouring it make the Slutwalks better. (I talked more about it here)

I also think it valuable to have people who identify as feminist who have different ideas as to what being feminist entails. For example, there seems to be a huge division between feminists who support sex workers, including those who are voluntarily in the sex work industry and want to continue to be, and feminists who oppose sex work in all its forms, including stripping, pornography, and prostitution. I think both sides are needed, because there is no single solution to ending abuse of sex workers. There are sex workers who want safer work conditions within the industry, and sex workers who want to exit the industry and need supports set up to make that feasible. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, because to impose one would, in my opinion, disrespect the breadth of experience of those who are within the sex industries and have different needs.

It's not always easy to be able to discern in the moment (or even in hindsight), when one needs to stick to their guns, or shut down someone who's obviously trolling, or try to be more diplomatic and try to reach some sort of compromise. There have been times when I've dived head-first into snark and GIF parties when someone was honestly asking a question. There have been times when I've let a misogynistic dillweed lead the converstaion for the better part of a day because I was trying to be diplomatic. There will be many days to come, I'm sure, where I will fall flat on my face in the effort to weigh both sides. It's ok. I'll learn and I will continue to get better at it.

It's very important to note sometimes people may not word their disagreement terribly well. I have the benefit of a good education, with English as my first language, as well as a background education in advertising, and so what I want to say usually comes across the first time. Take someone with less impressive English skills and a subject that sparks a great deal of emotion, and you'll often come across a first post that reads like, "WTF IS RONG WIT U?!!!!!!!!!" Antagonistic, yes, and it doesn't give a heck of a lot to build on, but sometimes conversations that start off less than ideally can lead to a mutual understanding at the end.

When you come across a post that initally sends your blood pressure through the roof, I urge you to consider reading it a couple times before responding. And when you do, I hope you'll consider posting questions to draw out the crux of the poster's concern to ensure it doesn't lead to people needlessly ALL-CAPS RAGING past each other when it might be the result of a misunderstanding.

Given the current cultural climate, I want to make clear that, despite all this nice talk of diplomacy, there are some issues where there can be no middle ground. If I'm talking to someone who thinks women are like cattle, there is no middle ground to be had. If I'm talking to someone who believes the rights of a zigote always trump a woman's right to bodily autonomy, there's no middle ground to be had. If I'm talking to someone who believes that women who dress like sluts deserve to be raped, there is no middle ground to be had. These, and many more issues like these, require a hard-line stance. That doesn't negate the ability to be open about other topics, and the ability to be open about other topics doesn't undermine the importance of drawing the line at these topics. One doesn't have to be one or the other at all times ever. Human interaction is more nuanced than that.

But, legit, the attacks on women's health care are bullshit.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Just because they're awesome, doesn't mean they can't be awful

Don't hate! He helped me with that thing that time!

I keep coming back to this issue, and it is such a frustrating one. Someone says or does something problematic (in some circumstances illegal and horrific), and yet they have supporters who will try to dismiss the seriousness of the offense because of how "good" or "nice" or "honourable" the person is. Other than that thing. And potentially that long series of things committed against minors in their charge over a span of decades.

On the one hand, I get it. Someone you care about personally, and/or respect a great deal is being challenged and you want to protect them. They were there for you before, or you've read some of their great speeches/ books/ published papers, etc, and it distresses you that someone so amazing is being insulted in this way.

I get that it can be very hard to listen to criticisms of people we love. When a stranger is making accusations against them, our first instinct is often to go into mama-bear mode and protect them, regardless of the substance or severity of the accusation.

Take for example, my mom. My mom's super. Sometimes I have issues with my mom. Sometimes my sister and I talk about issues we're having with our mom. But if anyone else outside that tiny circle of my sis and I start talking smack about my mom, I won't stand for that. That's when I go into the "My mom's a saint! You best back off my mom lest I bring your mom's faults into this!"-sort of mode. So, I get the reaction. I do.

The thing is, sometimes the people we love and respect make bad decisions. Sometimes they may be good to us but horrifically terrible to others. Sometimes even when they're not that great to us we still feel a sense of loyalty that urges us to defend them.

This is obviously problematic. First off, it largely leads to victim-blaming. If we are so unwilling to believe that someone we know/ trust/ respect, etc, is capable of being anything but awesome, despite all evidence to the contrary, there really is no place else to go but to blame and/or disbelieve their accusers.

Putting people on pedestals is unhealthy. Full-stop. No one is perfect and absolutely no one deserves to be revered as more than human. Not our parents, our partners, our religious leaders, our political leaders, our teachers, our bosses, our siblings, movie stars, professional athletes, scientists, political activists, no one. Everybody has flaws and blindspots, because we're all raised in an imperfect culture that teaches us, up front and subliminally, very problematic things. We need to see them as human and fallible so we can both genuinely appreciate the good things they do despite their regular flaws (as in, non-criminal, non-oppressive flaws like not practicing dental hygene, not knowing how to parallel park, having the audacity to have cellulite, not being omnisciently intelligent, etc), and to hold them accountable when necessary.

Also, by defending people despite their problems, we are preventing them from becoming better people. We learn through our mistakes, but only if we acknowledge they are mistakes. If someone is making sexist comments and they're being egged on to not apologize because they're already oh-so-awesome the way they are, that can prevent them from self-growth in stepping beyond their misogynistic beliefs. If loving and admiring someone depends on them maintaining their misogyny, then they're not the only person with the problem.

In the more serious cases of heroes committing crimes, if you think that a person's positive contributions are more important than them being held accountable for the crimes they've committed, welcome to rape culture. You're in it.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Just play by these rules and you'll be fine

Let's play a game, shall we? Let's pretend this is only a game and not relevant to real life and that there really is a way to win.*

Now, in this game, you are a white, able-bodied ciswoman. You have class privilege from growing with up two parents who are not rich but are solidly middle-class and in a healthy, non-abusive family environment. What luck!

Now, in this game, pick one of the two:
  1. a) date or have dated people who are not 100% respectful of you.
    b) only date people who are 100% respectful of you at all times.
  2. a) have had sexual contact outside of marriage
    b) are saving your viriginity for marriage
  3. a) don't have kids
    b) have kids
  4. a) are utilizing some form of birth control
    b) are not utilizing any form of birth control
  5. a) are conventionally attractive
    b) are not conventionally attractive
  6. a) are an atheist or agnostic
    b) practice a particular religion
  7. a) are married and your partner makes more money than you do
    b) are married and you make more than your partner does
  8. a) imbibe legal and government-regulated intoxicating substances
    b) do not partake of any intoxicating substances
  9. a) you're married
    b) you're not married
  10. a) you are not constantly thinking about your personal safety
    b) you are hyper-vigilant about your personal safety
  11. a) you are knowledgeable about rape myths, and take calculated risks 
    b) you abide by every single "safety tip" just in case
Ok, pencils down! Let's see how you did!

In the interest of full-disclosure, I feel it's only fair to let you know it's all downhill from here.

  1. a) Women only date assholes because they like being abused! - minus 5 points!
    b) Why don't you give him a chance? As if you're so perfect. - minus 10 points!
  2. a) You've had sex with how many people? You disgusting slut! - minus 20 points!
    b) You're waiting for sex until marriage? What a prude. You're probably a dyke. - minus 8 points!
  3. a) You don't have kids because you're focussed on your career? What a sad, empty life you must lead. - minus 50 points!
    b) You don't have a job because you stay at home with the kids? What a waste of potential. - minus B^2 points!
  4. a) You use birth control? You must be a slut. - minus (Pi)R ^2 points!
    b) You didn't use birth control? You're such a stupid slut. - minus 100 points!
  5. a) You're so beautiful. You could get any guy, so you must be a slut. - minus 150 points!
    b) You're so ugly. You must have to be a slut to get anyone to pay attention to you. - minus 42 points!
  6. a) You're an atheist? No wonder you have no morals. - minus 500 points!
    b) You're a (insert religion here)? No wonder you're a mindless sheep. - minus the square root of infinity points!
  7. a) Your husband is rich? You must be shallow and just with him for the money. - minus 37 points!
    b) You make more money than your husband? How immasculating. How does he put up with that? - minus 73 points!
  8. a) You like to drink booze? You're such a dirty lush. - minus 60proof points!
    b) You're straight-edge? What an uptight bitch. - minus 100 percent points!
  9. a) You're married? How were you able to fool him into getting stuck with you? - minus calculus points!
    b) You're not married? You musn't be good enough to get any man to want to stick with you. - minus a googleplex points!
  10. a) Don't be so naive and trusting! All men are rapists! - minus uber lots of points!
    b) Why don't you trust men? You must hate them. - minus (GDP of Brazil) points!
  11. a) Don't go down dark alleys because you'll get raped! - minus a bazillionty points!
    b) You never take chances. You're timid and pathetic. What do you think's gonna happen? The boogeyman gonna get you? - MINUS ALLLLL THE POINTS!!!!!!1!!1!1!!!ELEVENTY!1!!

This image isn't mine, I was linked to it on Tumbler after I wrote this blog post.

And, you lose! Yay! What a fun game! Now, let's play again, only now you're non-caucasian, disabled, LGBTTQQ, poor, etc. You lose even more! Stop playing because your losing is harshing my buzz!!!!!

Now, for something completely different (because I don't wanna play that game any more, either).


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Meetings. Ugh.

Today's Tuesday, which means the weekly tech meeting. Unfortunately, I'm not busy enough to excuse skipping or running out on the meeting. Blargh. And, to top it all off, the creator of the Dilbert comic is a big, misogynistic bag of poop, so I can't even post one of his comics to relay my feelings about work meetings.

My life is so hard.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Kill all rapists! Now that I've proven I'm anti-rape, onto some victim-blaming *content warning*

*see a couple editorial additions at the bottom of the post, updated March 6, 2012

You know what I think is fun? Watching an action movie and submersing myself in suspension of disbelief that the protagonist of the movie is totally capable of kicking all that ass.

A totally accurate portrayal of how much ass I kick every. Single. Day.

It's easy to imagine myself in the role of the good guy, and to imagine totally kicking ass if I were to come face-to-face with "real life" bad guys. Heck, if I talk to any one of my friends or acquaintances and ask them how they'd deal with someone threatening their family, a pretty standard response would be something to the effect of "kill them and poop on them and then go drink a celebratory beer".

Now, when it comes to the issue of how to reduce rapes, a common suggestion is to "kill rapists" or "imprison them for life", or some other serious punishment to match the grievous nature of the crime. And I don't disagree that in all-too-many cases, convicted rapists are given pitiful sentences that do nothing to deter recidivism or others from committing the same crimes.

My issue is that stating, "all rapists should be shot on sight", is not only unrealistic, but not helpful and actually is a big part of the rape myths that are culture perpetuates.

You might be asking yourself, "Huh? What the... whose side are you on?!!!!" Let me give some context to clarify why the "shooting rapists" stance is really unhelpful.

The message of, "all rapists should be shot" tells survivors a few things:
  • If you had been targetted, you'd have fared better, and they're a "bad" or "weak" victim for not having gone all Rambo on their attacker. This all-too-often turns into victim-blaming, in a "Well, I would have just round-house kicked their skull off their shoulders, so clearly you didn't do enough to not get raped,"-sorta way.
  • Given that the stakes are so high, their rape had better have been "rapey" enough, otherwise the survivor will be "ruining the life" of the perpetrator "for nothing".
  • If they report their assault, the perceived validity of their claim is going to be weighed against the value of the life of the perpetrator. God help them if the perpetrator is perceived as having a greater societal value than them.
Back in January I talked about "Who are these "Hollywood-esque" rapists?", because I wanted to raise the issue that our cultural assumptions about rapists being these physically-deformed, drooling, caricatures is largely incorrect. Most rapists are known to their victims; they're friends, partners, family members, coworkers of the people they attack.

When you talk about "shooting rapists", you're more likely to be talking about shooting doctors, lawyers, dads, husbands, wives, Sunday school teachers, than about some homeless psychopath that lurks in alleys and eats rodents. This matters when we're already up against the seemingly insurmountable task of getting police, crown attorneys, judges, jury members, etc, to take charges against these people seriously.

One of the reasons why rapes largely go unreported is because survivors fear not being believed. If the assault was not violent and relied on coercion or incapacitation, then there's the stigma of the survivor not having had done enough to prevent the assault and "therefore" it's not "really rape". This isn't just an unsubstantiated fear. Who you are, who your attacker is, how much you or they drank, what you were wearing, whether or not you've had sex before, etc, are all things that are still used to excuse not laying charges or convicting a rapist of the crimes they've committed.

Take one circumstance under which rape happens that is still excused and brushed off as "not rape rape" - i.e., "date rape". Assume that the rape in question was non-violent, but facilitated by alcohol, or by relentless coercion, or by threats, or simply by a larger person using their mass against the victim. Now, imagine you're sitting on a jury and your job is to decide whether this rapist should be put to death. Not as simple as when it's the crazy stranger in the alley.

Another reason is the survivor's potentially complicated relationship with the assailant. Maybe it was their boss, their doctor, their pastor, their coach, or someone else who has an authoritarian role over them. Maybe it was a family member, and disclosure would cause family members to have to choose sides. Maybe it was a spouse, and disclosure could compromise the survivor's housing and ability to support their children. Maybe it was the partner of a sibling, best friend, etc, and disclosure could compromise the relationship between the survivor and the assailant's spouse.

Take any of the above scenarios, consider the difficulty of reporting an assault in those scenarios, and then add the threat of violent death of the assailant, and you may see why that rhetoric can deter survivors from seeking justice.

Basically, we need to open our understanding of the often messy relationships between assailants and their victims, and of how rape happens in order for talk of stern punishments to have any positive effect and not have the opposite effect of causing less rapists to be convicted of the crimes they commit.

Now, take that stance of "kill all rapists"-sort-of-attitude and combine it with "people who falsely report a rape should get as much jailtime as rapists", and you've got a double-whammy against survivors.

This isn't even remotely rhetorical. Remember when I posted about RINJ a couple times, and their bizarre, ally-alienating tactics? Well, it seems they've decided to shuffle off their thin veil of supporting survivors of sexual violence and have now dived head-first into advocating jailtime for the supposed huge numbers of false-reporters because, uh, that will encourage people to come forward to report the crimes against them? Even though not all true cases of rape have enough evidence to go to trial? Which means that someone could then be accused of fabricating rape allegations and be sentenced to jail time while their attacker goes unpunished? And, that encourages survivors how?

A group of anti-rape activists and people generally disgusted by RINJs tactics have come together to set up a blog to highlight some of the more insidious and sketchy aspects of this "organization" and its participants.

The ones that relate to victim-blaming and "false rape allegations" are here, here, and here. Read at your own risk of cranial trauma from all the /headdesking.

Long story short, just stating that punishments for rape should be tougher will do worse than nothing if we don't keep doing the hard work to dismantle this rape culture and change an atmosphere where victims currently are under greater scrutiny than the accused. This doesn't mean tossing everyone who is accused of rape in jail without trial, but it does mean we need to shut down the bullshit arguments that people make false rape accusations all willy nilly out of spite because they're just so easy to do. The "false accusation" argument is a rape myth, and combined with the reality of who rapists are, it does a lot of damage to survivors.

So, if you really do want rapists to be held accountable with greater conviction rates and longer incarcerations, there's more work to be done than just chanelling Liam Neeson.

Or, for that matter, Leslie Nielsen.

EDIT TO ADD: There are a couple of points that I don't think I was terribly clear on that I would like to expand upon. This post is largely aimed at persons who have not experienced sexual violence and who use the exaggerated threat of violence against "rapists" as a way to avoid having to do the hard work of really understanding how rape more often happens in our society. Survivors often wish death and all manner of grievous harm upon their assailants, and I do not begrudge them that emotion. They already live with the realities of surviving rape and with how inadequately the justice system often responds to reports of these crimes.

In regards to what exactly we can do to appropriately punish rapists who are convicted of the crimes they've committed, I don't exactly know. I just know that acquittal and house arrest and general slaps on the wrist serve neither justice for the survivor nor a deterrent to the perpetrator. I'm open to opinions from those more informed on reparative and reformative justice to adequately punish perpetrators and diminish the risk they pose to the public if and when they are released back into the general population.