?

Log in

Western, Macleans, and Sarah being pissed

I've been feeling pretty down on myself the past few days--I'm reading, reading, reading all over the blogosphere, one horrifying situation after another relating to sexism, racism, violence, Christianity, media portrayal of everything. In other words, pretty much everything I take seriously in my life, ever. And I feel completely paralyzed. A lot of the time, the stuff I would contribute has already been said better by somebody else, or frankly, I have to make a point of pulling back from issues as the are in the U.S., because closely connected though our countries are, I am not American and it's getting to the point that I actually don't know much about what's happening in the country I actually do live in.

But then there's a situation right down the road from me, at the University of Western Ontario. The "spoof" article in question horrified me when I first read it (follow at your own risk).

First of all, I think "satirizing" a protest against violence against women and the fear culture in an article laden with violent, sexualized language, misses the point of satire by about a galaxy. Second, how anyone can claim that creating a caricature of feminists in which they talk about "their vaginas" as though they have conversations and take orders from their genitalia (literally--"My vagina told me she hates thongs...and what my vagina wants, my vagina gets") is not attempting to be dismissive of concerns about sexual violence...well, I think they're just crazy.

But then, the Maclean's article. And the responses (below). And I just get so depressed. First: kudos to the Students' Union (apparently, particularly the president) at Western for taking this seriously, and from what I've read on a blog that's been regularly updating this situation, for treating it as a situation where those in power shut up and listen to those most affected by this stuff. Golf-clap like kudos to the University administration for wanting to take a tough stance, but minus points for doing it in a way that comes off as entirely authoritarian and therefore suddenly makes this yet another issue about censorship. I couldn't read very far into the comments below that Maclean's article, because it immediately focused on the "freedom of the press" issues and started invoking the dreaded name of Orwell (seriously, can we make up some sort of Godwin's Law re: Orwell? Because comparisons to 1984 have got to be the most misused stoppers of reasoned conversation since comparisons to Hitler). I don't understand why people don't get that freedom of speech does give you the right to say what was in that "spoof", however offensive I find it, but it doesn't give you the right to get paid to say it under the banner of the UWO students' union.

And as with so many of the other issues that have been swirling around lately, the commenters feel that feminists are overreacting. Is that ever going to get old? The comments include disclaimers like "If it could be proved that there is a link between this and actual violence, then I would be the first to stand up, but..." At which point, where does one even begin? Is there a link between ridiculing people speaking up against sexual violence--and using sexualized, violent language to do it--and those people feeling afraid to continue to do so? Between that and the attitude of uncritical young male students who don't think rape is serious, who don't take women seriously and the ways that attitude influences their actions and the way they treat women? From my perspective: duh. From this guy's, we're going to need a documented case where some asshole turns to the article in question at his rape trial and says "I read in the newspaper that this was okay" before we're allowed to say there's a connection. One woman commented a little way in trying to bring perspective on women's fears, but she said "There have been two documented rape cases at York in the past few years". Yeah. Two. In the past few years. I don't know what she means by "documented", because even assaults that went unreported to the police may have been reported and "documented" in some form by the university, without being publicized to students. She's almost certainly referring only to "stranger danger" rape cases, and thereby ends up feeding right into the request of the man earlier who had said he needed to see a direct link, and to the general insane misunderstanding about the concept of "rape culture", of the real risks that women--particularly university students--face. TWO??? What the hell? Statistics vary, but 1/4 women being sexually assaulted "in their lifetimes" isn't a fringe number, and the highest risk group in adulthood is women 18-24. Nobody had mentioned that by the time I stopped reading the comments (that Maclean's itself neglected to mention it goes without saying).

What really makes me want to cry is that the Maclean's article says not once, but twice, that the spoof article "made no mention of rape". Made. No. Mention. Of. Rape. "Police Chief Murray Faulkner stopped greasing his nightstick and intervened. He grabbed the loudspeaker from Ostrich's wild vagina and took it into a dark alley to teach it a lesson. To Ostrich's dismay, the vagina followed, giggling as it said 'I love it when a man in uniform takes control'". For fuck's sake, I could write a dissertation on the layers of offensiveness in that. But, um: Maclean's? The most widely read and respected Canadian newsmagazine there is? Can you get your head out of your ass long enough to realize that what those sentences describe, right there? Is rape. Unquestionably, not-even-that-well-hidden, rape. Back alley rape, even, so it's the kind you should recognize. Does a guy have to say "I'm going to rape you now" for it to be rape? Because that's pretty much the message I'm getting regarding what you would consider a description or "mention of rape". And did any of the commenters pick up on this? Nope. At least not in the first twenty-five comments or so, and I don't think it's expecting too much of Maclean's readers to think they should notice.

Should I be writing a well thought out letter to Maclean's or posting a comment there myself? Probably. But I can't bring myself to read through all the comments that are already there, in order to ensure that I would be making the most informed comment possible. And honestly, I can't entirely bring myself to phrase that letter in such a way that I can be heard, because the terms of discourse over there have already been defined. It's an old, clichéd trope to realize that the voices of people who are emotional about oppression of all kinds--ie the women and the minority groups being oppressed--are dismissed precisely because of that emotion. Women who've experienced sexual violence can't have an "objective" opinion on the subject because they're too close to it. So the "objective" people over there at Maclean's are invoking the specter of Orwell, they're talking yet again about rape as a sidelined "special interest" issue (without using those terms, but that's what they're doing), and they're thinking about it in terms of "stranger danger".


Add to what I've been reading the fact that I've been experiencing example after example of harassment and intimidation personally, and every time, I find myself not finding the words to speak up about its unacceptability when it happens, not to mention everything else going on in my personal life, and I just feel completely emotionally exhausted. I'm going to rephrase something I said to kisekileia recently: Kick at the darkness til it bleeds daylight, my ass. I'd like my rocket launcher now, please, Mr. Cockburn.

Comments


I’m happy to admit that Labia’s treatment of the subject matter is greasy, if not juvenile. And it probably shouldn’t have been published in the official university paper for a wealth of reasons. I’m also sympathetic to the fact that a wealth of people were offended by the publication, and that it may compound and reinforce misogyny and trivialize rape for a slew of Saugeen-dwelling fraterno-barbarians. But I don’t think the article is the exposure of the smoking-gun of mainstream misogyny, either. And I firmly believe that the satire is legitimate even if it is uncomfortable. I'd like to point out a number of nuances within the piece because I feel you've overlooked a number of key signals that might complicate a reading of the article. (Also, go easy on me, eh? I only had like, an hour to prepare this response, and I’m not overly familiar with feminism as a concept or a discipline)

First, this caricature of Chief Faulkner as some sort of proto-human hate-troll is crucial to the arrangement of the piece. We might consider the chief of police – in both title and person - to be a symbol of masculine authority. By rendering a traditionally masculine authority figure – the chief of police – in such outrageous and defamatory terms, the author has remade the power of that office and in doing so, challenged the proscribed icons of masculine power. Consider Labia’s treatment of Faulkner. He is described as a brutal totalitarian who assumes the privilege of patriarchal narrative authority. Faulkner quite literally takes the megaphone - the apparatus which transmits voice - from Ostrich when her vagina challenges the observers. Faulkner further assumes his duty is to impose patriarchal authority – as personified by his office and the State principles that office suggests - on women – here personified as a literal talking vagina - through rape. This characterization of both Faulkner and his office in Labia is a gross exaggeration of stereotypical misogyny and an absurdist reduction, but the personification is none-the-less laden. It suggests at least in part, that the state is complicit in what you have termed as “rape culture” and is not particularly sympathetic to the phenomenon.

Of course, this reading of the text is problematized by Ostrich’s vagina’s submission to Faulkner’s lesson and indeed, Ostrich is portrayed in comparably unfavorable terms. (From herein, I’m going to use Ostrich interchangeably to refer to both her and her vagina, though I intend nothing pejorative in doing so.) Ostrich (the person) has been ridiculed in much the same manner as the chief: she is represented as a cartoon absurdity who permits her sex to speak for her – again, literally – and who stages highly-visible symbolic disruptions of convoluted symbolic oppression (exemplified by the rejection of the thong and the adoption of the nightgown). This is an archetypical feminist stereotype, and is akin to stereotypes perpetuated by misogynist pundits and armchair chauvinists throughout the hemisphere. But consider her submission to the chief, her ‘love for a man who takes control’ – it supposes a validation of the chief’s imposition, and ironically suggests that the Chief’s authority is legitimized by the submission. Indeed, it is Ostrich’s word that empowers the most disturbing and uncomfortable of the texts assertions. And that the chief’s authority – again, contextualized as rape - is granted license and reinforced by that submission is intensely loaded and far more ambiguous than you have suggested. It implies that both active and passive acceptance of rape (and it confuses the active with the passive) permits the continuation of rape as a phenomenon and accordingly enables its’ perpetrators.
Go easy on you? Am I ever really that hard on you? Plus, aren't you a vicious arguing robot machine that, were this a B-horror movie, would menace young sensitive me until the day on which I actually did get my hands on that rocket launcher?

Next, my own disclaimer: I do think the original offending piece is more complex than the simplistic misogyny I attached to it in my post, but I mainly wanted to focus on the fact that it's that misogyny--which to me is the most obvious thing about the article--that is being either actively denied ("No mention of rape"???) or dismissed (by appealing to the very "hysterical feminist" image being ridiculed in the first place, or by focusing on other issues) by both the Maclean's authors and the commenters there and on several other forums relating to this and other similar news stories.

What you come up with in a hour covers a hell of a lot. I absolutely agree with you that the portrayal of the police chief here is ludicrous and horrendously offensive. It's possible, given the principles of satire, that this boorishness does ultimately serve as an "absurdist reduction" and possible deconstruction of masculine authority, especially if it requires sexual submission and becomes so obviously laden with insecurity.

I would maybe be a lot more comfortable with the satire here if a) I had any faith that the writer of the article could spell half the words in your post, let alone define them, and more importantly b) it weren't using mocking techniques that people actually believe. As a case in point on police issues, another blog I read today linked a story about three female police officers who had been called "hos" by their C.O. during roll call as they were asked to stand (they refused, and another officer "jokingly" called out "You forgot to say 'nappy-headed' hos, sir"), which shows a real life example of the fact that I don't think we have enough distance between actual sexist authoritarianism among police to make this kind of commentary in such a half-assed way. Second, the entire paragraph about Ostrich's "submission" to the rape is way, way too close to the common idea that women (all of them) really do just want to be dominated, and that even when raped, they'll ultimately enjoy it. It's a variation on "she was asking for it" that says "Her mouth said no, but her body said yes" as a post-hoc justification or revisionist view of a rape.

So yes, the article is more complicated than I suggested in my post (though I did say I could write a dissertation on it), but in my opinion, it's worse. I don't think the submission is ambiguous in terms of its offensiveness, though I agree that the message there is also that the authority, political and sexual and using a metonymy more complicated than they realize, is not just supported but desired by the women. The problem is that the satire here is far below the level that breaks through things that people actually believe, such that it's the kind of bullshit that presents as a daring and scathing critique of hegemonic beliefs stuff that's completely mainstream, not to mention horrifyingly offensive. Also, the fact that it relies so heavily on tired stereotypes means it's just not remotely funny.

(now you go easy on me, but mostly just because I'm really tired)
Yes, the Robot I am, but the Robot has sensitivity antannae that may erect an ego-force field that can occasionally be damaged, depending on whether the robot recognizes his human conditioning or not. And the robot is occasionally complicated and confused by input.

Anyways, I don't believe that Ostrich's submission is a simple distortion of the "she was asking for it" stereotype, nor is it intended to reinforce that pervailing perception. Firstly, Ostrich does not "ask for it" in the piece. Ostrich willfully submits to Ostrich's brutal imposition of narrative, as personified by rape, and then legitimates the imposition by embracing that domination. (Don't worry, I'm not a total robot. I do cringe when I read that passage.) But the treatment is so absurd, such a gross exaggeration of the stereotypical view that it cannot be read as a favourable characterization of the phenomenon. Ostrich's submission stands in as an indicatator of both passive attitudes towards rape and active dismissal of the phenomenon. And in this sense, Ostrich's submission functions more like that of the Slave in Jeunet's "the Balcony" (less artuflly, surely) than it does as some sado-fraternalistic wet-dream. This is the ambiguity is am suggesting.
I prefer to reduce things to simplest terms:

The article seeks to expose the "truth" that women campaigning against rape really, really just want to get laid.

That's all the analysis I find valid in this case. Any confusion? Swap genders in the story, and have the guy's assholes giggling and chasing cock. That clears it right up.

I did enjoy the comment that was (when I checked) just under the Macleans article: a guy saying that some of the OTHER articles in that edition of the paper were only more offensive. That he hadn't found this article all THAT offensive, but when he read it with the others there was a clear pattern of belittling rape.
The simplest terms helps...I babble extraordinarily well when I'm tired, as with last night. Also, there were a few comments on the Macleans piece that said it was only offensive in context, and I honestly just didn't know where to start with those.

But...swapping genders in the story actually makes it more complicated in my brain, partially because I just can't imagine how it would be written, so outside the normative view is that suggestion. Which makes me wonder if, had it been done THAT way, and by someone with some brains, it could have been an effective satire pointing out just how ludicrous it is to say these things over and over about women. It would be challenging, and it would still be offensive, but it has the possibility of actually being satire.
I wasn't reacting to your analysis, but rather ridiculo's, but I didn't make that clear, sorry. It was plausible and well-thought out, but... no. I do not see that they were putting that much effort in. It was just your basic, "Oh, you KNOW all you hos just really wanna get laid" dismissal. And I thought maybe a story in which guys were denying they wanted to be raped by other guys, but their assholes were off giggling and seeking out cock, that might just come across.

You really can't just "flip genders" on this stuff - if you could, it wouldn't be institutionalized. It's that Orwell thing again: what at stereotype can you present about white men that actually does them any harm? We already have stereotypes about how they're morons, chronic adulterers, and prone to violence. Yet they just chuckle and say, "Yeah, I know" and go right on running the country. Enforce the stereotype that women are morons, and it takes us 2000 years to get the vote and the right to work.

Funny how that little difference of "who the system works for" makes all the difference in the power of stereotypes.
I don't buy for one second that this individual supposes that "all hos just really wanna get laid" nor is he trying to suggest that this would be a legitimate or reasonable perspective. And I'm not in favour of the simplest terms here, because the piece exagerrates gender, violence and character in such outrageous terms that it cannot possible be read as an indicator of literal truth, nor should it be taken as a clear representation of this individuals politic or cultural perspective. THe only literal 'truth' that i can garner from the piece is that its author is an iconoclast and probably wreckless.
You may be right, but I have a lot of experience with people who DO believe that as a literal truth and told jokes and stories similar to this one to express that.

And again, one of the commenters in the MacLeans thread pointed out that the same newspaper contained several articles that seemed even more indicative of an attitude which dismisses rape as trivial humor fodder.
Yikes. intimidating intelligence of family and friends. I can't really say i have any deep insight into what this article was really supposed to be communicating, but the one thing that stands out to me is that the article seems less like an attack on feminism than it does an attack on people who attack feminists. "cocky mcfratboy" ends off the whole deal, and every male figure in the piece is an absurd character who wacks off to women in nightgowns. Perhaps i'm missing the point. It certainly is in bad taste, nonetheless.
This reading makes the most sense to me.
The thing about that reading, and what betacandy and I have been trying to get across, is that strange as it may sound if you don't pay much attention to discussion of feminist issues, that portrayal of the men is not absurdist enough. I don't quite know how to communicate how closely it matches up with actual anti-feminist mockery. Add to that the way the "Take Back the Night" marchers themselves are being represented, which is not correspondingly complimentary in order to make it obvious that "cocky mcfratboy" is boorishly and violently attacking a rational, valid and important viewpoint. *If* the women in the story appeared smart and sympathetic (from a literary characterization perspective), then the response would seem disproportionately ludicrous.

As it is, making both the feminist protesters and the counteractors into moronic walking genitalia is an awful lot like saying "This whole debate (ie about the relevance of sexual violence) is stupid", which generally puts the onus on the women to shut up about it.

But also: Thanks for the intelligence compliment, Joe; I've been feeling pretty intimidated myself lately by many others.