So remind me, who are the haters? Who are the ‘phobes’?
This kind of cyber-bullying – particularly of women – is becoming increasingly common: it illuminates a dark side of the internet and social media which, terrifying as it is, should not be allowed to discourage us from utilizing these tools to our advantage and betterment.
The words of intelligent, perceptive and loving chroniclers of the human condition such as Moore are worth a million of these nasty little messages – but isn’t amazing how much of a person’s true character they betray so succinctly.
Along with Operation Yewtree’s exposure of sexual violence perpetrated by once-loved showbiz institutions come the predictable bad-taste jokes…
‘My wife wanted me to spice up our sex life and meke her feel young again – the white wig and cigar didn’t go down too well…’
‘I hear Rolf Harris has dropped “Two Little Boys” from his set for the upcoming tour…’
…and so on…
The ‘rape joke’ is arguably comedy’s most contentious trope. Racist and homophobic jokes pretty much disappeared from comedy routines back in the ’90s, even if they’ve made a belated comeback appended with an ironic wink. It’s the nature of comedy to push the boundaries of decency and acceptability but it’s telling that concessions to the sensibilities of minority groups so often don’t extend to women. Comics don’t really know – and the best of them will admit, as Henning Wehn did at a gig at a gig in in Lewes recently – whether their routine is actually funny or just offensive until the crowd laughs: the other side of the coin is that the audience really doen’t know what it finds funny until the comic points it up with his ironic aside; her barbed observation. Actually, what’s really funny falls broadly into two interconnected categories: the truth, and the lies and misdirection we deploy to skirt uncomfortably around it.
You know the guy’s onto something when he can riff on sexual violence and feminists praise him for it. In fact, he has received some harsh criticism and abuse, via Twitter and Youtube, and mostly from those he refers to as ‘the rapey man brigade’. Because he tells a truth that they and many others don’t want to hear; a truth that is – in this case, literally – laughable.
There was nothing funny about the reaction of certain elements within the gaming community when feminist (and avid video game fan) Anita Sarkeesian launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a study of the portrayal of gender within video games… except… well isn’t it funny, deeply ironic , that the mere prospect of such study being prompted an outpouring of exactly the kind of hostile, misogynistic sentiments that her project sought to expose: an irony one suspects, that said gamers were blissfully oblivious to. But the backlash to the backlash is the real story: in the same way that Mark Williams-Thomas‘ Exposed… documentary enabled so many of Savile‘s victims to come forward with their stories and seek catharsis, even justice, of a kind; so Sarkeesian‘s campaign, or rather the backlash against it, emboldened others equally discomfited by the culture of sexism within gaming to make their voices heard. Games may be ficticious, much as pornography and Hollywood are ficticious (and at least game producers don’t have to grapple with the ethics of employing real actors and actresses – though on reflection that might be a problem in itself) but if the end user is oblivious to the fiction then the distinction (between it and truth) is arguably moot.
You have to stir the waters to bring the detritus, and the treasure, to the surface.
Like Sarkeesian, Kilstein dares to tell the truth. making said distintion clear. Like Sarkeesian, he brings down a shitstorm onto his head; from conservatives – that means people who want things to stay as they are; people who fear change: which specifically means men – and admittedly, some women too – who want to keep on raping, keep on getting away with raping and/or enjoy for themselves the dubious benefits of a society in which rape and the nebulous threat of rape (amonst other violences) provides them with political, social and economic capital. And like Sarkeesian, Kilstein is brave enough to go public and face down his critics; albeit thru the medium of satire.
‘… They would call me some kind of homophobic slur (a frequent conservative trope, to conflate disparate, albeit commonly politically-subversive positions: homosexuality, liberalism, feminism, leftism etc…) or they would be like “I hope you get raped”, “I’m raping someone you know” (and ludicrously) “I’m gonna rape a steak” (but note the parity in content and tone with the Sarkeesian backlash). My favorite were, there were like some homophobes that combined their homophobia and rape so they’d be like “I’m gonna rape you, queer!” And I mean that’s kind of progressive, sorta liberal of the guy like “Oh I hate gay people so much but I hate you more I’m gonna get over my fucking fear of gay people when I rape the shit out of you.” I was like “I’ll take one for the team on that…’
From a critical standpoint it’s crucial that Kilstein is satirizing misogynistic attitudes, not mocking or belittling rape victims, in contrast to the kind of rape ‘jokes’ that rightly draw much feminisic ire: from a comedic standpoint, less so: that ‘jokes’ may superficially reinforce predjudice doesn’t necessarily render them unfunny. In much the same way that it’s not fair or reasonable to project the responsibilty for violence onto its victim – or indeed, media, guns or ‘society’ at large – nor is it fair or reasonable to project the responsibility for verbal offence onto the ‘offender’. This might at first glance appear contradictory but it highlights an intrinsic difference between verbal and physical offence: one can learn from and combat a sexist/racist/homophobic ‘joke’ or comment in real time – and via the internet, forever more – in a way that a victim of rape or shooting can’t. We have a shared responsibility to engage in a public discourse where the violent underbelly of our so-called civilised society is concerned. (Kilsten’s) comedy has a valid role to play here:i
‘Men always say women have it so easy because they can get laid whenever they want. Why, a woman can just walk down the street, point to a dick and, before she can count her lucky stars, that dick will be inside of her. I wish I had women chasing me at every turn! I could just walk down the street by myself at 3 in the morning and be like “Which one of these ladies is gonna take me to street-fuck land?” Sometimes they wanna fuck me so bad, they are literally chasing me in a frantic, horny, serial-killer-like state! Sometimes, with a weapon, probably to show me he has other talents than chasing! Some girls may say this is assault, but the onus is on the girl, for being out at A PLACE and WEARING THINGS! The world is your orgy!’
The tragedy – and which gives Kilstein‘s satire its edge – is that too many men and women buy into exactly this kind of hype. Victim-blaming is endemic in our culture and nowhere more so than where violence against women is concerned; in her 1988 essay M’learned Friends (British feminist) Joan Smith wrote, ‘Some of the assumptions that USED TO [?] apply routinely in the area of coercive sexuality immediately come to light: most strikingly, the idea that men live their lives on a hair trigger and can be provoked to violence by the most insignificant stimulus, a notion which parallels the old proposition that women must behave with circumspection at all times because of men’s uncontrollable sexual urges.’ (my emphasis). But not everyone accepts this cynical reading of human relations. Earlier in the same polemic, Smith quotes one Justice Rougier in his summing up of a 1988 case of indecent assault and GBH over which he presided: ‘Women … are entitled to dress attractively, even provocatively if you like, be friendly with casual acquaintances and still say no at the end of the evening without being brutally assaulted … you broke her jaw just because she wasn’t prepared to go to bed with you.’ Even in 1988, a man more representative than most of male privilege and power was able to recognize the existence and pervasiveness of a rape culture. By this time Savile had been getting away with enacting his violence for over two decades. To date, admittedly scanty reports on the progress of Yewtree nonetheless suggest he was a far-from-isolated case. The price of denying said rape-enabling culture is exemplified by 500+ belated reports of devastating violence and intimidation perpetrated by Savile, his colleagues, colluders, apologists and deniers in the media; and there’s every reason to believe that that’s the tip of a very large iceberg. And here’s the thing: rape works. It intimidates and silences people. It’s taken 40 years for Savile‘s crimes to be openly discussed and taken seriously: which is why media players such as Sarkeesian and Kilstein, as well as survivors of Savile ought to be deserving of our praise.
Today I was planning on posting an update of my thoughts on the Jacintha Saldanha controversy in light of the confirmation of her suicide and the involvement of Keith Vaz. But this video clip (below) was waiting for me in my inbox when I got in from work – I subscribe to Upworthy, from whence it came – and it hit me like a sucker-punch. I’m resisting succumbing to my oftentimes tendency to waffle on at length, well too much length anyway, because honestly the clip says it all:
The clip discusses threats of violence against women, including rape and harrassment threats, so a TRIGGER WARNING is appropriate:
I’d actually caught wind of this story before, via a link in Jason Hirschhorn’s Media ReDEFined newsletter; and via other linked pages had had a taste of the extent of the problem – sexist cyber-bullying of women, especially those offering feminist critiques of media – but watching Sarkeesian‘s TED presentation really condensed its import and its impact.
Pause the clip at 2.45 and actually read the comments; and then bear in mind that, as Sarkeesian says, this is just ‘…a small selection…’ from the thousands she received:
‘Fuck you and your family with a pipe’ ‘I hope you get cancer’ ‘I’ll rape you and put your head on a stick…’
If you’re not saddened, angry and disgusted then you’re not human. Hell, I was crying, and didn’t really stop until around 10.20 when she revealed just how spectacularly she trounced the haters; how both women and men, within the gaming community and without, rejected the mob’s shock and awe tactics and got behind her campaign. At that point I broke into a daft grin and punched the air with a feeling of triumph on her behalf.
And hers is only one story. What’s even more shocking is that this kind of reaction isn’t confined to women on the internet in 2012: this is a version of the same kind of response that any oppressed person or group receives when they confront, or even dare to question the status quo; when they fight for the right for mainstream acceptance and recognition; to be valued and believed in. It happened to the Suffragettes; to the Black Civil Rights activists and their supporters; it happened to students in Tiannamen Square and rapees in courtrooms prosecuting their attackers; and it’s happening now to gay rights activists in Uganda. Raw, naked hatred is an ugly, unsettling thing; and the deeper, even uglier tragedy is that the energy thus channelled could be put to so much more productive use; would make both the antagonists and their undeserving objects of scorn so much happier and the world a safer place.
Maybe you think this is nothing to do with you; that as sad as it is it’s a problem for other people elsewhere and that you can’t possibly identify with it: you’re a man; you don’t play video-games; Feminism is an intellectual thing above your station and comprehension, or that despite the implications highlighted by Sarkeesian, this is an isolated incident and really not the big deal she’s making it out to be. Or maybe you’re just too shocked, and denial seems like the safest, least painful option? Well here’s an idea to consider: we’ve all had a taste, howsoever small, of the kind of violent, rejecting behaviour that greeted Sarkeesian when she launched her project: maybe you were bullied by your classmates at school; perhaps a spiteful ex posted those intimate snaps from a weekend away on Facebook in the throes of his/her rejection; how did it feel when your mother pulled down your underwear and thrashed your backside in a crowded shopping precinct for demonstrating typical childish exuberance and defiance; or turned their back on you after twenty years when you came out as gay? How did you feel? Shocked? humiliated? Powerless? Unloved? Can you bear to remember? If you can and you’re willing, then it behoves you to sympathize with Sarkeesian; not only with her pain, fear and anger, but also with her sense of achievement and victory when she prevailed. We humans are resilient beings, and what doesn’t kill us may well make us stronger if we can learn from the experience; but to learn implies we stare the experience in the face, with a feeling heart and a critical eye
If you possess the latter two qualities then you really had no need of reading this far: you were one step ahead all the way and I’ve told you nothing you didn’t already know. Make that knowledge count: spread the word. Make it known that this kind of behaviour is not okay; is not acceptable.
The internet and social media are full of potential and unlock the way to myriad new possibilities for human interaction and solidarity: they offer the opportunity to re-imagine a world where true democracy can triumph over the divisive forces of misogyny, classism and cultural divisions that demean us all and perpetuate a climate of fear and violence. Sarkeesian‘s success is proof of that potential, and she deserves our admiration and respect for it; and all the more for her preparedness to speak out with such bravery and forthrightness.