March 10, 2011

rape culture

Filed under:, , , , , — cwage @ 3:27 am

I don't know why, but rape and rape culture seem to have been cropping up in my reading material a lot lately. I don't know if it's just coincidence, or maybe my broken google reader recommendations or what. I spent a good long while reading about and contemplating the Penny Arcade "dickwolves" controversy. If you don't know what that is, I'd recommend reading the previous link, but in a nutshell, it boils down to: Penny Arcade dudes publish a comic joking about dickwolves raping people in the night, and feminist blogs criticizing it for promoting rape culture (because Rape is Never Funny) and the whole thing becomes a giant clusterfuck of Internet retardation escalating to the point of death threats. (via twitter, but still).

Skip forward a few months, and I'm contemplating the meaning and ramifications of Odd Future's choice of misogyny and rape as subjects. Is it art? Is it saying something? Is it promoting "rape culture"? Food for thought.

Then my friend Melissa sends me an article about Colin Meloy's persistent rape-culture-promoting misogyny. Wait, what? Colin Meloy? The Decemberists? Come again? But no, really. I could crudely paraphrase the article's angle as: Colin Meloy writes a lot about bad things happening to women a lot. He does it ironically by framing it in old-timey cadence and language. But if you strip away the irony, it's just violence towards women. Thus he's a misogynist. Well, yes, if you .. remove irony, it becomes no longer ironic. Funny how that works. Colin Meloy also pens epics involving plenty of other Bad Things to all sorts of non-women -- but hey, let's not mention those, because that would undermine our point that Colin Meloy is a rape-culture-promoting woman hater, right?

So, excepting for the Odd Future thing, which is arguably a little more complicated, most of these examples are stupid. Colin Meloy writing about a woman prostituting herself is not condoning it. A comic with a joke about dickwolves (which are imaginary, by the way) raping is not promoting rape culture. When I came to this conclusion, it angered me, because not only is it stupid to accuse them of promoting rape culture -- it's actively dangerous.

Why? Rape culture is a real thing. In many very real ways, we do live in a rape culture, where misogyny and rape are subtly or overtly condoned. It's a real thing, and it's a very bad thing. So when you have bullshit like this taking the spotlight of attention, we have a very real signal-to-noise problem. There are actual ways in which rape culture and misogyny are promoted, and they are insidious and hard to identify. But when they are, they should be confronted headon.

Which brings me to this story about the gang-rape of an 11 year old girl in the New York Times. Many have identified some pretty odd and mysterious choices by the author, best explained by this recent Mother Jones article. Short version: the story refers to the men (18 men that raped an 11 year old girl) being "drawn into" the rape. The story includes only 3 quotes: one bemoaning the destruction of the community, one asking where her mother was, and another bemoaning the destruction of the community. And lastly, an account that "some said" she hung around a playground, and "they" noted that "she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s". The relevance of this (unsourced) quote is unclear. It's also unclear why we could get an unsourced quote blaming the victim, but not a sourced quote of anyone empathizing with the 11 year old girl that just got raped. Not one.

When I first encountered this story, it was via a petition on change.org -- a petition which, incidentally, is a little over the top and calls for some silly actions, but I digress. When I discussed this article with some friends, they dismissed it out of hand. It's the New York Times, come on. They are just reporting. If "some say" that the 11-year old girl dressed like a 20-year old, it's their JOURNALISTIC DUTY to report that. Apparently, though, it's not their journalistic duty to get even one quote from someone saying "hey it sure is fucked up that 18 guys raped an 11 year old girl". I mean hey, it's just the New York Times, right? The discussion then derailed into some brief criticism of change.org and how froufrou their causes look, and the conversation fizzled. I'd characterize their response as "eh, just another bullshit accusation of rape culture".

What I'm getting at is: people are used to accusations of misogyny and promoting rape culture being complete bullshit. Because so, so many of them are. And now, when one legit and valid example of real rape culture is highlighted, it gets lost or dismissed out of hand. I'm not excusing the dismissal, because it's lazy, and it's not that hard to read the article and see it. But to me this is a real problem.

Rape is a terrible, terrible thing. But it's not the only terrible thing, and it's not sacrosanct. People are going to make comics, pen songs, write novels, and tell jokes about rape -- just like they do about many other terrible things. And when they do, it doesn't (always) mean they are promoting rape culture. Constant misplaced/false accusations of it are only muddying the stream to the point that no one can see clearly -- and they're shrugging in apathy instead.

So, you know.. stop it.