Monday, June 10, 2013
Confronting Rape Culture
In reflecting back before I wrote this post, I remember hearing fewer people in my life make "jokes" about rape or make comments supporting rape culture in the last few years. I believe this is due to most of my friends or acquaintances are involved in higer education in some way and have been confronted about how inappropriate comments that support rape culture truly are for the work they are doing (I also avoid the cesspool of comments on YouTube and I turn off the volume of other players when I play video games online). However there have been signs that this trend is not a reflection of the society around me. There have been several incidents over the course of the last few years in which comedians or politicians make jokes that belittle the impact that rape has on survivors or make comments that promote rape culture. One incident that sticks out in my mind, and is most directly relevant, is from Daniel Tosh. The incident involved Tosh telling an audience member that it'd be funny if she was raped. This was written about and put on tumblr and had many responses from social commentators from around the web including one from the Daily Beast.
Fast forward to last week, W Kamau Bell had a segment on his show titled Comic vs. Feminist where Lindy West, a blogger for Jezebel.com, debated with Jim Norton, a comic who is known for his shock value, about whether comedians' can make jokes about rape.
From my perspective, the basic premise of Jim Norton's argument was that comics have free speech and they need to be able to make jokes about any topic they choose in order to do fill their role. Norton added that comics shouldn't "get in trouble" when they're trying to be funny. Norton then defined trouble as when people get together and encourage advertisers to drop their funding. He claimed that the market should dictate what is on TV and whether advertisers fund certain shows (in my
Lindy West's point was that we all have the right to call out people when they're contributing to a culture that promotes violence and, more specifically, rape. And calling those people out can and should include some kind of protest that involves holding them accountable to their words by making their sponsors aware of what messages they are sponsoring.
I was, and still am, fully on the side of Lindy West during the segment and after watching the extended version of the discussion, I thought about how men have these conversations with each other. On one hand I did not think that belittling sexual assault and rape was as present in the world as it was a few years ago. But then I thought back to the work that I do with college men and I was reminded that all students have internalized that, to some extent, men are supposed to be sexually aggressive in order to demonstrate their masculinity. So clearly having dialogues like these are going to continue to be an important piece of confronting masculinity.
Thinking back to the video, Norton's argument mainly came from a place based in free speech and how important free speech is for comics to be able to express themselves fully and not feel stifled. In my opinion, Norton was holding speech as being extremely important but was ignoring the impact that speech has. As I mentioned earlier, West brought up the climate of comedy clubs and how they are perceived as not very inviting and a huge part of that is the power dynamic involved both between genders and between the audience and the comic on stage. Norton was not acknowledging that dynamic or the privilege he carries being a male in society. Men have the ability to shrug off a suggestion or "joke" someone makes about sexual assault or rape because men know that it's very unlikely to happen to them. Sexual assault is, after all, a men's issue.
So what does this mean for our work with students in addressing their patriarchal masculinity and privileges they are given through that systemic culture? I think it means we need to be able to hold free speech and accountability in both hands in our work with men. We need to be able to help men understand the power that they hold within their free speech and what they can do to hold each other accountable to making our world a more welcoming and including place. I know it's work that most of us are already doing, but in looking at some of the responses Lindy West has gotten on twitter, we clearly need to continue this work.
I would like to open this up to a discussion because, in my opinion, men are the primary promoters of rape culture and we need it be active in stopping it. What are you doing to help change rape culture in your role? How are you empowering the men around you to confront comments that support rape culture? What can we do to help our students protest people who support this culture? (For instance, someone posted a petition on change.org to remove Daniel Tosh's show, Tosh.0, from Comedy Central's lineup). What programs are your sponsoring or leading that is helping address these constant concerns? How can we incorporate confronting patriarchal masculinity into the increasingly popular Movember? How do we continue to challenge patriarchy despite the contrary influence of organizations like A Voice For Men? How do we discuss the action that Men’s Rights Advocates are taking while ensuring that our work is foundationally different?