Friday, August 21, 2009

Newsflash: Disliking Rape Jokes = Hating Men!

The other day, a commenter here, Sarah, relayed her experience of requesting someone in another internet forum to stop gratuitously throwing around the word "rape." Some people, you see, overuse the word "rape" to refer to all sorts circumstances that don't actually involve sexual assault. For instance, I remember back when I was in college, some students would regularly bemoan the difficultly of a particular exam and, laughing, say that "the professor just raped" them. Rush Limbaugh, for instance, when criticizing Obama shows on almost bizarre fixation on "libs" bending him over and, well, you know....

There are several problem with using the word "rape" to refer to things that are not, actually, rape and I think that these issues are what Sarah was getting at when she suggested other people stop using the word. For one, like the oft over-used Hitler/Nazi analogy, using the word "rape" in situations that are not at all actually as bad as sexual assault robs valid comparisons of their impact. Further, it lessens the horribleness of, the Really Bad Thing, like rape that is being used as the standard-bearer of all that is bad. Personally, whenever I hear someone say that Da Bears got "raped" by such-and-such latest football team, all I can think is... Oh? Really? Not to be a party pooper but I actually don't think losing a football game is very much at all like being sexually assaulted.

People are generally free, of course, to say whatever they want to say, yet most civil people will at least consider reasons why maybe they shouldn't say certain words. Unfortunately, when Sarah expressed her concern about the word "rape," those who were using the word immediately reacted by asking her if she hated men.

I get this a lot.

Whether I'm criticizing "gender neutral pronouns" that aren't really gender neutral at all, reminding people that gay men are not the only "gay people" who exist, or complaining about the fact that nearly every time I go for a run a man yells some sort of catcall at me, it is generally assumed that I do not like men very much.

I'm still trying to answer why it is such a knee-jerk reaction to accuse a woman who distinguishes herself from a doormat of "hating men." I think much of it has to do with the fact that I question male entitlement. And, for many (most?) men, if a woman consciously chooses not to indulge male entitlement, it can only be because she hates men, and not because she believes that women are full human beings just like how men are.

Then, I think part of the man-hating myth comes from the fact that feminism forces men to confront their own privileges. Confronting our privileges can be uncomfortable. It's supposed to be. We like thinking that we've gotten everything in our lives by Hard Work after having Pulled Ourselves Up From Our Bootstraps. In our blissful thinking, we want to continue thinking we hit a triple, when in reality we were born on third base. And so, far too many men personalize feminism. Not understanding that having privilege doesn't make a person "bad," they associate their discomfort with those who have caused it. Feminists. Feminists make them feel badly about themselves, and so, clearly, feminists hate them.

I know that at this point, if my article hasn't already been chalked up to another "screed" by a "know-nothing feminist," a man will come here and quote Andrea Dworkin or Valeria Solanis in order to "prove" that all feminists hate men.

To which, I can only say this.

If you want to know what a feminist woman thinks about men, you should probably just ask her.

And then, what Melissa said:

"No, I don't hate men.

It would, however, be fair to say that I don't easily trust them.

My mistrust is not, as one might expect, primarily a result of the violent acts done on my body, nor the vicious humiliations done to my dignity. It is, instead, born of the multitude of mundane betrayals that mark my every relationship with a man—the casual rape joke, the use of a female slur, the careless demonization of the feminine in everyday conversation, the accusations of overreaction, the eyerolling and exasperated sighs in response to polite requests to please not use misogynist epithets in my presence or to please use non-gendered language ("humankind")....

...I hope those men will hear me when I say, again, I do not hate you. I mistrust you. You can tell yourselves that's a problem with me, some inherent flaw, some evidence that I am fucked up and broken and weird; you can choose to believe that the women in your lives are nothing like me.

Or you can be vigilant, can make yourselves trustworthy. Every day.

Just in case they're more like me than you think."

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