Bits and bobs from a British glasses-wearing, sweary, fat, disabled, atheist ex-Catholic, anti-capitalist, pacifist feminist lesbian with eclectic tastes.
I normally blog at incurable-hippie.blogspot.com.
Here is the piece, in case you are not familiar. (I don’t read Jezebel and wouldn’t have encountered this piece if it hadn’t popped up on my FB feed a billion times.)
I have agreed with a lot of pieces you’ve written, and I think generally that you’re the only good thing about Jezebel, a site I wrote off ages ago for an assortment of reasons.
There are a few key points in your piece that I agree with - the fact that this has zip to do with freedom of speech, something I was kind of grinding on myself over the last couple of days, and the fact that rape victims/survivors and/or the rape itself should never be a punchline. I loved how you spoke directly to the excuses given by Tosh’s defenders.
But I did not love your postulation that anyone saying that rape jokes aren’t funny is wrong, period.
Those of us, like myself, who have survived sexual violence deal with it in different ways. It’s not on me to tell anyone else how to survive, just as nobody could tell me how to survive. And it’s not on me to tell another survivor what they can or can’t find funny. You know the statistics on sexual assault - how many of us survivors are out there, how many of us didn’t make it. There’s no universal way to get through. That’s a thing I’ve learned working with, loving, organizing and being close to other survivors for a really long time.
I’m actually not personally questioning the ability of dark comedy to skewer important social issues, though I do feel uncomfortable with some of the examples you chose to illustrate your point (more on that a bit) - and I wanted to mention that I personally feel that only those who understand the hell of rape intimately have the right to joke about it. Much has been made of the legitimacy of “gallows humor,” but, to paraphrase a friend, if you’ve never had the noose around your neck, what gallows are you talking about? Some of us have cracked dark jokes as part of our survival strategies - myself included - but I would never say someone who was offended by my cracking a bitter joke about my own rape (especially another survivor) was wrong to take umbrage.
What I wanted to bring up to you in this response was that how YOU personally feel about jokes that skewer rape culture, or how I personally feel, is not the whole picture. It is, in fact, a pretty small part of the debate. People, some of them feminists, have been debating whether rape jokes are appropriate for ages. That’s not what this controversy was about. This controversy was about a threat that a person who had power - celebrity status and a microphone - made to a person who didn’t, a person who was legitimately frightened of that threat.
If someone says ‘rape jokes aren’t funny,’ I trust it to mean that rape jokes aren’t funny TO THEM, ever. I would have read your piece as more of a personal opinion as to what you found funny and what you didn’t find funny if you’d not used that phrase, italicized as it is: everyone is wrong.
It is not inherently wrong to dismiss all jokes having to do with the subject of rape, regardless of whether the punchline is the survivor or the system, regardless of whether you think jokes that pillory the system are ok. You don’t know where someone is with their own trauma. You don’t know how much they’ve healed. You don’t know how they’ve dealt with these things in the past. You don’t know where they’ve drawn their lines. You don’t know why they’ve drawn their lines. And to essentially say “you don’t have the right to voice your discomfort here” - that bothers me.
We’re pretty much talking about work and transmission here. Once I post a piece, once you do, once I perform a song, once a film is released, and so on - it becomes part of the public sphere, and as such is, as I know you understand, subject to receipt and critique. And there are any number of reasons for critique, some of them legitimate, some of them not. An emotional response, a response that says “this hurts me,” needs to be listened to, always.
There is an implication, a tone to your piece, that some feminists are humorless uptight bitches but you’re not like that. You may not have meant that tone, but because of certain phrasing, it read that way to me, and that hurt. There are many, many legitimate critiques of mainstream Feminism, of which Jezebel is certainly a part - it has been a white able-bodied middle-class cis woman’s movement despite the hard work and unmet needs of women (who experience greater oppressions than you or I) outside that narrow definition since, you know, before the term ‘feminist’ even existed, and I find that as utterly unacceptable as many others do. But to to imply that those of us who cannot stomach any jokes that mention sexual violence aren’t With It or whatever, is a pretty toxic position to take.
I promised I’d come back to the examples - both the first and fourth example have egregious racism in them.
The Ever Mainard piece explicitly centers around her, a white woman, encountering what she perceives to be the threat of rape from a Black man. If her piece had been simply about the omnipresent threat of sexual violence that women face everywhere in the world all the time, it would not have necessarily put me off personally. But the fact that she specifically speaks about the dynamic of a white woman who assumes the threat of sexual violence by a Black man in the same culture in which “Birth of a Nation” paved the way for American cinema, a culture in which stereotypes of Black sexuality continue to prop up white supremacist systems of discrimination with deadly consequences, made me feel sick to my stomach.
And the Sacha Baron-Cohen piece … Baron-Cohen has a long history of questionable racist bullshit, and “Borat” was no exception. You even mentioned that the Kazakhs were the butt of the joke in that piece. Not the issues in Kazakh culture (with an eye toward the specific racial and cultural tensions in Central Asia post-Soviet breakup), not specific Kazakhs who have indeed committed atrocities. The Kazakh people as a whole. How is negatively stereotyping an entire nation ever ok (especially if you are not making that critique as someone who grew up in that culture)?
To quote Flavia Dzodan, my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit. To ignore race and focus on misogyny from that single axis, from only a white woman’s perspective, only serves to propel us as white women into positions of greater power while our Black & other POC sisters are left behind. I will never be ok with that, and it’s something I have to keep myself in constant check with. I can never not be totally cognizant of my privilege here. I can never forget that race matters, always. (I would not have been able to explain these ideas so clearly, would not have had the vocabulary for them, if not for POC writers, bloggers and theorists.)
I know you’re smart, and I know that we are pretty much on the same side, which is why I felt compelled to write this response. If it had been anyone else, I don’t know if I would have. I’m feeling kind of exhausted as of late.
I hope all of this adds to the dialogue.
If we never told girls to shave, would they? If we modeled a cultural acceptance of our body hair, would they spontaneously feel the need to remove it weekly, monthly, or daily? If we all wore bathing suits that covered our natural forms instead of the form that only hairless young girls who have not birthed babies can wear, would our girls and boys have a more or less realistic notion of what the human body “should” look like?
I find the more comfortable I get with my own body, the more uncomfortable others get.
And it really pisses me off.
Sometimes I have the time and patience to get from an idea to a fully fleshed-out, penciled, inked and coloured comic.
Sometimes I don’t.
My final project for Women and Gender Studies - Liberation Act.
I made these posters as a way to challenge socially constructed ideals of body image and fat shame. As a “plus size” person, I have encountered fat shame through out the entirety of my life and have struggled with insecurities stemming from socially constructed yet self-perceived inadequacies regarding my body image. I am tired of feeling ashamed, assumed as being lazy, and glanced at with disgust - all because of my weight.
I am not inadequate because of my weight. I am not broken, or mutated, or wrong - society is.
SlutWalk London: the radical notion that nobody deserves to be raped.
We want to make this year’s rally bigger and better than last year! We hope you will all join us in September to protest the silencing of our voices, the repression of our choices and the violence against our bodies.
This year we will be back even louder than before!
Watch this space for further details, our aims for 2012 and news!
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