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Monday, September 20, 2010

Pipeline from Masculinity to Rape

When I was in high school, I played on my school’s illustrious soccer team.  I think we managed to lose every single game in my freshman year, but we improved over time.  By my senior year, we had compiled our best record in a decade in our division: 4-12, going 0-10 against teams actually in our division.  Due to chronic lack of funding for both the school and its athletic programs, our inability to retain a coach for more than a year, and social pressure for our good athletes to play basketball or run track, we never really had much of a chance on the field.  Luckily, because we had so few players (and even fewer goalies), I was never cut from the team, even though I probably should have been.  For two years, I was basically the only goalie we had, so I played almost every game for both our varsity and junior-varsity teams (although most of the squad played both levels; we only had like 22 people to make up two separate teams).

I’m remembering my time on the Governors (yes, our mascot was a big floating top hat) today because of another post written by our good friend Thomas over at the Yes Means Yes blog about compulsory masculinity.  This post isn’t new; he wrote it almost 9 months ago, but I found it fitting based on some conversations I had last week at SoJust’s awesome Connecting for Justice event.  I was talking to some folks over at Arts Emerson, who are bringing the Tectonic Theater Company up to Boston to perform the Laramie Project, the show based on Laramie, Wisconsin, the town where Matthew Shephard was killed in 1998.

Compulsive heterosexuality, the term coined by Dr. C.J. Pascoe in his book Dude, You’re A Fag (which Thomas is reviewing in the above post), is the set of behaviors boys take to ward off gender policing.  In the best possible light, these behaviors can be a way for boys to bond in a group, but in most cases, they are destructive actions used as a defense mechanism, to not get beaten up or thrown out of a peer group.  As history like Matthew Shephard’s death show us, in many cases, compulsive heterosexuality isn’t just stupid actions from stupid boys - they are real-life defense mechanisms for a culture that will kill young people who violate gender norms.

Thomas makes a number of fantastic parallels between these compulsive behaviors and rape culture - if you tell boys that the only way to entirely safeguard against gender policing is to have sex with women, some of them will do anything they can to do what we’re telling them to do.  This isn’t confusing; it’s just depressing.

This is making me think about my soccer team for one particularly depressing reason.  My high school was a large public, inner-city school in a busted, burnt-out town with little going for it.  New Haven was (and basically remains) a town crippled by poverty and disenfranchisement.  I was exceptionally lucky to have the protective and financially secure family that I do; most of my classmates did not.  Our team rarely got the necessary supplies to play.  A good chunk of my teammates used rolled-up cardboard for shin guards; we shared jerseys because the school couldn’t afford to get enough for everyone.  I donated both of my goalie shirts to the team, because when I was a senior, we didn’t have any more.  Most of the team was black or Hispanic; and even though we never had any sort of disciplinary actions of any sort leveled against us at any time that I was playing there (in fact I think we were nominated for some sort of division-wide “fair play” award), some of the other teams we played specifically asked our coaches not to come near their ball-bags or benches.  In one particularly memorable occasion, after we lost a tough but relatively good game, the other team only barely stopped to shake our hands, and ran off to their bus.  The story I heard (although I could never confirm it) was that the other team’s players were scared of us, and wanted to get back to their bus while we were still on the field to make sure we didn’t steal any of their supplies.

Here’s the end result of this story: the players on my team were exactly the type of boys who were denied masculinity at pretty much every other turn.  None of the conventional elements of male power were theirs - they had little money, they were not white, they have little sway with authority.  The culture in which that team floated told those guys all the same things it tells every other guy about what it’s supposed to mean to be a man - power, money, responsibility (to some extent), and dominance - but then withheld all of those things from them.

One of the end results of that thinking back on that now?  Excessive compulsive heterosexuality.  If we couldn’t have money, or power in any other sense, at least we could satisfy the “I fucked women” component of masculinity.  I don’t know if any of my teammates were actually gay or not, but I guarantee you that a good number of them (at age 14 and 15) were not having the sexual adventures they claimed in the locker room because I knew them outside of the team and knew what they were doing with their spare time.  The stories of scoring with the ladies, the boasting, the bragging - none of that was particularly terrible, but it is strange to think now that this was the only type of activity that we could engage in that would bond us.  A couple of the coaches even got in on it once or twice, I think mostly to try and calm down some of the more boisterous players.  I didn’t brag too much myself, one because I was much more introverted then than I am now, but also because I wasn’t sexually active in high school and I was terrified that if I talked up my fictitious exploits too much, I would be found out as an impostor.  I would lose whatever credibility I had on the team.  My coach must have noticed that I didn’t join in too often in those boy-bonding activities, and during a particularly rowdy huddle said something to the effect of, “you know, the guys who never talk about it are the ones getting the most play.” At the time, it was a nice gesture from him and it did give me a couple of minutes of fame.  But even his attempts to keep me from getting bullied or pushed around were compulsive heterosexuality.

I don’t want to confuse some of these bonding activities with more innocent bonding around or about sexuality.  Teenagers will and should talk (and joke, and poke fun of) their sexuality as they explore it, and not all or even most discussions amongst them about sex is going to be a problem.  The difference between that and compulsive heterosexuality is the othering it does, as usual, of women.  In yet another facet of masculinity, I find that women are not people, they are a prop (so, to keep track now: they’ve been children, they’ve been trophies, and now they are props).  They are the currency that boys, made insecure by a world that threatens them if they step out of the gender-conforming line, use to shore up those insecurities.

If we tell boys that the only way to prove that they are men is to fuck women, and then threaten them subtly with social sanctions or mild violence (or sometimes, you know, murder) if they don’t, what is the natural outcome of this equation?

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Posted by Dave on 09/20 • (3) CommentsPermalink

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Masculinity - what is it good for?

Sorry I’ve been a little absent, folks - I promise that once things calm down at school and I realize what I’ve gotten myself into, the regular Monday posting will resume as usual.  In the adjustment period, though, I might be a little more sporadic on account of I’m not sure where I am of what’s going on in the world.

What I do have for you today, though, is a cool site to check out when you have the chance: the masculine mystique rightly blamed.  Here’s a look at the “about” page:

In order to become fully human, men must reject the Masculine Mystique. Men must accept women fully into society as humans who are identical to themselves. Men must give up the entitlement of sexual access to any women they encounter, and take responsibility for the rape and abuse that they have wrought upon the whole of women across the globe.

There’s a lot more there; you should check it out.  It’s unapologetic.  I like the tone.

If you ever find yourself needing a good checklist, too, of privileges that men get in our society, they’ve got a great list for you.

While I just found the site the other night myself, and I need to dive a little more deeply into it, the authors echo a lot of the same sentiments that I’ve written here before (and that many, many, many feminist authors and writers and thinkers have elaborated in the past).  If we want to stop rape, if we want to end it, as opposed to ignore it, reframe it, push it to the side or try to manage it with casework, we need to attack its roots.  One of those pernicious roots is the current construction of masculinity which will by its definition cause rape.  It is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect that roughly half of the human population should create and rest its personal identity on violence, domination, and power without taking those personal identifications into the world with them in the form of actions that promote violence, domination, and unequal power.

There’s a future post somewhere about how one of the ways the current power structure keeps perpetuating itself is by convincing men and women that those same traits (violence, domination, and power) and sexy, but I haven’t put all those thoughts in order yet.

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Posted by Dave on 09/08 • (0) CommentsPermalink

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Words from a perpetrator

Sorry I’ve been a little absent, all - just started law school on Monday and I’m trying to get my sea legs.  It’s gonna take a little while before I figure out where I am and what I’m doing with myself as a student again, but in the meantime, this particular item caught my eye.  Many thanks to Leah for sending it my direction.

Major Trigger Warning for that link: it’s a reddit from a convicted rapist, who answered anonymous questions about his perpetration.  If you have the stomach for it, the perpetrator says some pretty insightful things about why he perpetrated.  I thought this part was the most to-the-point:

Q: Why did you do it? Do you regret hurting them? (I mean, actually, not just “I regret going to jail for it”.)
A: It’s not very satisfying, but I did it because I wanted it. I wanted them, I wanted to do what I did to them. The sexual arousal was intense, but the desire to overpower them, to take control was even more so. It was an urge that built and built until I surrenered [sic] to it.

I’m still trying to figure out what I think about this in general, but it was interesting seeing a perpetrator echo what sexual violence prevention folks have been saying for a long time.  Dominance, control, power - these are the roots of rape, not sexual arousal or being horny.


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Posted by Dave on 09/01 • (1) CommentsPermalink

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Yay Service Heroes!

Remember that Boston Service Hero contest? I won! Thanks for the votes! :) But what I really want to talk about is how all BARCC volunteers are service heroes.

BARCC started out in 1973 as a totally volunteer-run organization. We have staff now, but we still have 100-150 volunteers at any given time; those volunteers contribute enough time to make up 19 staffers, almost doubling BARCC’s service capacity, and that is *awesome*. We have such a tremendously dedicated bunch!

Both of the volunteers nominated for the ServiceHero contest were CAPS volunteers - but that’s just because Dave nominated me and I caught the Google Alert just in time to go “ha!” and nominate him right back! In reality, every single one of our volunteers deserves an award. In the coming weeks, I hope to highlight our hotline and medical advocacy programs as well.

This is a short post for a good reason: we have a new volunteer training happening down the hall right now! Twenty new volunteers and ten new interns are joining the BARCC family this week, and we’re thrilled to have them. Maybe one of them will win next year!

If you’re interested in volunteering with BARCC, hie thee to our website, because we have yet another volunteer training coming up in October! Join us! Fight rape culture! Perhaps win fabulous prizes! The world can be yours! And you’d be joining a group of wonderful, passionate, dedicated, fantastic people.

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Posted by Shira on 08/25 • (0) CommentsPermalink

Monday, August 23, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. The Dominant Narrative

Good stormy morning all!  May the dark clouds congealed over our fair city not impede your day overly much!

I just got back from vacation and my brain is still mostly on the beach, and so this is a good time to write a movie review!  Yay movies!  Last night I got out to see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, based on the comic series by Brian Lee O’Malley.  First thing to note: this is a fun movie.  It speaks pretty directly to the heart of the (male) gamer, and the number of asides, homages, and tributes to video games and gaming culture made it a jolly good time.  For someone like me who also has a weak spot for fight choreography, the movie’s also got a lot of fun glitzy wushu-esque fight scenes with lots of spinning jumping twirling rotating madness.  I do so enjoy my twirling madness.  All in all, it’s a hilarious, feel-good movie with great art direction, a solid sense of humor, and fun action sequences that both give action-movie addicts a little dose of the violence they need while also lampooning violence in video games.  I’ll probably buy it when it comes out.

My only disappointment with it is perhaps an unfair one.  I was hoping, really hard, that this wouldn’t be a romantic movie with the standard geek-boy plotline.  I kept my fingers crossed really hard that maybe, since this one had such an over-the-top tone, that it wouldn’t just be about an outrageously awkward mid-20’s guy who wins a token hot girl by doing something traditionally masculine that no one thought he could do.  You know, the plot of every romantic comedy ever that’s aimed at men?

I understand that movies need to use short-hand for describing emotional arcs.  Filmmakers don’t have enough time to detail how two characters fall in love, so they use lighting, slow-motion, close-up shots, etc, to give the audience the idea of what’s going on in the minds of the characters.  Except, in this type of film (the romantical comedyish film aimed at dudes), it’s usually only the dude who gets that treatment.  Ramona, Scott’s main squeeze in this film and the girl for whom he is willing to fight to the death seven times has as major personality traits…what, exactly?  She changes her hair color every couple of weeks!  She delivers packages for!  She…sometimes wears gloves when she’s inside!  We think she likes indie music (the type that Scott plays, perhaps) but we’re not entirely sure!  Mostly, the only thing we know about her is that Scott thinks she’s hot.  He was completely transfixed by her hotness, and he is now willing to put himself in mortal danger over and over and over (and over four more times) again because he presumably wants to sleep with her.  Who is she?  Why is she Scott’s dreamgirl, as he mentions?  Does his dreamgirl not possess any persona of her own?

Ramona probably isn’t quite quirky or sprightly enough to be considered a manic pixie dream girl, but a good chunk of the criteria for being one are present:

As the A.V. Club deftly notes, “Like the Magical Negro, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype is largely defined by secondary status and lack of an inner life. She’s on hand to lift a gloomy male protagonist out of the doldrums, not to pursue her own happiness.”

I never quite understood why Ramona was interested in Scott.  She never indicates that she thinks he’s hot.  She never really indicates that she likes his music.  They have awkward, stilted conversation, mostly about their exes.  She even tells him “we don’t really know much about each other, do we?”  It would have helped make her a better, more fully fleshed out character if we had at least one scene where she indicated, somehow, that she actually liked him, and why.  She does tell Scott a couple of times that he’s the “nicest” boy she’s dated.  Why?  He’s continually passive-aggressive, kind of surly, and awkward.  Why are we sympathizing with him?  He does pull a pretty badass 540 kick, but I wasn’t of the impression that that’s the only thing a dude needs to do to get into a lady’s heart.

So this movie, while having a really cool veneer and presentation, is pretty much the same story about boy falling for hot girl and then doing all sorts of things to win her, so he can have sex with her.  The female love object isn’t really a character; she’s a cypher, a symbol at best, for the male protagonist’s desires.  She is the other, the non-default.  We don’t see anything from her perspective.  Of course she can be won!  Of course our protagonist, once he learns the correct sequence of moves and/or actions, can will her to his side.  Does she want to be there?  Does she perhaps have some already existing interest in him?  It doesn’t matter because she’s not a real person with interests and desires.  She is, basically, not a human; she’s a plot device.

Just like telling men that women are children, telling men that women aren’t human isn’t going to help open up gender relations.  Why should men care about, listen to, or respect the boundaries of these strange creatures who so fascinate our libidos?  They are so strange and fickle and weird, but they certainly aren’t human.

Now, to be fair, this movie IS better than most in this genre - Wallace, Scott’s roommate, is openly gay and not particularly effeminate.  He sleeps around a lot and isn’t penalized for it or shown to be mentally messed up as a result (he’s actually much more normal than Scott).  Likewise, in an early scene, Ramona decides not to have sex with Scott and he respects her wishes.  That’s a good thing.  On the level most directly related to rape and sexual assault, this movie gets an A+ for respecting consent and boundaries.  I’m a fan of that.

I’ve mentioned media before and its ability to shape the social narratives that make up our lives.  This movie is a good example of the types of messages our culture is currently kicking out at us.  “Seriously,” a hypothetical reader might say, “are you nit-picking on a comic-book movie for not having progressive feminist undertones?  Really?  This is a cute story about a boy who falls in love!  And then fights bad guys by tiger uppercutting them.  That’s awesome and why are you so full of haterade?”  And that hypothetical reader would be completely correct - this story falls exactly in line with the cultural script for what young straight-boy love looks like.  But that’s the problem!  The social script for young straight-boy love doesn’t include a real woman!  If this is what we think of as a standard, if this is the typical story we tell both men and women, that makes everyone think of women as strange non-human beings who need to be won, like a video game.  Scott Pilgrim vs. The World joins a lengthy list of movies, many of which have been critical and commercial successes, like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Garden State, and Elizabethtown (maybe not so much the success on that last one) that have as a major plotline: boy loves girl, except that it’s really boy loves object.  Ramona is, for all intense and purposes in this movie, a macguffin with boobs.

None of this helps create a cultural narrative where we take women seriously, especially not the young men that this film targets.  As much as I like it (and again, I really did like this movie!) I keep wanting to see a film that has the sense of humor this one does, but also does open up the conversation a little bit more.  As bad as the movie itself was, one of my favorite films in this mildly subversive category was the Amanda Bynes film She’s the Man, a mostly goofy take on Twelfth Night.  The main protagonist is female, she tries to win over a boy, and the boy gets a (for a teen movie, anyway) reasonable inner life.  It’s not a good movie, but it’d be nice to see a couple more major media products start to move towards that idea of full personhood for female characters.

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Posted by Dave on 08/23 • (2) CommentsPermalink

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