Sunday reads

A few pieces that caught my eye this week.

Bec Shaw: Fat of the Furious

I couldn’t write about what happened at the time because I felt so despairing when Roxane Gay discussed how humiliated the incident made her feel. I despaired for her, but also for myself. Because selfishly, it made me realise it maybe actually doesn’t get better, like I thought it might. Sure, I am treated awfully, but surely once you are Roxane fucking Gay, it gets better. But no, just despair. Because it evidently doesn’t matter if you are a universally respected writer, someone being flown around the world to speak to adoring audiences. It doesn’t matter how beloved, how successful, how amazing you are — if you are a fat woman, you are first and foremost still just a fat woman.

Laura McGann: I believe Bill Cosby

This trend is deeply troubling. Even in the face of clear statements and corroborating evidence, we so often just don’t believe men when they say sexual assault is funny or when they say they’ve done it.

It’s time for us to start believing men.

And because at least three separate people sent this link to me for no apparent reason: This is what happens when you teach an AI to name guinea pigs

Earlier this week, research scientist Janelle Shane got a fantastically unusual request from the Portland Guinea Pig Rescue, asking if she could build a neural network for guinea pig names. The rescue facility needs to generate a large number of names quickly, as they frequently take in animals from hoarding situations. Portland Guinea Pig Rescue gave Shane a list of classic names, like “Snickers” or “Pumpkin,” in addition to just about every other name they could find on the internet. The rest is history.

A great few days for sexism in New Zealand

Team, I can’t.

But who needs feminism any more? Let’s just lean in, amirite?

If you haven’t been keeping a keen eye on the ongoing

I’m talking about this headline:

revenge-headline

And the perpetual nudge-nudge joking tabloid tone taken in almost every headline about Colin Craig’s sexual harassment of a person who worked for him – “Colin Craig’s love poem!!! More love letters to press secretary revealed!!! Details of explicit text read in court!!!”

And then there was this (thank God once again for The Spinoff’s cutting snark):

Good news: The Chiefs scandal didn’t really even happen!!!

… There was an apparently rigorous investigation into the events of the evening conducted by the general counsel of New Zealand Rugby – a guy who loves his job and has been on the NZR team for over a decade. Which means that one branch of New Zealand Rugby investigated another branch of New Zealand Rugby and found that everything was basically okay.

This is a little bit like Colonel Sanders being put in change of an inquiry into the 11 secret herbs and spices and pronouncing them delicious. At a press conference today three blokes delivered the verdict: everything is fine, none of it really happened and wow isn’t fried chicken the best.

Look, ladies, it’s easy to stay out of trouble in New Zealand. Just don’t break up with men, don’t work for men, don’t call out men for assaulting you, and generally just don’t be in the vicinity of men. Especially if they’re someone you know, someone you loved, someone you worked for or a team of someones celebrated as the peak specimens of your country’s masculine prowess.

Now let’s all get back to overcoming sexism by asking for payrises. Or alternatively, listen to some good angry music.

[Content note: sexual violence]

When the creeper is your mate

Alex Casey and Duncan Greive at The Spinoff have written a phenomenal article about sexual creepiness and exploitation of young women, specifically by Andrew Tidball of Cheese on Toast and bFM. (Trigger warnings apply. This is a difficult read.)

It’s led to another discussion about predatory/abusive men in different cultural niches, and the responsibility particularly on other men to identify and call up their comrades on this stuff. To believe women rather than immediately assuming they’re liars. (As I said on Twitter, you’re not neutral if you refuse to believe women; quite the opposite.)

Every time we have this conversation, a little progress happens. I remember where conversations about rape culture were five years ago; we’re still fighting the fight, but it is getting easier. When it comes to calling out missing stairs (trigger warning: sexual violence) and identifying the bad apples in our various fandoms, we’re making headway.

But one difficulty I’ve noted in a thousand little ways around sexism and progressive politics in general: when you know your’re One Of The Good Guys, it can be difficult to see abuse happening right in front of you.

In the gaming crowds where I spent much of my lecture-skipping university days, some dudes were well-known as bad dudes. Creepers who literally everyone recognised as such. And other men would step in – no, you shouldn’t get a lift home with that guy; make sure we don’t leave the new girl alone with him; definitely don’t assign him a romantic role with her at the next LARP. It made me feel safe, and that’s a rare experience in nerdy circles.

Those guys looked out for you and knew who the predators were and, if they didn’t go so far as to kick the missing stairs out of the club, they didn’t excuse the creepiness or tell you it was all in your head or make you feel like they wouldn’t believe you if you had a problem with someone.

Until it was one of their mates. Because it’s really easy to say “that guy’s a predator” when he’s someone you already didn’t like. When he’s also obnoxious, dishonest or outright violent to men as well as women, it’s easy to believe the ones who say “he’s a real creep” or “I don’t feel safe around him”.

But when it was their friend who sexually coerced a woman with implied threats of violence, well. He was having a really rough time. He’s not dangerous. When it was a member of their D&D game regularly intruding on your physical space? Look, he just got mixed signals. The group clown keeps plying younger women with drinks and touching them without consent? Oh, it’s so funny, he’s just trying to flirt.

When you know in your heart you’re A Good Dude, you can be oblivious to your friends’ creeping. You tell yourself you’ve called out Bad Guys on their creepiness, you look out for your women friends – therefore the way your mates behave isn’t the same. Because they’re your mates.

This is the danger. The creepy dudes who you think are charming and affable are using your status As A Good Dude to harass and abuse other women. You’re their meat shield. They’re your mate, so they must be safe, because you wouldn’t stand for creepiness.

Believing women can’t just be about believing them when their experience aligns with yours. It has to mean reflecting, checking your instinct to say “but he’s my mate”, when the creep in question is your good friend.

And this isn’t just about geek circles and creepy dudes. We all have to be aware that our self-image, our conviction that we’re on the side of the angels, doesn’t make us immune from thinking and saying and justifying horrible oppressive or abusive stuff. When we’re against slut-shaming but say Kim Kardashian should cover up; when we’re against government policing poor people’s choices but think a sugar tax will force them to “make better choices”; when we’re totally pro-choice but think three abortions is way too many. It’s too easy to undermine our hard work trying to change the world by replicating the very awfulness we struggle against.

Being a good progressive person isn’t a one-off achievement. It’s a never-ending personal struggle. It means not just taking the easy road of criticising the despised. We have to be open to criticising ourselves – and our friends.

#StandUpForWomen

We did a thing!

It was amazing to get so many people out, including a lot of guys. Some people have expressed concern that we played into Roosh’s hands by giving oxygen to his awfulness – but it can’t be good for the sexist douchebag cause to have such a broad, positive rejection of their ideology.

The pet rock adoption agency did a roaring business and raised $399.50 for Wellington Rape Crisis. That’s the equivalent of keeping WRC’s drop-in centre open for two days, or eight social work sessions for one of our clients. You folks are so awesome.

This is Clive, our new slightly-Cthonic pet rock.

Clive, our new pet rock #StandUpForWomen

A post shared by @msstephaniecatherine on

Here’s a copy of my speaking notes. I diverged from them at points but that’s speaking notes for you. There is video of the speech but I’m pretending it doesn’t exist.

Tēnā koutou. I want to welcome you all here to the Stand Up for Women meetup, which was organised openly on Facebook and didn’t require a secret password!

Thank you all for coming out on this blustery Wellington night and taking the time out of your long weekend – if you get one – to take a stand on violence and abuse.

I also want to acknowledge that this is Waitangi Day, a day when we should remember and acknowledge one of the founding documents of our country and the ongoing struggle to have te Tiriti o Waitangi properly honoured.

My name’s Stephanie Rodgers and I blog at a little corner of the internet called Boots Theory. I’m also on the governance group of Wellington Rape Crisis.

Rape Crisis is a support centre for survivors of rape and sexual abuse, their families, friends and whānau. Like many other agencies in Wellington and across New Zealand they do incredibly important work supporting people affected by sexual violence, often on shoestring budgets and with no guarantee of government funding.

But they’re not really the answer to sexual violence and abuse. The responsibility for stopping abuse lies with each of us. When we all stand together at an event like this, it sends a message. It draws a line about what is and isn’t acceptable.

But we have to follow this up with the much harder work of getting the message out in our communities and challenging the people who share these harmful attitudes. They aren’t just strangers on the internet: they can be our friends and coworkers and family members.

When we started talking about this event and having people speak to the media, we felt it was really important to have men’s voices out there. Not dominating the conversation or shouting over women, but taking a stand, as men, against sexual violence and sexist attitudes. The reality of living in a patriarchy is that men get heard when women saying the same thing are written off as nags and bitches.

Changing behaviour is a huge process, and men have a really significant role to play in supporting each other to get help, holding each other accountable, and offering support to the people affected by the abuse. That’s as important if not more important than being a righteous dude standing here today.

At Wellington Rape Crisis we see a lot of guys who are supporting survivors. Our agency manager Eleanor told me she gets a lot of calls from men asking how they can support their partner or daughter. That’s another hugely important, practical thing men can do.

A lot of us are angry. It’s reasonable to be angry. But sometimes violence is not the answer to violence. Treatment is more important than punishment. Most sexual abuse is committed by people close to the victim, and often that means the person who hurt them is still going to be in their lives – in their family or community. Many survivors who come to Rape Crisis don’t want to see punishment – they want their abuser to understand the harm they’ve caused and ensure it doesn’t happen again to them or someone else.

Just this week we’ve seen the diplomat who assaulted Tania Billingsley here in Wellington sentenced to home detention. And her support person, the legendary Louise Nicholas, who couldn’t be here tonight, talked about how home detention doesn’t really fix anything – not unless he’s going through rehabilitation. Not unless we address this man’s beliefs about women and sex and relationships.

Speaking of men with terrible beliefs about women: I don’t want to forget the guy who brought us all together. We’re here tonight because of a man named Roosh, who writes books and blog posts about how to coerce and assault women.

His theories do sound like a joke – that rape should be legalised on private property, or that you can tell if a woman’s promiscuous because she’ll have a “slut face”.

But this is serious. The attitudes he promotes are a very dark, but very common, part of our mainstream culture. The men who visit his website and others like it are believers. They’re going out in public and putting his theories into practice – and that inevitably leads to the abuse of women, queer people, trans people, Muslims, Jews, any other group he has targeted.

This isn’t about one guy who has one messed-up idea about whether or not rape is acceptable. This is an ideology. And other men who accept that ideology planned to meet up, here, in Auckland, in Dunedin, and across the world.

But we said no. And we said it loudly, and we’ve said it together, men and women, activists and allies, everyone who is affected by this crap – everyone full stop. Thank you all for being here and being a part of that.

It’s still just a first step.

It’s actually pretty easy to say rape is bad. We all know rape is bad. But to make real progress against sexual assault we have to start with the little things. It’s the jokes about rape, the sexual harassment at work, the dehumanizing way we talk about trans people or sex workers, who are at a massively greater risk of sexual assault. It’s making excuses for your mates when they call women bitches and sluts. It’s talking about date rape or grey rape as though they’re different or less bad than rape. Every little bit builds a culture which excuses and even encourages sexual violence.

Together, we can tear that culture down and make our society safer for everyone, starting here.

Now we’re going to have a few speakers and then kick back with some music. We’ll be hearing from Robert from the White Ribbon campaign, who are looking to get more proactive on these issues. Then Fi McNamara from the Sexual Abuse Prevention Network, Hadassah Grace, and Dan Clemerson-Phillips will wrap everything up.

We want to acknowledge that not everyone is represented in our speaking lineup. We arranged this gathering pretty quickly online and tried to get a broad range of people up here, including trans women and women of colour.

But Roosh and his cronies are the kinds of people who openly talk about filming, identifying and harassing people who stand against them. A lot of people we talked to were concerned about their own safety. That’s the kind of environment these guys deliberately create through organised online harassment and implicit threats of violence. People who have more privilege, especially men, or cis women like me, don’t face the same kinds or levels of difficulty being publicly identified. That’s part of the culture which we need to change, because it shouldn’t just be people like me who get to talk about this stuff.

Our masculinity problem

It’s been frankly uplifting to see positive, active responses from men to the Roosh/Return of Kings international meetups. Special shout-outs go to my buddies @Megapope and @MrDuttonPeabody, who haven’t just “started saying what women have been saying for ages and expected cookies” – they’ve organised.

What happens way too often is that this kind of thing gets pigeonholed as a “women’s issue” or something only ~feminists~ are interested in (probably because we spend all our time looking for trivial things to take offence at). Or, when men do take a lead, it’s to the exclusion of women’s voices, and far too frequently becomes a massive ego trip. Not so here!

When people of all shapes and backgrounds stand together in solidarity against violence, it sends a strong clear message that violence isn’t going to be tolerated in our society. That means men standing with women and Christians standing with Muslims and cis people standing with trans people.

success baby

But … there’s a few less-good responses which often crop up in these discussions, and have done all over the place on this one: the violent (“I’m going to go down there and smash those rapists” or “they’re lucky I wasn’t around to see that”) and the sneering (“LOL they must not be very good-looking if they want to rape people!”)

Guys – because it’s usually guys – I want to say this as gently as possible, but it’s going to be difficult for you to hear. You have identified the enemy and decided to oppose him. Great. But you’re also playing right into his hands.

The Roosh/Men’s Rights/Gamergater philosophy is built around a caricature of masculinity. An idea of manhood which relies on using force and aggression to assert and maintain power. A male identity which is immensely insecure and lashes out violently at any threat to its tenuous power base.

Saying you’re going to respond to violent speech with violent acts only makes people like Roosh feel justified in their belief that all men are inherently violent creatures engaged in a struggle for dominance. There’s a whole school of thought in Men’s Rights philosophy in which the participants actively identify themselves as “betas” who are condemned by society’s “alphas” to be celibate and alone. When your response to them is about proving your point through physical aggression, you’re just proving their point.

Likewise, decrying them as “not real men” or fuckless wonders who “have to rape people because they can’t get laid” does the same thing. It buys into the idea that masculinity is a competition, where the winner – he who is the most real of Real Men – is naturally rewarded with and thus entitled to attention and sexual gratification from women. This idea is the foundation of rape culture.

Just because you’ve re-framed what a “real man” is, ever-so-slightly away from Dutch in Predator and half a step towards (original series) James Tiberius Kirk, doesn’t change the fact that you’re measuring men’s worthiness based on what an “ideal” man looks, sounds and acts like – and that worthiness is directly related to how much pussy he can get.

This is what we should say to these guys: you’re wrong. Women and men aren’t from different planets. Our relationships aren’t founded on trickery and coercion. Sex isn’t a contest. And we don’t have to prove we’re “real” men or “real” women at all. We don’t have to conform to narrow, ridiculous standards that no one can ever truly meet, and we don’t have to force other people to, either.

If you want to do that right now – or rather, tomorrow evening – there are two anti-misogyny events planned in Auckland and Welllington. Don’t come along because you want to smash someone’s head in or because it’ll earn you Feminist Ally Cred. Come along because it’s the right thing to do, to stand together with other people and say “we won’t be that kind of society”.