In the wild a wacky world of pro wrestling, there's a term often used called "Hulking Up". It references the ritualistic late match comeback that Hulk Hogan would go through in his matches.
The heel (wrestling lingo for bad guy) would beat up on Hulk for most of the match and just when the nefarious baddie would hit his biggest move, Hogan would jolt up off the mat to his knees. He would puff out his cheeks, shake his head back and forth and then would stalk around the ring, pumping his fists, shaking his head and utterly impervious to any offense his opponent could provide. He would hit his trademark big boot followed by a leg drop, pin his opponent and the crowd would come unglued.
Pro wrestling has fascinated me ever since I was a kid. There's a tendency to look down on it due to it's carny roots and use of aggressively broad stereotypes (more on that later) so it's not something I talk about often. But even as a semi grown man, I believe that when it's done well it can be one of the most captivating forms of entertainment on the planet. It's one part athletics (regardless of the predetermined nature of the outcomes, the risks and danger to the wrestlers bodies is very real), one part soap opera (storylines and a continuous narrative that continues on with characters constantly rotating in and out, without any set beginning or end), and part live action comic book (larger than life heroes and villains, colorful gimmicks, costumes and big dramatic battles). As a form of performance art it is unique because in no other medium does the line between performer and character blur quite so much. (It's often said that the best wrestling characters occur when the performers take pieces of themselves and simply turn up the intensity.)
This is the unique environment, which has led to the heartbreak of fans everywhere upon learning that a tape of wrestling (an indeed, cultural) icon Hulk Hogan going on a racial tirade has surfaced during the discovery phase of his lawsuit against online tabloid Gawker for leaking a tape of him bumping uglies with his former best friend's wife. (My inner child is currently self immolating with his woodburning kit having to read that last sentence.) It's a tough thing to deal with when your heroes let you down (although, full disclosure, I was always more of a "Macho Man" Randy Savage fan, but he had his own set of problems).
For wrestling fans, Hulk Hogan has always been one of the more complex and flawed characters in a business that has seen it's share of complex and flawed characters (it seems to come with the territory, kind of like comedy, Hollywood or...*ahem* broadcasting). After all, you don't get into a business where getting whacked with folding chairs is listed in the job description without a need to fulfill some kind of need for attention or validation. In that business, Hulk Hogan breathes rarified air. Aside from Stone Cold Steve Austin (who also has a truckload of character flaws himself) and Dwayne "The Rock...and the best part of any movie you've seen recently" Johnson (who seems like a legit great guy minus "The Tooth Fairy") the Hulkster is the most recognizable icon of his industry and in the late 80's/early 90's few were as big in popular culture.
So with all that going for him, from an outsiders perspective, it will likely come as a surprise to hear that Hulk Hogan is also known as an insecure politicking schemer who exaggerates and flat out lies as freely as he...apparently drops the "N-Bomb". This is a man who tells the story of his epic moment at Wrestlemania III defeating Andre the Giant with Andre being heavier, the crowd being bigger and Andre dying sooner after the match (match was in 1987 Andre died in '93, long after we can rule out "death by bodyslam"). This is the man who inserted himself into the real life drama of The Montreal Screwjob (he was nowhere near it) like some kind of life photoshopper. This is a man who claimed he would have had the million dollar grill and not George Foreman if he had been home when the inventors called ("If only I had an answering machine brother...but I don't like being recorded") Seriously, throw "Hulk Hogan lies" into a google search . I'm just scratching the surface here.
What I'm getting at is that it's kind of impossible to pin down how Hulk Hogan actually views the world because he's been living in "Hulk Land" for so long that you can never be sure of exactly what his grasp on reality is. Trying to sift the real Terry Bollea out of all the Hulk Hogan bullshit is like trying to separate an egg after the yolk is broken.
This is a long way to go to say, I don't really care if Hulk is a racist, because I didn't have much respect for him to lose to begin with so this is really just gilding the lily. I could spend all day trying to figure out if in his own warped perspective he actually knew that what he was saying was wrong and still get nowhere because it's impossible to put yourself in his shoes unless you've spent several decades being told how great and important you are and built your own mythology to support that. I feel there's a much more interesting area to explore regarding the reaction to his rant.
WARNING! DIGRESSION TIME!!! To explain what I mean about "Hulk Land", Kevin Smith once told a story about pop music icon Prince and how difficult the reclusive singer was to work with on a documentary project (that never saw the light of day). The whole story is great but the section that is relevant here was Prince's assistant telling Kevin when he got frustrated and wanted to leave: "Kevin let me explain something to you about Prince. I've been working with Prince for many years now. I can't go in there and tell him that you don't want to shoot this documentary...Prince doesn't comprehend things the way you and I do...Prince has been living in Prince World for quite some time now. Prince will come to us periodically and say things like "It's 3 in the morning in Minnesota, I really need a camel. Go get it." And then we finally explain it to him like "Prince, it's 3 o clock in the morning in Minnesota, and it's January and you want a camel. That is not physically or psychologically possible." ...he's not being malicious when he does it. He just doesn't understand why he can't get exactly what he wants. He doesn't understand why someone can't process a simple request like a camel at 3 in the morning in Minnesota."
I guess the moral here is the more you know about your heroes, the less you want to know about them.
The more interesting subject to me is the reaction of the WWE upon learning of the news. This is where this particular case becomes a microcosm for the rest of society. Hogan's name was wiped from their website, he's been removed from the upcoming WWE 2K16 videogame, his name has been removed from Hall of Fame listings (although it's likely his induction will not be revoked) and he's been released from his Legends contract. To put it in perspective, the last time the company reacted this way involved a murder-suicide (which is part of the reason I think this is just a teaser for more to come out later). The scorched Earth approach they have taken has drawn the ire of many fans who feel it is an overreaction in an attempt to keep the heat off of themselves for their own past issues racism, homophobia, sexism and xenophobia.
After all, the company still works with Michael P.S. Hayes (who was briefly suspended after a history of making racial remarks), Steve Austin (who has past issues with domestic violence and racial remarks), Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka (who is currently under grand jury investigation for the mysterious death of his girlfriend Nancy Argentino in 1983), John "Bradshaw" Layfield who has a history of bullying and abuse, not to mention a little over a year ago the Ultimate Warrior was inducted into the Hall of Fame after having said some truly despicable things that make Hulk's rant look tame in comparison (WWE later created an award named in his honour following his sudden death shortly after Wrestlemania 30).
That's just the personal stuff. It doesn't even include the bevy of broad stereotypes the company has relied on in the past which could keep me going all day here.
The point I want to get at is that even if the company's reaction to Hogan's use of racial slurs was motivated out of cynical self preservation, it's still a positive sign of progress. It means they recognize the damage that associating with a racist can do to their brand, which sends a big message regardless of the motivation behind it. In their modern attempts to transform from carny trash sideshow to global entertainment industry, they have legitimately been making the effort to clean up their product and this was the worst time for something like this to come out.
On an episode of the Cracked Podcast discussing racial privilege, an interesting point was made regarding signs of progress. Cracker writer and author David Wong brought up how it's a good thing that we can look back at old Warner Brothers cartoons and recognize how racist they were. By extension, it's a good thing that we can look at the fact that WWE Chairman Vince McMahon once dropped the N-word in a backstage skit ten years ago (although fans thought it was stupid then too) to recognize that it is something that would not fly today. The company taking swift action indicates that even if the individual views of the Hulk Hogans out there haven't progressed, the rest of society has. And that's an effect that bleeds over because eventually a new generation takes over and the process repeats. One generation's progressive will be the next generation's bigoted dinosaur because the truth is, we can always do better.
You need points of reference to see when progress is being made. Any time you see someone complaining about political correctness ruining things, keep in mind that it's simply the function of progress being made within our lifetimes. When you can't say the same things today that could get away with even a few years ago, it means times are changing and we, as a society are being more conscious of the language we use and the prejudices behind that language.
When I was a kid, Eddie Murphy was at his height as a comedian. He was also unabashedly homophobic, saying some absolutely hateful things. Murphy would later publicly acknowledge this and apologize indicating that he had grown as a person. Once again, you can read into it as either genuine or cynical, but the issue remains that his past views were no longer acceptable to the general public. That's progress, that I can chart in my lifetime.
For an example from the other direction. Jurassic World left a very sour impression with me because it has a lot of outdated, sexist ideas that stuck out for a movie from 2015 and frankly, only served to highlight how progressive the original JP was in that regard. Again, progress that I can track in my lifetime because I have a signpost to compare it to. (I have a lot more to say about Jurassic World, but that's an article for another time.)
Beyond popular culture, think back, dear reader to conversations you've had in the past that would make you cringe if you heard someone say those things today. We've all got things that were said during less enlightened times or in times of darkness or stress, but most of us have the benefit of not having them captured on tape. (There's another article to be written regarding "call out culture" and crowd shaming.)
Part of the reason I was hesitant to outright call Hulk Hogan a racist (beyond some twitter jokes about his frequent use of the word "brother") is this same principal of personal growth. Is he not allowed to grow as a person, or is he forever tied to the ugly things he said in the past? By that same token, we cannot just brush off the things he said, because as we saw in Charleston SC, there are real world consequences to those racial attitudes and they do need to be a part of a larger conversation.
As for Hulk Hogan. I guess time will tell if he'll "Hulk Up" out of this one or not...
Author's Note: I promise, one of these days I will set out to write something short and to the point and actually do that. Hopefully you were able to get something of value out if this.
Another Author's Note: I hope you all appreciate how hard it was not avoid mentioning Hulk Hogan's hairline.
Another Another Author's Note: I don't want anyone to think I've forgotten about Gawker and how terrible they are. That'll be a topic for another day. When Gawker vs Hulk takes place in court, it'll be a heel vs heel match.
Kevin Smith's Prince Story (Language warning...it is Kevin Smith after all)
Cracked Podcast episode: "The Horrible 90's Hit Song Song That Explains The Modern World" (Language warning: They use hip hop music as bookends and ad breaks, which use some of the language we're talking about today)
I used to be a huge Mel Gibson fan.
My grandparents had a copy of "Maverick" on VHS that I damn near wore out from watching so often. By the way, since I'll never be able to do a full review of the movie (for reasons I'll get into in a bit) I'll say I still remember it very fondly. It was a lot of fun and the cast was top notch. (Author's Note: It occurs to me I allowed James Garner's passing to go by without properly paying my respects...I'll have to rectify that.)
I loved the Lethal Weapon movies and even latter day movies like Payback were among my favourites. Overall, if you would have asked me 10 years ago (well 11 considering the Passion came out on 2004) to list my favourite actors, Mel would have certainly been named among them.
I am no longer a fan of Mel Gibson. I don't feel I need to go too much into detail to explain why. His track record of being an abusive, misogynistic, racist, religious fundamentalist, alcoholic, rageaholic, batshit crazy asshole have been well covered elsewhere.
It's not so much a case of not being a fan anymore as it is I actively work to avoid putting money in his pockets (yes I realize the irony of giving Maverick a recommendation). That gets more to the heart of what I want to talk about today, which is how we treat the line between the performer and the art.
I'll be the first to say, my Gibson prohibition is not unanimously viewed as the "correct" way to go about things. For many people I have talked to about such things, the art and the performer are always separate. So my refusal to watch ANYTHING Mel Gibson is in (Note to filmmakers I like: quit putting Mel in movies I might legitimately want to see) is in no way to be considered what I believe to be the right thing to do. It's purely on a personal level. Everybody's list is different and not having a list is perfectly acceptable.
What interests me, however, is how hypocritical it makes me to have this prohibition. I'm gonna be honest here and just say that there are a lot of artists I continue to show patronage to, who have some combination of the qualities that led Mel Gibson to land on my shit list.
Sean Connery, Josh Brolin, Steve Austin, Dennis Hopper and John Lennon all had problems with domestic violence.
Malcolm Young, Jake Roberts, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Drew Barrymore, Robert Downey Jr., Steve McQueen and Jack Lemmon all battled substance abuse (Fact: The first time Jack Lemmon publicly acknowledged his battle with alcoholism was during his interview on "Inside the Actors Studio". You could hear a pin drop during the silence that followed.)
Matthew Broderick killed a woman with his car, John Landis and Steven Spielberg were involved in the on set death of Vic Morrow (and two underaged actors who were not supposed to be working at the time) on the set of the Twilight Zone movie.
Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Joan Crawford and Steve Jobs were all well known for their reputations as emotionally abusive basket cases.
That's all off the dome by the way, I could keep going for a long time here but I feel I've illustrated my point. What is it that will change my perspective on an artist so much that I will refuse to ever patronize anything they do? I've always believed in the statement "you vote with your wallet". In Mel Gibson's case, I think it's because the image of the man has become synonymous with any character he tries to play. It's like trying to go back and watch those old Naked Gun movies that had OJ Simpson clowning it up with Leslie Neilson. I have trouble seeing anything but OJ Simpson.
Charlie Sheen found himself on the list for similar reasons, although there was an added dimension to his particular decent into madness. Not only did he hit most of the Mel Gibson meltdown checklist, but added a layer of overt egomania to it.
I think a big part of a reason I won't pay money to watch these guys is I feel like I would be contributing further to their decline. One of the things that fascinates me about the cult of personality in our modern age is the absolute relish with which the public loves to watch an icon fall.
South Park did a brilliant episode called "Britney's New Look" which painted a chilling picture of the dark side of popular culture. In the episode, Britney has had her well publicized meltdown after being hounded by the paparazzi and the public. The boys sneak into her hotel room posing as her children in an attempt to get a picture of her. Upon seeing that she had been tricked, Britney grabs a shotgun and blows the top half of her head off.
Britney survives the ordeal (while still missing the top of her head) and the boys, feeling guilty for having pushed her over the edge, find themselves the only ones defending her when the world seems intent on continuing to push her out into public. At one point she is sent out to perform her new song at an awards show and all everybody talks about is how she has put on weight and can't sing. The don't care that she's missing half of her head.
I won't spoil the rest of the episode, but it is definitely worth a look. A single half hour of television made me look at celebrity obsession a whole new way.
I think a part of why these two men in particular have managed to raise enough bile within me to avoid them completely, is because I don't wish to follow them off the cliff. I'm Stan and Kyle in the South Park story trying to undo the damage when it's already too late.
Craig Ferguson, host of the Late Late Show, had a similar epiphany regarding the cult of personality, in one of his best serious monologues. Especially coming from a late night talk show host, whose job involves regular mockery of celebrities, it was a real eye opener.
Man, it's getting heavy in here.
I need some more Crazy Mel pictures.
I'm not in any way excusing the behavior of Mel and Charlie. I'm merely trying to figure out why they in particular hit that "Nope!" button so very hard.
I think it comes down to a combination of fan guilt (ie - we created the monsters so now we have to stop them), and a sense of betrayal that comes from someone you once liked crossing that line of no return. (Also see the sad case of Chris Benoit for another example of someone whose work I will never be able to enjoy again for a different reason. That's far too lengthy a topic to go into here.)
I don't know where the line is on this. This is a topic I just end up with more questions than answers. Is it wrong to allow personal stuff to impact art? Am I unfairly singling out Mel and Charlie while giving others a pass for the same behavior? Maybe we're all hypocrites? Are Mel and Charlie simply easy targets, playing the whipping boys while others skate on by?
Do you have a prohibition list? What do you think about the separation of person from art? Let me know in the comments.
WARNING: The following is not intended as a work of satire, humour or fiction. It is as serious as it gets. This piece will contain subject matter which may be uncomfortable, however I believe it is important to discuss.
Author's Note: A very special thank you to Jennilee McLean for her feedback and contributions to this article. Her guidance and insight made this piece much better than it would have been otherwise.
"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
As I was checking through my facebook feed, catching up on what has been going on while I've been whacked on NyQuil and Neo-Citran over the past week and I came across this post from my friend Jennilee. Reposted here with her permission. After reading, hopefully you might understand why it didn't feel right to just go on writing about whatever silly thing I had planned. Sure, I'll get back to that but for now it's time to get real.
Here's her message:
"Some people are horrible: I got felt up by a complete stranger last night.
I also experienced lots of dudes saying gross things to me and making gross gestures, just because I happened to be near them. All that stuff I post about how misogyny is ingrained in our culture is real, and this is just one tiny example of it. A man thought it was perfectly acceptable to not only touch me, but aggressively grab my body. The real sickening thing is all I can think is that I'm just glad it wasn't worse. Because it is worse for women everywhere, every day.
Any time you hear me complaining about the stampede, understand that it isn't the event that I hate. It's the terrible behaviour that comes with it. It's a week long nightmare of shitty people being extra horrible, in my neighborhood."
I wanted to include the quote as it was because I believe in giving credit where it is due when something I have to say is inspired by someone else. The other reason is a little more complicated. I always find, when discussing complex issues it helps me focus to put a human face to it. We live in a world where we have more capacity to put up walls, electronic and otherwise, than we've ever had before. That tends to wring the humanity out of these stories. We sometimes forget that behind every statistic, there's a story just like Jenni's or worse.
The sad thing is, Jenni's experience is not unusual for these types of events. As she mentioned, something worse happens to women every day. In fact, statistically speaking, someone else was sexually assaulted that day and likely in a much more severe way (also, statistically speaking it went unreported-another sad truth).
I attended Calgary's Comics and Entertainment Expo earlier this year and they ran a campaign called "Cosplay is not consent". The campaign was designed to shed light on the problem of people mistaking revealing costumes for invitations for unwanted contact or harassment. This is at least encouraging insofar that the pervasive (and previously unacknowledged) elements of rape culture these events tolerated in the past, are at least being addressed. And there we have the point of this piece. I've said the two magic trigger words that make a lot of men tune out to this issue: "rape culture". That is what I want to talk about today (although "want to" would indicate joy in the act which would be incorrect).
I should preface by saying, normally I avoid using the term "rape culture" in these types of discussions. The reason being, it's a loaded and somewhat ambiguous phrase that carries a lot of baggage with it and it tends to hang up the conversation. Frankly, it causes some of us with Y chromosomes to tune out. Kind of like how some white people tend to tune out whenever a black person talks about "the man". In both cases, the phrases function as intellectual off switches. The content of the argument gets brushed aside because in the use of both "rape culture" and "the man"...we know they're talking about us (white males) and that gets all kind of uncomfortable. Denial is a powerful thing.
I'll admit, I was once that way too. I ignored issues of institutionalized misogyny because I could always justify it with "I'm not like that so they're not talking about me". I batted it away as someone else's problem to deal with. Over the past several years, however something began to gnaw at me. I couldn't describe exactly what it was at first or when it really kicked in. It just started as a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach.
It first came into my purview with the reporting of the widespread misogyny and rape threats aimed at female gamers online. Then came the rash of teen suicides predicated on slut shaming and harassment of sexual assault victims. Then came the Steubenville Ohio rape case, where townspeople, school officials and the American news media found more sympathy for the young football players convicted of rape than the victim of the the rape. Then came comedian Daniel Tosh's whole "Can you make jokes about rape" controversy that might have been a thought provoking bit of social commentary had it not come from Daniel Tosh. Then came Amanda Todd and Rehteah Parsons, bullied into suicide after being sexually extorted and assaulted respectively. It all started to add up so fast. The picture it was creating was ugly and something I, as a self described enlightened modern man didn't want to face.
The "rape culture" I had been ignoring because it had nothing to do with me, was in fact happening all around me. It wasn't that this stuff was now happening more often, it was that I was finally able to see it and people (much braver and more perceptive than I am) were speaking out against it.
What it all comes down to is, as a culture, we have a serious problem with the way we treat women. I don't mean that in the chivalry sense of holding open doors and standing when they enter the room. I mean on a deeper, psychological, sociological and systemic level how do does our culture treat women?
Part of my growth as a writer (especially in regards to social matters) has been a greater emphasis on recognizing patterns beyond what is simply seen and heard out in the open. It was in looking at the issue through that lens I finally saw what "rape culture" actually meant. It's not the actual stories that comprise a rape culture, it's the unseen connective pieces between the stories.
I'll use the analogy of news coverage to illustrate better. In news coverage, there are always two elements at play when you look at a news item. There is the "story" and there is the "narrative". The story is the one off. It's the isolated incident. As Joe Friday would call it, it's "just the facts". The narrative is more fluid in nature. It's not always easy to spot. It requires stepping back from the story itself to see where it fits into the scheme of things. For example, a story about three men breaking into a room in the Watergate Hotel is a story. It has a clear who, when, what, why and where? The narrative in this case is that of abuse of power by a sitting United States President and what happens when people lose faith in their government. The narrative took years to fully emerge in this case, but it had far broader implications than the act of breaking into a hotel room.
Looking at cultural misogyny through the same lens, I had finally tapped into the right frame of mind to see the pattern that had been there all along. Like Neo learning to read the lines of code in the Matrix or that moment when the magic eye picture finally takes shape. Once you know the pattern, you can't unsee the picture.
What makes a pair of Ohio football players think they have a right to force themselves on a girl who is passed out? What made the loser in Jenni's story think he had a right to violate her in that way? What made her less of a person and what made him think that it was ok? This points to a much deeper mass psychology issue than just one gross asshole being a little gropey. The CCEE wouldn't have to run a campaign telling patrons to keep their hands to themselves if there wasn't a bigger problem. The man in Jenni's story didn't seem to know or care that what he was doing was sexual assault and he was committing a crime. Somewhere a reeducation is needed. It not cute, it's not funny and saying "boys will be boys" just doesn't cut it any more.
The narrative when it comes to rape culture is that young boys have been conditioned to see women as objects from a very young age. I never fully grasped the full implications of the phrase "objectifying women" until this all clicked into place for me. I thought it was simply focusing on their physical traits (see my review of Sleepy Hollow for my awkward and failed attempts to avoid that pitfall). The truth is far worse. By objectifying women (ie - treating someone like an object), we remove their humanity. They become less real and therefore, less worthy of consideration and respect. They become prizes to be won, status symbols to show off, notches on bedposts and stories to tell the next day. In all of these mindsets, the women involved have no agency over their own bodies or destinies. Once they become dehumanized, and that's where the danger comes from. When you start seeing a particular group as less than human, it becomes easier to justify committing atrocities against them. Just look at slavery or to holocaust to see what happens when we fail to recognize the humanity of others.
This brings me to the second story I wanted to tell which further illustrates my point. A little over a year ago, an event was held in Calgary called the "Skirt Chaser 5K". It was a singles run where the women or "skirts" would get a head start and the men would have to chase them.
Joanna Pesta, a friend and coworker, made a comment on twitter about how sexist the whole thing was. It got retweeted a bunch and blew into a media dust-up for a few weeks. The response was the fairly typical backlash faced by any woman who questions the status quo. To Jo's credit, she (and Stephanie Symington, another friend and coworker who also got involved and is deserving of a shout out) handled it well considering the amount of vitriol that came back. The justifications from men ranged from "they've done this for a long time and nobody has ever complained before" (fun fact - dwarf tossing and public lynchings also used to happen pretty regularly), to "you're making a big deal out of nothing" (aka - gaslighting) to variations on "Calm down, it's all in good fun" (aka "Sit down, shut up and take it" with a mix of "Lalalalala I can't hear you!"). And those were just the ones that were actual responses and not the misspelled rantings of sexually frustrated man children.
Here's again where the difference between the story and the narrative comes into play. Is one misogynistic fun run that bad? Not at face value. When you look at the bigger pattern though, the picture becomes more sinister. In this case the women were prizes to be pursued and caught (the predator/prey implications more than overt). They were also given the head start for the explicit purpose of giving the men something to chase after. Once again, reducing women to prizes (in this case, prey to be caught) and not human beings of equal value to the men. Not surprisingly, the men on the opposing side didn't see the big deal, because men don't often have to worry about being chased and sexually assaulted when walking alone. The same way non dwarf sized people didn't have a problem with dwarf tossing until the little people spoke up and said "Hey, knock it off assholes! That really hurts." Those in a position of power have the luxury of not thinking it's a big deal.
To contrast, I routinely go on late night walks, without once experiencing the fear of being harassed, chased or assaulted based on my gender. How many women would be able to say the same? Jennilee put it in perspective: "All women risk danger - simply by going out into the world - at the hands of dangerous men. And dangerous men look just like other men."
The statistics bear that out. In the United States (where we take many of our cultural cues from) a woman is assaulted approximately every 2 minutes. In Canada the figures are every 17 minutes. A majority of assaults are by person(s) known to the victim. What kind of society have we created where one gender has to go through life in a constant state of hyper-awareness and fear? To dismiss that fear as not important, or overblown is to be willfully ignorant of white male privilege.
You see the elements of the misogyny culture everywhere once you crack the pattern. In the movies, the hero saves the day and gets the girl, as if sex is the expected reward for doing good things. In the Axe Body Spray commercials young men are made to believe if they spray what I believe is DDT mixed with vomit onto themselves a bevy of beautiful women will instantly swoon over them, the women apparently having no agency in this decision. Every case of female body shaming reinforces the idea that women exist merely as objects to be enjoyed aesthetically. Any time someone complains about being in the "friend zone" they are perpetuating the idea that women are obligated to give them sex in exchange for being "nice" (Hint: If the only reason you do nice things if to receive sex in return, you're not really nice.) Also, let's not forget generations of women whose reproductive rights have historically been controlled and legislated by men. There are a lot of people out there who would happily force women to bear children against their will, once again taking agency over their bodies away from them. What kind of message does that send? "We'll decide what you can do with your body." These are just examples off the top of my head. The sad truth is that I have barely scratched the surface. Even with that in mind, it's enough to paint a pretty disturbing picture.
Now, I don't have all the answers here. I'm just one guy. When you're dealing with mass psychological and cultural issues there are no easy answers or quick fixes. There is no magic formula and you can't really "solve for X" on this one. I'm not an expert. There's a lot I still have to learn, and a lot of things I don't have any real answers for.
I do know that, while protection under the law is extremely important, it's not the solution. Cultural attitudes cannot be legislated and in a lot of cases we tend to take legal protection as a sign that everything is alright and we rest on our laurels. Legal protection is only the first step to changing the cultural mindset. In that area, there is still a long way to go.
I do know that talking about issues is an important step to solving them. Even if the conversation is uncomfortable to have, even if recognition of responsibility is required. It's not about assigning blame, it's about identifying problems in order to correct them.
I do know it's important for men to speak out against this kind of stuff. Young boys learn from their role models. Teach these boys right and we can leave the future a little better than we found the past. Here's what I do know. I know that what we can teach them is as simple as it gets.
"Women are not objects, they are human beings. They are deserving of respect. Their bodies are their own. Nobody is entitled to any part of them."
And it's important to support brave women who speak out on these issues like Jenni, Joanna and Stephanie. It takes a lot of courage to stand up for yourself, while constantly being told to sit down and be quiet.
Since I am in the position to appeal to those who need to hear this message most, if I could have men do one thing, it would be to listen when women say they feel threatened or offended. Don't brush off their concerns as overreactions or exaggerations, actually listen to them. Don't reflexively retreat into "Not all men are like that", actually listen to them. Of course not all men are like that, but all men currently live in a culture that thinks like that, and that's the problem. As a self described enlightened modern man (it sounds dumber each time I type it), I sometimes catch myself falling into anti-woman rhetoric or excusing this kind of behavior either out of habit or ignorance (as happened in the first draft of this piece, check out the links below for more on that).
Earlier this year, I was party to a discussion regarding whether or not the 1989 Montreal Massacre at École Polytechnique was still relevant to the generation of young people coming up today. The shootings earlier this year in California remain a startling reminder that this issue can have deadly consequences. In both cases, disturbed young men lashed out because of a deep hatred of women and because women in general had something the shooters felt they were entitled to (career/educational opportunities and their bodies, respectively).
Silence isn't an option anymore.
It's time to speak up, gentlemen.
Before I wrap this up, I want to leave you with Jennilee's final words on this.
Recognizing and owning one's privilege is really fucking hard, but it is vital. Some men lash out and feel personally attacked when women share their stories of injustice at the hands of other men, because they can't conceive of a conversation that is not in some way about them. That is privilege. Instead, understand that it is not about you. Listen to the women in your lives, and practice empathy. You can't know what it's like to be a woman, but you can believe them when they tell you. By declaring 'not all men', you dismiss her experience, and you remind her that her experiences don't count (and you're telling her something she already knows). We know that not all men are the problem, but all men must work to end systemic misogyny.
www.rainn.org - The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network does great work for survivors of sexual violence.
assaultcare.ca - A Canadian based support network for sexual assault victims
Jackson Katz - "Violence against women, it's a men's issue"
-An interesting presentation calling men to the cause of opposing gender violence. I stole the Martin Luther King Jr. quote from him.
"Feminspire: Debunking the "Caveman" excuse. Why rape is not natural"
-During the course of writing this piece, I consulted with Jennilee initially to gain permission to use her quote. Thanks to her feedback, I gained some valuable insight into a trap I had fallen into, by bringing up the biological argument that rape is an evolutionary holdover. After more research on the matter (beginning with this article) I realized I was wrong. Not just from a moral perspective (trying to explain rape using flawed biological reasoning can be used as an excuse) but from a logical standpoint as well (coming from social primates, it makes no sense for rape to be a part of the natural order). Even though I removed the content in question, I left in this explanation and the link above to illustrate that even those of us who are well meaning are capable of being misinformed.
Slate: "Not all men: How discussing women's issues gets derailed"
-An interesting article that goes over some of the territory I covered here. Particularly in regards to the "Not all men" response. Definitely worth a read.
CBC Article on "Skirt Chaser 5K"
-Featuring quotes from Joanna and Stephanie Symington.
www.sexassault.ca - Contains a helpful summary of stats as well as information and resources
*If there are any links you feel I missed, please let me know in the comments.*
"Your Princess is in Another Castle" - Suggested by Shereen Samuels, a well written piece about misogyny and entitlement in geek culture. The author touches on a few issues I have mentioned, but goes more in depth into geek culture than I have here. Very interesting read.
Hi, my name is Mitch and I write things sometimes.