"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Violence, Bullies, and the Right Time and Place

{Ok, it's a long one. But I figured since my long treatises of how I became a feminist have encouraged exactly ZERO comments, I'd just forge on ahead and see if we can get into the negative numbers of comments with more and more long posts.}

Kissing Feministe's Ass
Have I mentioned how much I love Feministe? I must admit that I mostly enjoy Jill's posts; though both piny and zuzu often have some great insights, I think I just like Jill's writing style the most. And, of course, I still miss Lauren's thoughts on feminism, though I thoroughly enjoy her new-er work in Faux Real. One thing about Jill is that she often has a combination of really long-ish, drawn-out posts, combined with discussions of pop culture, which I find good and necessary and powerful.

Friday Random Violence
All of which is to preface that I feel sort of weird complaining about a recent post of Jill's that is pretty much totally about pop culture. It's not even a normal content-filled post, because it's part of the Friday Random Ten feature. Jill posted the video to a Lilly Allen song:

I had no idea who this was until this video, but I could immediately relate to the feelings behind the song--getting dumped by a jerk sucks, and revenge fantasies can be quite healthy and comforting, I think. And I'd guess that lots of people can identify with feeling happy when a jerky ex feels sad. Showing my age: Many were the hours I spent listening to Cyndi Lauper's "I Don't Wanna Be Your Friend" and The Mountain Goats' "No Children". As I said, it's comforting.

That said, the video (not the song itself, since there doesn't seem to be any violence implied in the lyrics alone) freaked me out quite a bit, and I thought that I'd mention it in the comments there:
I may be overreacting here, but the first ‘prank’ pulled in that video seems really disturbing to me. Perhaps it’s because I have known several people who were accosted in a similar way, and seen the way even ‘mildly’ getting the crap beat out of you can damage you, long-term. I know that such a portrayal pales in comparison to the amount of violence against women portrayed in various media, but it still freaks me out. I’d be curious if anybody else had a similar reaction?

At least one person seemed to agree, but what ensued wasn't a discussion of the violence, but rather some short discussion on the merits of Johnny Cash.

Time and Place
I'll have to admit that I was pretty disappointed to not get any sort of reaction from Jill to my comment about the violence in the video, and disappointed that few others seemed to care one way or another. I was tempted to say something again over there, but decided that this was a perfect opportunity to check my privilege. It's not my right in any way to get feedback from Jill. There are lots of possible reasons that I didn't get much of a response, from the fact that few people read/post comments on the FRT posts to the fact that moderating and responding to comments on a blog such as Feministe must be something close to a full-time job. I already have to pick and choose what I respond to here on Feminist Allies, and we get a few comments a post on average. So, sure, I was very interested in what Jill might have thought about the violence, but if I had in any way demanded such a response, that would be akin to becoming something like the sort of bully, ironically enough, that I thought the woman in the video--and her friends--were being.

I don't want a cookie here. This is all by way of saying that I came thisclose to being an ass over there, which sort of sucks, but in another way helps me to understand when others forget to check their privilege when dealing with me. In addition, I'm happy that I have the space here on FA to talk about it--this is the right place to do so.

Bullies and Violence
As I had said in my comment on Feministe, I know that the violence perpetrated in the video pales in comparison to both the amount and depth of violence against women portrayed in various media. (Yet another reason to not make such a big deal of it over on Feministe.) Still, the violence bothered me, and I don't think that ignoring that is healthy for me--and that discussing it, drawing some attention to it, is something worthwhile for me to do as a feminist, and as a man.

My first reaction to the video is mostly visceral. Paying somebody to beat the crap out of somebody else just makes my skin crawl. It's an exercise in power dynamics that is at the core of what it means to bully people (i.e. having enough money/capital/influence to get somebody else to do violence to your enemy). Paying somebody to damage somebody else's property is up there on my list of wrongs, but it just doesn't have the same feeling as paying somebody to beat somebody up, potentially causing great physical and emotional harm, long-term. Are there people who 'deserve' to get beat up? Maybe. Rapists come to mind as one possible example. But even if we agreed that some people 'deserve' it, it still ought to be a last resort and only in extreme cases, rather than a way to get over one's heartbreak.

But this is just a video, some people might say. And I'd tend to agree on some level--but that's part of the irony of this situation: Jill is one of the people who has taught me (along with Bitch magazine and Feministing) that it's never 'just' anything with pop culture. Pop culture has power, and begs to be better understood and analyzed through feminist lenses.

But What About the Men?--Where I Stroll Into MRA Country
And I find myself thinking: What if the gender stuff was reversed in the video? What if some guy was hiring people (who are of two genders, interestingly enough) to beat up his ex-girlfriend, so he could enjoy seeing her cry? I think that would outrage me even more. Why? Well, in part because I think that women already get much, much more than their fair share of these sorts of portrayals in the media, not to mention lots of real-life violence in real life. I mean, crap, they make whole movies that revolve around physically harming women because they are women. (There are lots of movies about violence being done to men, but often the fact that they are men isn't the central reason for the violence.) It may also be the case that I would feel more outrage if the genders were 'reversed' because to whatever extent I buy into patriarchic bs (see below).

And I want to be careful here, because I am *not* saying: Men are oppressed because people don't see the violence done to the guy in this video as a big deal. But I do want to say that it's interesting that I am more easily bothered by the violence against that guy--partly because I identify with him on some level, as a man--than perhaps Jill or the other-than-male-identified people who read Feministe might be. Perhaps this is one of the places where men may be able to better recognize the ways in which patriarchy hurts men?

Patriarchy Hurts Men
And here's how patriarchy is working in and around the violence in this video. This is not an exhaustive list, but rather just some pointers into better understanding it all.

  • It's patriarchy that helps us to less often see violence done against men as a big deal, by reinforcing traditional conceptions of masculinity such as uber-independence and able-to-get-beat-up-and-come-out-of-it-alive types of strength.
  • Similarly, it's patriarchy which helps us to think that it's ok for a woman to hire people to beat up a guy, even though it more obviously wouldn't be ok for a man to hire people to beat up a woman--and patriarchy does this once again by reinforcing traditional conceptions of masculinity and femininity, in the minds of people of all genders.
  • It's probably also patriarchy which keeps some men from voicing their concerns about the violence portrayed against men--fearing they may be thought of as 'less than' in some way.
  • Also, patriarchy keeps us locked into traditional conceptions of women, too, as regards this video--after all, it might even be more cathartic for her to beat the crap out of the guy herself (and given the actual people in the video, I think she could take him, size and weight and all that).

Thanks for letting me get all of that off of my chest.
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