Selective Outrage in Support of Rape Culture

By Joshua Bardwell, originally posted in March 2010 at Jack-Booted Liberal.

I’ve been thinking a lot about oppression and privilege lately. Fat-hate. Rape culture. Sexism. Racism. Able-ism. I don’t claim to be particularly well-versed in the topics, but I have started to notice a trend or two in the ways that people respond to an idea that challenges their position of privilege. One behavior that I’m noticing at this moment is what I’ll call selective outrage. Honestly, it’s a topic that I, myself, am only really starting to grasp, so I may have a hard time describing it, but I”ll give it a try. Selective outrage works something like this.

In 2007, A law was proposed in Australia which stated that intoxication does not imply sexual consent. Note: the law did not say that intoxicated people cannot give sexual consent, just that intoxication plus the lack of a “no” does not mean “yes.” Apparently, “She was drunk,” was being used successfully as a defense to rape charges, and this law was intended to change that. Put another way, the law requires drunk people to actually agree to fuck you. Seems pretty non-controversial, no?

Here are some of the comments made on a certain web forum regarding this law:

So yeah, we had a few drinks, we went back to her place she threw me on the sofa, blew me for awhile and then rode we until she orgasmed and then the next day I get arrested for raping her

This commenter appears to be concerned with the potential for misapplication of the justice system. He doesn’t want to see innocent people accused of a crime, and he is OUTRAGED.

When you drink and drive, it’s is YOUR responsibility in the fact that you should of known to say no to driving. Why is it then, that when women drink, our justice system thinks they are nothing but children, unable to control themselves at all, and thus exonerate them of ANY responsibility?

This commenter appears to be concerned with issues of personal responsibility. He also seems upset at a system that treats women like children, rather than autonomous adults. He is OUTRAGED!

Now, I can support the Sober Guy/Drunk Girl = Rape argument to some degree, but I have two issues with this. Foremost; Shouldn’t this girl be, in some respects, responsible for her own level of intoxication? Hate to tell you, but you don’t HAVE to get drunk, and then the consent issue stays clear. How can the guys be the only ones faulted when both parties are drunk?

Likewise, this commenter raises questions of personal responsibility and agency. OUTRAGED!

Do you want to deny a woman with a slumbersex fetish pleasure?

This commenter tackles the conjoined issues of sex-negativity and sexism, standing up for the right of people to consent to treatment of their bodies, even in non-mainstream ways. He is OUTRAGED!

Except it’s all bullshit, isn’t it? Because these people are probably not outraged about misapplication of justice, treating women like children, taking away people’s personal responsibility, or, more to the point, rape, ANY OTHER TIME than when it might affect them. And that slumbersex person? The most egregious example. Is that person actually kink-positive in real life, or is this just some semantic trick, used solely for the purpose of opposing the new law? Which, I will re-iterate, says simply that intoxicated people have to consent to sex just like everybody else.

The sneaky thing about selective outrage is that the points raised are, on the face, valid. At least they would be if they occurred in a vacuum. But they don’t. They occur in a context in which, for example, WOMEN ARE ACTUALLY BEING RAPED and the people who raped them are not being convicted at stunningly high numbers. The commenters often have absolutely nothing to say about that. Being outspokenly angry about rape is reserved for Feminists Who Are Probably Also Lesbians. Oh, if you asked them, they’d probably say, “Rape is bad, yo,” but the only time they can be bothered to actually type a comment on the Internet is when a law might be passed to actually DO SOMETHING about the raping, and when they do, it’s to poke holes and point out potential problems with the law.

This is the essence of selective outrage. If the only time you express your outrage is to oppose ideas that seek to change conditions, then you support the conditions, no matter what you might intend. And in this case, that means you support the status quo as it pertains to rape, which is a little shocking given the state of rape in America today. If you are anti-rape, I don’t insist that you actually speak out about it. Hey, there are a lot of issues in the world for people to care about, and rape may just not make your list. That’s actually fine with me. But at the very least, maintain your position of silence on the issue when those who care enough to speak up do so.

The End of Babywearing

My babywearing time has come to an end.

Dylan weighs around 50 pounds now, and I’ve reached the limit of my ability to carry him for anything longer than mere moments.

I loved babywearing so much. I tried out lots of different carriers – the Moby (my review), Baby K’tan (my review), Maya Wrap (my review), Ultimate Baby Wrap, Ultimate Baby Mei Tai, Baby Bjorn, an Ergo, and probably more. These were mostly ones that were given or loaned to me or that I picked up cheap here and there. When Dylan started to get heavier and more active, I sprung for a higher end mei tai, a Toddler Hawk. This was a fantastic buy that let me carry him all sorts of places and made us way more mobile as a team. We even had a couple of hiking excursions.

A baby carrier was a feminist object in my life. If at all possible, children should be cared for in the way that is biologically appropriate for them: in arms, breastfed, cosleeping. A society that does not make room for this kind of care for children is not a society that cares about children. Of course, there’s no reason that this care work must exclusively and totally be the role of the mother. Babies can be in fathers’ arms, grandparents, neighbors, or the arms of older children. They can cosleeep with any responsible sleeper. However, as things currently stand, this work is pretty much exclusively on mothers, whether by true choice or circumstance.

Providing the bulk of this care risks mothers being cut off from their regular interests, from the company of other adults, and from the other usual tasks of life. A baby carrier allows the baby the in-arms care without isolating and restricting the mother. It is my choice and our family’s economic privilege that allow me to provide the majority of Dylan’s care. Even in that situation, there’s a risk of social alienation and physical limitations. But with a carrier, I was able to keep doing basically everything I was already doing – errands, farm work, going to burns – while also carrying Dylan, because I had this great tool to make it easier on me. Frankly, in a society that was more focused on the health of infants and communities, there’s no reason a carer couldn’t take a baby in a carrier to most jobs. I won’t hold my breath on that one, but it would certainly be possible.

Joshua carried Dylan in a carrier, too. He liked using the Maya wrap and the Moby. We both got tons of use out of the Toddler Hawk. It was a great on-and-off carrier, easily adjustable to either of our bodies, and good for short bits or long treks.

If I could only choose one carrier, it would be a Moby. I used it with Dylan up to probably around 30 pounds. It’s primarily for front carries, but I also invented a way to use it like a ring sling for side and back-ish carries with an older child.

It’s good that Dylan’s physical capabilities kept up with his size, because I need his help for even simple tasks like getting him on the changing table. I taught him about holding hands so that we can still be in contact as we move from place to place, but carrying him around is just a physical impossibility these days. I even had to break down and buy a stroller for some uses!For an older, heavier child, I loved my Toddler Hawk. Maybe I would have loved a woven wrap, since I liked the Moby so much. I wasn’t going to pay for two expensive carriers, though, so I chose the ease of the Mei Tai style since I wanted it for daily, anytime use.

Beyond the practicality of a carrier, it helped us be emotionally close, too. There were so many sweet moments when Dylan would fall asleep on me in a carrier. So many times that we could do an activity together facilitated by a carrier. So much closeness between us all the time. Babywearing, breastfeeding, and cosleeping are the trifecta of our intimacy as a dyad. Babywearing is the first one to go, and there’s certainly a twinge of sadness for me.

Babywearing was a short period of time in the overall span of Dylan’s life and my time as a parent, but it was a really sweet time, wonderfully bonding, and I’m going to miss it.

How Do You Know These Legs Are Male?

Check out this post card from Post Secret:

Aside from the postcard’s message, I find the drawing interesting. This person is wearing a short skirt and high heels. So what is supposed to tell us that it’s a man? The hairy legs, of course, even though women naturally have similar hair on their legs.

Why can’t this drawing be of a woman? I am a woman, and my legs look like this. Well, my legs are a lot bigger. And I would never wear heels with an ankle strap. And red doesn’t match my hair. But anyway. I have hairy legs. And I wear skirts and high heels with my hairy legs.

Mother Culture whispers to us from everywhere, including Post Secret postcards. Mother Culture whispers many things in this image, messages about gender, beauty, and our bodies.

My voice cannot counter all of that, but I will try anyway: High heels and short skirts go perfectly with hairy legs. Your body is just fine the way it is. You do not have to shave bits of it off.

Quick Hit – Stay Hairy!

I remember going through complicated mental flowcharts in an effort not to shave. Eventually it became “no” more and more often. Ten years ago it turned into shaving once or twice a year. In 2009 I shaved for Burning Man, and I haven’t shaved since. I feel like I won!

Still, I think this graphic is cute. I got it here (and I don’t recommend the comments!)

Feminism, Children, and What Women Are Supposed to Talk About

Over at Slate, Katie Roiphe has an article called Get Your Kid Off Your Facebook Page, subtitled “Why do women hide behind their children?” In it, she takes a subject I’m sure we’re all familiar with (sometimes previously interesting friends get obsessed over a new topic and turn into boring drones), applies it to a certain topic guaranteed to rile people up (children), and then slaps an insulting feminist rant down on top of it. I’m not amused.

The article starts out talking about women who use photos of their children as their own Facebook profile picture. I’m vaguely on board at this point, not because I mind pictures of children in general but because I prefer people’s icons to not be cartoon characters, movie stars, and other people-who-are-not-them, which includes their children. Roiphe says these women have other interests – careers, books, causes – but they choose their children as their image, which we’re supposed to derive some greater critique from. She asks, “Where have all these women gone?”

At this point, I took a quick glance at my own Facebook friends’ choices of icons. I found photos of people’s artwork, graphic icons for projects the person was involved in, religious symbols, movie stars, food, plants, animals, and other random objects, including one of a stapler. Has my artist friend who displays his artwork in his icon “gone” somewhere? Or is he simply displaying something that’s relevant to his life, that he’s proud of, that he’s interested in, that he thinks looks cool…? And is that any different from someone who displays a photo of their child? If a woman in question displayed photos related to the examples Roiphe gives of her other presumed interests – her favorite author, for example – will that mean she has “gone” somewhere?

Moving away from Facebook, Roiphe criticizes a hypothetical friend who rambles all through the dinner party about her children:

Think about how throughout the entire dinner party, from olives to chocolate mousse, she talks about nothing but her kids. You waited, and because you love this woman, you want her to talk about…what?…a book? A movie? A news story? True, her talk about her children is very detailed, very impressive in the rigor and analytical depth she brings to the subject; she could, you couldn’t help but think, be writing an entire dissertation on the precise effect of a certain teacher’s pedagogical style on her 4-year-old. But still. You notice at another, livelier corner of the table that the men are not talking about models of strollers.

The examples given here and the switch at the end are very telling. You want to talk about a book or a movie, perhaps, which arguably wouldn’t be that detailed or nuanced a conversation in itself. Your friend wants to talk about pedagogical styles. You notice that the men aren’t talking about strollers. Wait a minute. Your friend wasn’t talking about strollers, either. She was talking about teaching strategies with, by your judgment, dissertation level detail. Yet you reduce the characterization of that to the level of importance of stroller models. This sounds an awful lot like because it’s a woman talking and because it’s about children, it’s apparently trivial and not nearly as important as what the men are talking about.

This sounds like the opposite of feminism, which is odd, since the article makes fun of the hypothetical friend’s dusty feminist cred. The woman has read femininist theory and knows about different waves of feminism. She went to college, dammit! Yet somehow, her current conversational interests don’t stack up with Roiphe’s image of what a middle-aged feminist should look like.

I’ll toss in a disclaimer of sorts: I think it is relevant from a feminist perspective to talk about trends in women’s behavior and what they mean sociologically. Are more women more focused on their children these days than in years past? Are women as a group abandoning other interests in favor of their children when they might prefer to do otherwise? What kinds of social pressures are in place that lead women towards focusing on childcare-related topics and away from other topics? These – and a gazillion others – might be good questions to ask and answer. But those questions are different than attacking and belittling the actions of individual women. Roiphe mocks a real-life, non-hypothetical friend who lets her daughter wear annoyingly squeaky shoes because the daughter likes them. Huh? What does that have to do with whether or not your friend read The Feminine Mystique in college? How does that promote a cause or advance feminist theory? It doesn’t. It’s just petty.

In my experience, the people who talk on and on about their kids have young children. This means that the period of time where they’re “obsessed” is a few years long. Is it strange for a person to fall in love with or begin spending time on something new and then talk about it a lot for months or years? I don’t think so. Friends of mine who are in college talk about college a lot. The people who garden or sew talk about gardening or sewing a lot. Some people talk about their jobs in infinite detail. Some of my friends mix DJ sets, and I’m astounded at how much they manage to talk about this. It’s much, much rarer to hear anyone complain about these one-note-tunes, though. Somehow when the topic is children – which usually means the speaker is a woman – there’s a special hatred attached to the topic. If I have a hypothetical friend on Facebook who has a flame-effect as their user icon, talks about Burning Man and regional BM events a lot, talks about the money they’re saving for the event, the costumes they’re making, the art they’re working on, etc, should I be concerned about where my friend’s identity has “gone” and what it means to society? Should I start pointing and laughing and muster up confusion as to why my friend isn’t talking about the same things ou talked about 10 years ago? Is ou “hiding behind Burning Man on Facebook”? No? Then why would that be anymore true when the topic is children?

Also, there looms the giant possibility that if you think your friend’s chatter about her children is inane babble, you’re not listening. Sure, sometimes she is talking about stroller models, which will probably bore anyone else who hasn’t been in the market for a stroller lately. But she’s probably also talking about say, pedagogical models, or how politics affect her ability to find decent childcare, the effects of advertising in her home, or the research on the benefits of organic foods in the lunch box. Your smart friend is still probably your smart friend.

If her topics do lack overarching social importance, they’re still the details of her actual life – the things she finds funny, the things she finds gross, the stuff that delights her or bothers her or wears her out or makes her day. If you thought she was such a wonderful person before having kids – a wonderful feminist, even – maybe you should listen instead of rolling your eyes. Maybe there’s something important in there. At the very least, it’s important to her, and believing her when she says so is itself a powerful feminist act.