Thursday, October 22, 2009

Academic vs. Activist, How to End Rape Culture

Another one of my posts playing off a blog post I read elsewhere... Feministing linked me to here, promising a post about how men need to be involved in ending rape culture. The post, by Audacia Ray, ended up having almost nothing to do with that. In a (self-admitted) ramble, the post started at noting that men need to be involved in ending rape culture, but in asking what that would look like, went off on a very sophomore year B/B- tangent about the author's personal history dating manly men, womanly men, and women. Then the commenters made a big deal about how we talk about trans people, and I was left with next-to-no-interest in anything anyone was saying, except to the extent that I felt deprived of what I'd hoped was a conversation about an important issue: how do you get men interested in issues of modern feminism?

Let's start by saying that this post and its comments were a great example of how you DON'T get men interested in issues of modern feminism. I cheered a little when one commenter wrote: "I think it would be really useful to have this conversation in plain ordinary English, instead of obscure and obtuse gender studies academic jargon."

Which gets at a frustration I have that I haven't been able to articulate before: the way that feminist "activists" are really in a gray area that's mostly colored academic. They're more interested in being completely correct and describing their holistic revolution than than they are in introducing change within the next decade.

Nobody outside of Northampton, MA or the area west of Broadway between 116th St. and 120th St. knows what "cis" means. (it means presenting a gender which matches the genitals and chromosomes with which you were born) Are you trying to develop an intellectual movement that will, someday, result in a meaningful change? Or are you trying to effect change directly? There's a zero-sum between communicability and sensitivity, and as long as you tiptoe around alienating people who are actually alienated anyway, you're only preaching to the choir of people who already care. While trans issues have become a big part of most feminist discourse, this relentless language policing ends up as a perpetual distraction from the other substantive issues at hand, which go beyond transgendered people.

Anyway, Audacia's post also has some problems that are illustrative of why rape culture keeps going. It starts as identifying that, yeah, men DO need to be involved in ending rape culture. But then it veers off into analysis of how aggression and safety know no gender. On the one hand, it's important to express that ending rape culture isn't an attack on men/masculinity... and if I'm reading her post wrong, and it IS an attack on masculinity, then she's defeated before she's even tried to start. She asks who the dudes are who are working to end rape culture, and that tangent seems to lead her to discussing guys who are more feminine. Those guys... tend not to have a whole lot of traction with the people who are supporting rape culture.

If she wants the partnership of men who assume, if not embrace, a conventional masculinity of one stripe or another, then she needs to be comfortable with playing to their decision not to confront the broader problems with their masculinity. Defining rape culture to include frat/football team hazings and institutional racism is a call for revolution, not for establishing partnerships with powerful people. As long as the end of rape culture is the end of Power and Privilege, rape culture will live on. It's up to the people who have identified rape culture to find a way to decouple critical analysis (in the academic sense) from ending rape culture.

I love it when someone puts up a post about the ways to stay safe from rape or to end rape and someone else posts "hey, the best way to end rape is for men to learn that they shouldn't rape." Well, that was great. Hope you had fun writing that. It was brilliant. Hey! Look. Nobody learned to stop raping because you said that.

The end of rape culture is going to come when feminist activists-- who are different from academic feminists, because supposedly they're trying to put things into action-- learn to get over their reasonable discomfort at saying "Women are not objects. No homo." And the point there, obviously, is that if ending rape culture means ending masculinity as we know it, instead of just trying to introduce evolution and incremental improvement, then you've already killed the interest of anyone influential who isn't already on your side. Because insisting upon the full range of social-gender-economic revolutions taking place simultaneously is the same as supporting the status quo. If you can learn to work with people who may have insecurities about their masculinity but aren't particularly interested in resolving them, you can do real work in adapting masculinity so that it doesn't support rape culture. Otherwise, rape culture will just keep going.

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