Verbal Handgranades, Vitriolic Banter, and Verifiable Rape

Because I am a male, I need to preface this with certain key points.

1.  I understand the seriousness of sexual assault. 

I am thankful that I have never been a victim of it (more through luck than the fact that I'm male--on two specific times in my past, mere timing prevented it from in all likelihood occurring).  I have encountered a great many people professionally and personally that have been through it.  I've seen the way it impacted and continues to impact their lives.  In writing this, I don't look to undermine the seriousness of rape, sexual assault, or the continued sex, sexuality, and gender divide in this country.

2.  I understand that language is a powerful tool used to impair people's voices.  

That is, I realize that poor means of discussing something tells us just how problematic something is in our society.  Many are not comfortable using the "correct" names of body parts (penis, vagina, anus), nevermind having a healthy discussion about having sex without switching into analogies, metaphors, and language that masks it like dimmed lights.  Therefore, even the talk and rhetoric of women (by mostly men) can create a genuine sense of paralysis or clearly indicate certain truths that are negligent and ignorant at best.

3.  I understand that sexual assault is still a serious problem.

My discussion here does not undermine or disincline me in any way to finding sexual assault appauling, problematic, and still prevalent in our society.  It's merely what I would consider something that runs parallel to it.  A problem not entirely disconnected.

Regardless of these points and awareness, some may still decide that I'm just not getting it or just using my male privilege to ignore the "real issues."  I understand, but I think what follows is equally important to consider.

Media and progressive media are doing a disservice in their orgiastic obsession over things like Chick-Fil-A, Romney's faux paus abroad, and Akin's remarks (And I won't kid myself, I'm just as guilty of jumping on the self-righteous bandwagon).  Todd Akin’s remarks are deplorable and loathsome.  Absolutely.  And yes, they are one among many examples of the Right’s poor dealing with understanding what feminism is (sadly, they seemed to have eclipsed with Palin – especially after considering Rebecca Traister’s nuanced analysis of gender in the 2008 election in Big Girls Don’t Cry).

The concern of the political, legal, medical, and physical treatment of women is extremely important.  So many people hear the appalling comments by Akin and the like and feel that this is a sign of a slide backwards, but in context, it’s not.  Every time we have a public discussion about rape, awareness goes up.  Akin’s comments would have flown under the radar 30 years ago.  Today, even Palin is calling for his departure.  Yes, it’s a problem, but that there is a conversation going on with it speaks volumes about where we are.  We at the point of arguing how language indicates viewpoints about rape and feeling because of one's viewpoints about rape, that person should personally disqualify himself from the office he's running for.  That is progress.  One has to wonder if the events around Clarence Thomas had played out today, would he have been a legitimate candidate.  I find that unlikely--and that's just 20 years ago.  That everyone, including Republicans, feel the need to respond based solely upon words says something significant.

But what worries me, is how much we're obsessing upon this and other similar events.  In the social-networking realm, I'm seeing people post many items repeatedly in and around these subjects, communicating expressions of fear and angst over the idea that there is a war on women.  Again, I'm not saying there aren't things to be concerned about and to pay attention to, but when people are propping up the straw-man idea that the Right wants women redomesticated a la 1950s, I'm doubtful.  When people say they fear for their personal safety as a result of these things, I get concerned.

I get concerned because three different things occur in my head simultaneously and assessing which one (or ones) may be underlying the concern can be hard to calculate.

1.  Actual threat.  

Are the people expressing fear and concern in a position of genuine threat by what’s going on?  Is what’s going on directly or indirectly harming/effecting/hurting them?  And is something actually happening—that is, are specific laws being passed in places they live, actions being taking to people they know, now or in the foreseeable future?

2.  Echo chamber.  

As Eli Pariser discusses in his book, The Filter Bubble and his Ted Talk, Google and Facebook are sending us increasingly into our own echo chambers, where we keep hearing the information (and I use that word warily) that we preference (through our “Likes” “Fav” “+1s” and the like)—the algorithmic Internet keeps feeding us similar and familiar material.  This means that once you like or share one article about the war on women, you hear more and more of it.  Therefore, more and more types of those articles show up in our Facebook feeds, newsfeeds, even in our ads.   Unfortunately, this amplifying of the echo chamber  will also trigger the availability heuristic making us think that whatever is being amplified is more rampant and abundant than what may actually be happening.

3.  Distraction.  

We’re made to fixate on one thing—often a confusing or not-entirely clear thing, so that other things can occur while we’re not looking.  This is the magician’s flare or baffling with bullshit.  To some degree, this is also related to Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine.  While we're posting, reposting, liking, retweeting, and spending other amounts of time talking about Akin's idiocy, what else is going on that we're missing?

What I fear when we look at the events and nonevents around women’s rights is that we’re slipping into the echo chamber and distraction, more than an actual threat.  Or rather, the threat is coming in different ways.  Our fixation and angst over the rhetoric of politicians is consuming our time, our attention, and our effort while other things are happening that are equally threatening to nature of our democracy and fairness in our society.  The almost quiet and overwhelmingly easy development of Voter ID laws that have risen in the last four years is scary.  The direct impact of these laws is numbered in the millions and has equal potential to shift outcomes of key states.  

Make no mistake, I think we still have a far way to go in terms of addressing the hundreds of thousands of sexual assaults that happen each year.    But what scares me more is that those who are disproportionately likely to have been or become victims of sexual assault  (see Fact Sheets on this document) are those who are also those who are most likely to be disproportionately affected by the Voter ID laws.  These laws speak to a rape of another sort  (Same word, different definition – “to plunder (a place); despoil OR to seize, take, or carry off by force").  If our attention to the rhetoric distracts us from protecting their inalienable rights that would seem to be a step back more.  This is what concerns me--we're being distracted by certain conversations that allow us to feel empowered by boycotting a restaurant, or calling for a resignation, but we're not doing much to actually help and effect direct and relevant outcomes.

Lastly and importantly, I don't want Democrats to win (and that's not to say I want them to win), because they properly played the fear-card by overexploiting idiotic quotes from people who clearly show us that stupidity is not a trait evolution will get rid of any time soon.  Fear sells—Bush showed us that and Republicans love the play the “Othered” card—look at the Birther movement, but hope is always better.

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  1. Thanks Coop! It is indeed a complicated mess!

    1. I'm with you on this as being a distractor. A doof like akin makes even your average misogynist give a sigh of relief that they're not that bad. I think people widely still misunderstand the reality of sexual assault in this country.

      People still commonly adhere to the fantasy that rape it is some rare occurrence that happens at the hands of a masked stranger in a dark ally. In reality, it happens quite frequently (1 out of every 4 women are reported to be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, though experts think it's more like 1 out of 3), it is generally at the hands of someone the victim knows, and if you ask most college aged women if they have been raped, the common answer is often "I don't know."

      Aside from myths about sexual assault, the ludicrous concept of "abortion should be legal only if there is rape" is stupid. Firstly, full control of all reproductive rights is essential to women ever gaining full equality. 2. Again, people (not me), have different notions of what rape is. If a women is an abusive relationship where she doesn't have control over when/how sex happens, could any resulting pregnancy be considered consensual?

      I will stand by the following statement: Any male who thinks he should have any say over women's reproductive rights, should immediately be impregnated with an alien fetus.


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