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Category Archives: gender

I want to talk about a young black man subjected to violence by a law enforcement figure. No, not 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, stalked and killed by a vigilante neighborhood watchman who was acquitted—at least not yet.

Nor 14-year-old Tremaine McMillan of Miami, FL,  “forced to the ground” and “choked in a headlock” “as he played with his puppy on the beach” “because the police said his body posture was ‘threatening’—and then charged with a felony.”

Nor 15-year-old Kiwane Carrington, whose shooting death by a police officer here in Champaign was ruled an accident and the officer was suspended for 30 days for poor firearm handling.

Nor the thousands with whom I could go on except that they haven’t been brought to national attention so I haven’t even heard about their stories.

I want to talk about 22-year-old Oscar Grant, fatally shot in the back while lying face down on a BART platform in Oakland on New Year’s Day 2009. The BART police officer served 11 months for involuntary manslaughter after claiming he meant to use his TASER.

This is, of course, because I saw Fruitvale Station last week. And you know, even though one goes into it knowing how it ends, it’s still incredibly moving. The film has some problems, but effective acting is not one of them.

As I was walking out of the screening, I commented to my movie buddy that some people were upset because a scene where Grant is nice to a dog was fictional, put in to make it clear he was a nice guy (which I read somewhere but can’t find now).

She replied that the film had gone overboard with making him seem like a nice guy. The result, she said, was that it conveyed that he shouldn’t have been killed because he was a nice guy, not because he didn’t do anything wrong—a critique echoed by the negative film critic reviews at The Dissolve and Variety.

And she has a point to the extent that even not-nice people shouldn’t be shot to death for no reason.

But you know, (and now I come back to that first young black man in the list of those subjected to violence by a law enforcement figure) I think about how many times I read in comments (and, I know, I know, “Don’t read the comments!”, but-) people calling Trayvon Martin a thug because he apparently smoked pot and got in fights at school sometimes (neither of which carry a death penalty, last time I checked).

I think about how the trial of George Zimmerman for killing Martin hinged on whether six women (either all or 5/6ths white) bought the narrative of “Zimmerman was threatened by a black thug” or that of “Martin was a child attacked by a vigilante,” and the first narrative won the jury over.

Putting those things alongside my friend’s feeling that the treatment of Grant was heavy-handed makes me think that she and I, white people who already understand both “Even not-nice people don’t deserve to die” and “Young black man does not equal thug,” are not who that aspect of the movie was for. (Which isn’t to paint us as “enlightened” so much as meeting a basic standard of understanding that, surprisingly, is not so basic.)

The movie was making a case to those people who look at someone like Grant or Martin and see not a human being but a threat, and people with that view may well need to be hit in the face with the argument to have a chance at believing it. Certainly, the odds of people who equate youthful black masculinity with thuggery going to see Fruitvale Station may be low, but that’s who the continual insistence on Grant’s niceness at every turn was having an argument with.

Bad film-making, perhaps. But culturally vital.

Overall, recent events make me think that, given the systematic devaluation of black men’s lives, the tiny intervention of “He shouldn’t have been killed because he was a nice guy” might be what there is, right now. That “Thugs are people, too” might just save somebody’s life, since “Not a thug” seems to be incomprehensible to far too many people with guns and authority.

A disclaimer feels necessary here. I know more about how race works than the vast majority of white people because of my education. I have had that vertigo feeling of realizing my life is worth less in the social ledger than other people’s because I read as queer. But I am aware how limited that knowledge is, that it’s not the same.

I understand that I fundamentally can’t imagine what it’s like to live under the threat exemplified by the cases of Trayvon Martin, Kiwane Carrington, and Oscar Grant. Of Rodney King, Tremaine McMillan, and Calvin Miller. I write, then, from a position of knowing enough to know what I don’t know.

But even if “Thugs are people, too” is all there is right now and what we have to work with in the short term, in the long run the systematic devaluation-fear of blackness (mostly masculinity, but the refusal of legitimacy to Marissa Alexander’s “stand your ground” warning shot that hurt no one demonstrates the ways black women quickly get moved into the “irredeemably violent” box, too) is where the fight is.

I haven’t posted anything about Trayvon Martin since the verdict. I’ve retweeted smart things that came through my feed, pointed out a very telling Google algorithm moment, but mostly it felt like a more important time than ever for white people to not be deciding what Trayvon Martin’s life and death meant. Who was I to think that my opinion mattered in that moment?

The Crunk Feminist Collective posted on Facebook: “Calling all white feminists allies: Where are y’all? <looking far and wide> Your silence around the Zimmerman Trial speaks volumes. [ . . . ] Where is *your* intersectional analysis about white privilege, that not only calls out the operations of racism, but the particularly gendered operations of racism in the hands of these white women jurors?” (Via Amanda Ann Klein’s blog post taking up the challenge.)

The poster is right that this is work white feminist humans need to do, even as I’m still uneasy even in this blog post with asserting that what I think about this matters.

But I think my role as an educator is exactly a place to make an intervention in the systematic devaluation-fear of blackness. Maybe, if I’m lucky, even one slightly larger than tiny.

In my Intro to Gender Studies class this year, I want to find a way to work in a discussion about the role of masculinity in Trayvon Martin’s death, and how it intersected with race and class in the killing and the trial (and, at times, homophobia in suggesting Zimmerman’s following seemed like impending gay rape). I want to help my students understand the role of whiteness and femininity with those jurors from selection to verdict. All of it.

It’s pedagogically sound, but more importantly ethically incumbent on me as someone who understands these things and has an opportunity to help others understand them. There’s also the role of my (racial, educational, employment) privilege in making me someone to whom the flock of (mostly) middle class white kids on the other side of the classroom is likely to listen to.

If you’re a teacher interested in pitching in to help change the cultural narratives that, ultimately, killed Trayvon Martin (which is not to absolve Zimmerman, clearly), keep an eye on, curated by my colleague Safiya U. Noble, Ph.D. and going live mid-August.

I woke up last Tuesday morning, as many did, to Angelina Jolie’s New York Times op-ed, which got to me first via @IMKristenBell.

I do, as most seem to, believe that both undergoing the preventive surgery and making the announcement took a lot of courage on Jolie’s part. It was undoubtedly painful, plus probably scary to have currently healthy tissue removed.

There’s also the factor of, as Anne Helen Petersen put it, “Star Famous For Boobs Has Double Mastectomy” (which I got via @bertha_c). Jolie’s breasts were somewhat necessary for her job in a way that they aren’t for most people. (I wonder: Did she have them insured, like Tina Turner’s legs?)

But, while not disputing the personal difficulty involved, I want to look at this structurally, as is my wont.

Alongside that personal difficulty, that is, Jolie has some significant advantages. She is definitely aware of some of the privilege she has, noting that “The cost of testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2, at more than $3,000 in the United States, remains an obstacle for many women.” (Others have noted this awareness: Shakesville, via @kouredios; the Guardian, via @bertha_c again; Gina Neff over at Culture Digitally)

But Jolie’s statement that “On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity” pointed to some other forms of privilege she didn’t discuss, and of which she may not be aware.

Biology declared that Jolie’s breasts were “time bombs” (I saw this phrase in a headline about someone else’s breast cancer decision-making but I can’t find it again now to give credit). Medicine had the capacity to remove them. And cosmetic surgery to make her body look the way she felt it should was available to her.

Jolie had access to those procedures because she’s very wealthy, obviously, but what’s important to me here is a less tangible form of access. She had access to these procedures because it makes sense that a ciswoman would be able to access surgically-produced breasts.

A transwoman who had the same conviction that her body looked correct with breasts would, even today, be considered somewhere between mentally ill (still in the DSM 5) and dangerous (the “transwomen are men pretending to be women so they can be sexual predators in locker rooms” narrative; see, when it’s out, Laurel Westbrook and Kristen Schilt‘s forthcoming piece “Doing Gender, Determining Gender: Transgender People, Gender Panics, and the Maintenance of the Sex/Gender/Sexuality System,” a followup to their award-winning 2009 article Doing Gender, Doing Heteronormativity: Gender Normals, Transgender People, and the Social Maintenance of Heterosexuality).

In both cases, there are medico-biological-scientific-y reasons for why one’s body is out of alignment with one’s sense of self. But one set of reasons is seen as more valid than the other. The exact same body-shaping procedures that for transfolks are often framed as “messing with nature” are readily available to people who have a different gender identity—we can think also here about the treatment of gynecomastia in bioboys being considered perfectly legitimate as a way to prevent mental distress, but the desire for the same breast tissue removal in transmen is a sign of mental distress.

What does this say, then, about the rules of embodiment? We believe that bodies “naturally” do two (and only two) things, and never the twain, and we’re prepared to surgically intervene to make sure it happens. That’s not exactly a new insight—it matches what Anne Fausto-Sterling has argued about intersex babies. However, I don’t  know that it has been extended to questions of breasts rather than just genitals before, and I’d add that we’re also prepared to deny surgical intervention, depending.

But I want to push a little harder on it.

Jolie’s comments that she doesn’t “feel any less of a woman” and that it “in no way diminishes my femininity” are surely for the benefit of those who feel like substandard women after losing one or both breasts to cancer.  That is a real experience that is powerful to the people who have it. But I want to ask where such a feeling of inadequacy comes from.

Time after time, the commentators have marveled that Jolie resisted the dictates of beauty and sex appeal:

It’s remarkable because Angelina Jolie is generally regarded as one of the most beautiful women in a world that profoundly values beauty and defines women’s worth by their sex appeal, and she is telling women to value their health. (Shakesville)

That breasts do not exist just to turn on other people will not come as a surprise to any sentient adult human being. Nor, it should go without saying but sadly does not, do breasts make the woman. But brutal, mature reality does not generally have much of a place in the fantasy land where the myths of celebrities and public perception intermix. (The Guardian)

But she doesn’t need them to be beautiful, or to be loved, or to maintain that stardom.  Women have been hearing this message for years, but with this editorial, Jolie not only makes it available to men, but proves it through the very existence of her resilient, still sexual body. (Petersen)

But what all of these comments about rejecting beauty standards miss is that Jolie got her breasts back.

Maybe not “hers” in the traditional sense, but visually, which is all anyone cared about in the first place (as problematic as that is, and in which she surely intervened by emphasizing health). The full trajectory does not suggest that “she doesn’t need them to be beautiful, or to be loved, or to maintain that stardom” or refute the logic “that profoundly values beauty and defines women’s worth by their sex appeal.”

She did not go on with her career as a breast-less woman. If anything, this event actually suggests that the breasts do make the woman, however it is that one comes by them, much like breast removal is so key to making “proper” men. (Also here, the challenges with talking about breast cancer in men.)

This is not to say that I think she shouldn’t have had reconstruction, not least because I’m not in the habit of prescribing what other people do with their own bodies. Also, it falls under “sane response to an insane system.” But I will wager it never occurred to anyone to even consider not doing reconstruction. A breast-less woman is virtually incomprehensible to us. And certainly not eligible to be sexy.

And that rule of embodiment, the tight equation of “breasts” and “woman,” is one that we really need to take a hard look at.

It points to a situation in which we have loaded a whole lot of meaning onto bodies. The general belief, that is, is that if you feel X way, you must be Y thing, and your body must look like Z.

Now, I am probably the most anti-identitarian person on the planet. I am deeply suspicious of the move from X to Y in the above formulation, and generally think identity is a trap. But I think we can leave that aside in this case, because we’re talking about embodiment in relation to already-established identities—Jolie as woman and our hypothetical transfolks (who are themselves a subset of all the ways one might identify as trans).

Ultimately, I really don’t think that Jolie’s case and the conversations occurring around it are cause for celebration that we’ve thrown off the yoke of oppressive standards of embodiment and the reduction of people to their bodies. In fact, I think it is more firmly settled on our collective shoulders than ever.

Recently, my friend and colleague T. J. Tallie  published Queering Natal: Settler Logics and the Disruptive Challenge of Zulu Polygamy in GLQ, and since T. J. often has smart things to say I prioritized reading his article in my ongoing project to keep up on recent work my field and related ones.

It’s a great piece that does an excellent job parsing out the way polygamy (or, as he points out, more accurately polygyny) was the “flashpoint” for British colonial anxieties about their capacity to control “the natives” in 19th century South Africa and the potential for Zulu practices to “contaminate” British “modern” sexuality; he expertly demonstrates the ways this nonnormative (to the settler colonists) practice was seen as dangerous and disruptive (and therefore was queer) (p. 168). (Yay for using “queer” to mean disruptive the way I like!)

I’d had a quote on polygamy on my list of possible blog topics for quite some time (since November, based on the date of the original source). It came from a news article about the Women’s League of the African National Congress party in South Africa; the larger point of the piece was that the league refuted the label of “feminist” (which was what caught my eye in the headline).

Responding to and deploying a tired definition of feminism, the Women’s League also denied hostility toward men, instead identifying its mission as the advancement of women; this commitment led to an exchange in which, “asked about whether [South African President Jacob Zuma’s] polygamy was not against the advancement of women, [Women’s League president Angie] Motshekga said practising his culture was a ‘personal choice’. She said the women Zuma married were consenting adults, and he was not harming anyone.”

I found that framing of consenting adults really interesting at the time (hence saving it for later), and now I find that I want to return to it in conversation with T. J.’s work, in part because I have been trying to work through ideas of consent for my work on fandom and labor and the sexual consent frame has been particularly useful as one that accounts for both constraint and choice.

To do this, I turn to Martha Nussbaum’s 1998 piece “Whether from Reason or Prejudice”: Taking Money for Bodily Services about sex work. Nussbaum points out that many of the problems people identify with sex work are common to all sorts of other activities, yet we don’t think of them in the same way—factory work requires use of one’s body in ways one can’t control, therapy is emotionally intimate, being a model who works to train gynecologists involves extensive contact, etc.

Nussbaum contends that we therefore need to figure out what specifically is bothersome about sex work—and whether this is “from reason or prejudice”—rational or just indefensible cultural bias. I’d like to apply this form of reasoning to the polygamy question in order to get at questions of consent.

The most typical mainstream objection polygamy (which, as in the historical Zulu case, seemingly always takes the form of polygyny) is that it is oppressive to women. As in the case Tallie describes, there is generally no regard for how the women involved might see the practice, but rather monogamists declare that such women are “oppressed under the barbarism of their men” (p. 173).

Now, when only men get to have multiple wives, it does participate in a logic of male access to and control of women and is therefore problematic. But this logic of access is prevalent in all kinds of cultural practices and institutions. As just one example, the high school boys CJ Pascoe studied for Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School (something else I’ve read recently as part of catching up) worked to solidify their masculinity through extravagant claims to sexual control over girls’ bodies, and the girls were often uncomfortable about this but went along with it because that was how high school culture worked. It is therefore unreasonable to condemn polygamy as uniquely problematic.

A corollary to men having a right of access is the discourse of male hypersexuality. Certainly, in the context Tallie describes it was convenient for the British to argue that polygyny was about Zulu men’s hypersexuality in contrast to restrained British masculinity since this fit right in with their beliefs about the need to “civilize” the natives. But this logic is also not specific to that time and place; the idea that men want more sex than women is of course a tired trope of both comedy and drama.

Indeed, I’d argue that the horror-fascination with polygamy—which I’ve mostly encountered in the US-specific context of Mormonism, but Tallie’s discussion of how Zuma was treated in the British press a few years back seems similar—has something to do with men having unlimited sexual access, something both desired and disavowed within normative masculinity.

However, as the examples of Pascoe’s work and the “frustrated husband and wife with a headache” scenario already begin to suggest, polygamy, though indisputably based in gender inequality, is not uniquely coercive.  This raises a couple of issues around what consent means in such a situation.

Nussbaum points out that “poor working women” are “heavily constrained by poor options” in general, saying that “I think that this should bother us and that the fact that a woman with plenty of choices becomes a prostitute should not bother us, provided that there are sufficient safeguards against abuse and disease, safeguards of a type that legalization would make possible” (p. 696).

Applying this to marriage (of whatever number of people) as an economic institution, we can ask about who is in a position to consent in terms of what that person’s choices are and, as I have argued in the fan-labor case, the awareness of those choices. In the case of Zuma’s wives, then—given the likelihood of class endogamy—they are likely to be educated and financially secure, making their choice of this form of relationship meaningfully consensual rather than coerced by circumstance.

Though clearly there’s always some inequality impinging on consent, asking about what the options are both relocates agency with the less-powerful person and doesn’t deny constraint, a useful antidote to the freak-show quality of contemporary visions of polygamy and the tendency to discount people’s own meanings for their practices demonstrated both by British colonists in the 19th century and discussions of fundamentalist Mormons today.

Of course, there’s still that small but persistent manner in which gender is the axis of inequality in these formations. As a way around this, while polyamory is clearly not the Ultimate Radical Thing™ it is sometimes made out to be by its proponents, the idea of nonbinary relationships that are negotiated to everybody’s specifications—where each participant potentially has the option of multiple partners if they so desire—does get around the imbalance of polygyny.

And it does so without a normalizing defense of heterosexuality or monogamy, such that it seems likely to open up more sexual possibilities in a way that is supple with regard to the particularities of the situation, which is really what I think we ought to look for in a theory of sexual consent.

There has been a ton of writing about all the wildly awful things about the Steubenville sexual assault case: the slut-shaming and victim-blaming; marksdubbsthe focus on the boys’ “ruined lives” at the expense of any mention of the impact on the person who experienced the assault; CNNCNN’s bizarre coverage (which prompted petitions to land in my inbox from three separate progressive organizations); and all the awful things that got said on social media (brought to my attention by @AmandaAnnKlein). Also, there was a truly odd use of the word “alleged”–its purpose is for the perpetrator, to preserve “innocent until proven guilty,” not for the victim, to imply nothing ever happened, mmkay?

All of those things have been critiqued, I think, extraordinarily well, and I don’t think I can improve on that.

What I want to talk about is the ways this may be a turning point for electronically networked youth culture.

This is not to suggest, as some journalists have, that somehow the events are a product of electronic networks, as with Susanna Schrobsdorff’s statement in Time: “Joking about rape, referencing sexual acts and girls making fun of girls perceived as ‘sluts’ is just part of teen online culture now.”

This is not part of teen online culture. It’s part of teen culture, full stop. And it’s not “now”; as someone who presumably went to high school more recently than Schrobsdorff, I can vouch that saying these kinds of awful things is not new. What’s new is the visibility, the leaving of traces.

I’m a scholar of gender and sexuality and media; lots of people in my circle account themselves feminists. And as a result, an interesting juxtaposition occurred on my Twitter feed during the week of March 18: Veronica Mars and Steubenville. (I was late on Veronica Mars because of SCMS, and now I’m late on Steubenville because Veronica Mars broke first. A day may come when a news event will coincide with my blog production cycle, but it is not this day.)

But watching the last couple episodes of Season 1 of Veronica Mars the other weekend (in which, spoiler alert, Veronica finally pieces together what happened the night she was drugged and raped) in conjunction with the verdict in the Steubenville case coming down, there were both such similarities between the fictional case and the real one and such crucial differences that it got me thinking.

In VM, as in Steubenville, lots of people witnessed sexual things happening to a drugged girl who everyone assumed was drunk and slutty.  All of those witnesses (with the exception of the ex-boyfriend in the VM case), did not act to stop the events from occurring, which makes them morally responsible even if legal codes often don’t have a way to make such bystanders criminally responsible. (Though, you know, bystander effect is a real thing that happens.)

When Veronica could not remember what happened, and knew only that something had, it took her a year of piecing together disparate sources to figure it out. In Steubenville, electronically networked youth culture recorded everything, and though the local authorities were not inclined to intervene until prodded by national outrage and Anonymous, those (prosecutable) traces made the difference. As Richard Oppel wrote in the New York Times, “because the victim did not remember what had happened, scores of text messages and cellphone pictures provided much of the evidence” in the trial.

The fictional bystanding and the subsequent harassment of Veronica as slutty took place in meatspace, was ephemeral, left no traces. The parallel with the real-life crime is that “the trial also exposed the behavior of other teenagers, who wasted no time spreading photos and text messages with what many in the community felt was callousness or cruelty” (Oppel).

At SCMS a few weeks ago, I attended a paper on bullying in Nickelodeon TV show iCarly, given by my colleague Martina Baldwin. One thing that came up in the Q&A after the session was that, while there’s a long tradition of young people being awful to each other, the difference is in the traces. Things that used to be said in hallways and heard by only a few people now last longer because they are written down; by comparison to the nasty note written on paper, the text message or Facebook posting is exponentially more transmissible and harder to destroy. (Of course, this is the paradox of the Internet: things you want to get rid of last forever; things you want to preserve disappear.)

Indeed, the moral panic around “cyberbullying,” while technologically deterministic in suggesting that such things never occurred before the Internet, may not be totally off base. First, there’s the increased nastiness that comes with not bullying someone in person (this is not just true of youth; see the comments on any news story with a controversial topic, many if not most of which are written by adults). Second, there’s the intensification that comes with the seeming permanence and “everybody knows” aspect of these modes of harassment.

But now, the people who did not assault the girl physically but did do so emotionally and socially may also face consequences. The Ohio attorney general has announced that he “might consider offenses thatsteubenville1 include obstruction of justice, failure to report a felony and failure to report child abuse” (Oppel). This is an interesting turn of events, and not for the reason suggested by what the judge apparently said:

(Which sounds a bit like “you would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids.”) While it may indeed serve as a lesson to kids to keep their torture of each other more private, it also has another potential:steubenville2

Youth culture is, more or less, what it has been—if not always, at least as long as I’ve been aware of it. It was already highly networked and skilled at the transmission of information, particularly in ways that harass and harm others.

But the fact that the youth network is now electronic made all the difference in securing justice for that girl in Steubenville. Even more broadly, the use of electronic media traces as evidence in prosecution raises the possibility that the unique ways that these technologies intensify the awfulness of teen culture may begin to recede. In this way, despite all the ridiculousness that has surrounded it (see again the first section of this blog), the verdict is an incredible step forward.

Where is the line between discouraging a helpless victim mentality and blaming the recipient of violence? How can we open up space to rethink violence?

There were a couple of inspirations on this question. One came after an NFL player killed Kasandra Perkins,  who was his girlfriend, and then himself.

(I know his name, but people who kill other people deserve to be forgotten, not remembered, because at least some of the time they’re interested in glory. We should remember the names of those who experience violence. We should learn from these events how to prevent future violence. But the people who do it don’t merit memory. Let’s keep that in mind next time there’s a mass shooting. Because there will be a next time. /rant Also, Morgan Freeman agrees with me.)

After Perkins was killed, feminist activist organization UltraViolet (from whom I somehow or other receive email calls to action despite my ambivalent relationship to feminism and the fact that sometimes they hail their audience in ways that exclude me) sent an email on December 7 that said:

Yesterday during a discussion about domestic violence, Fox News host and former George W. Bush White House press secretary Dana Perino actually said on the air that women should “make better decisions” to avoid being beaten or killed by their abusers. Yep, that’s right. She didn’t say anything about the abusers who terrorize their girlfriends, wives, children, and partners. Instead, she blamed survivors of domestic violence for the crimes committed against them.

The email linked to a petition  that called on Perino to “publicly apologize to survivors of abuse for saying that their own decisions caused the crimes committed against them, and make a donation to a domestic violence shelter to show she understands that survivors are never to blame.”

Then, a few days later, second hand and probably over Twitter though I can’t recall now, came a complaint from blog Feministe, And just when you thought the Good Men Project couldn’t get any worse…   which included frustration at the latter blog’s idea that  the “rapist is really a decent guy and maybe if the victim hadn’t done x, y or z this wouldn’t have happened.”

To be unequivocal, I never think that someone who is the recipient of violence is at fault. They weren’t asking for it, “no” always means “no,” everyone has a right to walk around anywhere at any time of day or night without experiencing violence. I don’t think that “their own decisions caused the crimes committed against them.”

But I also don’t think people should wait around hoping other people will stop enacting violence on them. I think that given the prevalence of people taking actions on the spectrum between boorish and awful, it’s a good idea to be prepared for the possibility. This is perhaps an impossibly fine distinction to make, and maybe it’s not practical, but I think it’s worth considering, at least.

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, at least since I was a member of a very self-defense-heavy martial arts system.  One thing that the instructors at this school suggested was thinking in terms of “It could happen to me. It could happen today. I know what to do, and I’m going to do it.” It’s cheesy, to be sure, but it does say that people aren’t powerless. Given the business they were in, perhaps it’s not surprising that their emphasis was on what one can do to protect oneself from violence, but I think it’s a pretty useful intellectual shift.

A person who commits a despicable act of violence and domination is at fault for that, but something about the way we talk about violence makes the story about the person who committed the violence, and see above about glory.

Or, at least, that’s the consequence of the way we talk about violence enacted by male/masculine/masculinized people against female/feminine/feminized people. It becomes particularly clear that victimization is only one option for how to make sense of this when one considers that the violences experienced by adult, heterosexual, able-bodied men are not explained as victimization in the same way. There are other options already in use.

The way we talk about violence against feminized humans suggests that there’s nothing those people can do other than hope the law helps after they’ve already experienced violence. That’s also why don’t like the word “victim” and I won’t use it, because it constructs a relational identity around the violence in a way that I think is a terrible idea. Victim mentality, that is, is helplessness. It’s hopelessness. It hampers our ability to live without fear.

Ultimately, all of those things act to put all the power with the person who commits the violence, and getting all the power, or belief that they have all the power, is why people commit the violence in the first place. It participates in the same logic, and it’s not the only way to think about it.

To some extent I’m echoing Sharon Marcus’s “Fighting Bodies, Fighting Words: A Theory and Politics of Rape Prevention” (to which I cannot find a link) here, though I like to think I’m adding to her important argument. Even if I’m not, however, the piece was published over 20 years ago—maybe longer if its appearance in Feminists Theorize the Political wasn’t the first–and we’re still using the same rhetoric of victimization and inevitability, so it’s worth pointing out again.

Should people have to walk around in alert mode, checking their six, not walking blindly around corners, keeping their hands free and their vision and hearing unobstructed? No, absolutely not. I want a world where that isn’t the case. But we have a world where it is the case. We have a world where manliness is often measured in violence done and experienced.

We have a world where men (especially in the U.S. context white, heterosexual men) feel their accustomed dominance disappearing and feel like people are committing violence on them. I saw this firsthand when I was following the Sandy Hook shooting on Twitter, since it had faster (though unverified) information than the news proper. One particularly paranoid guy (who I won’t give the signal boost of naming) blamed the “war on men” and “she-ria law” (no joke) for inspiring men to fight back violently. At first I thought he was trolling, but he was serious and that was some scary stuff. And, while this might seem different, the idea that men commit violence because they believe they have control is actually the same logic as doing it because they have lost control—it’s the idea that violence is a way to assert control, which is the divine right of men.

So this is the world we have to be prepared for. We have a world in which there’s a certain number or concentration of human predators, and–like the lions on the Serengeti in the nature documentaries who take the old gazelle, the sick gazelle, the baby gazelle–they want easy targets.  So the sane response to the insane system is to try not to be taken for the weak one in the herd. It’s a question of managing the condition of predators  having a victim optics without ourselves subscribing to victim identity. And, if someone mistakes you for easy prey, you are not doomed to whatever they want to do to you. You can put up a fight.

This is of course not to say that it’s easy. Clearly it’s no such thing. Fear is powerful, even paralyzing. Abuse is disempowering, even dehumanizing, particularly when it is routinized. Sometimes the choice is be raped or die. Sometimes it’s kill or be killed. I could never tell someone how to decide those things. Sometimes you’re unconsciousSometimes you’ve got six-to-one odds and they don’t care what kind of gazelle you are.

But to know that you have a choice on how to respond when violence comes to you, even though we can all agree that violence ought never to come? To know that it’s not inevitable, that a person who attempts violence on you is a bad person or a person doing a bad thing, and not exercising some universal right? That feels like a better way to live.