n. the pervasive and systemic belief in male/masculine and female/feminine as the only true, natural and correct gender identities and expressions

gender normativity n. the privileged state lived - whether momentarily or perpetually - by those whose genders perceptibly 'fit' with locally-derived and understood expressions of masculinity (for men) and femininity (for women)

gender non-normativity n. the oppressed state lived - whether momentarily or perpetually - by those whose genders do not perceptibly fit, as above

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Having feelings about Men Can Stop Rape advertisements

As I'm recovering from a bike injury, I've been internetting for a few days now.

A friend of mine shared a link to this article on the Incite! blog - it's about the problem of misogyny in social movements and how misogyny serves the ends of the very state that these movements are trying to change or bring down. The author cites a zine called Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities, edited by Ching-In Chen, Dulani, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. I read the whole thing today! On my computer, in my bad glasses that hurt my eyes. It was that riveting and important.

Beyond thanking the editors for their work on the zine, I also want to share an old gripe. As you can probably guess, it has something to do with Men Can Stop Rape. I began to see these posters on my university campus a few years back and every now and then I am reminded of them. Reading about the amazing community accoutability strategies people have used to address sexual violence certainly made me think of how problematic mass-market strategies can be, whether or not these invoke the criminal justice system. However, I carry two different and conflicting positions on these ads at any given time which can be loosely summed up as follows:

CRITICAL: This is the wrong idea. Reinforcing strength as a corollary of masculinity - for whatever purpose - is a mistake and props up sexism, genderism and misogyny in the guise of 'doing something' about sexual violence. These ads make me imagine a similar campaign about racism or any other oppression; it's easy to see how ridiculous this can become when privileged (in this case, male/masculine) perpetrators are lauded for doing something they should do anyway as though it's some kind of bonus. This sort of messaging reinforces the root problems that led to the violence to begin with. Furthermore, these ads completely construct sexual violence as a male-on-female, heterosexual problem. Which men can use their man strength to stop which rapes? And besides, doesn't this reinforcement of male virility further shame male survivors by making the 'my strength' narrative the only one getting any face/air time? Finally, I want to have access to the full spectrum of these posters to find out how many of them feature men and women of colour, because so far I see a marked over-representation and this is racist and completely unacceptable.

PRAGMATIC: It is always good when someone thinks twice about breaking another person's boundaries, raping someone or assaulting them. Whatever the reason or prompt, something terrible didn't happen and that's what matters. Do what works. Play on the messed up things that people are already buying into, and use them to make material change.

As I am always thinking about pedagogy, I'm sure I could make of this poster campaign to get students to think about genderism and misogyny - but also broader concerns about representation and privilege - in a very immediate and hands-on way. I will continue to think on this, and I welcome any comments.