Rape, Outrage, and the Language of Solutions

Feminists Women People have a lot to be pissed off about today.

Like the Steubenville rape.

Like yet another church abuse cover-up coming to light. (Thaaanks, Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Ugh. Luke 8:17, anyone?)

Like the fact that just talking about rape brings up awful, confusing, violating memories for about a third of the women I know.  The fact that “trigger warning” is no formality.  The fact that, whether you’ve been told or not, You know a rape victim. You probably know a whole bunch of them.

Unsettling, right?

Yes, there are things to be pissed off about. Raging, raging mad.  And while some people are getting mad for the first time, feminists and rape survivors have been getting mad for years.

This marks a critical moment for feminism.  People are with them on this one.  People are listening to what they have to say about rape culture.  We can’t hide from it anymore.  Even to some of the larger skeptics, feminist ideas and stats and language don’t seem so crazy anymore.

Do feminists have a right to be mad? Yes.
Do they have a reason to be mad? Yes.
Should they shout it from the rooftops?  If they’re willing, yes, perhaps they should.

But I have to be honest: Jaded rooftop shouters scare me, especially when I can’t quite understand what they’re shouting about.

I tend to tune them out.  Even if they’re right.

“Rape culture” is a powerful term.  No one wants to be an active participant in such a culture (even if many of us are). In fact, to the untrained ear, the words “you are a part of a rape culture” can sound suspiciously like “you are predisposed, as a member of this society, to rape and/or be okay with rape. Especially if you’re a dude.”

Anyone who sees themselves as not okay with rape might just leave at that point.

I know that’s not the kind of unproductive thinking that feminists are trying to promote.  But I also know that it’s the message a lot of people are hearing, and naturally, what they are rejecting. And when they reject that, they reject a lot of other things. Really, really, important things.

Sometimes, fingers need to be pointed.  I get that. I agree with that.  But when the finger-pointing feels scattered, confusing , or overwhelming, the people on the other side sometimes respond with a resounding “Ungh, what did we do wrong this time?” followed by “I’m gonna go hang out over here with the people who don’t condemn my gender and my world and my jokes and my favourite tv show, thankyouverymuch.”

We are getting away from the main message entirely, aren’t we?  The constructive message of trying to create a safe and equal environment for women. The effort to address the prevalence of rape and gender violence in our world. Feminists are trying to empower and protect future generations of women.  Everyone should want to get on board with that.

This is a reasonable message. There are solid stories and data, being broadcast to mostly reasonable, if sometimes ignorant, people.  So where’s the disconnect?

Most reasonable people want a couple things when presented with a new and somewhat radical worldview (yes, feminism, that’s you!):

1)        They want to feel empowered to be part of the solution, not just part of the problem.

2)        They want to be able to ask questions in English—yep, good ol’ patriarchal English. And they want to get an answer that does something, anything, other than just attack their question.

3)        They want the freedom to play the devil’s advocate. Because that’s what people do when exploring a new idea.

There’s something dangerous about leading with anger (however justified), instead of stories.  Or with accusations instead of ideas. Don’t get me wrong, passionate people willing to call out society’s bs are AWESOME.  But they’re way more awesome when they come with a side order of compassion, a willingness to gently guide people to awareness.

And if you disagree with that, then you have probably never spoken to my father.

My father is honest, loving, stubborn and somewhat sheltered (I mean this in no negative way, dad, je t’aime).  He’s sheltered in the way many of us are–or would be, if it weren’t for the internet or certain parts of our education. Sheltered in a way that ends with questions and comments which are sometimes well-meant but poorly phrased.  I remember one such comment.  It was a genuine idea, a devil’s advocate stance, but it included the words “asking for it.”

“Dad, ugh. When you question feminism, you can’t do it in English. You have to do it in feminist.”

“But I don’t speak feminist…”

“Then you should learn. Or you shouldn’t talk about these issues…unless you want to be eaten alive.”

But that’s not fair, he says. Screw feminism, then. “What did we men do this time?”; “I can’t say anything right!”.

Should he be saying things like “asking for it”? Absolutely not.  And he doesn’t think I or any other woman would ever be “asking for it.”  During that particular conversation, he wanted to talk about safety, and understand consent, and help prevent rape.  He just couldn’t think of any other language to discuss complexities he saw. And when the word “Feminist” came into the conversation, he got really uptight.  His mind jumped to the most radical version of that ideology.  He got defensive.

When it comes to his actions and ideas and values, my dad is a feminist if I ever met one. Yet there I was, watching him walk away into the comforting arms of “can’t deal with these ‘feminists’ right now.”

You know what? Sometimes, I find myself walking into those arms, too. I just can’t be outraged about everything that feminism wants me to be outraged about. I can’t.

But I know for sure that I can be outraged about Steubenville, and everything that surrounds it. I know for a fact (just called home to confirm!) that my father is outraged, too. He wants to address this. A lot of us do.

Feminism is going to play a major role in the ensuing conversation, a conversation that a lot of  people are on board with.  And that’s good.  Especially if we go about the conversation the right way–if we lead with stories, ideas, examples, courage, and real talk.  After all, whether you identify as a feminist or not, there’s a problem here.

Consider this your official invitation to be part of the solution.

– – –

I Hurt an Entire Culture, and All I Got Was This Stupid T-shirt
I Hurt an Entire Culture, and All I Got Was This Stupid T-shirt
Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”
Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”
Partying Hard and Loving Harder: How hanging out can help the community
Partying Hard and Loving Harder: How hanging out can help the community
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Music, Monkeys, and the Art of “Where do I Start?!”

Last Friday, I went to a Nordic Cool 2013 concert at the Kennedy Center. The guy who sits next to me at work suggested it–or, rather, he smirked as he pointed to a picture of the evening’s band on his computer.

There was a monkey in the picture, you guys.  A monkey.

IBRAHIM_ELECTRIC_02
If I were a marketing director, I would probably put a monkey in EVERY picture.

No one was quite sure what to expect. I’m not used to that.  My fellow interns are uber-cultured musicians and ethnomusicology students (dammit, spell check, ethnomusicology is a word) who seem to know every nuance of every genre.

…though really, all I can confirm is that they know a whole lot more than me.  Which means I’m always learning.

Much like my own field (history), with music there is always-always-always more to discover. And the more you listen, the more you realize how much you have yet to listen to.

Like this band from Denmark with a monkey, for example.

And so we went. We took the metro. We filed into the packed Grand Foyer. We stood at the back, since all the seats were taken–clearly, word had gotten around that the Danish monkey-band was coming to town.  Inside our programs was this short description of what we were about to see:

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Oh, “of course.”

AFRObeat? C’est quoi ca? Can someone point me in the direction of their favourite soul/jazz inspired acid-power-beat song, please? And “almost-punk” just sounds like how I feel when I jaywalk or accidentally sleep through church. [Insert rebel yell here.]

In true millennial fashion, I googled the band before going. Specifically, I watched this mezmerizingly weird music video of a song entitled “Blue Balls.” The album is called “Absinthe.” And the music is rad.

(At least, it’s rad enough for me to try to bring back the term “rad.”)

Yeah. That. Don’t do drugs?

The show was fantastic. It isn’t that I didn’t expect it to be fantastic….just that I didn’t know what to expect at all. The music (whatever it was, exactly) was an awesome, awesome discovery.

I make lots of awesome discoveries these days.

Finnish tango. Hardcore conjunto. Underground folk revival. Central Asian pipa. Autoharp country.  Banjo masters. Those French Canadian songs that people assume I know (and I never do).

Took this shot at a Los Texmaniacs show last month.
Took this picture at a Los Texmaniacs show last month. Hardcore conjunto at its finest!

It’s almost overwhelming. Reading through the “Events in Washington DC,” trying to figure out what I can make it to…or what I should make it to…or what I can connect to, even just a little bit.  Finding that balance between learning new things and maintaining/expanding on what I’ve already got. Searching through the Folkways catalogue, working out what to listen to next.

You would think that the daunting excitement of “where do I start?!” would be second nature to me by now. History student stuff. Curator problems.  And yes, I have spent long days awkwardly navigating books, journals, and microfilm.  Having all this new music at my fingertips is no different, really. But for the first time, culture is my every day–my work, my play, my social life, my background, my foreground.

And I still don’t feel a sense of “competence.” Not in even a sliver of it.

How can I, when I have bands like Ibrahim Electric to keep me on my toes?

Oh, I don’t always do “new things.”  I still can’t seem to stay away from Ottawa. I even showed up to a Canada-US Relations event last week…and ended up being live-broadcasted on CPAC, asking a question about the Keystone Pipeline. Yeah.

“New things” can find you, though. They can creep up. It’s called “opportunity,” and it’s always hanging around–especially in a place like DC, especially if you make the first move. One “new thing” can breed familiarity with another. And another. And another.

Case in point: A friend and I showed up to the Kennedy Center to check out Finnish tango music (because, why not?) and some dude gave us his extra tickets to this:

photo2

We didn’t ask questions

Though to answer yours: It was one of the best plays I’ve ever seen. Seriously. “Bird in Magic Rain with Tears.” Who would’a thought?

Here’s to the art of “where to I start?!”

– – –

I Have Chosen My Word for 2013 (and it’s going to make for one interesting year)
I Have Chosen My Word for 2013 (and it’s going to make for one interesting year)
Welcome to America: Yes, I have gotten horribly lost. Already. Twice.
Welcome to America: Yes, I have gotten horribly lost. Already. Twice.
Non-boring, non-fiction. It happens.
Non-boring, non-fiction. It happens.

I Hurt an Entire Culture, and All I Got Was This Stupid T-shirt

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This cloud was constructed using the most popular terms from all tweets with #RacistSportsLogo sent out between 10:15 am and 12:15 pm on Feb 7th (first part of the symposium)

I was a little offended at first.

Not on the behalf of Amerindians, either. I have four years of Aboriginal Studies and most of a History degree under my belt, so you’d think I’d be a major supporter of getting rid of racist logos. But, walking into the “Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports” symposium (whew!) , I wasn’t totally convinced.  All I could think to do was play devil’s advocate.

You see, I’m a sports fan.

I was preoccupied with other issues, too.  I was wondering what and where the “other side” was.  I remembered the time my own high school removed its offensive Indian Head mascot (I was a 10th grader, a history student, but also a cheerleader. There were mixed feelings.). An audience member even suggested that “these guys” (ie. sports fans) were “ignorant” and just sat around watching sports with their “beer bellies.” Are-you-kidding-me?

To my defensive mind, the dialogue felt like this: Sports fans support racism. Sports fans spit on and yell at protesters. Sports fans send death threats to well-meaning decision makers who fight for Native peoples. College-aged sports fans get drunk and disrespect a culture to an unforgivable level.  Sports fans just don’t get it, do they?

Awkward.

As I live-tweeted some of the great points made by the presenters (none of which I disagreed with), I also drafted a tweet to express my discomfort: “As a young, white, sports fan, I feel awk. Want to be considered a possible part of the solution, not just the problem. #RacistSportsLogos”

Then I remembered first year Native Studies. I remembered a First Nations presenter who discussed patience, listening, giving yourself time to think, letting others speak first.

I deleted the tweet. I just listened.

Racist sports logos 2
This cloud was constructed using the most popular terms from all tweets with #RacistSportsLogo sent out between 1:30 pm and 3:30 pm on Feb 7th (second part of the symposium)

And when I listened, this is what I started to notice:

I noticed how people were so sensitive about depictions of “Indians.” And, I realized, they should be. These people are rebuilding. We are looking at cultural genocide victims, after all. We have an obligation to listen to them and portray them respectfully because it’s the right thing to do.

I heard pain in peoples’ voices as they recounted personal experiences.  The father, whose confused little boy asked “Isn’t that what we do at Pow Wow? Are they making fun of us?” in response to people “cheering” at a sports game.  Those who were harassed relentlessly when they raised the fact that they were personally offended.  People should be allowed to ask for mutual respect from powerful institutions like schools, leagues, and sponsors without fear or risk of cultural deprecation.

I heard the word “Ownership.” That one really made me think.

I noticed that how much intense and brave work people are doing every day to work towards a better understanding, of not only Aboriginal history but contemporary identity. No doubt, we need to support that.

Mostly, though, I noticed that there are  people hurting.  I noticed Natives who are trying really hard to express themselves honestly and to have a legitimate contemporary presence.  People who have gone through so much, people who are trying to pass something meaningful on to the next generation–and people who feel demeaned by a stadium full of people yelling “REDSKINS!” as they try to do this.  There are people hurting.  As Rev. Graylan Hagler said: “When someone saying ‘ouch,’ we don’t ask them to justify why they’re hurting. Regard their truth as truth.”

“Ouch,” he said. “Means ‘Ouch.'”

Racist sports logos 3
This cloud was constructed using the most popular terms from all tweets with #RacistSportsLogo sent out between 3:45 pm and 5:45 pm on Feb 7th (third part of the symposium)

And so, I asked myself, what do DC Football Fans have to lose? Their identity. Their collective memory of the team. Their traditional clothing (see also: hats and jerseys). Their symbolism. Their rituals.

Well, gee, doesn’t that sound familiar?

I’d think sports fans, of all people, should be able relate to how deeply symbols can manifest in our lives.  How important a team is to a community.  How important it is to let that team be inclusive and, you know, not racist.

Personally, my teams are a part of my identity. I really, really don’t want my identity to be rooted in something that hurts people. I don’t want to be cheering with something that isolates or demeans someone else. Sports are fun, and I want  them to be fun for everyone. We all should be open to listening and to changing a name, or a symbol.

Teams in and of  themselves aren’t about their names. Oh, fans, you must feel that.  If the DC Football team had a new name, all that would really change is the t-shirt you have in your closet, or the hat that you wear, or the specific word you yell out. If you define your team spirit or identity by those things, then you need to reassess your fandom. Surely, there’s more to your loyalty than that. And surely, you want your Native brothers and sisters to be able to cheer alongside you without feeling uncomfortable or disrespected.

I’ve always been of the opinion that if something means a LOT to someone else, and your concerns are trivial, you should give at least an inch. Your concerns may not feel trivial, because you’re attached to a team.  You have something to lose, sorta.

But think of how much Natives have to lose. And had to lose. And did lose.

I think we owe them respect. And that respect starts here.

Consider this your official invitation to be part of the solution.