-Gabrielle Friesen, student staff
(discussion of rape and violence against women)
Recently in the world of pop-culture, there have been two major storms over women’s issues. One has been Anita Sarkeesian’s kickstarter for a new project that examines women in videogames, and the other has been Daniel Tosh’s threat of gang-rape employed against a female audience member who spoke out against his rape jokes. Here’s some summary, a link roundup, and a bit of commentary.
The Anita Sarkeesian thing happened a month ago, but the surrounding conversations are still happening. Anita Sarkeesian is a commentator on women and feminist issues in pop culture. She does the series Feminist Frequency: “Conversations with Pop Culture. An ongoing series of videoblog commentaries from a fangirl/feminist perspective.” You can find her videos at:
http://www.youtube.com/user/feministfrequency?feature=results_main and her videos and articles on her main site: http://www.feministfrequency.com/
Recently she started a Kickstarter project (Kickstarter is a website that facilitates fund drives for creative projects) to get funding for her new project “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.” From the project page:
With your help, I’ll produce a 5-video series (now expanded to 12 videos) entitled Tropes vs Women in Video Games, exploring female character stereotypes throughout the history of the gaming industry. This ambitious project will primarily focus on these reoccurring tropes:
Damsel in Distress – Video #1
The Fighting F#@k Toy – Video #2
The Sexy Sidekick – Video #3
The Sexy Villainess – Video #4
Background Decoration – Video #5
Now, before she’d even reached the goal of $6,000 and released her first video asshole dude-bros came out of the Internet woodworks to attack her. She was sent death and rape threats. Someone made a game that was hosted on Newgrounds where the player assaulted Sarkeesian, her picture getting bruises and cuts as the game progressed. Thankfully, it was removed after one day. However, both because Sarkeesian’s project idea is good, and because of the misogynistic backlash, she received an outpouring of support as well, with supporters donating $158,922, well over her $6,000 goal. The attacks also spawned discussion of internet and videogame culture- how anonymity spawns viciousness, how trolls are so very, very harmful, and how the misogyny that permeates much of general videogame culture is so precious to those who enact it, that even the thought of someone offering commentary on how Lara Croft is problematic is enough to warrant death threats.
Sarkeesian herself has already collected a lot of good links covering the controversy here: http://www.feministfrequency.com/2012/06/kickstarter-project-funded-with-6967-backers/. If nothing else, you should at least watch the Jay Smooth video: Ill Doctrine: All Those Sexist Gamer Dudes Are Some Shook Ones. Jay Smooth is also a pretty awesome dude, who’s other videos, unrelated to this specific event, are also worth watching in general.
On the flip side, here’s some criticism of Sarkeesian that doesn’t hinge on death threats.
I feel that the video does tend to make light of of the very real death and rape threats Sarkeesian received, but is an interesting alternative view-point about Sarkeesian’s ethicality nonetheless. Additionally, the use of the term burqa in the title, when discussing the merits of sex-positivity and linking the burqa to opponents of sex-positivity, is gross, Islamaphobic, and racist.
To summarize the Daniel Tosh controversy that started just last week- a woman attended a comedy show that included Tosh in the lineup. Tosh began making jokes about rape, and the woman stood up and shouted “rape jokes are never funny,” to which Tosh responded, “”Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like five guys right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her?” Tosh later tweeted “all the out of context misquotes aside, i’d like to sincerely apologize,” (he’d just like to, but he’s not actually going to apologize), followed by “the point i was making before i was heckled is there are awful things in the world but you can still make jokes about them. #deadbabies”.
So on one side we have people saying that rape jokes cause real harm to audience members and hold up rape culture, and on the other, people crying about “freedom of speech,” “the feminist though police” and “the sanctity of comedy.” (see internet, women can use scare quotes too)
Additionally, the owner of the establishment where this all went down has said “[Jamie] Masada says Tosh asked the audience, “What you guys want to talk about?” After someone in the front said “rape,” a woman in the audience started screaming, “No, rape is painful, don’t talk about it.” Then, Masada says, “Daniel came in, and he said, ‘Well it sounds like she’s been raped by five guys’ — something like that. I really didn’t hear properly.” Which has lead to that time-honored tradition of disbelieving the woman’s account, and saying she did it for attention. Because we’d all rather believe the individual who “really didn’t hear properly” instead of a woman who was threatened with rape, and “heckled” a precious flower of a comedian who can’t take criticism.
(quotes found here: http://www.boston.com/ae/tv/blog/2012/07/daniel_tosh_apo.html)
The Onion responded by writing an article about Tosh being the victim of a gang rape, which I’m not linking too, because way to miss the point about not threatening people with rape, even if they’re scumbags who threaten people with rape.
There was also a scramble at Comic-Con before last Friday night to censure parts of the pilot episode for Tosh’s animated series Brickleberry that was shown at Comic-Con, because “most of the pilot is about rape.” Pretty damning.
There’s currently a petition over at Change.org to get Daniel Tosh taken off the air at Comedy Central, with over 30,000 signatures.
There’s also a few counter-petitions seeking to protect “free speech,” (here’s a hint- there’s a line between free speech and verbally assaulting someone. You have the freedom to swing your fists in the air all you want in America, but when it connects with someone’s face, its assault) but none of them have gathered very many signatures.
Curtis Luciani, who is in fact, also a comedian, very eloquently and humorously points out why rape jokes are harmful, why “but its comedy,” isn’t a free pass to play into oppressive culture, and why harm is in fact, the opposite of what people want from comedy.
Over at Jezebel, Lindy West does a good job looking at the “free speech”/ thought police side of the argument and tearing it down for the bullshit it is in her article.
However, I personally disagree with some of West’s choices about who makes a good rape joke. While I do agree that jokes making fun or rape culture, that actively tear down that culture and show how awful it is are a good thing, I don’t think that the other comedians who make jokes about the act of rape itself and not rape culture should be given a pass. Mainly Louis CK, as I am unfamiliar with the other two comedians who make rape jokes. While West does a good job pointing out that there are generally always victims of sexual assault in an audience due to statistics, she fails to note that statistically, there are also likely a few rapists in the room as well. And that’s why I don’t think Louis CK’s joke is an “acceptable” rape joke. The joke that West sites, “I’m not condoning rape, obviously—you should never rape anyone. Unless you have a reason, like if you want to fuck somebody and they won’t let you.” sends the message to those rapists in the audience that their behavior is ok. Which is another reason why rape jokes are dangerous ground- you trigger the victims in your audience, dehumanize women, and send the message to rapists that you support their actions- that their actions are all right. West also ignores that Louis CK sent Tosh support after the incident, tweeting him: “@danieltosh your show makes me laugh every time I watch it. And you have pretty eyes.” Louis CK also defended Tracy Morgan’s homophobic rant at a comedy show last year saying, “said something wrong, evil, cruel, ignorant and hilarious. He was on a comedy stage, not a pulpit. It is clear to anyone with an ability to reason and understand people that he didn’t mean a word of what he said. He was f—g around.” The progressive community likes to give Louis CK a pass, mainly because of some pro-gay things he’s said, I think, but he’s also supported incredibly harmful bullshit in the name of “free speech,” and “comedy,” and that doesn’t seem to me like he’s “making it very publicly clear that he is on the side of making things better,” or that he deserves “the benefit of the doubt.”