Wrestling with sexism on Twitter for feminism

By   /   January 7, 2014  /   19 Comments

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Though I’m not all that busy on Twitter, I enjoy it. I link to this blog once a week. The rest of the time I sit alone in the chattering void, leaning on my elbows in the electronic grass under the clouds, making occasional remarks, but mostly reading other people’s.

tweet

Though I’m not all that busy on Twitter, I enjoy it. I link to this blog once a week. The rest of the time I sit alone in the chattering void, leaning on my elbows in the electronic grass under the clouds, making occasional remarks, but mostly reading other people’s.

And it always brightens my day. Following dozens of comedians of the mostly female kind was an excellent and deliberate decision (one I first made after reading a fabulous list).

My Twitter feed gives me a little variety to the monotonous glut of male comedy and perspective worldwide and New Zealand-wide. I mean, there are 134 men to just 18 women on the Classic Comedy website’s list, and it ain’t cos NZ got no funny girls! Half the population is missing from public humour and the gap is very noticeable to me. (Imagine if three quarters of the comics in New Zealand were Austrians, or Peruvians! It would be odd; you’d want some representatives from your own fold.)

I do enjoy many male comics. But I want to hear the other side, the 52% of the population who don’t really get heard much, cos man they got a lot to say. And following female comics means I generally don’t have to endure the nausea I feel at the nasty, thoughtless rubbish that comes out of many comedians’ mouths.

I try to steer clear of fighting on Twitter. But the other day, a popular male comedian I was following (was following) made a joke about how he calls Asian hookers “pumpkin” because of the way they splatter when he smashes them on the ground.

Funny!

I replied, rather angrily (since when were racist, violence-promoting, prostitute-murdering jokes considered so hilarious?), saying he should re-examine his sense of humour. His friend responded on his behalf, cutting me down as best he could. That didn’t really surprise me.

What surprised me was the number of women who then favourited the tweet in which he defended his friend’s nasty, violence-filled, hateful joke.

It’s dark humour, said one. Deal with it.

Yeah, nah. I won’t shoosh about that. I can’t. Ever. Even if nine tenths of the world approved it for consumption, I wouldn’t laugh.

Just because many people might secretly think the same awful thing is funny, doesn’t mean it should go unchallenged.

In fresh new 2014, I am reluctant to let go of the momentum we fomented last year. We came so far, for the first time really discussing with aching honesty the attitude our country – and world – has towards female humans.

It’s the filthiest silver lining I ever saw, but the repulsive underage gang rape situation at the end of 2013 brought with it a fresh perspective that shocked our male friends and family, because until then, they simply didn’t realise the extent of the attacks women endure from men during the course of our lives.

We talked about things out loud that had never been in the mainstream media before.

It felt good. But it was tough, and exhausting. Culture sticks like shit to a sheep when male pride is involved.

One night in December, well after the fallout had wound down, I found myself in a dark room, music bumping in the background, red wine in hand, perspiring with despair as someone I had profound respect for said things I couldn’t abide.

The thing is, he said, leaning in, Most women I know actually agreed with Willie and JT. I was talking to one lady, and she said that she agreed a thousand percent – she thinks girls these days are too slutty, show too much skin, and go too far with alcohol. She thinks it! And she’s a woman! A professional woman!

I shrugged. I think it too, I said.

There! Hah, said my friend, triumphantly. See!!?

I think a lot of things like that, I said. I think I shouldn’t walk from a friend’s house to mine late at night. I think I shouldn’t have a drink with my male friends in case one of them rapes me in my sleep, or drugs me. I think while men can walk about with their tops off I shouldn’t wear clothing that shows more skin than forearms and ankles, because it could be dangerous. I think twice about jogging through parks or down streets after twilight, in case a man is in there with a knife and something bad in his brains. I think I might get chased and killed if I am alone in the dark in my neighbourhood. Do you think these things?

No, he said, after a pause.

He was right, though. We all think those things about sluts and alcohol and short skirts. I fight those thoughts, but still I think them, because I don’t live in a vacuum. I am affected by what I am told my whole life.

The difference is that female humans (52% of this country) don’t think that stuff needs to remain the dominating narrative that prescribes our culture. We don’t think it should be the nasty stuff that gets continued, repeated and reinforced, just because people already think it.

We need new things to think. We think we should change. And it is we who will change us.

I have a friend (lah you, BO) who won’t – simply won’t – walk or jog on the same side of the street as a lone female. This is because he understands it may be intimidating, and believes she deserves to exercise and move about in public places without fear. Personal steps like this – like standing up to vicious misogynistic or homophobic or racist jokes, like calling out a predatory friend, like reporting creeps to the police – no matter whether you are woman, dude, or somewhere in between, these things will change our culture for the very much better.

It is no longer alright to blame women for their rapes: we can’t make somebody savage us by revealing an arm or breast or the warm skin of our backs.

So even though we feel afraid, we will go out in the dark.

Because it’s our night time, too.

Because it’s our neighbourhood.

Because they are our parks.

Because they are our homes.

Because it is our online space to enjoy.

Because it’s our silky evening air to enjoy on our skin in the summer.

Because humanity belongs to humans, and we are humans, and we have come for our share.

It isn’t funny to make jokes about smashing women to pieces on the ground.

It isn’t right to ask a vulnerable teenager about her private sex life when she bravely discusses underage gang rape on the radio, with or without a trembling voice.

It isn’t sane to force an old, stale narrative to stagger into our future, just because it was the nag we rode in on.

In the shrinking anger of last year’s steaming scandal, we have begun to pull the threads together for a fresh, inclusive culture, which can finally replace the national leering indifference that produced that garrulous group of boasting boors.

Out of the dirty, dirty ashes, we have gotten some good things going.

This year, wherever these good things start to slip, let’s grab them, and shake them up.

In 2014, let’s not let things slide.

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19 Comments

  1. jenny kirk says:

    Excellent post, Burnt Out Teacher.

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  2. As always, BoT, thought-provoking and thought stimulating.

    It’s always amazes me, not just when people say thoughtless and horrendous things, but that others are compelled to support it. As if the friend of the “smashing the pumpkin/prostitute” somehow felt threatened if, in his/her world, assaulting a sex worker threatened their status in life?

    And it’s always mind-numbingly tedious that when a person is called out for making a disgusting remark, they default to,

    (a) “Hey, freedom of speech!” – No. It’s not freedom of speech I’m criticising. It’s what you said with it.

    (b) “Hey, it’s dark humour!” – Really, so you won’t mind if I use your children/partner for a bit of rape/violence “dark humour”? And to make it really hilarious, let’s share it on social media, complete with images of your family? Are you laughing as much as I am?! No? Why is that?

    (c) “Oh, don’t be so ‘PC’!” – So being “tough on crime”, like rape, is being PC? Must remember to mention that to John Key, next time he rabbits on about crime at election time.

    Anyway, I’ve shared your blogpost on FB and Twitter. Let’s hope that comedian (not so comic now) finds it and reads it.

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  3. Allan Alach says:

    Truly outstanding article.

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  4. raegun says:

    Some things well worthy of consideration there, it has become difficult in this day and age to counter the simple “free speech” argument.

    I do especially like Franks’s comment as well, I may paste some of those counters in my hat for future reference, thanks

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  5. Danyl Strype says:

    First, let me say that I think the greatest comedy attacks the powerful, and defends the underdog. I have little time for frat boy humour which extracts cheap laughs from kicking the vulnerable while they’re down. That said, it’s easy to take things out of context. What if the “pumpkin” joke was put in the mouth of a character who himself becomes the butt of the rest of the jokes? We all heard about Paul Holmes comments calling the Secretary-General of the UN a “cheeky darky” on the radio, but only those who actually listened to the recording realised that Holmes was lampooning George Bush, and said those racist words in Dubya’s unmistakable retard accent. This is the main reason I don’t use Twitter and its clones; by it’s very nature it tends to divorce the expression of ideas from the wider context which gives them meaning.

    The subversive nature of comedy means that jokes which attack the marginalized are a weapon which can be easily turned back on those who fire them. If people I’m hanging out with start making racists jokes, I tell my own version of a common racist joke, “what’s empty and lies in the gutter? A racist with the shit kicked out of them.”

    “(a) “Hey, freedom of speech!” – No. It’s not freedom of speech I’m criticising. It’s what you said with it. ”

    When people leap to the defence of free speech in these situations, it’s not because someone is saying “I don’t like what you said”, it’s because they seem to be saying “people shouldn’t say things like that”, which sounds disturbingly like “people shouldn’t be *allowed* to say things like that”. However pathetic I might find the “pumpkin” joke, people damn well should be allowed to say it, for exactly the same reason that BoT or anyone else who has a criticism of it should be allowed to say it.

    BoT is saying she doesn’t like what was said, as is her right. However, she also implies that it shouldn’t have been said. The underlying assumption being that if nobody ever *said* anything she finds offensive, this would magically transform the world into a place where nobody ever *does* anything she finds “offensive”. If this assumption was true (it isn’t), then it could be argued that censoring “offensive” speech is necessary to prevent violence against women or whatever (it isn’t, in fact the opposite is true).

    Despite its good intentions however, all PC language policing does is drive ignorant opinions underground, into sports bars and online echo chambers where they can’t and won’t be challenged. I want people to feel free to express what they think, however ignorant or offensive I might judge it to be, because that’s a prerequisite for having honest public debates which can actually evolve our thinking. I suspect challenging racist or sexist remarks would be much more effective if we started our critique with words to the effect of “I’m glad you said that, here’s what I think….” rather than some variant of “people shouldn’t say things like that”.

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    • Danyl – what is “PC”?

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      • Danyl Strype says:

        For the record, my definition of “political correctness” is, as I discussed in my comment, the mistaken belief that if nobody ever *said* anything “offensive”, this would magically transform the world into a place where nobody ever *does* anything offensive.

        BTW Niggling about my use of “PC” is an example of exactly the sort of pointless and counter-productive language policing I’m talking about.

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    • Burnt Out Teacher Burnt Out Teacher says:

      Thanks for your comment! I’d like to clarify one thing: I don’t get “offended.” I get angry, insulted, or furious as a result of very specific thoughtless, cruel, or hateful words. Finding things “offensive” is lazy. Being furious because somebody jokes about smashing women to bits on the ground? That’s valid as hell. It’s not “offensive” speech I get angry about; it is vicious hate speech that I get angry about, and I think it should always be challenged.

      Furthermore, if someone joked they were going to come to your home, tear your face apart, rape you, and slit your throat (after you dared to speak up about, say, sexist jokes), would you be upset, or would you just consider it free speech? Because women deal with this kind of thing ALL the time. It’s not “censoring” to speak up about it. And beginning that particular discussion with “I’m glad you said that” will never be appropriate.

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      • Danyl Strype says:

        “I get angry, insulted, or furious as a result of very specific thoughtless, cruel, or hateful words.”

        In other words you find it offensive. Fair enough. You spoke out about how offensive you found it. Again, fair enough. If it had never been said, you would never have had the opportunity or the impetus to write this blog.

        Which brings me back to the point I was trying to make. If everyone very carefully excised all sexist language from their speech, and those who oppress women carry on doing so just as they do now, would that make the world a better place? No. It would make it a worse place, because supporters of gender equality would not have sexist speech to use as examples of the attitudes driving that behaviour. It would make oppression of women harder to fight, not easier.

        So,when political or economic power is used to try to prevent “offensive” speech, as it was in the case of Willie and JT for example, not only is this counter-productive for the reasons given above, it also has a bunch of other unintended consequences for freedom of expression *in general*. Which is bad for everybody, particularly those who don’t own newspapers or television or radio stations.

        “would you be upset, or would you just consider it free speech?”

        Both.

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        • Burnt Out Teacher Burnt Out Teacher says:

          Just as “I am going to come to your house to rape and stab you” is not an opinion, neither is “Lol I bash Asian women to death on the ground.” Freedom of speech exists to legally protect people’s rights to their opinions, but when those in power (say, in paid positions the radio, or with 25k followers on Twitter) use freedom of speech to spread and produce and promote the hatred of half of humanity, who are you to tell us that their repulsive words are making our fight easier?

          I would love to live in a world where alarming, vicious comments against women weren’t the norm, but thanks to people fighting for their right to abuse and attack us, that is a long way off. These “comedians” sharing their shitty jokes don’t make my life better. They make it much, much worse.

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    • Despite its good intentions however, all PC language policing does is drive ignorant opinions underground, into sports bars and online echo chambers where they can’t and won’t be challenged.

      Pardon?!?!

      “Won’t be challenged”?!

      ‘Scuse me, but you’ve just finished pontificating that “When people leap to the defence of free speech in these situations, it’s not because someone is saying
      “I don’t like what you said”, it’s because they seem to be saying “people shouldn’t say things like that” and
      “BoT is saying she doesn’t like what was said, as is her right. However, she also implies that it shouldn’t have been said.”

      Yet now you say it should be challenged?

      Maybe you need to clarify what you mean, because all I’m getting is a contradiction from you.

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  6. Ovicula says:

    Pumpkin is a great name for the face of a comedian who makes jokes about smashing Asian women into the ground. Why? I’m sure he could figure it out with a bit of help. By the way, I fully expect to be accused of something for what I’ve written here, but that’s my response to that sort of rubbish.

    We have had some great Kiwi comedians, male and female. That guy does not seem to be one of them.

    As for the other issues raised here, tautoko. As always, BOT says things very well.

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  7. When people leap to the defence of free speech in these situations, it’s not because someone is saying “I don’t like what you said”, it’s because they seem to be saying “people shouldn’t say things like that”, which sounds disturbingly like “people shouldn’t be *allowed* to say things like that”

    So, basically, you’re suggesting that once a statement is made, it cannot be challenged? It almost sounds like free speech only cuts one way – to the person who first makes the statement. No response permissable in case someone (anyone) takes it that we’re attacking “free speech”.

    And really, anyone can use that statement to then close down critical comments.

    As I said, it’s not the free speech that’s being challenged – it’s the content of it. And that includes the reason for making a statement and the agenda behind it.

    Otherwise, I can say to your face, “I want to fuck your wife/daughter/son/sheep” – and you cannot gainsay me. Otherwise you’re attacking my free speech.

    Free speech is not absolute. Never has been, never will be. It always has consequences.

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    • Danyl Strype says:

      Frank, I anticipated this line of argument, and my response to it is included in the original comment. Try reading it again more carefully.

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  8. Marc says:

    Sorry, but I have no time for Twitter. While I appreciate BoT’s views and experiences, and her comments here, it is one way of “communication” I stay clear of.

    Tweets are not for me. It sickens me daily to see a society of voluntary hunch-backs walking around like zombies, staring at their smart and mobile phones, tablets – and having ipods plugged into their ears, while shunning the looks of others, ignoring their surroundings, and always being “somewhere else” with their mind and senses.

    I prefer real life, I want to see who and what is around me, and I prefer face to face conversations. I also intentionally keep my mobile phone switched off for times, as I do NOT want to be reached and “disturbed” 24/7. Yes, I also do not want to be informed instantly about mostly trivial stuff. Even the more important stuff has a bit of time, as it will need time to deal with, after analysing it properly. I am “old fashioned” in that sense, but still a “real human being”, I dare to think.

    Sadly I seem to be becoming a small minority, close to extinction, as many now how to “tweet”, but are unable to conduct much in the way of sensible and enlightening conversations.

    At least emails and text messages allow to send messages with contents. But with tweets, I see journalism degenerating at high speed, since so many journos have started tweeting each other frivolities and nonsensical bits.

    Leave the tweeting to the birds, who also face extinction, that is my message on this topic.

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    • cassie blake says:

      (I SO agree Marc ) In reality, “Twitter” illustrates/encourages the thinking deficit of people’s minds today: severely limited, and with short attention spans. This is extremely detrimental for society in general.

      To B.O.T. re your post.
      YES . I really acknowledge where you’re coming from.
      In my opinion,
      It is very alarming that today, due to decades of heavy influence via bombardment by” commercial” stereo typing, eg via Hollywood trash,Music industry trash visuals, commercial advertising in general..etc..LOOK how women are being portrayed!!! – As mere sexual objects!
      As a mother of girls it really worries & upsets me, how much emerging boys /men have been “programmed” to regard females in this horrible shallow way!
      I was walking down a street in a major NZ city, with my daughter who was only 16 (and modest) and a guy walked past her , loudly commented “big boobs”. She told me after but unfortunately I’d missed it. Would have liked to have accosted him & taught him a lesson!!!!!
      (On the other hand it is a very sad fact , that females these days in general have also become victims of this programming and cater to it by the way they dress,& act)

      By the way, long time missing these days is Political Satire comedies.
      NEVER see them anymore. Isn’t that interesting, and what does it say ??

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  9. Ptera Daktyl says:

    I still don’t even understand how or what is funny about the so-called joke.
    It makes no sense to me.
    I thoroughly agree with BoT that the momentum to speak out against patriarchal, chauvinistic, and hateful misogynistic ways of thinking needs to be maintained. It is time for us men to adopt and articulate a feminist worldview – one that acknowledges that all of us need each other – and racism, sexism, any form of hate-ism, has no place in our future.

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  10. cassie blake says:

    (I meant to say, my daughter was modestly dressed, and she was quite shocked. We came from a small town) It was quite a horrible “reality check” as to how men regard & look at women these days, and a true sign of the times we live in. And it’s entirely because of commercialism which rules life today.

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  11. Harriet says:

    Society will ALWAYS have rapists. Because men are stupid apparently.

    And women will always have to be cautious with regards to their safety – just like their stupid drunken fathers who have phones, watches and wallets don’t wonder about alone or in the company of people they don’t know in the dark. It’s common sense. As nanna once told me long ago.

    And Asian prositutes don’t say NO – they just start crying instead!

    Could you care to tell us about the ‘occupational health and safety standards’ that Asian brothel owners[both male and female] expect their ‘workers’ to work under? – eg. How ‘hard’ are you legally allowed to penetrate a prostitute? We know you are no longer allowed to smash them with your fists – but how hard are you allowed to penetrate them the first time – does too hard become ‘sexual assault’ committed by a male – or just a matter of youthful experiance from dating ‘sluts’? How do prostitutes get by emotionaly if they equate ‘victim’ to the former happening? Is that healthy for them? Really?

    NZ’s young women today seem rather stupid to me, as women’s Lib is all about women’s ‘rights’ and not women’s ‘welfare’.

    Feminists are more concerned about a women being allowed to become a prostitute – than if being a prostitute is bad for a women to become. Surely being a prositute is as bad on a women as being a fulltime ‘housewife’?

    And Asian women, along with many gullable western women remain and become victims of that ignorance. Or agenda!

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