Trigger warnings for rape, rape apologia, victim-blaming, and general rape-culture fuckery.
This week, two popular Internet publications—The Onion and The Daily Beast–apparently engaged in a competition to see who could publish the most disgusting piece of rape-culture-perpetuating clickbait on the whole entire Internet. It was almost as though TDB saw the steaming pile The Onion excreted on Tuesday (in which they appeared to be competing with their recent Chris Brown piece for some sort of internal fuckwit prize) and thought, “You know, I’ll bet we can get something out by Thursday that gives them a run for their money.”
I’m not linking to either of these pieces, but I will tell you a bit about each and how you can let these pubs know what you think, if you’re so inclined. We’ll start with The Onion’s attempt to point up the tragedy of child rape. Here’s the headline:
Adolescent Girl Reaching Age Where She Starts Exploring Stepfather’s Body
When I saw this, I tweeted something about finding a way to get their attention and make them aware of the damage they’re doing with this type of piece. Predictably (and I predict this will happen here, as well) I almost instantaneously got a reply from a guy who didn’t get what the big deal was. “IT’S SATIRE!” he explained. “Where’s the damage?” he wanted to know.
Many if not most of my readers will not need to read past this headline to understand—if only at a gut level—what the problem is. But here are just a few of the ways I and two fellow feminists attempted to clarify it for him.
The headline is probably the worst thing about this piece, second only to the image choice, which I’ll cover below. It tells a story not of a predator and a potential victim, but of a young girl “coming of age” and getting ready to explore sex with an adult. It practically makes the victim the aggressor, for Christ’s sake. I just can’t believe I have to explain to anyone why this is a problem.
Satire is meant to point up: to sting the people in power—the ones who perpetuate the problem the satire is spotlighting. Satire should sting the perpetrators—not the victims. This is what I call lazy or just plain bad satire: it points in the wrong direction and makes its point at the expense of the people it claims to want to help.
As was the case with the Chris Brown/Rihanna piece they did a few months ago, they made the victim the punchline. I have been a professional writer for 25 years, and I know that there’s always a way to write around a problem. There was a way—there were multiple ways—for The Onion to make the point they wanted to make—that child rape is tragic and sick and all-to-prevalent—without making the victim the joke. Why not write from the POV of a child rapist? Why involve the victim at all? And tell me why in the name of all that is good and holy you would lead with this image?
Seriously? My brain is just a whirlwind of everything that’s wrong with this, from what it does to my insides seeing it in this context, to the fact that there is an actual little girl out there to whom this face belongs. I just can’t even with this shit. FUCK.
And finally, survivors of rape do not benefit from satirical stories that make light of their pain and terror and trauma and abuse.
Again, predictably, we got nowhere. I don’t know how to make it any clearer: This type of piece perpetuates rape culture and hurts the people it purports to help.
You can contact The Onion at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let them know what you think. I personally think they are a) failing at satire, b) whoring for links, c) becoming no better than their hack competitors, d) perpetuating rape culture and violence against women by trivializing same and making victims the punchline.
On to The Daily Beast. When Chelsea Manning announced yesterday that she was a woman, the Internet exploded. I watched as the press flubbed pronouns and terminology left and right, as folks on Twitter corrected one another, got angry, called for calm, asked questions, learned things. Then TDB published a piece of rape apologia that made my hair stand on end, and if I thought the tweets had been flying before, well…it wasn’t long before TDB issued a Twitter fauxpology (and I mean a SEVERELY weak thing of weakness) and posted an editor’s note at the top of the piece pointing out that the original draft had been even worse. Then they quietly began editing out the most outrageous bits, like this:
Indeed, the vast majority of experienced convicts know that “true” rape is not a common occurrence in prison. That doesn’t mean that homosexual sex doesn’t occur—it certainly does. But it’s really not that unusual for a new prisoner to show up on the compound and begin walking around the yard in pants far too tight. Before long they drop the soap in the shower, get a little close to another naked man, and then— simply because they’ve never been able to come to terms with their own sexuality—tell anyone who will listen (but, interestingly enough, they usually never complain to the guards) that they were “raped.” And a week or two later it could happen again, and then again.
Quiet as it’s kept, this is one reason for high recidivism rates. In prison, closeted homosexuals can receive what they desire but are able to maintain to the world they really find such behavior disgusting; in this manner they don’t have to take responsibility for what happened to them.
I can only imagine that the editor had an emergency root canal and this piece somehow slipped by without anyone with the words “fact-check” in their job description laying eyes on it. And if that was the case, removing the piece and issuing a sincere apology for publishing it would probably have meant that by now, we’d just be shaking our heads wondering how such a thing could happen. But removing what they perceived to be the “offending” chunks of the article without making note of the fact is sneaky as hell and this purposeful attempt to rewrite history has stripped TDB of all credibility with many of us. They’ve got a lot of work to do to fix this mess.
Prison Culture has published an article containing contact information for TDB and a list of demands they need to meet in order to start making things right. Please take a moment to let TDB know what you think about their rape apologia and utter lack of journalistic integrity.
And the winner is…The Daily Beast because they’re actually supposed to be journalists and they have failed at that in a major way. But The Onion is a very close second for learning absolutely nothing this year when they’ve had so many opportunities.
Let me know what you think in the comments (but if you’re considering explaining satire to me, please fuck right off).
The Daily Beast has issued an apology acknowledging how wrong they were to publish the piece in question. On the other hand, they have opted to leave the piece up, and have so far not edited the note at the top to include this acknowledgement. I really hope they do, and that they apologize to Chelsea Manning.
- Chelsea Manning, media bias, and cissexism (canada.com)
- Earlier today, The Daily Beast published a rape apologist, homophobic, transphobic article on Chelsea Manning. (jezebel.com)
- The Day The Onion Died (makemeasammich.org)
- Internet Finds Onion Rape & Incest Story Deeply Unfunny (theatlanticwire.com)
PS/Update: Here’s a video by The Onion showing that they do know how to do satire that sheds light on a problem without perpetuating it–instead ridiculing rapists, rape apologists, and rape culture and leaving the victim the hell out of it:
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
As some of you are aware, today many people on Twitter are taking the opportunity to #TellAFeministThankYou. Most of us are thanking feminists for things like the fact that it’s socially acceptable for us to wear pants out to dinner, or for the hard work they do campaigning for women’s health and safety, or for the way they support and inspire other feminists.
And of course, you’ve joined the party to impart your wisdom, which consists mostly of “why don’t you go make me a sammich?” And feminists all over the Internet are laughing our asses off. After all this time, is that really the best you can come up with?
It’s sad and pathetic and all that, but if I’m honest, I owe you my thanks. You, Trolls, and people who think like you, are one of the reasons this site exists. And I certainly have you to thank for its name, don’t I? It’s absolutely perfect and I wouldn’t have it if you weren’t so gosh darned clever!
So, thank you, Trolls, for being what you are—an ever-present object lesson wherever one is needed. A perfect illustration of why we must keep fighting. Not because you exist (because you’re pathetic); not because of the things you say (because mostly they don’t matter). It’s because you breed. Your hatred breeds. You poison young minds—male and female—against each other, against themselves. Your anonymous mob-mentality is contagious and sometimes deadly. And when the real Anonymous big boys and girls go after one of you and out you to the world, I can’t feel sorry for you even when you beg for their forgiveness and say it was all a joke and you never meant any harm. We as a society have to put your like in the middle of town square in stocks and throw rotten fruit until bored, sad, unimaginative, cruel people like you learn that this behavior won’t be tolerated.
Keep showing up, by all means. Keep harassing women on the Internet and showing the rest of us what the worst of us look like. But don’t expect us to tolerate you. I won’t ignore you any longer, and given the chance, I’ll expose you. And if I don’t, someone else will.
Oh, and here’s your sammich:
I AM SO RELIEVED TO SEE THIS.
Update: I removed the final panel to my last comic, as well as my “defense” of it.Both were fucking stupid. Sorry if I upset anyone
— Matthew Inman (@Oatmeal) December 4, 2012
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Matthew Inman.
I logged on to Twitter this morning just in time to see this.
In case you didn’t see the original comic, it’s pretty well described above. It’s about repeatedly “raping” your F5 key to get a page to load. I saw it on Twitter yesterday and thought, “Ew,” but I missed the attribution. It matters that this comes from someone who a) is respected by many and b) has gotten it wrong before and thinks he’s entitled to do so without consequence. My good friend Sid is working on an open letter to Mr. Oatmeal even as I type which will go into more detail and be less “scathing” than the one I would have written (update: her letter). But let me say these things for the record:
- Daniel Tosh didn’t start rape culture or make rape jokes unfunny. He just happened to be well-known enough to bring the issue to the forefront. Rape jokes were never funny–and always painful–to rape survivors.
- Giving money to a women’s shelter doesn’t absolve you of all future crimes and misdemeanors. We all screw up now and then. Own it. REALLY own it.
- No one censored The Oatmeal. Enough people called to his attention his contribution to rape culture that he felt he needed to pull it down. The Oatmeal has, at last count, nearly half a million readers so that means A LOT OF PEOPLE chimed in about this. Dear Mr. Oatmeal: Censorship is when the government silences you. Free speech comes with consequences. You should know that by now. If you won’t learn something from this, you may as well join the Penny Arcade Rape Culture Denial Club and Bowling League.
Look for Sid’s missive here.
WTF is this whole #1ReasonWhy thing? Why are a bunch of angry women tweeting that ALL MEN ARE PIGS AND SHOULD BE GATHERED UP AND SHOT?? Is this whole thing a RADICAL FEMINIST PLOT? And why should game companies care what girls think anyway? Everyone knows that the target demographic for games is males aged 18-25! All the tweeting in the world won’t change the fact that sex sells. Girls don’t even play REAL games except to get guys to like them. And if all these lady game industry types were any good at their jobs, their gender wouldn’t matter, would it? Why are they whining about sexism on Twitter instead of DOING something about it? Why don’t they all just go find an island somewhere and make girly games in a girl-friendly environment? Plus, men have to put up with name-calling in the workplace, so why shouldn’t women? And my ex-girlfriend treated me like shit, and the women I’m attracted to aren’t attracted to me, so they’re all cold-hearted bitches–why shouldn’t I treat them like shit? All I’m saying is that women should STFU and learn to deal with the fact that games are made for and by boys and men and if they can’t stand the heat, get back in the kitchen! HAR! HAR!
I Don’t Get It
You really, really don’t. #1ReasonWhy isn’t about you. It’s not an accusation–but if it sounds like one to you, you might want to take a look at how you treat women in games or in your workplace. It came about in response to a question. If only a few dozen people had taken up the cry, you could write it off as a small problem. But thousands did, and they’re still showing up a week later. This is an epidemic that a) has gotten worse, not better, in the 25 years I’ve been in the industry, and b) until now, we have quietly accepted as being just the way things are.
As for your misapprehensions re: gamer girls and demographics, I cheerfully direct you to this article, which debunks them (with sources!) quite handily. You’re welcome.
On to the rest.
Yes, sex sells. You will sell more copies of your game if you feature a giant pair of tits on the cover than if you feature, say, a race car or an army man. But we make choices, don’t we? We decide, when we go into business, whether we are going to make products that contribute to societal disease or ones that do not. There was a time very recently when it was hard to find a triple-A MMO featuring female armor likely to protect the character in battle. Today I’m playing Guild Wars 2, and not only is my character fully armored, but her breasts don’t animate when she’s standing still. Way to go, ArenaNet!
Most game developers have, since I started working in the industry back in the late 80’s, stopped sprinkling “humorous” racial slurs into their games like the ones I lobbied (unsuccessfully) to get removed from the games I worked on way back then. As a society–and as an industry–we decided that we were above that. And once, I thought we were above sexism, too. But as I said, it seems only to have become more prevalent. I think that’s why #1ReasonWhy hurts so much–it’s a confirmation of something many of us have known for a long time but have been unwilling or unable to talk about in mixed company because it just wasn’t safe socially, professionally, psychologically. And not saying it out loud meant leaving it unconfirmed much of the time. It meant accepting the status-quo.
This week, all that changed. Women and men came together to talk about the issue–even as people like you, dear IDGI, peppered us with your troll wisdom and lulz–and some of us were comforted while others had their eyes opened and pledged to make things better. The national press covered the discussion–even as you berated us relentlessly for wasting our time (though you didn’t seem to have anything better to do with yours)–and helped to shine an even brighter light on the issue, bringing more supporters in from all over the world to speak on #1ReasonToBe and #1ReasonMentors about next steps.
This is why, IDGI. And though you don’t get it, so many more do today than did six days ago. While #1ReasonWhy is difficult (and even infuriating, at times) to read, to me it is a symbol of hope and a sign of progress. This is how we do it. A spark becomes a flame, and a flame catches the world on fire.
Burn, baby, burn.