Friday 25 November 2011

"But...that doesn't happen, right?" [TW: Sexual harrassment/assault]

JenniPosted by Jenni

Since I started blogging about feminist and queer subjects, I've noticed there's one negative response I get more than most. It's not a complaint, or an insult regarding my stance, but rather, disbelief that I still think these things are important to discuss. And it's never in a malicious manner, but rather, genuine puzzlement as to why certain issues are still relevant.

My favourite examples are often to do with my comments regarding a film - "But why does it matter that the girl doesn't do anything? It's not about her!" (Gee, I dunno - maybe it's the fact that there aren't exactly many films about 'her' outside of romantic comedies?) or perhaps "Why does it matter that the gay character got killed? It wasn't because they were gay, duh!" (I'm not even going to explain why that one annoys me.)

I get why people make these comments. After all, it's not the kind of thing most people actively devote time to thinking about. But here's the thing - I want people to not have to think about it because it doesn't happen, not because they're used to it happening. I want a Wonder Woman film, not another male hero - and I enjoy Superman, Batman, and all the rest, I just don't want the field of action heroes to be a male-only zone. And that's okay - and it's something we should be talking about. In the case I've just given, I don't want to be asked why I can't just be happy with Batman, or given reasons that the audience won't 'connect' because, well, it's only boys who see superhero films, and she's a girl (oh, how awful! Relating to a character that's not the same gender as you! Whatever will we...oh, yes, sorry, I forgot that's how most action films work for me...)

But sometimes, this lack of understanding can cut deeper - it's not just about representation, it can be about serious issues.

[TW: Sexual assault, etc]

There's a lot of 'jokes' that go around the internet with content that disturbs me. I'm sure I don't need to give examples - think the rape jokes on facebook and you'll know what I'm thinking of. In fact, I was told one recently that I suppose I was meant to find funny. I'll even quote it, if you like:

"Boy: Let's play a game.
Girl: Okay.
Boy: I'll be a firetruck, and do this [runs fingers up the inside of her thigh] and when you want me to stop, say 'red light'
Girl: Okay
[Boy does so]
Girl: Red light!
Boy: Firetrucks don't stop for redlights."

Surprisingly, I didn't laugh. In fact, I think I probably just glared. Was I being oversensitive? Well, apparently, yes - I was told 'it's just a joke'. But that's not the important comment I want to discuss. On suggesting, hey, you know that's basically ignoring consent, I was informed:

"But no-one would do that seriously! I wouldn't - it'd be in a relationship were we knew that would be okay!"

And that's great. Really, it is. I'm very glad the person who told me the joke wouldn't ignore consent. BUT, the worrying part it the first sentence - no-one would do that­. And this is where I find the main issue comes in when discussing issues like the importance of getting consent - people don't always realise it is an issue. They would always get consent, and rapists are just men who hide in bushes and pounce, so where's the problem?

But that's not how it works. Most people might find this joke funny, and wouldn't do it without a level of consent. But there's some people who'd just see it as an encouragement. When asked how I know this? Well, I've met a couple of those people. I've had to deal with a couple of those people. So of course, I don't exactly find this joke agreeable. And as soon as I tell the person who told the joke that, I'm greeted with 'That happens? Oh. Maybe you're not being oversensitive." I'm going to leave this example for a while and move on to something else I've discussed and been greeted with the 'but that doesn't happen' response.

On discussing people hitting on women in clubs, and why I didn't enjoy attending clubs, I was told 'oh but it's never that bad, they're just being friendly'. And of course, the last time I went out dancing and was grabbed round the waist by a significantly older gentleman and held in place until I managed to push him off me, I thought he was just being friendly. Except no, I didn't. I was bloody scared, and by myself on the way to the bar, and completely horrified that someone thought they had the right to that to me. On telling this story, I was greeted with genuine horror - "that happened?"

And there it is - the crux of what I'm talking about. 'That happened?' The reason these issues aren't always treated with the importance they need isn't because people don't think they're worth it, it's because they don't realise it's a problem.

And this is why discussing these issues is important. Why blogs like this and similar matter, and why it annoys me that we don't see major discussions of these things more often in mainstream media - whilst rape is presented as something that happens to drunk girls in dark alleys, whilst films that have female characters in are seen as okay, even when they don't have a role, purpose or personality, and whilst (yay, current affairs complaining) Twilight is held up as a positive exampe of a relationship, I will keep being 'oversensitive' and going 'all feminist' on people.

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