You may have noticed that there was no book club last week, nor was there a Monday post. I am sorry. Real life is being sort of busy right now, so I am going to scale back my thrice-weekly blogging to “as often as I can, but no less than once a week”. How does that sound? We’ll see if absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that.
First off, my sister is starting her very own theater company and needs your support to pay for rehearsal space, etc. for their first production, “Envoy”. It’s a really excellent, boundary-pushing play and she is going to do a brilliant job bringing it to life! So please consider donating just $7 to her campaign! Let’s put our money where our mouths are and actually support brave women voices in the arts, not just talk about it. Thank you all ever so much. http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ensemble-atria-s-envoy-as-part-of-the-midtown-international-theatre-festival?c=pledges
Now, onto WTF Wednesdays. Today, I want to talk about Shut Up Culture. Yes, I just made that word up. It’s when a woman (or a person of color, or a gay person, or any minority person) says “I’m offended by your joke” or “we need more ___________ in __________”. Someone, invariably, will tell that person to Shut Up. Loudly, and rudely, sometimes violently. This week, Anita Sarkeesian made the comment that no major video games have female protagonists. Fairly innocuous, right? Wrong. She was told, over the internet and on TV, that she is terrible, that she “sucks a big f*&%ing cock”, that she should be raped, and killed. This is not an exaggeration. Sandra Fluke, my Georgetown Law classmate, received rape and death threats for the radical suggestion that birth control is a civil right. Rush Limbaugh, an (arguably) grown man, called her a prostitute. He later half-heartedly apologized, but the damage was done. Sandra is brilliant and brave and refused to be silenced by Shut Up culture, but how many other women can tolerate that sort of violence? And how many should?
The answer is zero. Zero women deserve to be told they will be raped for expressing their opinion. That’s hate speech, pure and simple, and it should be against the law. Hate speech technically is against the law here in the US, but it’s devilishly hard to get a court to enforce it. Although, the test is if the speech incites imminent illegal action-I’d argue that a rape threat is pretty illegal. But that’s another battle for another day. The point is-nobody should have to put up with this. But we do anyway, all the time.
Author Chuck Wendig wrote a great series of posts about sexism recently (first post here: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/06/10/25-things-to-know-about-sexism-misogyny-in-writing-publishing/) and became a victim of Shut Up culture himself. He learned that by advocating for a minority, you are submitting yourself to danger, even if you yourself are not a part of the minority. Nobody is safe.
I’ve just had enough, okay? I’m tired of people getting death threats for the suggestion that inequality is still alive and well in this country. I’m tired of the fact that it’s not okay to say “that is offensive to me” without being called, at best, a killjoy. I’m REALLY tired of people justifying Shut Up culture by saying “you’re already equal, minority, so stop bitching about it.” Clearly, that is not even close to true, otherwise, there wouldn’t be Shut Up culture.
It’s about fear and guilt. Fear that those who have been systematically oppressed aren’t going to take it anymore, and that will upset the balance of power so much that those on top will somehow end up on the bottom. Fear that if women get equal pay for equal work, men will lose their ability to get jobs or have good lives. And guilt: guilt because in their hearts, they know it’s all true. I refuse to believe that all straight white men are monsters. I’m the daughter of one, sister of another, and wife to yet another one. Some of my best friends are straight white men. But I have still seen each and every one I just mentioned participate in Shut Up culture. Why? It’s easy. It’s ingrained. And everybody’s doing it. Nobody likes to be reminded that they’re wrong, or that they’re privileged. I know I am at my most defensive and snarky when somebody’s hit a nerve. I complain the loudest when I know that I’m wrong. I don’t think I am alone there.
How do we fight Shut Up culture? By not shutting up. By refusing to be cowed and quiet and meek. Because someone will eventually hear us. And then they will speak up, too. The longer I live, the more I realize we are all just products of what we’ve been told. There is no absolute truth-just who got to us first and told us what truth was. So I’m going to keep being loud. I’m going to call people on their sexism, racism, homophobia…whatever. If you say it, I will tell you I’m offended. Because people need to know that it is not okay to keep someone else down by stifling their expression.
You might say, but Laura, my jokes are hilarious! Aren’t you stifling ME by telling me I’m offensive? To which I answer, no, I’m not. I’m engaging in a conversation by asking you why you feel what you say is funny. That is how we grow: dialogue. Honest exchanges of ideas and opinions. Nobody’s growing or exchanging when the threat of violence is on the table. So me telling you I find your statement offensive and you telling me you’re going to rape me are not the same things, see?
I will probably get some hate mail for this post. (Well, that is if anyone reads it.) That’s okay. I welcome a dialogue. Because the cure for bad speech is more speech. When I was in high school, I was very confused by the things I heard people say who claimed to be Christian. There was a lot of hateful rhetoric bouncing around, and I felt in my soul that it was not what God wanted me to be doing. So I asked a beloved pastor if God really wanted me to say that people were going to Hell and things like that. He blushed, clearly wishing I had asked someone else, thought for a moment and said, “People are always going to say what they think is right. You can’t stop it and you can’t fight it. There’s a lot of hate in this world, and we can’t combat it directly. But what we can do is spread a message of love. And spread it louder.”
Facebook is finally taking action about hate speech because several brave people spoke louder, until they were heard. Things can change. But they don’t change on their own and they don’t change by accident. We have to fight Shut Up culture everywhere, because opponents of equality are everywhere. I read yesterday that the new Doctor Who has been picked-and he’s a white male. I felt so sad and frustrated, because I felt like lots of people (me included) had asked for something, and it had been ignored. There’s still so much work to be done before women are seen as equals-fit to be onscreen as a hero (and not dressed in a bikini or catsuit), fit to kick ass in video games, and fit to earn equal pay for equal work. Fit to walk down the street and not keep your head down to avoid the catcalls. Fit to wear a short dress and not be told you’re asking for it. Fit to be and do anything that a man can. We won’t get it unless we ask for it. Often and repeatedly. And for that, we can never Shut Up.
See you soon!