Being Silent

I’ve been following the backlash from the media coverage of the Steubenville rape case pretty closely. I’ve read all the important articles and blog posts. I’ve read all of my friends’ statuses and comments. I’ve seen my friends’ anger, their commitment to rationalism, and their frustration with patriarchal systems.

I’ve always struggled with what I should be saying about things where I don’t resemble the victim. What should I say about male-on-female rape or sexism or racism? I like to talk about these issues but am I limited to parroting what female, minority, and/or LGBTQ friends and/or scholars say about them?

My friend, Tyler Borchers, pointed me to “Dismantling whiteness: Silent yielding and the potentiality of political suicide” by a professor here at Ohio University named Dr. Jungkunz.

Jungkunz writes:

To reiterate, part of what privilege has involved in garrulous contemporary settings has been a monopoly over speaking. We have witnessed this surrounding sex, sexuality, race, class and gender. Masculine, white, ‘heterosexual’, wealthy men are privileged speakers. So, to engage insubordinate silence along any of these components of intersectionality is to engage several transformative contestations and participations. First, silence can demonstrate a protest against racism. Such protests can entail: silence instead of an encouraging laughter as a response to a co-worker’s racially offensive joke, or an organized silent protest involving duct tape over one’s mouth to call attention to oppressive quiescence. These silences can cut off the air (speaking) that gives life (via racist stereotyping) to white supremacy. Block de Behar notes, ‘that only silence can offer a means of avoiding the automatism of language’ (1995, p. 4). Second, silence can act as a democratic yielding. This yielding is insubordinate as it challenges norms that try to dictate who should and should not speak – so, to remain silent as a way to allow the ‘other’ to speak is inherently resistant to a whiteness-speech configuration of power. This is a silence for empowerment and transformation. Finally, silence as a refusal can seek to end one political existence – whiteness – only to open up the possibility of an alternative to a racialized polity for the future. This silence as refusal can involve the following: not claiming a race on the census questionnaire, remaining silent when someone asks for racial identification over the phone or upon a personal ad and not engaging an entire array of racially offensive names, topics, movies, songs, discussions and so on. At an even deeper level, this silence can be an active refusal of aspects, characteristics – white personality traits if you will – that slowly but importantly begin to kill off one’s whiteness. For instance, the urge to speak up and out can be refused; the exuding of confidence can be refused; and even the lack of racial self-consciousness can be refused.

I am really bad about this. I am really bad about being okay with silence. In fact, I’ve found myself knee-deep in discussions about Steubenville the past couple of days. And every time I get frustrated with one of those discussions, I try to move to a discussion with someone who I know will agree with me. This, I think, is both incredibly prideful and incredibly damaging.

Too often, I start to believe that the only way to affect political action is through speech. Through action. But that’s not true. Often, the way I can be most subversive in my privilege is to yield my voice to oppressed groups. My voice is not unimportant or worthless. It’s just that there is nothing of value my voice can add to the debate. I am not a survivor. I know survivors, but I know them as friends. And I think they are far more qualified to talk about their experiences than I am. My role should be to encourage other non-survivors to listen. To listen. To be silent.

I think of all the times I’ve laughed at a rape joke in the presence of other people. That’s not alright. Or all the times I’ve agreed when someone calls a girl a “slut.” That’s not alright. Or all the times I’ve been part of a community that encourages people to make decisions about sexual partners while under the influence of alcohol. That’s not alright. Silence would have been better.

Silence is probably better now.

Note: When I typed “silence” into Google to try to find a picture, I most often found pictures of women being silent. Yikes. Then when I typed in “silence man,” I got photos of scantily clad men sneaking up on sleeping women. um wut.

Unpopular Opinions: The Line Between Cute and Not

A couple nights ago, a novelty Twitter account appeared on the OU Twitter scene.

OU Crushes, an account where students anonymously submit 140-character posts about their crushes, was suspended today on charges of sexual harassment. It’s easy to see why. Many of the tweets included full names and many of them were graphic in nature.

When some students took to Twitter to support the decision to suspend OU Crushes, they were quickly ridiculed and labeled wet blankets by fellow students.

AVW Newstime

When OU Crushes finally went back on line, they tweeted about their suspension, making sure to put sexual harassment in quotes. It’s not real sexual harassment, of course, their quotes said.

Folks, Imma admit it. At first, I was really into the idea of an OU Crushes. Mostly because I wanted to know who had a crush on me. And I think there is a world where OU Crushes is only cute, but we don’t live in that world.

There is a reason we want anonymity when we say things like “i would love to motorboat ____ but apparently she only goes for Jewish frat boy.” It’s because these things shouldn’t be said in the real world. Can you imagine a group of guys shouting that at a girl on the street? That would be sexual harassment. Anonymity and the Internet do not make it alright.

This is how rape culture is perpetuated. It’s perpetuated when we provide spaces that make it alright to publicly sexualize and objectify people. And then, when students speak up about it, they are labeled mean-spirited.

We need to stop thinking in this way–in this “don’t ruin the fun for everyone else way.” If one person is hurt by “fun,” then it shouldn’t be considered fun.

The Journey From a Bitter, Disgruntled Eighth-Grader To an Open-Minded Man: What Love’s Got To Do With It

“Also, there is the feminist thing. It started off good, but now girls think everything is sexist, and boys are supposed to be kind to them, because they might be going through a ‘change.’ So, as a guy, I must assume that every time a girl is depressed or gives me a hard time it is because they are going through ‘a change.'”
-From the journal of an eighth-grade me

Spending time in my childhood home always makes me reflect–both on who I was then and who I thought I was going to be now. A constant theme running through my journals through high school is a belief that I was losing integrity–that as I grew older, I also grew more nefarious. Upon having a few of those same thoughts recently and rereading some of those old high school journals, I’ve realized that there probably wasn’t a time of maximum integrity. A continuous looking back to some golden age of Spencer morality probably does more harm than good.

But while some things have remained constant, many other things have changed. I no longer believe, for instance, that feminism “started off good, but now girls think everything is sexist.” It’s even a little bit shocking that I am the same person as the boy who wrote those words. Change is strange.

***

I watched Cory Booker’s 2012 commencement speech to Stanford University today. If you have 45 minutes, I recommend sacrificing watching another episode of your favorite television show and watching this instead. (I watched it instead of watching another episode of The West Wing.)

Booker talks about a “conspiracy of love.”  He argues that true change, true innovation happens when individuals refuse to give up hope, faith, and love. He talks about a man who drove past graffiti on his way to work every morning. Rather than complain about it or grow cynical about it, he left for work a little earlier one morning, bought a can of paint, and painted over it.

I don’t think like that.

I don’t believe in things or causes or even other people. I believe in myself. If something, some cause, or some person does something I strongly disagree with, I leave. I “take my business elsewhere.” But I don’t think that’s how it should be. I think we should change from the inside. I think the world would be a much more interesting place if everyone was forced to join the religion and political party of his or her family. It would force change. Real change. Dynamic change. Meaningful change.

I heard a story today from a woman who was scared to tell her grandmother that she was gay. Her grandmother often railed against Ellen DeGeneres for her sexuality and so the woman thought there was no way her grandmother could ever accept that her own granddaughter was a lesbian. But when the woman told her grandmother she was gay, her grandmother accepted her perfectly and amazingly. Her grandmother even became the first in the family to reprimand family members if and when they told bigoted jokes (Smyka, The Moth).

Obviously, the woman has an amazing grandmother. But I think the reason this story had a happy ending is because there was real love between the grandmother and her granddaughter. What finally broke the grandmother’s bigoted views was not factual argumentation but a loving relationship. Because she loved her granddaughter unconditionally, she had not choice but to accept her granddaughter’s sexuality.

***

I try to remember the exact path that took me from the boy in my eighth-grade journal to the man I am now. I can’t remember the exact twists and turns anymore. But I know this: I was never swayed by an argument telling me I was wrong. In my mind, I had facts, stories, ideas, and people smarter than me to back me up. And I know how to argue. What ultimately changed me were people. People who loved me. Friends who had to have recognized my wrong-mindedness but loved me anyways.

I have convictions–ways I would like to see the world changed. Too often, the way I go about spreading those convictions is through arguing–on Facebook, on Twitter, in real life, or on a blog. But, I think I have to learn how to love that eighth-grade boy first.

An Incomplete List of Things I’m Not Okay With

1. When people, typically men, use the word “cunt.”

2. When people, typically men, use the word “bitch.”

3. When people, typically white people, use the word “nigger.”

4. When people, typically heterosexual people, use the word “gay” to mean stupid.

5. When people, typically men, use the word “slut.”

6. When people say that racism is over.

7. When people say “I’m not racist, but…”

8. When people try to explain to me why their offensive joke is actually funny, and I’m just not cultured or nuanced enough to understand it.

9. When people say that being mean is protected under free speech. It is. But that doesn’t mean you have to use it.

10. When anyone anywhere in any way implies that rape was the victim’s fault.

11. When people, typically white men, complain about affirmative action. Some people estimate that if we were to pay African Americans reparations for all of the economic disadvantage while we enslaved them and discriminated against them, the total sum would be greater than the amount of wealth that currently exists in America. I think we can take affirmative action.

12. When someone assumes that children don’t learn because they are “lazy.”

13. When someone says that poor people are poor because they are “lazy.”

14. When people do or say any of these things ironically. Irony belongs in literature, theater, and film. It doesn’t belong in real, intimate human interaction. Just because you’ve taken a Women and Gender Studies class, you do not have permission to use the word “cunt” ironically.

Turning the Other Cheek Turns Emotions Into Justice

I’ve always kind of struggled with the concept of turning the other cheek and all that.

Our God is one of justice, right?

The Lord works righteousness
And justice for all the oppressed (Psalm 103:6)

So why then are we not allowed to help with that whole justice thing?

A lot of people try to explain this away by saying that we don’t really know what justice is – that only God can judge. I don’t know about that. I know that rape, murder, and slavery are wrong. That’s a judgment. I think I am capable of judging. And we forget that turning the other cheek has to do with someone slapping you. Slapping is pretty wrong, I think. I know that I don’t like it when someone slaps me.

I’m in a Psychology of Gender class this quarter. In that class, we are learning about pro-feminist men right now. Pro-feminist men are men who actively support feminist women to push gender equality. I think pro-feminist men are pretty awesome. Feminist women are pretty awesome, too. It takes a lot of courage to stand up against oppression. But I’ve been thinking a lot about pro-feminist men. I’ve been thinking about how they don’t really have a lot to gain from gender equality. Men are on top. In fact, a lot of men fear that gender equality would mean loss of status for themselves. Pro-feminist men have to believe that gender equality is intrinsically more important than having a wife who stays at home or who is submissive.

There are studies out there that show that the shackles of oppression begin to fall off when members of the oppressor group begin to speak out for the oppressed. Sexism is most successfully combated when men correct their friends when they make a sexist joke or when men refuse to take a job that they have obtained based on sexist hiring practices.

Like most things Jesus taught, the turn the other cheek policy shows a keen insight into human nature. It’s easy to be angry when you have been attacked. It’s easy to clamor for justice, then. But mostly, that’s just emotion. When a friend makes fun of me, I am not mad because my friend has violated the intrinsically moral rule that making fun of people is wrong. I am mad because I was the subject of the ridicule. And if I say anything, it is easy for my friends to say that I am making a mountain out of a molehill. But what if I never got mad when people made fun of me? What if, instead, I made fun of myself?

Then, when someone was making fun of another friend, I could say something. Because people would say “Hey, Spencer is usually so chill about joking around. We must really be out of line if he’s not okay with this joke.”

That’s what turning the other cheek does. It creates a world in which people know that your emotions are not tied to your sense of justice.