I’m unsure of exactly how to say this, so I’m going to just say it.
I’ve noticed more than a couple instances recently, in which a blog post decrying rape culture was beset by comments in the comment thread, supporting rape culture. That’s putting it mildly, of course. And unsurprisingly, indignation followed as people saw how horrible their fellow humans really can be.
While people have every reason to be angry about people supporting rape and rape culture in blog comment threads, I sincerely wish that the “shock” that people express about this would stop. This surprise, to me, is akin to surprise that one would be unable to have a productive discussion about rape culture on the wall of a bathroom stall at a rest area. This is the internet. There is child porn on the internet. Prostitution. If not physical rape, certainly sexual harassment, and the precursors to rape. A blog comment thread is an uncontrollable, pseudo-anonymous, short-text medium. To think that the internet would respond to the awfulness of rape culture with uniform sensitivity, courage, and understanding is naive.
The fact of rape culture is that one in four college age women have survived rape or attempted rape. 8% of men admit to committing rape. (These and other statistics here.) Do we believe that these 8% of men don’t use the internet? Where do we think these men are? That they live in dark alleys, or in some “backward, ignorant” place far away from us?
I don’t bring this up just to feel pleased with myself by calling bullshit on people claiming to be “shocked, just shocked” at verbal abuse in comment threads. I’m actively concerned by this, because it perpetuates a belief that the world is a reasonable, generally kind place. We should never “expect” to see examples of rape culture, or dismiss it as “normal”. Nor should we be “surprised” that rape culture exists. Holding up blog comment threads as if they were anything less than the detritus of the internet skews the way which we confront rape culture, and keeps us off balance. It’s already generally agreed by both blog authors and readers that the comment threads are often devoid of most critical value. Why, suddenly, are we shocked?
This is not the equivalent of suggesting that “if people don’t like rape culture, they should not bring it up on blogs”, or otherwise avoid the internet, or stop wearing short skirts. Far from it. There should be many, many more posts pointing out egregious instances of rape culture. Anyone who, even as a joke, decides it is okay to tolerate rape culture or others who do should be called out, and forced to recant. But as for pseudo-anonymous blog comment threads? Maybe if we had DHS’ resources we could track down every asshole with a keyboard, half a brain, and 15 seconds of free time (if only the surveillance state were on our side, no?). But as we don’t, we should close the comment thread, or be prepared to be confronted with a direct example of what we are up against. Consider it simply prudent, like putting up storm shutters.
I’m reminded of people who would attend various Occupy meetings, and make the, apparently, sincere suggestion that we get bankers, police officers, and government officials to attend the GA. Similarly, people would voice the idea that the 1% might be alienated by the slogan 99%, and this was bad, since we wanted everyone to be on the same side. In fact, any time an idea was proposed that might just be unpopular with a measurable amount of people, the 99% slogan was rolled out again, in some sort of dogmatic and extreme notion of populism. Not only did I find these positions idiotic, I found the incredibly insulting to people who had been fighting the banks, war, and the government for years, often receiving blows from the police for their trouble.
It is an extreme form of class privilege to believe that people will do the right thing, simply because it is the right thing. This is a fight against late capitalism. One of the main reasons we are against this capitalism, is because it will go to nearly any length in order to defend itself and increase its profit. There are literally trillions of dollars being made via this system. To think that it will give up and die, that it will give up these profits, and that it will do so without committing extreme violence in the effort to defend itself is not just naive, but reflects a vulnerable misunderstanding of what the enemy is. Don’t think for a second that the CEOs of investment banks misunderstand this. Don’t think for one second that surprisingly low levels of police authority know exactly when they will fire a gun into the face of an unarmed protester to protect bank property. This is not an apocalyptic eventuality, this unfolds every day. If you have not seen the violence already occurring against non-violent people, with the aim of simply making more money for someone with already a large amount of money, then you are willfully ignoring it.
The worst part of this was not having to sit through asinine comments at Occupy meetings, but it was in the street, when suddenly the police would turn on people, and the crowd would either flee, or panic. It was inconceivable to the majority that someone would actually try to stop them from protesting with force, and when this inconceivability actually happened, they crumbled.
Not that it is my role to tell anyone what to do, or when to stand up to blows, or when to run away. And I don’t want to argue that we all must become scarred, jaded people who think the worst of the world, in order to do any good.
But all the same, obsessing that a blog comment thread, which is really only an IP log away from being equivalent to 4chan, is showing signs of the same rape culture that leaves one out of four college-aged women raped, is probably not. While getting angry about it is natural, spending all our time trying to purify the comment thread of signs of rape culture is like trying to fix a stalled car by washing the windows. Fighting capitalism or rape culture is not easy. It is long, hard, filled with minor defeats, and horrible mental wounds (if not physical). Burning out on washing the windows doesn’t help anyone.
If there was no other way to fight rape culture than in comment threads, that would be one thing. But it is just as easy to close the comment thread. That is what BoingBoing eventually did on the post at the top of this essay. No sense not to start out that way. (Comments on this post are closed. If you want to discuss this, I’d be happy to, but reach me through another means.)
On a more positive note, you know who is awesome? This woman, who punched a guy in the face after hearing him make “rape jokes” (rape threats) in the street. She didn’t waste any time with dickheads in the comment thread. In the link above, even the Jezebel writer is forced to backpedal from violence (actually, self-defense to legitimate threats) because violence is never the best answer, goodness knows, and rationality ought to prevail. No, as a matter of fact–rationality does not often prevail. That is what the writer’s “irrepressible little voice in my head” knows, and why it is telling her to thank this woman for doing what needed to be done.