Yeah, Nah: On Satire, Survival and Why Good Allies Sometimes get it Wrong.

So social media is abuzz with Metro’s unfunny joke, and their explanation that it was satire aimed at drawing attention to the unjust way women and girls are blamed and shamed for rape, see: http://metromag.co.nz/editors-blog/on-satire-and-rape/#comment-1393.

So we asked, in our regular 20 Questions column: “After the Roast Busters saga, should there be a new criminal charge: ‘Drunk in charge of a vagina?’”

 I believe Simon about the intent. I found the previous editorial on rape culture perceptive and interesting (apart from the Taliban line, but that’s a whole different issue). In social justice speak, I definitely see Simon Wilson and Metro as an ally. I get that the intention was to satirize the conservative voices of those that victim-blame.

Here’s a deconstruction what left me uncomfortable. As a person with a vagina.

1. The humor relies on the shock factor of the word “vagina”. Most humor relies in someway on the unexpected, or an unusual juxtaposition. The phrasing “Drunk in charge of..” cues a vehicle, and the funny bit is vagina. Except, you now, vaginas aren’t so funny if you have one, because you are used to it being a part of your body. And you are used to misogynist culture where vaginas are seen as funny. And you know how funny vagina sounds to some people is probably because vaginas are often represented as being a bit gross.

2. You are used to the way mainstream popular culture has linked cars and women’s bodies, which are both represented as play things for men.

3. You notice “Drunk in charge of a vagina” has a disembodied woman in it. A woman who is just a vagina. You are tired of just being a vagina.

4. You know the joke is partially at police culture. You have heard the stupid stuff the police here and elsewhere have said that perpetuates victim-blaming. But it sticks in your throat when you have experienced it first-hand.

5. And if like me, you are actually a rape survivor, you might imagine someone else chuckling “Ha! Drunk in charge of a vagina. Good one, mate.” But the line seems to reverberate in your body. It echoes with the other things people say about rape, and the things that have been said to you. When am I going to get a sense of humor about rape? Yeah, probably not in this lifetime. Not when I live with the effects of trauma in my daily every day life.

What this issue highlights for me is the gap between being an ally, and being a woman or rape survivor on the receiving end of rape culture. Metro was well-intentioned, definitely not one of the bad guys. But the joke was still blinkered by the routine experience of male privilege, that is – men’s experience often stands in for what is considered “normal” or universal, and women’s experience is bracketed. He just didn’t anticipate that others might experience the joke differently, or have valid reasons for finding it uncomfortable.

It feels really hard to criticize the good guys, which is partially what prompted me to write this. Because rape culture is perpetuated by everyday sexism, and lot of it is not intentional or malicious. It’s just underpinned by gendered discourses that have different effects on men’s and women’s lives. We need to get more comfortable talking about how good folk do stupid stuff. And allies need to start asking how they can be good allies.

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5 thoughts on “Yeah, Nah: On Satire, Survival and Why Good Allies Sometimes get it Wrong.

  1. Excellent analysis. To be honest the divide between intentionality and delivery is an important one, a space which tells us whether the writer or humour-user intends to gain popularity by pulling smiles, or actually putting a serious point across. Humour, even well meant, is as often as exploitative as conservative opinion as it capitalizes on the fact of rape culture itself. The writer capitalizes in terms of popularity, questionable career feminism, and all those other things which divert from rather than target the problem.

    Which is victim blaming. About as funny as rape itself.
    A good guy is not a guy who seeks audience growth and column space by merely continuing the trend of pre-existing rape jokes. Believe me: not an ally. This was not a sign of thoughtlessness, it was an indicator that this generation’s career feminists are a product of, and deeply invested in, rape culture itself.

    1. thanks for your thoughtful comment. I’m interested in the idea you raise of the writer capitalizing on career feminism. Feminism seems deeply (and problematically) unpopular to me… I’m thinking the aura of “post-feminism”/ neoliberal individualism, but I’ll think some more on it. It seems like a fruitful line of thought considering the saturation of “ethical” advertising at the moment, companies siphoning symbolic value from social movements while simultaneously maintaining other invisibilized unethical practices. And also makes me reflect on the ‘value’ I attain from being an ally, too.

      1. I think we live in an era in which Third Wave feminism is impossibilised by the mentality of career ‘social justice warriors’. Impossibilised by the desire for gain, and by a collective logic which ponders ‘how will this benefit me, what can I gain from it’, instead of ‘what can I give?’
        Capitalism naturally turns social questions of violence and inequalities into something which can be exploited for market gain. The question is, are we feminists on paper only? Feminism in practise means sisterhood, awareness, mobilisation- but not for material gain which egojournalism seems to demand.
        We are becoming part of the problem, instead of the solution. Because we aren’t asking the right questions, and we are only giving answers when the sound of our own voices benefits us materially.
        But writing here now- this is what it’s about. Reflection that is visible but not exploitative. Keep writing, I like your words.

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