Monday, December 8, 2014

The Privilege of Objectivity and Denialism


I've been posting a lot about the issue of white cops killing black people lately, and mostly it's because it's extremely important and we need to talk about it NOW and make change happen RIGHT NOW because if we don't take action now, we'll settle for nothing later, in the words of Zack de la Rocha.

But it's also because it's easy. It's so easy. It's easy to read each and every article, every detail about these murders and the history of the murder of black people and how this goes back to lynchings. It's easy because I'm white, because I can distance myself, because that will never happen to me. That is white privilege.

But this is a feminist blog. Shouldn't I be spending more time advocating for women? And in truth, there are plenty of very important issues that I've neglected, because it's hard. It's just so hard. An amazing woman has started a movement of carrying mattresses around college campuses, and I can't write about it. And then there's the thing about the University of Virginia.

I feel like I need to read deeper into it before I write a piece about it. I need to read the details. I need to know what really happened. All I've read on it are some tweets, and two pieces on Shakesville about how people will cling to any excuse, will DEMAND excuses be provided for them, to believe that a victim is lying.

Animated gif of a chihuahua in a sweater scrambling to get under the couch with the caption "NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE"

But I don't want to read more. I don't. The very thought of what happened to this woman and the fact that every time something like this comes out into the open, a chorus of disbelievers descends to demonstrate how little people understand about how rape and rape culture work - it makes me feel sick. Literally. My stomach tightens. My chest feels heavy. My throat burns. My eyes blur. I feel a creeping sensation crawl up my neck and down my arms. I feel despair all throughout my body. The despair of desperately wanting to do something but knowing that I could muster up the most passionate and articulate and fact-laden plea and show it to all the world, scream it from the roof of the fucking White House with a bullhorn and nothing would change.

Because the doubters are deeply invested in their doubt. Facts don't change their minds. A million stories from a million survivors won't change their minds. They say they don't believe that anyone could be so cruel as to rape a woman to get into a frat house, or be so cruel as to dismiss and silence survivors who are their friends. They can't believe this would happen, yet when experts come forth to explain how this shit happens all the goddamn time, they're dismissed. There are people who know how rape culture works and just how cruel people can be, whether through experience or through extensive study and listening to the millions of stories. But when they step forward to say "yes, this does happen, a lot," they're dismissed because they're too "close" to the issue. They can't be objective. They're too emotional about it.

These doubters, these rape culture denialists, exist specifically because they're so distant from the issue. Anyone who listens to the stories and researches and reads the studies and becomes fully aware of rape culture will become emotional about it. Because it's deeply disturbing, it's mindbogglingly awful. The only way to be unemotional about it, which these fucking asshole denialists consider to be a prerequisite to achieving the mythical "objectivity," is to be ignorant about it.

This is male privilege. Women don't have the luxury of being completely ignorant of rape culture. We don't get to deny it exists. Because if we aren't aware that college campuses are full of rapists, we're a whole lot more likely to be raped.

But men get to remain entrenched in their ignorance, and anyone who knows what they're talking about and tries to educate them is dismissed as too emotional, not objective, not qualified to speak. They pretend that there's some person out there who can somehow be both qualified to speak on it and unemotional about it at the same time. They wait for this person who doesn't exist, and when that person doesn't show, they just assume that they have to go along with their ignorant opinions. They plod along in their fantasy world where friends of survivors who dismiss and discourage them from speaking up are too "cartoonishly" evil to exist. Those of us who know the truth seethe and cry and rage and despair, because how could you not? But because we aren't devoid of human emotion, we're not credible sources.

This, my good readers, is what I deal with. As a woman who is fully aware of rape culture, this is what I face. I face an impossible cycle of denial, where my disgust with rape culture will be used as an excuse to dismiss whatever I say, and every dismissal increases my disgust. And my despair.

I get asked why I don't be nicer, why I don't punctuate my writing with constant sources and write like an objective academic in order to convince men that what I'm saying is true. Men must be convinced to solve the problem, right? So why don't I speak to them, why don't I work to convert them?

Courtesy of Batty Mamzelle

Because it's very nearly impossible. I've tried. I've had online arguments that lasted for weeks, only to be dismissed time and time again no matter what source I provide because I'm just too emotional about it to be trusted. I've seen every excuse imaginable used to disbelieve the millions of survivor stories out there, to disbelieve in the scientific studies that I present, to disbelieve anything I say.

Because the fact is that people are not blank slates that will change their minds if presented with the right information, with facts and with truth. The men I've tried to convince are not objective themselves. They are deeply invested in their denial of rape culture, as are most people. Because rape culture is so fucked up, who wants to have to believe it exists?

Women are much easier to convince, because many of them have experienced it first hand. I don't need to convince survivors. But I can empower them. I can tell them that I believe them, that they have a right to be angry, that their feelings are valid, that they aren't bad for experiencing the results of their terrible trauma. I can convince women who know the constant threat of rape cultre to accept and channel their anger, to be glad for it, to reject the constant call for silence and to fight.

Animated gif of Dr. Cox from Scrubs repeatedly banging his head against the open section of the hospital desk
I know of two men whom I've convinced of rape culture's existence over all my time arguing, raging, writing and speaking about it. One is my boyfriend. Another is an unusually open-minded friend. That's all. And I know I only had a chance with them due to my closeness to them. Other male friends have become ex-friends, or just ignore me. Strangers don't listen. They don't. I can be as nice as possible, present as many scientific studies as can be found, I can be as calm and appear as objective as possible, and they still reject my words. But I've had multiple women thank me for putting what they feel into words, for waking them up, for giving them a voice, for making them feel like they can speak up.

So I focus on empowering women. It's the only thing that works. And the constant failures to convince men, even those close to me - that wears me down. Each failure sits heavy on me, not because I feel like I've failed, but because it's yet more proof that the vast majority of men are simply not willing to listen. They are so invested in their ignorance and denial, and every day so many women suffer for it. Why wouldn't I feel despair? What can I possibly say? I've tried everything. Everything. I don't know what to do anymore.

Except to empower women. If men won't listen, we'll band together and take what we need. We'll take our essential right to exist without fear of rape. We'll make it happen without you. Either get out of the way or prepare to be trampled.

I do feel a lot of despair a lot of the time. But what I feel more of is anger. That anger keeps me going. And I because of that, I will never stop. Never. If you refuse to accept reality, we will go around, over, or through you and tear down everything you know so that we can build it up right. And no, I don't care what you think about that.

Not sorry.


saber86 said...

What you're describing in this post is why self-care for activists is so important. It's okay to step away from the battle for a while; one needs to regain inner strength and that can't happen without self-care. Food, sleep, exercise, social connections: these are what refresh us when the battle overwhelms us. If you need somebody to tell you to take a break, then may I have the honor?

Take a break. It's okay to just set it all aside until you feel able to rejoin the front lines. Yes, war imagery is depressing in and of itself, but it's the best way I know of to put things in perspective.

::hands you virtual tea of your choice, perfectly brewed::

Lindsey Weedston said...

Awww thank you!!! You're so nice to me :D.

Honestly, though, right now I just feel more fired up than ever.