This is, quite possibly, one of the most painful and infuriating things I’ve seen in a long time.
Aside from the obvious reaction of WTFFFFFFFFFFUCKERY MAKE IT STOP when reading the above article, about the obscenely violent reactions to Lindy West’s appearance on Totally Biased, I was really appalled at the reminder of rape culture that connected all of them. In reacting to an idea they disagreed with, these men offered violence as a response. Not just violence, but sexual violence. They’re doing everyone a disservice while proving how prevalent rape culture is.
What really struck me as profoundly revolting, however, is that the theme of these comments seems to be an assumption that a woman’s sex life and personal choices have to do with whatever ideas they impose on her based on their own perceptions of her aesthetic. That she clearly couldn’t have a boyfriend because they don’t want to hear what she has to say. That rape is something to be used to put a woman in her place (and that a woman has a given place, as opposed to the autonomy to make her own). That because Lindy West’s body doesn’t match whatever standard these dudes have, no one could possibly love her, want her, and that their perception of her appearance somehow invalidates her intelligence.
It’s reminiscent of countless horror stories of women who are rape victims and happen to be overweight (or otherwise stray from whatever acceptable appearance we’re handed via the media), who are told that they should just be glad someone wanted to have sex with them. Because women only match general standards of beauty to be wanted by men, and really we’re all just here hoping to get fucked, right? Wait, that’s not what validation is? OH SORRY MY BAD.
When I first watched the debate on Totally Biased, I just kept waiting for someone to point out to Jim Norton that rape jokes don’t cause rapes, they perpetuate a culture that softens their perception as a violent act (and as Lindy West pointed out, it’s not the subject of rape that counts, but the execution of the joke). Jim Norton is the kind of comedian whose material I’m not always into, but he knows how to deliver a joke and is clearly an intelligent guy. What really came across, to me at least, was the distance across which so many men simply can’t see, because they experience our culture in a completely different way. Ultimately, if you’re not on the receiving end of any kind of oppression, great or small, then it’s not your place to tell those who are how valid their experience is. Period.
And when Jim Norton makes the assumption that people are either good citizens who don’t condone rape, or bad citizens who do, it echoes in my head with every comment I read in this post. Because like Lindy West tried to say on Totally Biased, that’s just not true, and Steubenville was a jarring example of that. Even though the country, as a whole, reacted to it with horror, the media still covered it with sympathy for the rapists.
More than that, the girl who was raped and photographed had to endure months of torture at a school where her sexual assault provided entertainment for tons of people she had to see daily and share classes with, as well as threats for having dared to speak out and bring the perpetrators to trial. Again: documentation of her rape was entertainment. And until Anonymous leaked footage of the perpetrators being callous sociopaths, no one publicly questioned this.
The line is clearly blurred, and not only does ill-executed rape-based comedy support the culture that turns rape into entertainment, but the unbelievable slew of threats and rape comments hurled at Lindy West for stating that rape culture exists indicates a serious fucking problem that all of us have to deal with.
Rape is not about a man with bad morals wanting to fuck a pretty girl who rejects him. It’s not Snidely Whiplash tying a girl to the train tracks because he’s a two dimensional evil villain. It is, more often than not, about asserting power, abusing power, or feeling entitled to take what isn’t being given. The fact that all of these comments are trying to silence West by threatening to rape her is proof of that.
What these comments don’t acknowledge, is that Lindy West is a brilliant writer, hilarious comedian, and not to be counterproductive by aestheticizing her, but the lady wears the fuck out of those glasses and knows her colors (personally, I love her look). Her words are always insightful, intelligent, with just the right balance of wisdom and humor. More than that, she’s a rock star of a blogger with a voice that she uses for positive social change. Anyone who has an issue with a person trying to take away their ability to be a rapist is already a problem for the rest of us.
This is horrible, and so important.