Mr Taster is the second strip in the Royalist Liz series, and I’m going to use these as launchpads for discussing some of my issues about modern feminism. This is going to kind of meander; it’s a little flow of consciousness. If I was up to writing a well-structured article I’d have published it elsewhere under a more reputable banner like HBR. I’m using this site to write more personal observations and also to share these humble comic strips which I wouldn’t wish to sully anyone else’s reputation with (I mean, I can’t even draw – hence why I’m using bitstrips).
A Long-Winded Preamble About Comedy Taboo
There’s a lot of debate about what should and shouldn’t be a subject of humour and one taboo that has been very strongly enforced is that we shouldn’t make jokes about rape… upon women. I have to specify that last bit; the taboo does not seem to extend as far as rape upon males; in fact there is such an absence of taboo on rape with male victims that there is a male rape joke in Dreamworks “Puss in Boots”, for example. Puss’ collaborator turned traitor Humpty (who is a talking egg), when contemplating prison says “have you got any idea what they do to eggs in prison; I’ll tell you this; it ain’t over easy!” This isn’t an isolated incident; I’m highlighting it because it is a family film. There is also numerous examples that could be cited in other comedies including a joke involving a man raped by a gorilla in Trading Places that is more disturbing than funny.
However, identifying a double-standard isn’t the same as knowing what the universal standard should be. It’s also notable that all other forms of violence against men are more acceptable than the same violence commited against women, and while it is a problem that real world violence against men is not taken seriously enough, I’m loathe to place a taboo upon violence against men in comedy – mainly because comedy violence is funny. It’s funny because it’s unexpected and unjust, it is cruel and absurd. We need to ask ourselves what is humour actually for and one of the things it’s undoubtedly for is resolving the dissonance caused by absurdity.
You can’t tell what people find acceptable as comedy just by asking them. If you outright ask them is seeing an animal in pain funny they will unequivocably tell you “no”, but show them an episode of Tom and Jerry in which both a cat and a mouse are frequently taking turns experiencing some sort of pain or violence and they will laugh. Been asked the question does not elicit an honest answer then, because in the clinical situation of simply being asked people will query their moral sense, but in the context of seeing the joke their sense of humour will over-ride their moral sense. We find appalling things funny, not because we are appalling people, but because the fact that we find it appalling creates the dissonance that can only be resolved through laughter. Violence against men in comedy is only misandrous when it is framed in such a sense that we are laughing at the victim rather than expeiencing empathy with him, and the context is such that we are being told he deserves it and we are to relish his comeuppance and when we are invited to admire the perpetrator. Most comedy violence does not come into this category. Even though Tom often does bring the experience of violence upon himself, we are almost always invited to empathise with his experience of it. As Wile E. Coyote falls off a cliff he holds up a sign saying “uh-oh” and we empathise with his resignation to his fate. Wile E. is the Sisyphus of cartoon violence enduring the same misfortune over and over again trapped on a wheel of inevitability.
So maybe the double-standard needs to be addressed in the other direction. It may actually be that no one should be above comedy violence as long as the comedy violence doesn’t fall into those trappings of hatred. I think this is the rule – comedy violence is hateful if a) we feel no empathy for the victim, b) we’re invited to admire the perpetrator and c) it is assumed that we all agree that the victim deserves it. So don’t let me ask you “is violence against women” funny, your ethical sense will tell you no, let me instead ask is it funny when Emo Philips says “my girlfriend got angry with me when I said she looked sexy with black fingernails. Because then she thought I’d slammed them in the car door on purpose.” or the slapping an hysterical woman scene from Airplane.
So my conclusion here is all taboos on what is or isn’t permissible to make jokes about are artificial. In fact it may be the more heinous a thing is the more we need to make jokes about it. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban the wizarding students are instructed about how to defend yourselves against a boggart. A boggart is a being that takes on the form of whatever you fear the most. It is the Potter universe equivalent of Room 101. The defence against it is to diminish it’s power by reducing it to a form where it can be laughed at. To make something that causes fear and anxiety beyond the scope of humour is to rob the fearful of one of their best psychological defences. Why would you wish to keep someone in a state of fear, unless keeping them in fear was politically expedient.
The Absurdity of Feminist Rape Culture Rhetoric
And all of the above is a preamble which brings me at last, to the topic of the comic strip which is clearly obliquely about feminist rhetoric on rape culture, and it isn’t the first time I’ve tried to pen something on this topic. The first was a sketch called Green Sex and Ham; the scenario was that a crowd-pleasing TV presenter has invited the feminist author of a book on rape onto his show to demonstrate that he is socially conscious, but the guest in question is a radical feminist who goes on to expand her definitions and claim that Green Eggs and Ham is a rape manual because it depicts an unnamed female character (the presenter points out that the character looks male and she scolds him for objectifying her!) being “verbally coerced” into receiving “meat and two eggs” which she insists is an obvious metaphor. When the presenter points out that she is being absurd she calls him a rape apologist and, as the conversation esculates, later a rapist because he admits he has at some point in his life had drunken sex. To defend his character he then phones, on air, the woman he had sex with so that she can testify to his guest that she had not been taken advantage of. The sketch ends with the presenter trying to wrap up the show whilst his guest and his ex-girlfriend argue with each other angrily over the phone – the guest accusing the woman of being in denial, self-blaming and “colonized” and the ex-girlfriend accusing the sex-negative feminist of being disempowering and regressively Victorian.
The butt of the joke was clearly not rape itself but the ideological expansion of definition on it, the insistence that it is a culturally sanctioned thing, and the refusal of certain feminists to acknowledge that when a woman says she hasn’t been raped that she is capable of making that assessment (bear in mind 73% of the women Mary Koss claimed had been raped in her study for Ms Magazine agreed with the terminology). To my mind it was the expansion of definitions that was trivialising and the sketch was an angry swipe at those who are behind the expansion of definitions. The humour was not doing the trivialising. Retrospectively, whilst at the time I was still a gynocentric pre-red-pilled male and my ONLY concern with the sketch was that it might be construed as trivialising rape, but it was also a sketch about false rape accusation which is as sensitive an issue, as life-damaging an experience and in many ways my boggart that needed a ridickulus spell cast upon it. I prefer to fight my boggarts by including them in comedy, not excluding them.
My gynocentricism still comes through very strongly in the sketch; I still considered myself pro-feminist so I made the other female character a feminist too (albeit a more sex-positive one) for fear of strawmanning all feminists by highlighting the lunacy of the McKinnon/Dworkin/Koss style feminists.
That said, I felt the sketch was a bit near the knuckle and I felt uncomfortable even though I also felt it was a very funny sketch, so I sent it to a friend to see what she thought, and she has always insisted that she never got round to reading it. I’m strongly of the opinion that she read it and was so appalled she thought it was best not to talk about it.
I wrote another less challenging sketch about a pet-medium and titled the sketches clearly because I did not want “Green Sex and Ham” to be merely referred to as “the rape sketch” and sent it to a comedian friend who had stated he wanted something a bit controversial, and he shortly replied “didn’t think much of the cat-medium sketch – thought it was a bit obvious. Loved the rape sketch.” and it will at some point in the future, no doubt, be performed. If we record it I’ll post a you tube link.
But the rhetorical barriers put in place to prevent people talking about the subject are innumerable. When Judy Finnegan remarked on air that the rape Ched Evans had been accused of was not a violent one she was bullied into an apology for suggesting that there might be different kinds. She wasn’t even professing his innocence, merely saying this is not an incident like those we normally associate with the word rape. Although there is plenty of evidence that Evan’s conviction was an unsafe one. To on the one hand be expanding definitions, whilst on the other insisting that the word only means one thing, is an act of psychological manipulation that would make the most accomplished gaslighter blush. I wrote an article more extensively about this on the Honey Badger Radio site.
Humour is a defense not only against fear, but also against psychological manipulation. If someone is trying to force you to believe two contradictory ideas at the same time you will experience cognitive dissonance. Humour is the best escape from cognitive dissonance. If you are forbidden from escaping that dissonance through humour and you are not permitted to question the authority of those impressing those two contradictory views upon you (men are never permitted to speak with any authority on any form of sexual assault), that can only lead to a sort of intellectual learned helplessness.
So this comic touched on the rhetoric of feminist rape culture hysteria without actually mentioning rape. It is not about the expanding definitions of rape, but it is about the expanding definitions of “victim blaming” so I’m going to deal a bit with my views about that.
I Agree, Victim-Blaming is Terrible; All-Men-Blaming is Worse.
There absolutely is such a thing as victim blaming and it is insensitive. However, it is also not peculiar to rape. In the wake of almost any misfortune from something as serious as a child being abducted (“where were the parents that’s what I’d like to know?”) down to the trivial there will always be someone who says you could have done more to prevent that from happening. There’s a rationale behind it called the “Just World Hypothesis” which is the belief that we get what we deserve out of life. We don’t, life is composed of random elements and the labour involved in preventing all possible risks that may happen wouldn’t leave you very much in the way of an enjoyable life. We need to take calculated risks in order to function as human beings and things happen that are unfortunate. It may well be in this age of 24 hour news coverage we are all suffering from some sort of global compassion fatigue since we are aware of a ton of misfortune happening to everyone everywhere and the only way some people can shut it out is to find a way to make all these misfortunes in some way karmic rather than calamitous.
That sort of after the event “well why didn’t you…” we have every right to be angered about including victim blaming of the falsely accused. Read this article by Michael Daly with some phenomenal victim blaming towards the five students flasely accused of raping a student from Hofstra. The fact that the girl was consenting, Daly argues, proves that she was troubled and the falsely accused deserved the ordeal of being falsely accused for having sex with a troubled woman. “But the fact that the five did not gang-rape the woman does not mean their behavior was anything but disgraceful.” sounds a lot like what feminists call slut-shaming, but surely we keep being told, that is something that only happens to women. Why is Michael Daly not high-fiving them all for their sexual prowess as feminists insist we patriarchs all do?
However, feminist campaigners have expanded the definition of what constitutes victim blaming to include the act of taking precautions itself, or recommendations about what precautions to take. This shouldn’t be difficult to understand, you can’t be victim-blamed before you’re a victim – advice about precautions is just advice; it isn’t blame. How can there be anyone to blame for something that hasn’t happened?
Excessive precautions may indeed be galling, but the blame is not placed upon the fearmongers who exaggerate the dangers, but men who constitute the phantom menace they are taking precautions against. They call for all men to be educated to prevent the actions of a tiny minority. Not that the feminists will accept that the minority is that tiny. What many seem unaware of is men are already being educated in schools and colleges and by the media to be scrupulous about not risking the provision of any form of unwanted sexual attention, and already women are reporting dissatisfaction in being forced into the initiator role by men no longer comfortable with taking the risks. The number of women using male prostitutes has almost trebled. Married women are complaining about being rejected by their partners. And some are so bitter about having to do the asking that they’re spilling their bile at men for not having the balls.
Speaking of balls, some men, like Scott Aaronson went as far as to seek chemical castration because his conflict with a desire that he had been taught to see as potentially harassing or threatening to women was driving him to suicidal thoughts. An experience Laurie Penney dismissed as “different from structual oppression” and that was pleasant compared to what Marcotte had to say about it. Then again, having your face savaged off by a pitbull is pleasant compared to anything Marcotte has to say about anything. Even the picture on that article is bullying. We are talking about a man who was so psychologically damaged he was considering castration and Marcotte’s response is to make “boo hoo” faces at him! Is there no bottom to that woman’s well of hatred? But, let’s put Marcotte to one side (and by “to one side” I mean “into the very bowels of Acheron”.) to Penny I’d like to ask what does “structual oppression” mean if compulsory “sexual-assault prevention workshops … with their endless lists of all the forms of human interaction that “might be” sexual harassment or assault, and their refusal, ever, to specify anything that definitely wouldn’t be sexual harassment or assault.” is not considered to qualify. It’s compulsory, it’s institutionalised and if it left Aaronson “with enough fresh paranoia and self-hatred to last [him] through another year” it was certainly oppressive.
There is no consideration for this when across the internet pointers hover over the “share” button of memes that say “don’t teach me not to [insert whatever rape precaution feminists are angry about now] teach men not to rape”. Men are already being taught how not to rape (and have you considered that the very idea that they need that lesson conveys the sense that it is something that might be done accidentally out of insufficient scepticism?) and how not to sexually assault (which is a much broader term), how not to harrass, and some men (like Aaronson) are being taught too well; because the same lessons and messages are going out to all men, not just the ones likely to rape, but also to the vast majoirty that would only find reward in reciprocal pleasure. It’s as if to prevent obesity a message went out telling everyone to eat less, even those who were already starving themselves.
I found some great burden lifted when I read this line in Katie Roiphe’s book “The Morning After”.
I cited it in a comment’s thread and was immediately told by a feminist that it was “the worse kind of rape apology” she’d ever heard. Except it isn’t. Sexual attention isn’t penetration. Obviously penetration is a form of sexual attention, but sexual attention is a much broader term including eyeing up, making a suggestive comment, kissing, stroking, putting your arm around someone’s waist – any of which could be unwanted, and any of which we are already motivated to avoid delivering unwanted if we can at all help it, because an unwanted form of sexual attention to the deliverer means a rejection, just as much as it means discomfort to the recipient – it already comes with it’s own negative reinforcement without requiring the additional designation of characterizing the provider as a sex pest, a creep or a harrasser. Unwanted sexual attention is already an unpleasant experience for BOTH parties without there being a necessity for one party to be demonized, and yet it is a necessary risk in courtship.
How about instead of clicking “share” on memes saying “teach men not to rape” you instead insist “teach ideologues to stop lying to us, stop fearmongering, stop elevating the sense of threat to force through their agenda for more totalitarian policies”? It may well be that no one needs rape prevention nail varnish or to ask someone to watch their drink since the use of date rape drugs has been shown to largely be a myth and not because it is men that need to be taught not to do this mythological thing. It may well be that you don’t need an escort home that is four times more likely to be attacked than you are when he returns alone. It may well be that the precautions you take are excessive, but that doesn’t mean the threat is excessive, merely your perception of it.
tl;dr? Don’t worry, there’s a comic strip and it’s a lot lighter and funnier than all that lot I’ve just written.