Friday, 9 October 2015

Treasure: On social niceties and offensive content

**Trigger warning: domestic violence **

I was going to write an ‘I don’t care about your stupid feelings’ rant about something that happened in my life yesterday, but I’ve been getting progressively more riled up about it as this morning has gone on - excellent workout fuel, rage - and so I thought I’d grant myself the luxury of more than 250 words to talk this through. Do not confuse the point, however - I still do not care about your stupid feelings. On that sentiment I am unshakeable.

I’ll open with the takeaway point: jokes about domestic violence are not funny. Stop telling them and having them in your life. And in the world.

Seems obvious, right? Hurting a woman, or a man, or a child in a domestic context in a situation where one person has more power, whether real or perceived, physical or emotional, whatever it might be, is clearly not fodder for a joke.

But wait: the Internet. All the trolls and bottom-dwellers and scum feeders of the Internet are here! See how they make you lose your faith in humanity! Marvel as they undertake an insidious campaign to lower the lowest common denominator! Leaping to misogyny in a single bound!

Yesterday afternoon I was hanging out with some friends drinking a beer and shooting the shit when one of the boys passed around his phone with a Funny Thing on it that someone had found on the internet and texted to him. Commonplace - this is how we interact now. I did it too; later in the night I made my friend watch a funny video someone had sent me. It’s how we do.

This person says to me as he looks over: “I don’t think you’ll like this” and proceeds to pass it around the other men at the table. As it gets some laughs, of course I also want to laugh at the thing. I like to laugh at things. Already I am well aware I am the only woman at the table of 6 of us. I look at it. It is a meme made by the afore-mentioned Internet persons that I won’t replicate, except to note that the punchline is “You hit her.” I groan and laugh half-heartedly (as some of the others at the table have done). This person finds another meme, we follow the same routine except that I decline to look. Because FUCK YOU, GUY. And because I am already uncomfortable enough at 1: having given any reaction that could be interpreted as positive or acquiescent to the first meme, and at 2: knowing the exact nature of what the laughter, even if awkward and forced, is about.

I say "groan and laugh half-heartedly", I say “awkward and forced" because I know two of the other people at the table well enough to know they don’t think it’s ok to hit women. I’d hazard a guess on my reading of the other two and say they probably don’t think so either.

I’m not really here to talk about why domestic violence is bad, although I will note that in Australia, around one woman dies a week as a result of domestic violence. In South Africa, a woman dies every 8 hours by an intimate partner (I’ve referred to a few sites for this information, but feel free to fact check and do further reading). I am going to assume we’re all on the same page in thinking this is bad and sad.

I’m not here to talk about the underlying indication that sharing a joke like that shows a person may think that hitting women is funny or ok.

I’m not even really here to talk about why you should think twice (or a million billion times) before engaging in something so triggering and thoughtless as sharing a joke with an audience who may very well have experienced affects of domestic violence themselves. Statistically, one of us at the table will have had it touch our lives in some way.

I’m here to talk about how we deal with the social situation I’ve outlined above, given the very real and ongoing problem that is domestic violence. I just want to know how it is still ok to pass around a joke with a domestic violence punchline. Why did I give a response that could be read if not as encouraging then still not as disagreement? I’m a fucking feminist for fuck’s sake.

I know within myself that there’s plenty of reasons. I was the only woman at the table. There was an air of comfortable shit-talking and lols that did not lend itself to me “making a fuss”. I like the company of people who identify as men; I have brothers, and I love to talk nonsense and make jokes and generally do the thing where I get to feel safe, respected and comfortable in a group of people. I didn’t want to make a point about anything. I wasn’t geared up for it. I wasn’t even prepared for it. I thought I was among like-minded friends.

I didn’t know what would happen if I did say a Feminist Thing, because the person sharing the joke was not a person I knew. This person did, however, know he was behaving inappropriately on some level: he told me I wouldn’t like it. If I’d said something, would I have had it pointed out to me that he’d warned me I’d be offended (not in so many words), making him blameless in my offense? I do not know. I feel like there’s a clue there though: if you know it’s going to offend someone at the table, maybe keep it to your-fucking-self.

I'm not giving this actual specific person much more thought beyond using the example. I'm not pointing fingers. This is not the intention of this post. When I'm strong and prepared, I see everyday misogyny basically as opportunities for rants, gentle social ostracism and learning curves. Make no mistake though, it is misogyny at it's most pervasive.

There are so many reasons not to let this kind of behaviour continue in your social circle. There are so many reasons for any one of us to speak up. It’s breaking that complicit cycle. It’s staring down the face of social awkwardness and saying “that’s not funny”. I know how hard it is to do. I’ve just admitted I wasn’t tough enough to do it. But I quietly live for those days where one of my friends doesn’t laugh awkwardly and instead says “nah, we don’t want to see that sort of thing mate, not interested. Not funny”. There are even non-verbal ways you can start off, discouraging by disengaging, or shit, even by making the person sharing the joke feel awkward. I don’t mind a bit of eye contact with someone in the circle who you know is an ally, followed by a raised eyebrow or an eye-roll if you’re feeling sassy. It’s not quite a call-out yet (and that’s the ultimate), but maybe it re-routes a conversation, which is a nice start. We can be gentle in our disagreement if that’s the approach we choose. That’s ok. We can also yell and rage and write all the blog posts. That’s ok too. Change the fuck out of that social fabric.

I quietly live for the day where it doesn’t matter whether or not there are “ladies" present (by this I mean the good old “what they don’t hear can’t hurt them” approach); misogyny still gets called out and rejected. That’s powerful to me, and it says to me that the person speaking up is an ally. Let’s all be allies for each other! Let’s call out a bit of racist, homophobic and ableist behaviour while we’re at it! Let’s take over the fucking world by being People Who Are Not Arseholes.

Sometimes this happens in my actual life and I am proud and powerful because of it. It feels really good to stand up for something. Sometimes the good feeling comes after the awkwardness passes, but let it come. Take a second. Quietly congratulate yourself (if you’re waiting for someone else to, check your motives), think “that wasn’t so hard” and then do it again, forever and ever.

And I will try and do the same.