Why we can’t have nice things: trolls, derailing, and double standards
The basics: Simon Pegg (@simonpegg) tweets he’s made a noise like Homer Simpson w/donuts in response to a pic of cosplayers. Courtney Stoker (@cnstoker) calls him out on sexist objectification of women. He disagrees, retorts that she’s expressing ’90s era precepts, and after a bit more back and forth, retires from the field while exhorting followers not to harrass Ms. Stoker. (I’m blogging from my phone, go use your google-fu to find the tweets, storify, etc. I may add links later.)
Needless to say, Pegg’s followers then provided a clear-cut example of the most hateful misogynistic bullying.
This is why we can’t have nice things, folks.
I am a feminist. I disagree with Courtney Stoker, often. Vehemently. I find her rhetoric to be prescriptive and un-nuanced. There are also times when I agree with her. I also don’t dispute that she is a feminist. Her call-out, however much I disagree with it, wasn’t unwarranted. I also think it would behoove Mr. Pegg to recognize that the bullying by his, “Defenders,” is not only abhorrent, but derailing meaningful discussion. No one deserves to be told to kill themselves or to be called a cunt, over a difference of opinion. No one.
Regardless of what my opinion of Ms. Stoker’s point of view is, I can acknowledge that she’s speaking from a place that seeks a positive change. There is more than enough cultural and institutional misogyny and objectification of women to merit that change.
And sometimes, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.
My own opinion is that I hate double standards. The individual expression of a sexual gaze, is not something that bothers me. I have referred to people I find attractive as, “Scrumptious,” “Delicious,” “Adorable puppy,” etc. Most of the women I know, have said similar things. Tumblr, if you look at the tags for any popular actor, is a fount of the female id and sexual gaze. We objectify men plenty, tyvm. You’ll discover that women, especially young women, are unapologetically raunchy. This is good. This is parity. This is the root of the problem: Parity. Women are under-served as an audience, when it comes to the sexual gaze. We are just coming into our own in asserting that gaze on a wider field and scale. We are often shamed for it. Men are not. The default gaze in media is male, specifically a white/cis/het gaze. Again, therein lies the problem: parity, equality, and the double standard. Culturally, we accept the male gaze as the norm. It has primacy of place and woe betide anyone who dares to question it. I refuse to accept that, just as much as I refuse to shame the male gaze. Listen to the way the media discusses the overwhelmingly female audiences for Fifty Shades of Grey and Magic Mike. There is both an audible leer, and a shaming tone. If we want sexual service in our entertainment, we’re naughty sluts. If men want it, that’s normal.
And that is misogyny. That is cultural and institutional misogyny. So, while Pegg himself may be engaging in an expression of gaze that is harmless, the response of his followers when that gaze’s primacy was challenged, is not. His followers are misogyny writ large, because rather than engage in a discussion they’ve attempted to put a woman IN HER PLACE through violently-worded intimidation.
I don’t like that Courtney Stoker co-opted the right of the women in that photo to speak for themselves, I disagree with her opinion and framing, and I loathe her patronizing assumptions that women don’t have the agency to make choices that serve themselves even while they serve a male gaze simultaneously. What I detest more is the vicious bullying, often of a sexual nature, that seems to come as part and parcel of any feminist challenge to the male gaze. I despise the mobs that descend on women who make mention of misogyny, full stop. I resent having any meaningful discussion of differing points of view within the feminist community derailed by trolls.
This is why we can’t have nice things.
This is why the issue of misogyny and objectification is still relevant.
People who are fighting for equality may have differing opinions of what that means and different methods of approaching the fight; it doesn’t mean that they aren’t fighting for the same things. My vision of equality is simple: whatever someone’s choices are, it’s having the right to choose that matters. No slut-shaming, no victim-blaming, no prescriptivism determining the validity of choices. An end to the presumptive primacy of the male gaze and voice.
This is why we can’t have nice things: we don’t have equality yet. We’re a little more equal than we were fifty years ago, but people are still debating whether equal pay is a right. They’re still debating our right to self-determination over our own bodies, and the right of all citizens to legally marry. There is still bigotry ad nauseum.
(ETA: I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, or like what I’m saying. That’s kind of the point. We don’t all have to agree, but the only progress we make, comes from honest and open discussion. Not lashing out and refusing to hear each other.)