Just A Bag of Parts

So, this (sadly) happened: ReaderCon responded to complaints of harassment by ignoring their own policy due to the perceived contriteness of the man in question. Likely, as many have pointed out, due to the standing of said man in the SF community. It spawned a host of thoughtful and rightly angry commentary. Check some out. I want to highlight Elizabeth Bear’s post especially, because it throws it out there what this is all about in the starkest of terms because some people still don’t fucking get it.

At the same time the board’s judgement was being announced, Reddit found itself in it’s own shit-storm. On the heels of being heralded as the next step in information-dissemination after the Aurora cinema shooting, a thread popped up on Reddit asking rapists to step forward and ‘tell their side of the story’ and exploded with confessions from anonymous men on how they either planned in advanced or took advantage of opportunistic conditions to rape women. (Triggers) They were often, but not always, rewarded and supported by community members. This lead to author Jim C. Hines canceling an upcoming AMA session at Reddit in protest.

If the world didn’t already have all the proof it needed to justify why women are afraid, every day of their lives, there is the ugly truth in that Reddit thread.

And then today, while browsing Reddit, in r/feminisms, I came across a link to a fantastic video about how advertising illustrates the ways in which we codify gender into binary absolutes. The Codes of Gender, clocks in around 45 minutes and is very much worth your time.

Reddit is not a uniform entity. It is the Internet in miniature, a scope of discourse that can make you deeply proud and painfully ashamed to be human in the span of a couple of threads. Popular sub-reddits that require tough skin and troll-repellant stand side-by-side with smaller sub-reddits that have fewer of the problems that internet anonymity brings. Reddit’s up-voting and down-voting of topics and responses is often enough to keep the conversation on an useful arc over the long haul — except when it comes to treatment of women, particularly in the most popular sub-reddits where pile-ons of self-congratulatory dickbags often drown out what good might be found there.

The one advantage is that there is no sugar-coating what you read, so it must be confronted. It’s there in black and white in those rapists threads, everything Bear and uncountable others try to explain — again and again and again, patiently and then not so patiently — to a larger culture that is often deaf to such pleas. It feels like we should be farther along than this, and we aren’t.

Which brings me back to the Codes of Gender film. The strict, binary distinctions of male/female, masculinity/femininity, agency/non-agency, good/bad re-enforced through almost every media image distorts our perceptions of what is and what can be. The recent Daily Mail article that came out discussing how men and women view pictures of men and women (men as whole, women as a collection of body parts) implies that this is biological. It’s not. It’s the process of enculturation. If the larger culture can’t be bothered to think of half of its members in terms of personhood, are we surprised when that second half is preyed upon and the perpetrators don’t understand that they’ve done anything wrong? How do we fix this?

Our world is stitched together with near-invisible cultural threads that stretch back through the centuries. We are usually so enmeshed in the fabric that we can’t make out the warp and weft. For a privileged many, they don’t have to. For those who chose to, and for the rest of us, all we can do is keep pushing back. Eventually, fabric tears.

(Really. Watch Codes of GenderI link for you again.)


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