When last you tuned in to this blog, i.e. the last time I actually wrote something for this blog, I was talking about my history of camping, as a preparation for talking about my most recent, first-time-in-twenty-five-years camping experience. Unfortunately, I wrote that shortly before I had to go out of town. I got back in town about a week ago, but my kids have been monopolizing all the computers and when they haven’t been monopolizing them, I have been too tired or not in the mood to write about my camping adventure. Or about my out-of-town adventure. Maybe I will come back to those things at a later time. Or maybe I will forget all about them. But if there’s one thing I know (or remember) about blogging, it’s that it’s best to write something while you’re thinking about it, as opposed to thinking, “I should write about that sometime,” and then never actually do it (or wait so long to do it that you’re no longer sure what was so interesting about the subject in the first place). So I am not going to write about camping and going out of town today, but I am going to write about the things that are on my mind.
Princess Zurg is a feminist, so she’s plugged in to feminist issues and news stories to do with women, i.e. she sees stuff on the Facebook and whatnot. Yesterday we were talking about the controversy over the new roofie-detecting nail polish some dudes invented. A woman who has painted her fingernails with this polish can supposedly test her drink for roofies simply by discreetly dipping a fingernail in her drink. (I was going to call this invention “handy,” but then I realized that would be more punny than I wanted to sound.) Rape prevention advocates are concerned that it puts more responsibility on the woman to avoid becoming a victim, rather than stopping rapists from raping; this is the sort of thing that contributes to rape culture. I agree that it isn’t cool to hold a woman responsible for her rape. The only people responsible for rape are rapists. However, I disagree that providing a tool that might (note: might, not “definitely will”) help a woman protect herself from sexual predators contributes to rape culture.
A couple reasons:
1) Helping a woman protect herself is not the same as holding her responsible for her own safety. We don’t have any trouble telling people how to protect themselves from identity theft, even though it is the identity thief who is responsible for stealing someone’s identity. Some people will come up with reasons to blame a rape survivor for her (or his, as the case may be) attack, but those people need to figure out the difference between committing a crime and being a victim of a crime. “But she was drunk” or “But she was walking by herself at night in a bad part of town” are not valid excuses for raping someone, just as “But their password was so obvious” or “But they didn’t use PayPal” are not valid excuses for stealing someone’s financial information. Is a woman entitled to get drunk and pass out by herself in a bad part of town without getting raped? Absolutely. Just as a person is entitled to have money without getting it stolen. People are not supposed to rob or rape you. You are entitled to walk through life without being criminally molested. It’s just the criminals you have to convince of this. (Good luck, by the way.)
Now might be an appropriate time to point out that these days we expect parents to protect their children from all manner of danger, regardless of how remote. Parents are arrested for leaving their eleven-year-olds unattended in cars because anything could have happened in the five minutes they were gone. But tell a college student she should probably try not to drink herself unconscious at a party because some people like to rape unconscious women, and that is blaming the victim. Never mind that college students are much more likely to get raped after getting drunk than eleven-year-olds are to be abducted by maniacs while their parents are picking up a prescription at the Walgreens. I guess the next time someone lectures me about letting one of my kids out of my sight, I can ask why they don’t focus more on teaching strangers not to kidnap.
It is fair enough to say that it isn’t up to women not to get raped, but it’s up to men not to rape. I’m on board with that, for sure. However, the majority of men already do a pretty good job of not raping. They may not know how to share household chores equally, but they’ve got the not-raping thing down just fine. So obviously education works–both the moral and legal varieties. The problem remains, and always will, that there are men who know what rape is, know it’s wrong (and illegal), and don’t care. Just like most criminals know what’s against the law and break the law anyway. They all have their reasons. The rapist’s reasons are a) “because I can” and b) ….well, I’d say (a) pretty much covers it. We should still teach people about consent, just like we should still teach people what the traffic laws are, but there are always going to be people who think the law doesn’t (or shouldn’t) apply to them; those are the people we have to protect ourselves from.
2) Rebecca Nagle, one of the co-directors of an activist group called FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, says, “The problem isn’t that women don’t know when there are roofies in their drink; the problem is people putting roofies in their drink in the first place.”
Indeed. That is the problem. You know what else is a problem? People stealing cars. Yet no one suggests that selling car alarms is part of the problem. If someone steals your car, are you partially to blame unless you had an alarm on it? I hope not because I don’t have an alarm on my car. I also probably wouldn’t bother to wear roofie-detecting nail polish. Mainly because I don’t paint my fingernails. I paint my toenails, but dipping my toe into my drink would not be terribly discreet. Also, the roofie-detecting stuff probably costs more than regular nail polish and I like my nail polish cheap. Still, I’m not upset that people sell things like car alarms and roofie-detecting nail polish. I think it’s nice that those things exist for the people who want to use them. It’s good to have choices. Without choices, what are we? Communists.
As I just said a few paragraphs ago, there are people who will come up with reasons to blame women for their own rapes. They will say things like “She was drinking” or “She was dressed provocatively.” (Dressing “provocatively,” of course, is a lot more subjective than being incapacitated. In any case, neither is a reason to blame a person for being a victim of a crime. The perpetrator of the crime is the one to blame.) How often, though, do you hear stuff like “She wasn’t carrying a gun” or “She didn’t learn karate”? Not often, I’m betting. And that’s about how likely it is that people will blame a woman for not wearing roofie-detecting nail polish the night someone spiked her drink and raped her.
So I don’t get the hate for roofie-detecting nail polish. And neither does Princess Zurg, who is the first person to call someone out for blaming the victim. She is sincerely perplexed by people who have a problem with a product that might protect women from sexual predators, which is why we were having the conversation and why it is on my mind.
The other story I wanted to talk about is the feminist advertising campaign undertaken by underwear company Dear Kate. The ads show real life women in the tech industry, sitting at their computers while dressed in only their underwear. It includes quotes about their work. It’s a feminist campaign because it doesn’t just show sexy women posing provocatively. It shows real women (some with less model-like bodies than others) at work in a male-dominated industry. In their underwear. Which shows that they are comfortable in their female bodies, which is important. They can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan. All while wearing only their underwear. (And if they get splattered by bacon grease in the process, well, that’s hardly the issue, is it? I’m appalled that you would even bring it up.)
Some feminists have criticized the ads, though, because—well, see the above paragraph. I have to admit that I myself was dumbfounded. I’m okay with these body-positive ad campaigns that show women of different sizes and shapes. I’m also okay with ad campaigns that only show slender and well-toned women because I don’t really pay much attention to underwear ads. I’ve never kidded myself that if I wore a particular brand of underwear, I would look like the model in the ad. And looking at women with large thighs does not make me feel better about myself. What would make me feel better about myself? It’s a fair question. I suppose if I were a woman who had made a successful career for herself in the tech industry, or any industry, I would feel good about myself. I still would probably not let someone take pictures of me in my underwear and use them for a national ad campaign.
I know what you’re thinking, but it isn’t that I don’t like the way I look in my underwear. I think I look fine in my underwear, all things considered. Fine enough for anyone who’s going to see me, at least. In my worldview, that demographic does not properly include total strangers or people I interact with professionally. It just isn’t dignified. That was my first reaction to the ad. “Why on earth would anyone do that? It just isn’t dignified.” No offense to the dignity of underwear models. I mean, if that’s your job, more power to you. It’s like being an actor, in a way. That’s fine. But if your job is something not underwear-modeling-related, why would you want to be seen in public in your underwear? I just don’t get it. Maybe I don’t understand how the tech industry works. Maybe these women don’t have to go to work in the morning and look their (probably male) co-workers in the eye, knowing that these co-workers have seen them in their underwear. Maybe it just doesn’t bother them if their colleagues have pictures of them in their underwear.
Skillcrush cofounder and CEO Adda Birnir, who participated in the photo shoot (and looks great, by the way), said, “I think the thing is that all women have bodies and wear underwear and have to deal with all the mundane as well as cultural/political things that come with walking around in a female body. We aren’t either women who pose in underwear or women who code or women who are attractive or women who are unattractive or women who are sexual or women who are CEOs. We are all the things at once, and it’s confusing and messy and complicated and often annoyingly at issue, but not dealing with all those different facets isn’t a viable solution.”
So if someone decided to rip this ad out of their favorite periodical and pin it to the bulletin board in the lunch room, would they be guilty of sexual harassment? Or would they just be starting a conversation about the cultural/political things that come with walking around in a female body in the workplace? Not a joke. I am genuinely curious. Does Birnir make sense, or does she sound like an idiot?
I admit I don’t have a lot of feminist cred. I lost that when I started voting Republican. So I might be tempted to defer to the judgment of people who are better feminists than I. But I can’t help thinking that if a bunch of men in the tech industry posed for pictures in their underwear for a nationwide ad campaign, people would not think it was provocative and interesting. They would think, “There are some men who don’t have much dignity.” I think that’s what it comes down to for me. It’s not feminist or anti-feminist. It’s just not dignified. I guess I’m old-fashioned that way.
What do you all think?
(Speaking of dignity, this article made me laugh out loud, and I guess there will never be a more appropriate time to share it than now: Dating Naked contestant sues series showing her dating while naked)