05 December 2011

Her and Her Boyfriend Defeated Norsefire. What the Fuck Have You Achieved?

So obviously, as No Shave Movember started, a load of tossers on twitter started squeaking that it's not for ladies lololololol. And then obviously body hair and its removal became a hot discussion topic in the sections where people have half a brain between them. Some people are firmly in the pro-body-hair camp. One of them rhetorically asked what men who like shaved women see in it. And whether it was "the prepubescent look". This is a bit silly.

Aside from the potentially very interesting alleyway of how we don't bat an eyelid if men shave the post-pubescent hair off their faces, I've blogged before about how narrow and restrictive definitions of Proper Heterosexual Manlitude are. What I failed to mention was how these restrictions on masculinity, specifically men's tastes, are used to police women and their bodies. In my experience, with hair and breast size, particularly.

The thing is, not everybody grows hair the same way in the same places. And some adult women naturally don't have pubic hair. I mention breast size because hair-down-there is a symbol of adult womanhood, and its removal is associated with artificial immaturity and paedophilia in a very similar way to flat-chestedness. We're very keen to attach a moral dimension to this. Flat, hairless women are infantilised, their thinness a product of anorexia (simultaneously a mortal sin and a martyred affliction) and designed to keep women too frail to run away. In fact, it's so important for Real Women to have curves that flat-chested women have to have curves photoshopped onto them.

Most people are dimly aware that this restrictiveness isn't exactly nice to women. People with eating disorders are expected to look the part [Edit]. Violetta Crisis writes beautifully about what it's like not having a full crop of hair. Charlotte Roche's Feuchtgebiete/Wetlands (highly recommended) has a heartbreaking passage about the flat-chested protagonist's desperation to swap with her best friend Corinna. And tumblr always has a knack of being succinct.

But men are also involved in this. What hypothetical lads' mag readers do or don't prefer is used to tell women what kind of body they should have. The earnestly faked concern and frowny-faced moralisations, in turn, tell men what kind of consenting adults we should and shouldn't fancy. It's a really odd implication that sleeping with an adult woman in any way makes you gay or a paedophile, but even worse is the implication in turn that if you have alopecia, A-cups or a history of eating disorders, not only are you a failure as a woman and an adult, but only deviants, closet poofs and controlling misogynists will ever love you. And it's daft. I've always fancied bald-headed, small-titted, pretty shrieking genius Skin from Skunk Anansie and, frankly, if she's not a "woman", then "women" are just shite.

I get it that paedophilia is bad, I really do. I understand that eating disorders have the highest fatality rate of any mental illness and those that look like they might have one need some sense shamed into them. But we're piggybacking on these taboos to wrongbody grown women and wag our fingers at consensual adult sex. Our culture has more than a little trouble working out the difference between sex you don't want and sex you're not supposed to want. And frankly, I think you're seriously missing the point if your main problem with paedophiles is their breast and pubic hair preferences rather than the bit where they rape children.

In fact, and this is perhaps an extreme position, but, I actually think it's preferable if, rather than engaging in horrific and traumatising acts of sexual abuse, a paedophile enters into a mutually respectful, consensual relationship with an adult who happens to look enough like a child to satisfy them. This might even be a good thing in a way, I don't know.

But the bottom line is this: Women's bodies vary. This is slightly distinct from patriarchy and child abuse. For fuck's sake get over it.

01 December 2011

A Short Typology of Rape Jokes

Ok, I've already done a short thing on types of offensive humour, but I'm gearing up for a pretty long thing on rape jokes and metaphors, and so I'd more than welcome any feedback on the models I'm going to use for it. I'm not going to give examples of actual rape jokes here, as you probably didn't come here to read that sort of thing, and if you comment I'd ask you to do the same or give fair warning.

I count two ways of looking at humour. The first I'm going to call the Chuck-Flav Model: There are serious statements and there are silly ones. The purpose of the silly ones is to lighten the mood after a serious statement. Famous users include, of course, Public Enemy, but also classical Greek literature and when Johann Hari puts in a godawful pun before a serious, leg-stroking sentimental assertion. The second is the Isn't-Žižek-Clever Model. Very clever philosopher Slavoj Žižek tells a joke, but that joke, by drawing attention to absurdity, is a serious philosophical statement as well. Famous users include Woody Allen, Sigmund Freud, Stephen Moffat and Bertolt Brecht. Possibly also Jesus and the Babylonian Talmud.

I'm a firm believer in the second model, and these are the four types of offensive jokes I'm working with:
  • The Unspeakably Sick Joke: It's absurd to say it but it's ok to think it.
    E.g. women, eh? Eh? Amirite?
  • The Unthinkably Sick Joke: It's absurd to say it because it's absurd to think it.
    E.g. leave the ladder where it is and just turn your wrist. You can change it on your own now.
  • The Unreasonably Sick Joke: It's absurd to say it as some kind of rational opinion, even though it perfectly describes common behaviour.
    E.g. most of the jokes where a dog (Wilfred, Brian, Dean Spanley) describes doggy thought processes.
  • The Unfunny Sick Joke: It's absurd to say it because it's not funny. It's absurd to even think it's funny. So why am I laughing?
    E.g. Orange you glad I didn't say banana.
I also count four levels of rape jokes. They don't really get better or worse with depth, just, er, deeper:
  1. The Rape!-LOL! Rape Joke: This is the simplest one. Rape is a taboo subject. So just saying the word is enough of a taboo-break to get a laugh. While this looks like Unspeakable humour, it’s more Unthinkable/Unfunny. It is absurd to think rape is funny, therefore to joke about it is absurd, and absurd is funny. Not that this lets this kind of joke off the hook: rape is sex as well as violence, and so is quite often taboo for the wrong reasons.
  2. The Ridiculous Idea Rape Joke: An Unthinkable or Unreasonable claim about rape, which is funny because it’s ridiculous. When feminists use irony, sarcasm or any other kind of humour, for example running a reductio ad absurdum on victim blaming, this is the joke they're telling. Of course, what ideas about rape you find absurd enough to laugh at say an awful lot about how you see it, and it this kind of joke is also an excellent medium for being an arsehole.
  3. The Going-Too-Far Rape Joke: The trouble is, not all ridiculous statements are ridiculous because you think the ideas they’re based on are ridiculous. I’m sure any feminists reading are well aware of the heinous crime of taking things too far, and that the people taking a stand against it are usually all for equality in principle. What’s Unthinkable with this kind of joke isn’t our basic cultural assumptions about rape, but failure to impose a limit on following them through, and failing to keep it reasonable and centrist. It has less to do with challenging ideas to do with rape than it does with staying comfortably close to the status quo. It resists movements in either direction, but suffice to say feminists won’t get much use out of this kind of rape joke.
  4. The Rape Joke In Front of a Feminist Rape Joke: Now this really is Going Too Far. Your statement about rape isn’t Unthinkable or Unreasonable, and isn’t obviously different enough from your real opinion to even seem like a joke, ruling out Unfunny. But if it’s obvious a feminist is listening, expressing this kind of opinion is Unspeakable, because they will call the thought police or get you sacked for sexual harassment or turn you into a newt or whatever it is they do. Of course, once she’s gone, this opinion is no longer Unspeakable and the opinion you just expressed is no longer laughable. You know when you go on a woman’s blog comments section and explain exactly what should be done to her? This is the joke you’re attempting to make. If you were a bit scared when these jokers found your home or work address, it obviously went over your head.

To make it a bit clearer through mild equivalents, the Rape!-LOL! Rape Joke is sort of equivalent to shouting “BUMS!” The Ridiculous Idea Rape Joke is sort of like saying that, just because they sound the same, a door is a jar. The Going Too Far Joke is sort of like how Jeremy Clarkson wants striking workers to be executed except he doesn't really and a far milder punishment would suffice. The Rape Joke In Front of a Feminist Rape Joke is like shouting “BUMS!” in front of a vicar or a maiden aunt.

Anyway, suggestions/additions/criticisms most welcome in the comments. Being a dick less so.