The center and the margins, and butt hurtness
Oh, butt hurtness. It’s a perennial problem on the internets, and there’s probably a number of reasons for it. One is that people can’t read body language and tone, and so subtle cues that X may not be taken in the same way as Y are lost. A lot of it has to do with the mix of people, and miscommunication due to people not quite understanding each others’ frame of reference. A lot of it, especially in the wake of feminist blog posts, has to do with “Not my Nigel” and variations of it. And a lot of it has to do with people insisting that even though the post in question doesn’t probably apply to them, they’re going to dig around and insist it does, causing readers to wonder if they’re just “Not my Nigel”-ing at you. I think a lot of this has to do with the epic levels of butt hurtness that erupted from the coining of the phrase “Dude Rock“, though of course, the butt hurtness in this instance has nothing to do with the comically elevated levels of it that erupted with “mansplaining” was invented, or the alarming and sad way butt hurtness erupts in feminist blog posts about rape that attract irate men demanding, demanding, that the feminist tell them how much coercion they get away with before it’s officially rape.
In comparison to those kinds of butt hurtness, the butt hurtness at “Dude Rock” can’t even hold a candle, really. It barely counts as butt hurtness. It’s more like upper thigh hurtness.
But it did make me think about how much of butt hurtness on the internet tends to erupt when the discourse can be boiled down to definitional debates. What is “rape”? When is a man “mansplaining” at you, and how is that different than when meanie bloggers make fun of trolls for being stupid?
Part of the problem is that there’s two ways to define a phenomenon like “mansplaining” or “Dude Rock”, or anything at all. There’s defining it by the ideal and defining it by its borders. Call the first one the idealistic, like the Platonic ideal, and the latter legalistic. Most people tend to work with both methods, but when butt hurtness erupts, it’s because people start demanding that a idealistic definition be held to legalistic standards.
Most people are aware of the tension between these kinds of definitions. The legendary one is the debate over what exactly constitutes “porn”? It’s hard to define it at the margins—when is an image erotic or not?—but it’s easy as fuck to define it as an ideal. We all immediately have an idea of what the Platonic ideal of porn looks like. You’re thinking of it right now, I’d bet. You know it when you see it is a way of saying, “I’m talking about stuff that immediately and unquestionably goes in to my mental file labeled ‘examples thereof'”.
Defining from the center is a really excellent way for people who’ve had the experience of being marginalized to name the problem. Which is why so many women went nuts for Silvana’s post about sexism in music, and the boringness of what she deemed “Dude Rock”. It was such a relief to have this problem named. Women who related have suffered from being brow-beaten by bands whose aggressive macho stance is alienating to women and creates safe spaces for sexism, but which we were guilted into pretending we liked by men who used virtuosity or whatever measure to make us feel like the only reason that this music could bore us is that we are dumb women. Very few women enjoy being treated like they’re dumb women, so there’s an epic problem across the nation of women standing in clubs bored out of their fucking skulls by a band that their male companion/s find endearing in no small part because the band’s over-the-top masculinity makes them feel their own isn’t in question. The day that you decide you are bored with Dude Rock and you’re not afraid to say it is very liberating for many women, and Silvana’s post captured that sense of liberation. I was reminded of the day I said to myself that I wasn’t going to another show when I knew damn well that the crowd was going to be a sausage fest, the music was going to bore me out of my skull, and the men I did speak to seemed surprised that a woman of some intelligence was opening her mouth in that space. Bless my good-hearted friends who like that shit for whatever reason, but I wasn’t going to torture myself just because I like my friends. Honestly, I think a lot of men are oblivious to how toxic that environment can feel for women.
Dude Rock—it’s hard to define by a sound, but you know it when you see it. It crosses genres. But if you define it from the center, you have a good idea of what’s going on—their shows will mostly be male, and female intelligence will not be taken seriously in that space. What few women there will mostly be girlfriends. The space will be a safe one for overt sexism. And like Silvana said, everyone who finds it tiresome probably has a band or two they like that they know is pure Dude Rock, and I’m not exception. I like Ween, which no doubt annoys my Dude Rock-hating friends. I’m a little ashamed myself.
Of course, the butt hurtness takes the form of demanding that this be defined by the margins. What are the exceptions? What is the line? How do you know? Let’s chip away at this legalistically until we’ve gone down a mental hole in to Wonderland, and the original experience and raw emotion it dredges up is erased under a tidal wave of demands for an “objective”, legalistic definition of what Dude Rock is.
You know, in some circumstances, defining a kind of music from the center and arguing about the margins can be a lot of fun, when everyone involved is having fun and there’s no larger agenda or butt hurtness involved. Like I showed the post to a friend, and we had some music nerding in this highly paraphrased form:
Motorhead? I like them.
They’ve got kick ass melodies. It’s like AC/DC. They really don’t take themselves seriously enough to be Dude Rock. Not like the Nuge. He’s like the grandfather of Nickelback.
Is Morrissey Dude Rock? Self-seriousness is all over him.
Nah, too gay.
Yeah, also sense of humor.
There’s one Dude Rock band I like. Forgive me feminism, but I like Ween.
I was just about to say WEEN.
It’s like it never occurred to them to be self-conscious. That’s like male privilege on steroids.
And so on. Like many things, when reduced to a sport, otherwise toxic conversational directions can just be fun time-killing.
The problem is that legalistic margin-trolling is often used not as a fun sport, but as a way to intimidate women out of talking about their experiences with sexism and questioning male privilege. Some kinds of butt hurtness are purely innocent and just nit-picking legalistic internet noise. But a lot of it is sexism repackaged as “objectivity”, and it’s really hard to tell the difference sometimes. You really see this in the way this strategy is used to derail conversations about rape. Feminist posts something about rape. Commenters show up and demand to know what the line is between rape and not-rape, accusing the feminist of having nefarious and reverse sexist motives for not defining the phenomenon by the margins instead of by the center. Feminist gets funny feeling that maybe she’s being dogpiled by guys who’ve done some raping but want to be let off on a technicality. Things get ugly.
Obviously, the problem of butt hurtness is not so serious in this situation. But I do think there’s a real danger in claiming that a definition only counts if you can define it by the margins, where of course subjectivity is so much in play that anyone can say, “Nuh-uh!” It serves as a silencing mechanism.
In fact, butt hurtness as a strategy of sexists in music was explicitly laid out in Silvana’s post in another section, when guys try to spring themselves from being considered sexists because they “happen” to not like female musicians.
I brought the albums, and Sleater-Kinney, who I also discovered through my same friend, to my dude friends. They were unimpressed. They couldn’t say why. They weren’t stupid enough at that point, or even self-aware enough, to say that they didn’t like it because it was made by women. They just happened to not like it, even though they liked ALL THIS OTHER MUSIC THAT WAS LIKE IT. I don’t know, it just doesn’t do it for me. It’s boring. It’s whiny. It’s screechy. Oh, it’s repetitive. Or is it derivative?
Whatever it is, it sucks.
Being a feminist who is into music and cares about feminism and women in music is a giant pain in the ass, because music is the greatest haven of all time for ITSJUSTMYOPINION-ism. Because, you see? Music is art. Which means if you try to criticize someone’s personal taste, especially if you are suggesting that they don’t like woman-made music because THEY HATE WOMEN, you will get nowhere. There is almost no argument you can make that will have any effect whatsoever, because it’s just my opinion, man. And people believe, they believe with all their hearts, that they are entitled to their opinions when it comes to art, even if those opinions are stupid.
By maintaining the pose that they technically may like a female musician some day—or by pulling in a very small number of exceptions they accept, like Kim Deal (but only with the Pixies)—the sexist can say he falls outside the parameters on what amounts to a technicality. But of course, that’s bullshit. He has a long, established pattern of not taking women seriously enough to give them a chance. This is why people say things like, “The exception proves the rule.” If I held him up against the ideal of the non-sexist music fan, the obvious lack of love for the ladies in his taste couldn’t be more obvious.
I think that’s what bothered me about the whole thing. Seeking exceptions, being butt hurt, pointing to female fans and trying to find the margins is missing the point. Seeing the trees on the edges but not the forest. And it’s not talking about what we all agree is a real problem in a way that could help people find a way out of it.
This is far from the only discussion that goes off the rails because of this problem of someone writing about a typical example, and having everyone dogpile with anecdotal exceptions, demands for definitions on the margins, and other derailing tactics. I think in many cases, the derailing isn’t even meant to be derailing, but really just is butt hurtness. The problem of course is that it makes this conversation less about how women are marginalized and how painful it is to respect and listen to men only not to get that in return, and instead becomes a discussion about whether or not a man “gets” to have this taste or not, and how the women need to have a book length definition with all the exceptions detailed before they can even open their mouths. How can we get past this? Is it just the price of admission for discussing stuff on the internet?