An entertaining Twitter shaming episode, and what it means
One of the benefits to being a wingnut is that there's a low-cost, high-payoff emotional reward system. A handful of smart people—Karl Rove, Frank Luntz—come up with the dog whistles and empty talking points, and all you have to do is repeat them and collect your high fives from your fellow dittoheads, who will crow about how you showed those lie-brals with their stupid facts they got from the lamestream media. (Indeed, the quickest way to tell that a wingnut has lost an argument is he and his buddies start declaring victory.) The one danger in this, of course, is that by mindlessly parroting conservative cliches, you occasionally will say something so incredibly wrong-headed and inappropriate that even you the shameless wingnut will be embarrassed, once you see what you did there.
One of these cliches that you hear over and over is to claim that American feminists are wrong for caring about (fill in a cultural concern in American society) when some brown-skinned people in a non-Christian nation are tolerating some horrible abuse of women's rights. This delightful cliche hangs in because it allows the wingnut both to paint American feminists as nothing but bubble-headed bimbos while making the racist assertion that only people not like them are sexist while also allowing themselves to pretend they actually give a shit. It's a wingnut trifecta. It is, of course, utterly meaningless, as it presumes, incorrectly, that women who care about body image issues here can't care about FGM there, and also it presumes, incorrectly, that the mere act of caring about women in foreign nations somehow magically changes their circumstances. But setting that aside, this particular cliche also creates a giant trap and Melissa Clouthier (of course) stepped right into it:
Meanwhile gendericide in India. RT @billscher: Don't miss @JessicaValenti on Morning Joe defending "Slutwalks" //on.msnbc.com/l8F9Rw
Jesse sent this tweet to me, because he actually has the stomach to follow some of these right wing bloggers, and I don't. But I was immediately amused, because Melissa hadn't realized what she had just said there, and how it would sound to people not high-fiving her. Let's recap:
1) SlutWalks are an anti-rape action that has proven to be really popular.
2) Regardless of how effective you think a SlutWalk is, one must agree that someone defending it is opposed to rape and takes fighting it very seriously.
3) Melissa plugged this into the usual formulation, and basically ended up arguing that Jessica is wrong to fight rape in America when there's "gendercide" in India.
To be clear, I think Melissa actually meant this. It's common enough for conservatives to argue that feminists are making too much out of rape, and that having some frat daddy corner a college girl at a party and rape her doesn't really count as much more than just good times, and it was probably her fault anyway. Heather McDonald was trotting out an unvarnished example of this argument when I went up against her on World Have Your Say, and she even suggested that because many rape victims are able to function well enough, in the months and years after a rape, to attend classes and otherwise not fall completely apart means that it isn't real rape. This argument, of course, why SlutWalk exists. So I responded to Melissa with this assumption in mind:
@MelissaTweets Wow, you're really going to put your money on arguing that rape isn't a real issue. Well-played.
I figured she'd ignore me, but having this mirror held up to her face created a giant reaction, which is understandable. I find her attitude repulsive, and can only imagine what it must feel like to see with someone else's eyes what an asshole you are. But her initial response was to double down:
[email protected] I'm saying Feminists undermine themselves by such stupidly misplaced priorities.
At this point, I reminded her that she was saying, in public, that considering rape a problem is a "misplaced priority". Which I think is when the penny dropped and she realized that perhaps saying that American feminists shouldn't take rape seriously may not be the brightest idea in the world. Now that it's been discovered that arty film directors, leftist warriors, and the French can be rapists, the official conservative party line is that rape is a serious crime and they're totallly not disputing that, even if it's still the victim's fault in most cases. (Melissa veered off on this for a bit, blathering about how I don't understand how men think, which is presumably that they have to rape anyone whose skirt shows X amount of thigh. It's true; I don't think men are uncontrollable animals.) Caught looking like an unreconstructed rape apologist, Melissa then tried to change the subject:
[email protected] Amanda, you're really going to argue that Slutwalks prevent rape?
Of course, that was not actually my argument. I might make that in another context, but my argument here was against Melissa's assertion that as long as India is struggling with a cultural bias against having daughters, American women should not protest the rapes of themselves. This was the assertion, and I carefully reminded her of this over and over while she dodged and weaved and complained about SlutWalk because she didn't think it was effective or appropriate. I tried to explain that there's a difference between priorities and tactics, and that her first two tweets were priority-based—she denounced Jessica for supporting anti-rape protests while there were presumably worse horrors in the world than rape. I'm completely disinterested in the opinion of wingnuts on the topic of whether or not SlutWalks work; in terms of what SlutWalks are trying to accomplish, getting the good opinion of professional misogynists isn't on the list. That a resentment-based pea brain like Melissa Clouthier disapproves of women having fun while speaking out is about as shocking or interesting as the fact that I don't care for the music of Justin Bieber. What I was interested in was her contention that Jessica's interest in fighting rape was wrong when there are sexism-based problems in India.
She wouldn't get off tactics, of course, and ended up flouncing, which caused a sea of wingnuts tweeting that she had "won" the argument. (See the first paragraph.) I wish I could say this represents some sort of end to the use of the wingnut cliche that American feminists shouldn't care about X because brown-skinned people in non-Christian nations are doing Y, but alas, there is no such thing as a right wing shibboleth that is so stupid that it can be put to bed. I, personally, am looking forward to the day that Nicholas Kristof is accused of not caring about Real Issues with women who are Really Oppressed. Actually, I'm sure that's happened.
My point, besides the joy of sharing this encounter with the Pandagon audience, is twofold: 1) A reminder that a lot of wingnut truisms really are just empty blather, and this is doubly true when it comes to their stereotypes of feminists and 2) that feminist activism has actually done a lot already to change the dialogue around rape. Even a couple of years ago, I imagine that Melissa would have just clung to the "rape isn't a real issue, unlike gender disparities in India" line until the bitter end, but now it's becoming toxic for even female anti-feminists, who often are empowered to be even more belligerently misogyny by virtue of their gender, to wave off rape like it's not big deal. Good work, feminists! We still have a long way to go, but that I was able to shame Melissa Clouthier about her knee-jerk minimizing of rape is a pretty big win. Bit by bit, we're winning the argument against rape apologists.
Of course, I asked her repeatedly to admit that Jessica Valenti is in the right to declare rape a serious social problem, and I did get crickets on that. But hey, I was just driving the knife in, so I get why she might feel humiliated by actually going on the record agreeing that feminists are right with our "rape is really bad" beliefs.