Thursday, February 26, 2015

Callin' Shenanigans: #iamonestudent

Welcome back to "Callin' Shenanigans!" In everyone's favorite Mainer segment, I call out get on a soapbox and wax quasi-intellectual about things I think are even just a little bit dumb.

While reading Doug Muder's excellent news blog The Weekly Sift, I saw he had posted a link to the following "powerful video about men's responsibility for sexual assault," in which college students get real real about the issue.

Now, I agree that this video is excellent in that it calls out us dudes for our persistent tendency to use language that suggests to women that it's THEIR responsibility to avoid being harassed or attacked. Language that casually blames women for sexual assault. What the narrator was saying was so true, even for someone 8 years removed from college, that I found it hard to look directly at his eyes while he told me that meaning well doesn't cut it. It seemed too raw somehow, like I was realizing I wasn't nearly as innocent of oppressive tendencies as I had allowed myself to believe.

My privilege aside, a couple things about the video itself made me itch a bit. And since this is my blog, I get to blow those things way out of proportion.

First, did you really need to make that many sports metaphors in a 6-minute video? You're acting like the only way to get guys to the table on this whole gender equality thing is to make them think they're talking about The Big Game instead.

I call shenanigans. Not every guy thinks and speaks in terms of sports-- base-running, offense/defense mentality, those terms are unhelpful for men who don't or can't relate to that lifestyle, which is going to limit the potential for uptake of the important points the video makes.

It could be argued that the video's target demographic is only that sort of collegiate fraternity <----> athletics axis, the last great adolescent bro-down before you have to go and deal with the "real world." That's traditionally one of the strongest things underpinning the patriarchal aspects of our culture, and it hits men at a critical period in their development. But there's a large (and growing) segment of the male population that doesn't relate to that world and that has its own sinister, often internet-based ways of marginalizing women (think Gamergate.) So basically, the language of the video limits its audience and reach unnecessarily.

A second, and related, point. The man speaking issues multiple demands that men stop lazily relying on a culture permissive of our supposed base aggression and lack of caring. He argues that it's time for us to prove that we have evolved past the point of being cavemen clubbing cavewomen and excusing ourselves because it's just our nature. By debasing women, we create animals of ourselves.

I call shenanigans. He makes an excellent point, of course. But when I sent the video to a friend who shares my low level of sports literacy, his response was "Looks like something I, as a cretinous male, might be able to understand." Yuh.

So you're saying... it's MEN that mostly do sexual assaults to women???

The narrator invites us to evolve our thinking, but again, his language assumes that we won't understand unless that message is couched in sports terms, because we're dumb guys. It's almost an invitation to revert to outdated, tribal thinking. The message and the messenger appear to be at cross-purposes-- he deploys a vocabulary and a set of metaphors germane to a thought pattern he simultaneously asks us to abandon.

Maybe creating cognitive dissonance was the objective, since it might lead us to really examine our perceptions, which could lead in turn to a positive shift in attitude. I'm just not sure how successful it was. Definitely watch and share the video all the same, since carpet-bombing the male persuasion with several brands of this stuff might just work.

Total shenanigans: 2
Lifetime shenanigans: 4

Bonus shenanigans: I honestly had the urge to call shenanigans on myself a number of times while writing this post. I wondered whether I was really evaluating the video on its own merits, rather than just what I wish it had said, which is like Critical Analysis 101. Was I manufacturing flaws in order to avoid confronting an uncomfortable truth about myself and my entire sex?

No. I'm way too evolved for that.

Thanks for reading.


I might be a prototype, but we're both real inside.

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