I’m not sure that I’m smart enough or thoughtful enough to properly articulate what I want to talk about tonight. I hate that feeling, like what I need to say is important, but I’m not up to the task of doing it justice. But, anyway, here we go.
It starts like this. When I was in grad school, I did my master’s thesis on hypertext fiction and my question was whether hypertext fiction was actually non-linear. A sub-question I had was whether hypertext fiction could somehow be a kind of écriture féminine.* Well, of course, it seemed obvious that, if one were writing about electronic fiction, one might use the internet to do some of her research.
What I quickly ran into, a decade ago, was that, if you typed “women” and anything into Yahoo, you had to wade through a shit ton of porn in order to find anything remotely relevant. It just didn’t seem worth it. It was like this price you had to pay in order to be a part of a discussion about women in public–you had to put up with being inundated with this layer of irrelevant filth**–and for me, at that time, the price was just too annoyingly high.
In the meantime, search engines have gotten better and I just now typed in “women writing” in Yahoo and was pleasantly surprised to see that there wasn’t one link to pornography on the first page. Same with just “women.” Same with “girls,” though it does suggest at the top that you might try “hot anime girls.”
But there’s still this notion that, if you are a woman or want to discuss women, it’s not going to take very long before you’re faced with a lot of irrelevant filth that you have to tolerate just as a cost of having the discussion.
Jonathan Hickman had me thinking about that all day. His gal, Katie, has the most ordinary blog a lefty do-gooder mom might have and she gets comments that are so nasty sometimes that it’s nearly impossible for me to read her comments without becoming enraged. But it’s like that’s just the price of doing business. If she wants to be out there in the world, she has to put up with it.
And, coincidentally, Rachel is also talking about this, about finding a rape porn site linking to Women’s Health News. I mean, really, what the fuck? We can’t even talk about women’s health without rape and porn coming into it?
I don’t know. You know, it’s always there, like this background noise. I dig into my spam filter to see if TV on the Fritz has gotten stuck in there and everything in there is “cunts” and “underage girls” and “big black bitches” and just this kind of stuff that, if I thought about it would really bother me. I don’t really think about it, though.
It’s just that constant background noise–bitch, ho, cunt, rape, fuck, tiny girls, violate, invade, nasty, get what they deserve–you learn to tune out. The price of being out here is the tacit agreement that you’ll let that kind of shit go, you’ll notice it, but not give it too much thought.
But it makes me wonder what it would be like to go a whole day without hearing the word, say, “bitch.” Could I go my whole day without hearing or seeing it? Could I go about my day as I always do and not encounter that word? Or is that just a cost of being a woman, if I want to go on the internet, listen to music, watch tv, whatever, I have to understand that I’m not going to be able to avoid that word? Shoot, I use the word all the time. I couldn’t even read my own blog.
And I’m not advocating anyone give up the word “bitch.” Hell, I’m not giving it up.
I’m just saying, you build up these callouses and try not to think too much about whether you’re poisoning your soul by becoming hardened to that kind of stuff.
I don’t know.
I’ve been thinking of that in terms of how we do–or fail to do–race relations in this country as well, that there’s this level of quasi-racist discourse that we just tolerate as background noise one has to put up with if one wants to talk publicly.
And I don’t know how one confronts it when the volume is so enormous. But in the past two days, I’ve seen someone in Middle Tennessee say “There is no reason for them to be here, and drink, and have multiple arrests, and kill Citizens whose lives actually have meaning, and make a difference.” [emphasis mine] and not one pro-ship-’em-all-back-to-Mexico person spoke up against that. Is that the truth of the matter? That it’s so important for you to have your way that you’re willing to tolerate this eliminationist rhetoric as long as it’s in service to your point?***
And I’ve seen a thread on the Tennessean’s website so racist I’m stunned that the Tennessean hasn’t shut it down. Listen, I’ve got no great love for Adam Jones, but talking about pining for the good ole days when we could have just lynched him (they’ve removed that comment, but Coble preserved it)? And only one person says anything specifically against the poster. Everyone else is busy talking about how the streets will get him or how they hope he gets raped in prison.
You see what I’m saying? You want to talk about Nashville football and you have to tolerate folks talking with glee about all the bad things they hope will happen to or that they wish they could cause to some guy who is, back here in the real world, a complete stranger to them. It’s mind-boggling. And it affects the conversation, the quality of conversation.
I guess that’s what bothers me and pisses me off. There’s just this background discourse that’s so nasty and sometimes evil that many of us have assured ourselves we’ve grown immune to so that it doesn’t really affect us. But it does. Not just because it can’t help but corrupt us in some ways, but because it keeps those who aren’t hardened to it from speaking.
And we miss those voices even if we don’t realize it.
*See wikipedia, especially “Écriture féminine places experience before language, and privileges non-linear, cyclical writing that evades ‘the discourse that regulates the phallocentric system.'” [emphasis mine just to show that the sub-question was not unrelated to the main question.]
**I should point out that I don’t think all porn is filth, but that’s neither here nor there to this discussion.
***If anyone wonders why we can’t have reasoned discussions about immigration in this country, the reason is that some of us refuse to take seriously folks who refuse to acknowledge the basic humanity of our neighbors.