Safe Spaces

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.

8 thoughts on “Safe Spaces

  1. Thank you. Your discourse says some things that I am not eloquent enough to write and I appreciate your words and thoughts.

    On a side note, some people say “bitch” like it’s a bad thing. It is a badge of honor with me and a title I wear proudly.

  2. Aunt B, this is a fabulous and important post. I have to say, I think about things like this a lot of late, as my 8yo daughter is becoming more and more aware of the world around her. It is hard to explain strip clubs to an 8yo….and when you drive through downtown every day, your 8yo will ask about them. It’s hard to explain to her why she can watch Star Trek on G4 but she’s not allowed to watch the commercials. That even Mama doesn’t watch the commercials. The culture, the media, people today have coarsened the discourse to the point where it’s difficult to stay above the fray, and to explain why our standards are different without sounding all judgment-like. But my standards are different, whether I judge you or not. All right, I have kind of wandered a bit from your original topic.

  3. lcreekmo, I get what you’re saying. And I think the thing is, for me, it’s not a matter of being judgmental. Shoot, if you can get men to stick money in your underwear for dancing around and you don’t mind the work, then more power to you. And lord knows the dominant message in society is that all us women are just on a spectrum of whorish behavior, so I don’t feel like I’m better than the strippers or the girls in ‘Girls Gone Wild.’

    I just feel like I want to live my life safer than that. To me, it feels like a safety issue, not a moral issue.

  4. This says eloquently what I was beating around the bush about when I said that I loathed Akismet. On one level I know that there are these things in society. But I feel like I choose not to include them in my discourse or my awareness. Cleaning out Akismet filters forces me to be aware that there are actual human beings who sit down in front of a computer and type the words indicating that they’d like to see pictures of fathers forcibly raping their three-year old daughters.

    It makes me sick and it makes me sad.

    I guess, though, it does make me aware. I’m not a consumer of pornography so when people say “porn objectifies women” I have a mental image of a soft-focus Playboy centerfold and think “yes, how sad that a woman has to be photographed naked for the pleasure of men, but whatever. No biggie.”

    Now that I know how much porn seems to–judging by the two Akismet filters I have to clean–involve women being beaten, spit on, “raped”, etc. I see in a whole new light what they mean.

  5. Kat, I have the same problem with the Akismet filters. It’s hard not to absorb some of the horrifying things those spam comments suggest that other people are looking for as I scroll through them.

  6. This is well said.

    It’s interesting to me, because I feel like this is related to the reason I choose not to watch movies with a lot of senseless violence (I will watch violence if it underscores a message in the story, such as in Hotel Rwanda) or terror. I know plenty of people watch them and become desensitized to them, to the point where they’re not scared by scary scenes and they don’t flinch watching someone’s throat get slit. I know it’s fake, but I choose not to let myself become desensitized to those images, because I think they mean something.

    And yet, I have allowed myself to become desensitized (calloused, to use your metaphor) to the anti-woman, anti-gay messages I hear around me all the time. I let a lot of it roll off my back. I don’t call out every instance I witness – at some point I must have made a decision that I didn’t have the mental or emotional energy to battle it continuously. So I choose my battles, and I let the rest of the offenses pass.

    I’m not saying I’m wrong to do that – I need to stay sane, after all, and I’m not convinced I wouldn’t become Doña Quixote if I did not choose my battles well – but it just gives me pause to read what you’ve written here.

  7. I have such mixed feeling about this question. On the one hand, I laugh every time I see those radio-station billboards “The Fish — Safe for the Whole Family” because I don’t understand how any adult can want his/her experience to be bounded by what’s appropriate for a 5-year-old. OTOH, I know how luxurious it feels to be in a space where no one is doing things that attack or degrade others. Maybe the solution is for some gutsy soul to start up a freelance Akismet-cleaning service, and weed out the porn and such before the blog-owners have to look at it.

  8. Yeah, see, that’s just it. I have really mixed feelings about it, too. Most of the time, I just let that undercurrent of nonsense pass, but sometimes I do kind of feel ooky about it, like there ought to just be some acknowledgment of what I’m doing–that I’m ignoring really gross crap because I don’t see any other way to deal with it.

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