This post is inspired by an incident in Israel, which will soon be forgotten, in which a feminist activist (Lian) published on Facebook the image and contact details of a taxi driver alongside her description of the unpleasant drive in which she felt sexually harassed. The incident attracted a lot of attention and criticism, which led to a reaction post by Lian, analyzing the allegations raised against her as being part of a broad silencing strategy.
There are a few things that caught my attention, all surrounding the impossible discourse in a patriarchal culture regarding “rape culture”, if a postmodern deconstructive discourse isn’t adopted instead.
Lian’s main claim, that the criticism of her and of her act are “silencing” methods, is quite reasonable. After all, she is a woman who stood up against her symbolic oppressor in the means available to her, and was immediately punished, while being told to keep silent.
But now, let’s take a closer and more critical look at it. The view Lian represents in this discourse (which I must admit, I also participate in, much too often), places all the people who arrived at a different conclusion from her and voiced their opinion, as part of the collaborative silencing effort, some willingly and knowingly, and some out of “lack of knowledge” or “lack of sense of social criticism”. So a woman who went, and still goes through sexual harassment, can’t say that she believes that the police is the appropriate solution, because that makes her “ignorant”, and with her “ignorance” she fuels rape culture and the silencing of women. This itself is of course silencing, not as part of the traditional oppression of women by men, but the power it has is partially derived from it, since that woman isn’t just being silenced, she’s being silenced because voicing her opinion makes her part of the oppressing system, thus accusing her of aiding her attackers.
Actually, this last example itself shows in a deeper manner the violence inherent in this discourse. I’m (biologically) a male, therefore, I cannot set myself as an example of a silenced individual in the rape culture – unless I’m on the “right side”, being silenced by the same ignorant/malicious people. Males, which are automatically labeled as men in this discourse, cannot be equal partners in this discourse, and will always be an outer circle of converted “ex-predators”.
And finally, the last paragraph I wrote illustrates the most destructive aspect of this discourse. Participating in it, even in a critical manner, forces the participants to identify themselves as belonging to and representing a category (in this instance man/woman, feminist/non-feminist/anti-feminist, Pro-Facebook-Sharing/non…), and then defend themselves and the “true interest” of their category(ies) by attacking others. I personally don’t feel silenced by Lian, but my imagined category of “Males who don’t identify themselves as men and are forced to use women as an immediate example to illustrate the silencing effect of the silencing strategy argument” is indeed silenced, and I, as part of that category, must take a stand against that. And here I am, finding myself attacking Lian, accusing her of violence and silencing, when all I really want to do is to give her a hug and let her know how much I admire and support her.
The sad truth is that there’s no way around being part of rape culture when accepting the basic premises of the larger context – the western capitalist post-industrial society. The categorical nature of reality (and as such of society) must be constantly questioned and redefined in order to fight rape culture. Constantly, because as one can see even in this short post, there is no escaping the cultural boundaries limiting our thought, and while criticising one thing we fail to recognize the structural mistake we’re making regarding another. The basic deconstructionist act is somewhat frustrating, since it demands the criticism to start with the basic categories in which we think in, making contemporary struggles seem misguided, while acknowledging one can never completely free himself from his basic cultural mindset, making category-based struggles seem the only feasible method of inducing positive change, no matter how misguided they are.
There’s no solution to this sad truth, it’s just sad. But the happy truth is that arbitrary acts of violence can create a great commotion, and that’s always a good sign, since in this rape culture, in which numerous violent acts occur with minimal social reference, a violent act directed the “wrong way” is undermining and endangering the existing order of things – and it must be a good step forward, because society is fighting back with vengeance.
As a male-bodied person active within feminist circles in my community, I am continually confronted with questions of how to address my own privileged position. In a group of activists discussing rape culture, my privilege as a male and a non-survivor kicks in when topics become increasingly detailed or uncomfortable: I don’t have to worry about traumatic experiences being triggered, nor do I have to re-live constant thoughts about the dangers of walking outside alone at night or accepting a drink at a party. Because I have the privilege of not facing these emotional triggers, it’s much easier for me to voice my thoughts about them. It’s obvious, then, how this can be a problem, since I am not the primary subject of this discussion. And it is exactly for that reason that I ought to step back and, yes, shut up in such situations.
I couldn’t agree more. This post mainly relates to the discourse, and thus serves as a theoretical analysis rather than a practical how-to. I stressed that there is no simple theoretical solution, the practical implication for a practical solution to deal with privileges indeed being to shut up, so thank you for highlighting that.
Also, credit for this text needs to go to Stephen Goeman, who wrote it here: