Dickwolves, redux

10Oct10

There are many other posts that I wish I were writing right now, but this one has become necessary.

About six weeks ago, I wrote this post, staking out a contrarian position on the Penny Arcade joke-involving-rape controversy that gave creators Krahulik and Holkins the benefit of the doubt. More recent events PA-wise have pushed the controversy well past the original comic in various ways that I can’t defend. These issues are fairly well covered by Mirai at Devil May Rant and by the great Lisa Harney at Questioning Transphobia. The two major things that happened were:

1. The use of a Penny Arcade Dickwolves shirt in a comic, and its subsequent sale. Contra Harney, I don’t believe there was any explicit attempt to glorify rape here, or really any motivation deeper than “people will buy this, so we should sell it.” And people will buy it, likely without thinking — I mean, where are you going to go wearing a shirt that says “dickwolves” on it? Would you go out to eat wearing that shirt, or to class, or to anywhere that isn’t PAX, really? 99.9% of people aren’t going to have any idea what the shirt means beyond its obnoxious vulgarity, and many of the people who do get it will still be offended. However, Penny Arcade has a lot of dumb readers.

2. Krahulik’s satiric “trigger warning” for a D&D game, which I find more objectionable. Granted that the “contempt for Hydra’s bodily autonomy” line has a germ of a point, in that many types of violence can be triggering but are much harder to avoid than depictions of rape, whether you’re on a feminist website or anywhere else — still, this is crass, and there’s no context to it.

I may think trigger warnings as currently constituted are sometimes inutile and even counterproductive, as I argued previously, but I still do take offense to the attitude that they should merely be mocked and then dispensed with. Survivors face real problems, and trigger warnings are at the least an attempt to help them; that deserves respect. I don’t know whether the joke can fairly be read, as Mirai reads it, as “mocking PTSD” and PTSD survivors; more likely, they just find the concept of a trigger warning baffling, and therefore mock it. But there’s really no reason to be charitable at this point; there are a million spectacularly obvious things that Krahulik and Holkins could have done to demonstrate that they give a shit about people who’ve been raped, and they haven’t done any of them — so doesn’t pretty much everything they say from now on that isn’t one of those things constitute mocking survivors?

One last thing: in retrospect, my characterization of rape culture theory in the aforementioned previous post was unfair. I continue to think that McEwan’s apparent defense of the rape culture concept is logical nonsense. You can’t just take a bunch of seemingly disparate cultural phenomena (e.g. “treating straight sexuality as the norm,”) slap a collective label on them, and expect this to convince anyone. And many of the other discussions of rape culture I’ve run across have similar issues, or are, at best, simply vague. (I’m apparently not the only person to have this problem; the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology notes that “rape culture is a concept of unknown origin and of uncertain definition; yet it has made its way into everyday vocabulary and is assumed to be commonly understood.”)

However — in large part thanks to some of Sungold’s posts (here and here, for instance) — I’ve been able to grok the much more simple definition lying at the core of the term. In short, rape culture is just anything in the culture that is responsible for increasing the occurrence of rape. If you begin looking at Western masscult and trying to piece together what that means in practice, there are going to be some things at near consensus level and some things (like many of McEwan’s examples) that are a lot more controversial. Rejecting some of those controversial examples may make sense, but that doesn’t preclude me from looking at aspects of the interrelated fraternity/sorority cultures and saying that they make men raping women more likely*, or looking at prison culture and the way prisoners are viewed and saying that makes men raping men more likely. So, it turns out I don’t have a problem with the notion of rape culture after all, just with some people’s opinions about what’s included. That is an important thing for me to know, and should stop me from flying off the handle whenever someone mentions rape culture.

*For good examples, see Alexandra Robbins’ Pledged.

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