"There were caged birds of all kinds in the market. They were given seed, millet, water and cuttlefish bone for their beaks. Their claws were kept trimmed and they were safe from all birds of prey. But it was the birds in the trees that were singing."
—An Expensive Place to Die, Len Deighton
Feminism was important in the past, but women can vote now. We aren't officially our husbands' property. We can have custody of our own children and get loans without a co-signer. Feminism did what it needed to do and now it's just about undermining the family and women's God-given roles. Right?
I saw this Huffington Post article on Facebook the other day, posted by Miss Representation (an organization you really should follow if you want to see all the evidence proving that the answer to that question is "no"). I re-posted it on my own wall, and a friend commented asking what we could do short of just canceling our own Facebook pages. I have no idea, but I feel like it's something we should talk about. And please read the article, because it gives a lot of information and makes a lot of points that I'm not going to go into here. This second one goes into even further detail about specifically rape-themed pages.
"The 12-Year-Old Slut Meme and Facebook's Misogyny Problem"
There's a group on Facebook called 12-Year-Old Slut Memes, where people post—can you guess?—memes about 12-year-old girls they think are sluts.
First there are your slut-shaming and judgmental memes, like the ones above. Then there are your generally gross and offensive memes, like the ones below.
This next one's my favorite, because it's about as blatant as can be in stating the beliefs of the people who appreciate this meme: People who behave in ways that you don't approve of don't deserve respect. Good to know. Also, I really appreciate their ruining one of my favorite memes.
Then we have the ones that depict violence against pre-teen girls:
...and objectify them:
And there's the fact that they're posting actual, personal photos and status updates of twelve-year-old girls without those girls' knowledge, to make fun of them on the internet. Which is just a super classy thing to do, and not at all creepy from technically-adult men.
I think this last one sums up this entire situation pretty much perfectly:
This one almost makes me laugh, because he's actually answered his own question in the meme. No, let's not be angry with the society that markets Barbie to children, sexified Strawberry Shortcake and Dora and My Little Pony, and popularized toddler beauty pageants. Let's have some classic victim-blaming instead, and create an entire Facebook page devoted to memes hating on the little girls for having picked up on all those messages that society beats into their heads. Good call, guys. Good call.
"If I wanted you to talk, I'd take my dick out of your mouth." "If I wanted you to talk, I'd have unzipped my pants." There are several versions of this page still up. One of my favorites is "I Kill Bitches," with a profile picture of a gun pointing at the viewer's face. (Can you imagine the same group with a word like fags or niggers or Jews in the name being allowed to remain on Facebook? No, you can't, because it wouldn't. Yet here we are; the group was started in May of 2011 and is still up. Also, one of the most recent posts on its wall is a video of Patrick Bateman killing a prostitute in American Psycho, with the caption "gddmn hoze.") And then of course there's the classic "Shut the fuck up and make me a sandwich."
I felt really sick for a while after having written all of that out (and having searched for the pages to verify for myself that they're still up. All of the ones I listed are). I'm kind of disturbed knowing that Facebook has rules against content that is "hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence"—and yet apparently feel that these groups don't fit that description, because they're about women.
Do you know what this is called, friends? It's called rapeculture. And it's a feature of patriarchal society. "A rape culture is a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent... A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm" (—Melissa McEwan, Shakesville; see the link over the word "rape" above). It's what happens when for thousands of years men have had all the institutional power, and women have been important only in terms of how they are useful to men, and been identified by the men to whom they're connected. The most extreme example of this is that, in some cultures, widows are burned alive with their husbands' bodies. Much lesser examples are practices like a woman marrying her brother-in-law when her husband died, or—a modern one—women taking their husbands' names (especially when they are called Mrs. Robert Chiltern, or whatever).
Here's how we know that we are in fact living in a rape culture: Because most of you probably looked at those memes and thought that they were totally disgusting and offensive and inappropriate and you would never condone such a thing—and yet, the sad thing is that they have a point. Right? Many of you have probably even seen similar (but much less offensive) memes like these, and thought they were wonderful.
Did you know that the more common version of that middle meme is, "Maybe more men would stand up and be gentlemen if more women would sit down and be ladies"? Not quite as lovely, is that one? (But it's at least a little more honest.) You probably don't think of these memes as being even remotely the same as the ones above. But the truth is, they're just a different, more tame spot on the rape culture spectrum. [9/30: This was updated to add the chivalry meme when I came across it today.]
All three of these memes claim that women bear responsibility for how men act toward them. That's one of the basics of patriarchal gender relations—that women are the guardians of virtue, and if they are harassed or assaulted by men, it's their own fault for having tempted them. Women are not supposed to enjoy sex, and they are valued according to their "virtue"—which is why women who enjoy sex are called sluts and vilified in ways that men never have been. This is why people feel justified in calling people "sluts," when really, it's none of anyone's business what a woman chooses to do with her body. And this is why when women are raped, they are generally the ones put on trial. What were you wearing? What were you doing out by yourself? Why were you walking in that area? Had you been drinking? Had you been flirting? Have you ever had sex with him before?—the implication being that if women don't adhere strictly to all the rules society sets for them, they bring these things on themselves. If you dress "immodestly," the natural consequence is that men will give you unwanted attention. There is no expectation formen to choose not to harass a woman who is dressed in a certain way, or that their choice to harass them is in fact a choice. It's just a natural consequence, the way if you toss something in the air, gravity pulls it down.