911: Issues of Immediacy

So it’s the day after Memorial Day. Seems like a good time to talk about memorializing things. And, since the 911 Museum opened on May 12th and everyone is talking about it, I’m going to talk about it, too.

Part shrine, part memorial, part capitalist monument.
Part shrine, part memorial, part capitalist monument, part retroactive justification.

So this blog entry is inspired by the BuzzFeed article a lot of you probably saw, The Worst Day of my Life is Now New York’s Hottest Tourist Attraction.

In the article, Steve Kandell talks about his experience walking through the new museum space. And he expresses a lot of the thoughts that I have had about the 9/11 attacks in the 13 years following them. Chief among them is this:

The exhibition starts with one shining, unfathomably terrible morning and winds up as all of our lives, as banal and constant as laundry, bottomless. I can feel the sweat that went into making this not seem tacky, of wanting to show respect, but also wanting to show every last bit of carnage and visceral whomp to justify the $24 price of admission — vulgarity with the noblest intentions.

Vulgarity with the noblest intentions. That basically sums up my feelings about the 911 tragedy nearly 13 years after it occurred. The constant pouring over of tapes and photos and facts and figures until it’s gotten to the point where I just feel so numb to it all. There’s that new phrase “compassion fatigue” that’s used to talk about how we are faced with so much horribleness in the world that it’s hard to care anymore. And I feel something similar to that when it comes to the 911 tragedy. But mixed in there is also this sense of guilt at ever having bought into the syrupy patriotic Kool Aid of 911 hysteria and the whole War On Terror thing. I still get grossed out by the lingering weird brand of patriotism that came out of it which equates fanatical devotion to America with goodness and continues to make me really, really nervous.

The kind of patriotism that leads to Islamaphobic groups like this one protesting the Mosque near Ground Zero.
The kind of patriotism that leads to Islamaphobic groups like this one protesting the Islamic community center near Ground Zero.

Anyway, in his article for Buzz Feed, Steve talks about how he couldn’t find the indignation that had driven him to attend the opening by the time he got the gift shop. And that’s what a lot of the outrage towards the museum has centered around. As if tchotchkes are the problem. The “crass commercialism” that they are objecting to is the way that the museum keeps the lights on. It’s what every museum does, even other museums that are dedicated to tragedies. I can’t bring myself to feel righteously indignant about it, honestly.

Personally, I think the problem is the existence of the museum itself. And I’m not against museums built to memorialize and educate about tragedies. Not in the least. I have been to several Holocaust museums and felt deeply moved by them.

That said, I’m going to deviate here for a moment and talk about an experience that I had in order to contextualize my input into the whole 911 Museum thing. I really felt for Steve, walking alone through the museum amidst the survivors, feeling raw and exposed. I had a similar experience back in 2008 when I went to the Jewish Museum in Berlin.

I couldn’t bring myself to go to a camp. Something about that was just too horrifying, too gory for me. The museum offered me the opportunity to see for myself some of the realities of what happened without having to feel pornographically exposed.

Three axes: The axis of exile, the axis of continuity, and the axis of the Holocaust.
Three axes: The axis of exile, the axis of continuity, and the axis of the Holocaust.

I went there alone. And as I walked down the various axes built into the basement of the new Liebskind building, I felt the cold pressing against me and glanced into portals along the walls that held jeweled earrings of a girl who died in Auschwitz, letters that were never delivered, stuffed animals and glassware and little memories held behind glass from people who should have had full and healthy lives. And I cried. Alone, surrounded by strangers, I couldn’t stop the tears rolling down my cheeks.

Standing on a 45 degree angle, walking through the exile garden requires you to navigate between massive pillars.
Standing on a 45 degree angle, walking through the Exile Garden requires you to navigate between massive pillars.

I found my way into the Exile Garden and tried to understand how it must have felt for German Jews to be pushed from their homes into foreign nations. These people who thought of themselves as Germans. How did they feel?

The Holocaust Tower. No room has ever been this cold and empty.
The Holocaust Tower. No room has ever been this cold and empty.

The Holocaust Tower, with it’s massive, smooth walls, the ladder standing just out of reach, muffled conversations filtering through the walls, and a light that fails to illuminate, far off in the distance… I went in there alone. And I felt a cold and bitter isolation as I was sealed off with the silent slamming of the door behind me.

The whole building is designed to stand as a monument to those who are gone. Liebskind built into the museum “memory voids” that stand for the societal presence of the 6 million Jewish people killed in Europe during the war. It is filled with moments that let one experience the tactile sensation of a community grappling with loss. And it ends with the old museum, which gives the visitor the opportunity to learn more about Jewish history and culture in Europe and gives one a sense of closure.

Menashe Kadishman, Installation Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves), 1997-2001
Menashe Kadishman, Installation Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves), 1997-2001

The differences between the Jewish Museum and the 911 museum are myriad, but the chief one has to do with the passage of time. There is an immediacy that accompanies the 911 attack that doesn’t apply to the Holocaust. And maybe that’s just a matter of era. There were no cell phones in 1945. No 24 hour news channels. No pundits. As such, the process of grieving and recognizing the need to remember unfolded naturally over several decades. So the families of the people that the Jewish Museum was built for are, for the most part, long dead. And those who weren’t dead when the museum opened in 2001 were far enough removed from the tragedy, I would imagine, to see the museum as a memorial rather than being offended at the opportunism or capitalism of the thing.

So while I could barely handle walking through the Jewish Museum by myself as a non-Jewish person nearly 60 years after the Holocaust, I can’t even begin to imagine how Steve must have felt, walking through a building that likely holds his sister’s remains. He clearly doesn’t know how to feel about the space set aside as a sanctuary for families, either:

The presence of the tomb has been a point of contention among families more vocal than ours who want more from a final resting place than the basement of this museum of unnatural history. I don’t know how to feel about the matter because to do so would require any of this making even a bit of sense. It’s dumb, sure, but what could possibly be less dumb? Where is the right place to store pounds of unidentifiable human tissue so that future generations can pay their respects? I would not wish what’s happened to my family on anyone, but I begrudgingly admire its infinite weirdness, still, after all this time.

The issue, as I said, comes down to being one of immediacy. Staring into the gory mouth of the senseless tragedy of 911 can only do so much. And I worry about what effect it really has when we pour over it so deeply and to the exclusion of so much else.

But anyway.

The fact of the matter is that we have been memorializing and witnessing for and trying to get a better look at the tragedy since the day it happened.

A few short weeks after, David Rockwell built a viewing platform for people to come and see what he called a “16 acre burial ground.” It was made of plywood and never intended to be permanent. People covered it with pictures and writing. In a very real way, that platform was a focal point for the grief of families and friends.

Much later in the game, the 911 Memorial was designed by Michael Arad and Peter Walker. Titled “Reflecting Absence,” it is a beautiful testament to the buildings that once stood in that 16 acre space. And to the lives that were lost there.The names of 2,983 victims are inscribed on 76 bronze plates attached to the parapet walls that form the edges of the Memorial pools. I could not imagine a  more fitting tribute.

Reflecting Absence
As seen from above as of 2012. Photo taken from Wikipedia.

Additionally, because we could not leave the space where the buildings once stood vacant, Daniel Libeskind (in a weird coincidence, the same guy that designed the Jewish Museum in Berlin) was selected to design the new World Trade Center buildings. And they are also beautiful. One World Trade Center, the first of the buildings to be finished, is the tallest building in America as well as one of the safest. When finished, they will fill the hole in the skyline elegantly, I think.

So after all that, why build a museum? If you have a place designed specifically for remembrance and you have buildings to show that the terrorists didn’t beat us, then why do you need the museum on top of all that?

Honestly, the creation of the museum itself smacks to me of the same sort of instinct that leads us to slow down alongside car crashes. It gives everyone an opportunity to get a good look at the body inside the twisted metal. And maybe we do that because we want to be reassured that we aren’t dead. And maybe we do it because humans are inherently morbid. I don’t know. But, for me, I can’t stop thinking that it’s gross the way that we have wrapped up the deaths of so many people in a red-white-and-blue bow in this museum. I think the memorializing was already done before this place existed. And I also think that it’s too late for us to really protest. What’s done is done, and it was going to be built anyway, no matter how loudly anyone spoke to the contrary.

How many memorials is too many? That's really my final question.
How many memorials is too many? That’s really my final question.

Go home, Leviticus. You’re drunk.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Martin Luther King said that. It’s been getting a lot of play lately on TV and in articles and such. And it is definitely true. Because it has been a long road getting to a place where 19 states in this country acknowledge non-heterosexual marriage.

And it feels good. I have talked with a lot of my LGBTQ-etc friends in the last two days and we are universally thrilled to see this come to our home state. Some of us are even shocked that it made it this far, against so much opposition.

All in all, I’m thrilled. I’m nowhere near the place in my relationship where we’re picking out flower arrangements, but it’s good to know that, when I get there, I will be able to do everything a heterosexual couple does without any pushback from my state. Without special paperwork and legal documents and bureaucratic fidgy widgyness. It feels really, really good.

What’s interesting, too, is that I just read this article on Think Progress about how Rick Santorum really couldn’t be bothered to say anything about the rolling tide of same sex marriage across the country that culminated here in PA on Tuesday. It’s something I’ve long been aware of, but if the Republican party wants to, like, keep their jobs, they basically need to let go of things like gay marriage. Because a recent Gallup poll puts support for marriage equality at 55%.

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See those numbers, kids? The dark green line represents the right side of history.

 

So all those things are good. And seeing progress is good. And all good things are good.

Except.

A bunch of people have taken this as an opportunity to spill their homophobia out into the internet in a seemingly neverending stream.

Morgan Freeman didn't actually say this, but it's still as true as if he did.
Morgan Freeman didn’t actually say this, but it’s still as true as if he did.

What’s always bugged me about homophobia – aside from the obvious message above – has been how obviously hypocritical all of these people are. They cherry pick the things they want to believe and leave behind the things that would be super hard to do.

Leviticus is that book of the Bible that famously decries men lying with men. “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman,” the book says, “for that is an abomination.” (Lev 18:22)

Leviticus takes all of this stuff very seriously, by the way. If you take any of these laws and break them, the whole chapter is full of recommendations for punishment. Phrases like “and they shall be put to death” or “they shall be stoned by the people” abound. But, moreover, if I see you committing some of these crimes and I don’t stone you, I’m going to hell with you. That’s some heavy judgment “I AM” is handing down, right there. And you’re kinda already fucked if you live in a country that frowns on stoning. Like the U.S.

But anyway, aside from the compulsory stoning of one’s neighbors, if you want to tow the party line about homosexuality as laid down in Leviticus, that’s fine. But if you believe that, you have to believe all that other stuff that goes along with it. And, believe me, there are some gems up in that book. Here’s some of my favorites!

Let’s start at the beginning!

Do you like bacon? Well sucks to be you. Lev 3:17 forbids the eating of fat. So no bacon for you guys! Keep that in mind the next time you’re at the diner.

Lev 5:2 forbids the touching of an unclean animal. Do you have a cat? A dog? Have you patted a dog on the street? Touched a horse’s nose? Frolicked in a field with the myriad fauna that abound there, a-la Cinderella? Cause you are goin’ to hell if you have.

Lev 5:4 forbids “thoughtlessly taking an oath” for either good or bad. Have you ever said “I swear” before anything? Then you realized that swearing that the barista at the coffee shop will pay with her last breath the next time she makes you a latte three times because she’s no good at lattes and can’t get the foam right waaaaaaaaasn’t such a good idea? Too bad. Sin committed. Enjoy eternal damnation.

Lev 10:6 forbids the showing of grief by letting your hair become unkempt or tearing your clothes. The second thing should be pretty easy, but if your dad dies you had better keep that sick do going, or else what happens? You guessed it! Hellfire and damnation.

Lev 10:9 states that you cannot have a fermented beverage whenever you go into the “tent of meeting.” Now, properly this means whenever you go to church. Catholics, I’m looking at you. Of course, for most of us, “tent of meeting” translates to “bar,” which is also kind of a problem…

Lev 11:4-7 says that you cannot eat any animal that doesn’t both chew cud and have a divided hoof. That eliminates all KINDS of yummy foods. No seafood, for sure, cause those tasty bastards don’t even have feet.

Delicious. And, now, a thing of the past.
Delicious. And, now, a thing of the past.

You also can’t touch their dead bodies, according to Lev 11:8, which is really only a problem if you, like me, are morbidly fascinated with poking dead jellyfish or feeling up taxidermied anything. But if you play rugby or football, does the term pigskin ring a bell?

Basically, if you like taxidermy at all or are interested in moving roadkill from in front of your car or taking your kid’s dead lizard out to the trash, you are totally ruined by Lev 11:13-22 and Lev 11:29. Truly, the road to damnation is paved with dead animals.

Did you just kill that spider who has been stalking your bathroom? Better not pick it up. Ooh, you killed it with your hands? Truly, you are a champion hunter. Also, according to Lev 11:41-42, you are going to hell.

A very real fear for devout Leviticus followers...
A very real fear for devout Leviticus followers…

Remember when that bouncing ball of joy came into your life? How excited you were to have him or her baptized and show off your new squalling offspring to the members of your congregation? Well I hope you waited before you went, Lev 12:4-5 states the standard waiting period for a girl is 66 days, with 33 days being the standard wait for a boy. Better get all your sins handled before the little bastard crawls outta ya, because you have to be really good for the one or two months after it’s born.

Do you have your “red wings?” Because Lev 18:19 says you’re going to hell if you do.

Have you ever in your life purchased a crucifix or a little statue of St. Francis? Because idols are bad, says Lev 19:4.

You may think you're being a good Catholic, but this here is a one way ticket to Hell.
You may think you’re being a good Catholic, but this here is a one way ticket to Hell.

Remember all those little white lies? About Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and how many people you’ve really slept with? Well, the guy who wrote Lev 19:11 is watching you. And knows which circle of hell you’re going to end up spending eternity in.

Remember that swearing thing before? Well, have you ever said “I swear to God if you little bastards don’t get your shoes on and get in the car I will smack you so hard!” When they didn’t, did you smack them? Well, if you’re a good parent that doesn’t hit their kids, you just swore falsely on God’s name. And Lev 19:12 says that’s another no-no.

Here’s good news for everyone that hates waiting two weeks for a paycheck! Holding the wages of an employee overnight is a damnable sin! Don’t believe me, check out Lev 19:13. Are you an employer? You might want to go see a priest. Like, every day.

Pretty sure everyone in government is in violation of perverting justice by showing partiality to either the poor or the rich. Lev 19:15 takes a dim view of that kind of thing.

Remember that guy who cut you off two weeks ago? Or your ex wife? Still hate either of those people? Want revenge? Lev 19:18 specifically warns against seeking revenge or bearing grudges. Naughty, naughty!

To be fair, if she had given me that family of dead-eyed corn children, I'd cross her ass out, too.
To be fair, if she had given him that family of dead-eyed children of the corn, God would probably cross her ass out, too.

Turns out, God is, like, super against intermixing things. Lev 19:19 warns against three things:

  1. Cross-breeding animals. So if you love your purebread whateverthefuck dog, beware.
  2. Mixing fabric in clothing. Yea. Try to live in the modern world without mixing cotton and polyester. I dare you.
  3. Planting different seeds in the same field. Do window boxes count as “fields?” Because having a window box with just one kind of flower could be really, really boring.

This one really must stress out the true Bible adherents. Lev 19:23 forbids you from eating fruit from any tree that has been planted for less than four years. I can just see them, pulling out their hair out in the aisles of the Super Walmart.

Devout Walmart Shopper: Excuse me, how old was the tree these apples grew on?
Walmart Employee: … I don’t know.
Devout Walmart Shopper: Well, considering that my eternal souls’ well being is on the line, could you find out? I’m not interested in going to whatever circle of hell is reserved for eating the fruit of immature trees.
Walmart Employee: Right… I’ll get right on that. *goes to stock in another area*

Hey, are you a friend to facial hair in any way? Well if you are, you had better keep it long and sloppy, my friend, because Lev 19:27 specifically forbids trimming your beard. Also, in an act of serious micromanagement, the same verse prohibits you from cutting the sides of your hair.

All of those people with cross tattoos? Yea, I don’t care how much you love The Lord Your God, according to Lev 19:28, he hates tattoos.

Particularly, I would think, if you put it there...
Particularly, I would think, if you put it there…

Lev 19:32 says you had better give up that seat on the bus to the little old lady with her walker. No, we don’t care how much your feet hurt. Is your podiatric discomfort truly the reason you want to spend eternity rubbing shoulders with Beelzebub?

This is one of my favorites, because there are so many right wingers who are guilty of it all the time. Lev 19:33-34 states that “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.” So much for immigration law, folks! The world is just one big country, according to Leviticus. 

Have you ever muttered a swear at your parents under your breath? Cursing your mother and father is specifically addressed in Lev 20:9.

We all remember that rule about not working on the Sabbath? That’s Lev 23:3. That must be rough for Christians who work in restaurants. The Sabbath has some good money to be made. Too bad.

Blasphemy is another no-no, which I’m sure is no news to you. This is one of the sins that is outlined as specifically being punishable by stoning by Lev 24:14. I wonder if it’s blasphemy if you only take the Lord’s name in vain during sex? I would hope he would take that as a compliment.

Remember that “eye for an eye” rule? That’s Lev 24:17-22. I wonder how nitpicky that rule really is… like, if I give you a papercut, do you do it back?

This sort of insult would definitely have to be answered.
This sort of insult would definitely have to be answered.

And last, but certainly not least, did you know that you are not allowed to permanently sell off your land? Yea. Lev 25:23. The reasoning? Because all land belongs to God and you can’t sell his shit without permission. Which I guess makes sense. I would get seriously bent out of shape if someone sold my stuff when I wasn’t looking.

All in all, Leviticus as a book makes me think that we are all looking forward to this when we die:

Although, in fairness, I would welcome a Hell that had Rowan Atkinson playing the Devil.

Boys Will be Boys: Masculinity and “Womens Issues”

I recently watched a brilliant TED talk by Jackson Katz on violence against women and how it’s a men’s issue.

mvp
Be an MVP. Hells yea.

Katz is a co-founder of a group called Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP), an organization that works to enlist the help of men in the ongoing battle with domestic violence against women. So, basically, I had already decided that I liked him before I watched the video. When I watched it, though, I liked him even more. He’s this super down-to-earth, everyman-feeling kind of guy, and here he is talking about power and privilege and using his position as a powerful, priviliged man to expose the injustices in the world. Anyway, he encouraged me to write this blog post. I strongly encourage you to take the time to watch it, but if you don’t have the time, let me tell you what I took from it in a few highlights.

[W]hen we hear the word “race,” a lot of people think that means African-American, Latino, Asian-American, Native American, South Asian, Pacific Islander… When [we] hear the word “sexual orientation” [and] think it means gay, lesbian, bisexual… [we] hear the word “gender,” [and] think it means women. In each case, the dominant group doesn’t get paid attention to  This is one of the ways that dominant systems maintain and reproduce themselves… the dominant group is rarely challenged to even think about its dominance, because that’s one of the key characteristics of power and privilege, the ability to go unexamined, lacking introspection, in fact being rendered invisible in large measure in the discourse about issues that are primarily about us. And this is amazing how this works in domestic and sexual violence, how men have been largely erased from so much of the conversation about a subject that is centrally about men.

The power behind that realization is potent. The fact if the matter is that the dominant group in the conversation about domestic violence, sexual assault, and harassment is rarely challenged to think about it’s role.

I’m lucky in that I’m surrounded by awesome male allies as a female in the world today. I can still remember having a beer with my brother a little over two years ago. He leaned across the table and said to me:

“So… rape culture. What’s that like?”

What followed was a moment that I will always remember. He acknowledged his privilege and listened to my experiences as a woman. He didn’t bluster or get offended. He didn’t say things like “not all men are like that” or “well I would never do xyz.” He listened and he internalized and tried to understand.

And I know a bunch of guys like that. Self-described feminists and womens’ allies that rock my world when they engage in this conversation. But the fact of the matter is that victim blaming is a part of the conversation about so-called “women’s issues.” The first thing out of a lot of people’s mouths is a question about – or an accusation of – the woman.

Why was she out so late at night?
Why doesn’t she leave him?
What was she doing dressed like that?
She’s a tease.
She’s a slut.

The man is rarely a part of the conversation.

And I get that, actually. I understand where that comes from. It’s hard to think about what we do about men, just like it’s hard to think about what we do with any perpetrator. Perpetrators are scary because they are not a predictable element in our everyday lives. And violent domestic and sexual perpetrators are especially terrifying because they do their work right in front of our eyes, behind the closed doors of our neighbors and friends. But Katz is asking the right questions when he says, toward the middle of his talk, that:

You know, the perpetrators aren’t these monsters who crawl out of the swamp and come into town and do their nasty business and then retreat into the darkness. That’s a very naive notion, right? Perpetrators are much more normal than that, and everyday than that. So the question is, what are we doing here in our society and in the world? What are the roles of various institutions in helping to produce abusive men? What’s the role of religious belief systems, the sports culture, the pornography culture, the family structure, economics, and how that intersects, and race and ethnicity and how that intersects? How does all this work?

Like this awesome kid, right here.
Like this awesome kid, right here.

It’s absolutely true that perpetrators aren’t alien monsters. They’re somebody’s son. Somebody’s brother. And they are born and raised right alongside men who don’t beat and rape the people around them. And I think that’s what makes dealing with them so difficult and so terrifying. If every abuser were, say, bright purple or something, it would make it easy to avoid them. Just don’t go near that bright purple guy! Easy peasy. But that’s not the case, so the question becomes: What makes those men different?

I believe that Katz is right in his assertion that we have to trace those violent tendencies back to some kind of societal cause. I think it starts with socialization in childhood. Men are socialized to think that they need to be aggressive and big and dominant and powerful in order to be “real men.” I’m sure you’ve heard these lines before.*

Boys don’t cry.
Man up.
What are you, some kinda pussy?
You’re a little bitch.

In just those few examples, we can see some of archetypes that men are being called to fill. Not only are they expected to perform as men by being emotionally closed off and immune to pain and weakness, but those last two “insults” have always spoken to me – and a lot of other feminists. If you insult someone by calling them a pussy or a bitch, what are you really saying? You’re saying three things, and stick with me here:

  1. They’re a woman, or possess female genitalia, for one.
  2. You’re inferring, through that statement, that being female or having female sex organs makes a person inferior.
  3. You are teaching them, through those two correlations, that women are inferior beings.
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Something about the math here seems… off.

It’s not a straight leap, but if you are a boy and you hang out in enough schoolyards with enough other boys, you might come out of it scared of being seen as emotionally or physically weak and female, because those traits are traced back to femininity, and femininity is bad.

Katz asks over and over again in his talk “What’s going on with men?” And if you start back on that playground with that little boy being taught that his “feminine” qualities (and don’t even get me started on gender assignment and heteronormativity) make him inferior, it doesn’t seem too far a leap that the same little boy, once grown into a man, would find it hard to respect the women in his life.

And if that same little-boy-now-man finds himself still experiencing things like emotional and physical weakness, do you think he is likely to express those things? Of course not. Because “being a man” demands that he be a stoic warrior type with no emotional output. And what do you think happens when someone bottles down all of their emotional baggage for years and years out of fear? Will all of those seething emotions just go away? No. Will they come barreling to the surface like a freight train? Yes. And could that barreling stampede of pent up emotion translate into physical and sexual violence? Absolutely yes.

But that is only the tip of the iceberg. And I will get back to the issue of male gender roles in a later blog entry, because I think it’s super important to think about. The scary thing is how big that problem really is. How do you socialize men differently? How do you socialize boys so that they learn at a young age that the types of behavior classed as “feminine” are not shameful? How do you teach them that violence is wrong, particularly when it is enacted against those over which one holds power? Well, Katz has a solution to that.

Now, when it comes to men and male culture, the goal is to get men who are not abusive to challenge men who are. And when I say abusive, I don’t mean just men who are beating women.We’re not just saying a man whose friend is abusing his girlfriend needs to stop the guy at the moment of attack. That’s a naive way of creating a social change. It’s along a continuum, we’re trying to get men to interrupt each other. So, for example, if you’re a guy and you’re in a group of guys playing poker, talking, hanging out, no women present, and another guy says something sexist or degrading or harassing about women, instead of laughing along or pretending you didn’t hear it, we need men to say, ‘Hey, that’s not funny. You know, that could be my sister you’re talking about, and could you joke about something else? Or could you talk about something else?I don’t appreciate that kind of talk.'”

Wow, right? I mean, we can enact all kinds of social programs and educational initiatives in order to get some handle on how these boys turn into abusive adults, but Katz is calling for something much more immense. He wants societal change on an individual level to influence these young men and steer them towards healthy, loving relationships. It sounds both incredibly simple and immensely difficult at the same time.

Katz calls silence in the face of things we find objectionable a “sign of consent and complicity,” and I think he’s right on the money with that. In my previous entry on street harassment I didn’t quite get into talking about solutions for that issue. Mostly because I was ranting and didn’t feel like coming up with constructive thoughts. Because… rant! But the attitudes and actions that lead to domestic violence and sexual assault are very much present in the issue of street harassment.

When I talk about it with people, there are always all kinds of solutions offered to me on how to deal with street harassment and the men who do it. Here’s some examples:

Throw your dog’s poop bag at him!
Yell and curse at him and walk away.
Just ignore it.
Turn around and yell “Come and get it, sugar!”

And, my personal favorite:
Maybe you should just move out of the city if you don’t want to deal with that.

As entertaining and groan-inducing as some of these solutions are, none of them come close to solving the problem of street harassment as a whole. And that’s the goal of talking about these social issues, isn’t it? I mean, if I feel better after one incident, that’s great, but if we can eliminate street harassment as a prevalent big city issue in the U.S…. well, that’s the dream!

And that’s what Katz is talking about when he brings up what he calls the “bystander approach.” An approach that I think works for all forms of rape culture awareness and which I believe is the only surefire way to work the attitudes that contribute to rape culture out of our society. Katz says:

[T]he bystander approach is trying to give people tools to interrupt that process and to speak up and to create a peer culture climate where the abusive behavior will be seen as unacceptable, not just because it’s illegal, but because it’s wrong and unacceptable in the peer culture. And if we can get to the place where men who act out in sexist ways will lose status, young men and boys who act out in sexist and harassing ways towards girls and women, as well as towards other boys and men, will lose status as a result of it, guess what? We’ll see a radical diminution of the abuse.

Best traffic sign ever, right?
Best traffic sign ever, right?

All I could say when he said that was “Yes. Yes. That’s the only way this works.” Because if men are socially rewarded for being big, aggressive, rapey creeps, then they will continue in that pattern. But if they lose status every time they violate the safety of another person – be it with their words or their fists or their sex – then instances of domestic violence and abuse will be dramatically lessened in the general population.

I want to talk a lot more on this blog about men and men’s issues. I thought this was a good place to start, though. And I hope that I gave you all some food for thought.


*If you are interested in learning more about how we socialize American boys, please check out this short preview for the film The Mask You Live In. And be sure to follow the excellent work being done by The Representation Project.

On Street Harassment, Silence, and Social Change

  So, in case you didn’t notice, gentle reader, it’s street harassment season. Every year, when Spring arrives, women emerge from wool coats like butterflies from cocoons. They spread their wings, bare their legs, and gather, brightly colored, in squares and sunlight. But, like a dark cloud threatening on the horizon, these beautiful springtime revelations are […]