Trigger warnings for rape, rape apologia, victim-blaming, and general rape-culture fuckery.
This week, two popular Internet publications—The Onion and The Daily Beast–apparently engaged in a competition to see who could publish the most disgusting piece of rape-culture-perpetuating clickbait on the whole entire Internet. It was almost as though TDB saw the steaming pile The Onion excreted on Tuesday (in which they appeared to be competing with their recent Chris Brown piece for some sort of internal fuckwit prize) and thought, “You know, I’ll bet we can get something out by Thursday that gives them a run for their money.”
I’m not linking to either of these pieces, but I will tell you a bit about each and how you can let these pubs know what you think, if you’re so inclined. We’ll start with The Onion’s attempt to point up the tragedy of child rape. Here’s the headline:
Adolescent Girl Reaching Age Where She Starts Exploring Stepfather’s Body
When I saw this, I tweeted something about finding a way to get their attention and make them aware of the damage they’re doing with this type of piece. Predictably (and I predict this will happen here, as well) I almost instantaneously got a reply from a guy who didn’t get what the big deal was. “IT’S SATIRE!” he explained. “Where’s the damage?” he wanted to know.
Many if not most of my readers will not need to read past this headline to understand—if only at a gut level—what the problem is. But here are just a few of the ways I and two fellow feminists attempted to clarify it for him.
The headline is probably the worst thing about this piece, second only to the image choice, which I’ll cover below. It tells a story not of a predator and a potential victim, but of a young girl “coming of age” and getting ready to explore sex with an adult. It practically makes the victim the aggressor, for Christ’s sake. I just can’t believe I have to explain to anyone why this is a problem.
Satire is meant to point up: to sting the people in power—the ones who perpetuate the problem the satire is spotlighting. Satire should sting the perpetrators—not the victims. This is what I call lazy or just plain bad satire: it points in the wrong direction and makes its point at the expense of the people it claims to want to help.
As was the case with the Chris Brown/Rihanna piece they did a few months ago, they made the victim the punchline. I have been a professional writer for 25 years, and I know that there’s always a way to write around a problem. There was a way—there were multiple ways—for The Onion to make the point they wanted to make—that child rape is tragic and sick and all-to-prevalent—without making the victim the joke. Why not write from the POV of a child rapist? Why involve the victim at all? And tell me why in the name of all that is good and holy you would lead with this image?
Seriously? My brain is just a whirlwind of everything that’s wrong with this, from what it does to my insides seeing it in this context, to the fact that there is an actual little girl out there to whom this face belongs. I just can’t even with this shit. FUCK.
And finally, survivors of rape do not benefit from satirical stories that make light of their pain and terror and trauma and abuse.
Again, predictably, we got nowhere. I don’t know how to make it any clearer: This type of piece perpetuates rape culture and hurts the people it purports to help.
You can contact The Onion at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let them know what you think. I personally think they are a) failing at satire, b) whoring for links, c) becoming no better than their hack competitors, d) perpetuating rape culture and violence against women by trivializing same and making victims the punchline.
On to The Daily Beast. When Chelsea Manning announced yesterday that she was a woman, the Internet exploded. I watched as the press flubbed pronouns and terminology left and right, as folks on Twitter corrected one another, got angry, called for calm, asked questions, learned things. Then TDB published a piece of rape apologia that made my hair stand on end, and if I thought the tweets had been flying before, well…it wasn’t long before TDB issued a Twitter fauxpology (and I mean a SEVERELY weak thing of weakness) and posted an editor’s note at the top of the piece pointing out that the original draft had been even worse. Then they quietly began editing out the most outrageous bits, like this:
Indeed, the vast majority of experienced convicts know that “true” rape is not a common occurrence in prison. That doesn’t mean that homosexual sex doesn’t occur—it certainly does. But it’s really not that unusual for a new prisoner to show up on the compound and begin walking around the yard in pants far too tight. Before long they drop the soap in the shower, get a little close to another naked man, and then— simply because they’ve never been able to come to terms with their own sexuality—tell anyone who will listen (but, interestingly enough, they usually never complain to the guards) that they were “raped.” And a week or two later it could happen again, and then again.
Quiet as it’s kept, this is one reason for high recidivism rates. In prison, closeted homosexuals can receive what they desire but are able to maintain to the world they really find such behavior disgusting; in this manner they don’t have to take responsibility for what happened to them.
I can only imagine that the editor had an emergency root canal and this piece somehow slipped by without anyone with the words “fact-check” in their job description laying eyes on it. And if that was the case, removing the piece and issuing a sincere apology for publishing it would probably have meant that by now, we’d just be shaking our heads wondering how such a thing could happen. But removing what they perceived to be the “offending” chunks of the article without making note of the fact is sneaky as hell and this purposeful attempt to rewrite history has stripped TDB of all credibility with many of us. They’ve got a lot of work to do to fix this mess.
Prison Culture has published an article containing contact information for TDB and a list of demands they need to meet in order to start making things right. Please take a moment to let TDB know what you think about their rape apologia and utter lack of journalistic integrity.
And the winner is…The Daily Beast because they’re actually supposed to be journalists and they have failed at that in a major way. But The Onion is a very close second for learning absolutely nothing this year when they’ve had so many opportunities.
Let me know what you think in the comments (but if you’re considering explaining satire to me, please fuck right off).
The Daily Beast has issued an apology acknowledging how wrong they were to publish the piece in question. On the other hand, they have opted to leave the piece up, and have so far not edited the note at the top to include this acknowledgement. I really hope they do, and that they apologize to Chelsea Manning.
- Chelsea Manning, media bias, and cissexism (canada.com)
- Earlier today, The Daily Beast published a rape apologist, homophobic, transphobic article on Chelsea Manning. (jezebel.com)
- The Day The Onion Died (makemeasammich.org)
- Internet Finds Onion Rape & Incest Story Deeply Unfunny (theatlanticwire.com)
PS/Update: Here’s a video by The Onion showing that they do know how to do satire that sheds light on a problem without perpetuating it–instead ridiculing rapists, rape apologists, and rape culture and leaving the victim the hell out of it:
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
[Trigger warning: graphic discussion of domestic violence]
Or at least, one can hope, because these assholes obviously haven’t learned anything. (It’s been dead to me since Quvenzhané.)
Hey, The Onion? Violence against women isn’t funny. It wasn’t funny at the Oscars, and it isn’t funny now. It’s time for you to sit the fuck down and take a time out. Forever.*
Beyond that, I have far too much rage to form words right now. More later.
Full disclosure: One of my exes beat me because we fought and I left a party without him and caught ride home with a passing car that happened to be driven by a man. This particular ex always figured if I could talk to another man–Hell, if I could look at him–I might as well be fucking him. So, you know, I might as well have fucked that guy who gave me a ride home. Fuckhead beat me, cut my face with a paint-scraper (so no one would find me attractive again), poked my eyes with his fingers (I still have scars I can see when the light is right and I look at a blank surface), and told me that when he was done with me he was going to bury me in a field where no one would find me.
Perhaps some of you who think I don’t “get” satire will understand that some things just aren’t funny to some people. And considering HOW FUCKING MANY OF US HAVE BEEN THROUGH THIS (and how many haven’t survived it), I don’t think asking for a little sensitivity is out of order. I don’t think asking the Onion to find a way to poke fun at Chris Brown without making a joke out of domestic violence is too much to ask. I just don’t. Chris Brown deserves whatever shit life throws at him, but I think it’s ok to ask questions about whether a work of satire meant to draw attention to domestic violence might actually be harming the people it seeks to help.
And no matter how many of you come here to tell me I really ought to get mad at something else or someone else or expend my energy elsewhere and stop making feminists look bad, I’m not shutting up. When something strikes me as wrong–when it hits me in the gut like this did–I’m going to talk about it. Write about it. And as so many have said to me here and elsewhere regarding just “not reading” the Onion? If you don’t like what I have to say, you know how to avoid this page.
*Something an acquaintance said today reminded me of the above line, written in a fit of rage, which I didn’t mean literally and have neglected to address before now (3/10). I’m never in favor of shutting anyone up. I do think The Onion needs to examine whether they are actually achieving their goals (I don’t pretend to know what those goals are, but I used to feel they were more aligned with my own). Satire should point up, and too often, The Onion ridicules and trivializes the people it seeks to champion.
Hope Fiending has written something very like what I would have if I’d been able, so off you go to read her piece:
Also, Salon chimes in:
Aaaand here’s an article written from the POV of the three Cleveland, OH women recently freed in which they lay the blame for all of society’s ills squarely at the feet of men. I don’t even know what to say about that except #FUCKTHEONION.
- And the Award for the Most Vile Piece of Crap on the Internet Goes to… (makemeasammich.org)
- Internet Finds Onion Rape & Incest Story Deeply Unfunny (theatlanticwire.com)
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
I want to apologize–for so many things. For myself and for the culture we live in. Because we are failing you and girls like you and we have to do better.
I’ll start by apologizing for myself. I’m sorry for not knowing until now what to say about the way Seth MacFarlane and the Onion treated you on Oscar night. They singled you out for a laugh never thinking of what effect that might have on you. On a night when they should have been celebrating your achievements, they commodified you. They used you in a way that comedians and satirist use lots of people, except that children ought to be exempt. Especially on what is possibly the biggest night of their lives to date, when they’re sitting right there in the room listening attentively. And I was outraged, and I said so, but only in passing. I didn’t feel equipped to deal with the complexity of the racial side of this (if it can even be called a side–maybe it’s the whole thing). I felt as though it wasn’t my place. And I read what other people had to say and I asked questions and I learned. And now I know that my silence was perhaps interpreted by some as acceptance or at the very least, complacency, laziness, and lack of concern. I realize that if you or any young woman of color came to my blog, you would find that I’d dedicated exactly zero time and energy to saying (here, where I talk about things that matter to me) that they treated you badly, that they were wrong, that this is a symptom of so much of what is wrong with us as a society, and that it’s important to understand that race is a big part of the equation because of the way black girls and women have historically been treated–and exploited–in this country.
I’m sorry, Quvenzhané, that I didn’t write about this before now.
Now I want to apologize for the culture that allows this to happen, because I know I have been part of the problem and because I own that each of us (adults) is partly responsible for allowing it to be this way. We raise our girls to believe they are somehow less than boys, and our boys to think that the worst possible thing someone can say to them is that they’re behaving like (or running like, or throwing like, or crying like) a girl. We reward young men for the “conquest” of having sex, and shame young women for being “sluts.” We create and consume media that sets unattainable standards, reinforces harmful gender and racial stereotypes, and perpetuates rape culture. This culture we have created and continue to allow to thrive is what made Seth MacFarlane believe it was acceptable to use you for a laugh. It’s what made some fans claim that our outrage over that and the Onion’s ill-considered attempt at satire are because people like us “have no sense of humor.” It’s the reason hundreds of people retweeted the Onion’s tweet.
I’m sorry, Quvenzhané. I’m sorry we aren’t living in a post-sexist, post-racist society by 2013. I’m sorry they couldn’t just let you have your night in the spotlight and celebrate your talent and your achievements and the fact that you made history. I hope the night was wonderful and that none of this spoiled anything for you.
I learned to pronounce your name partly because I was so angry that people who make their living talking to and about celebrities on television did not take the time before meeting you to do so, but also because I wanted to know how to say it. Now I find myself saying it over and over again: Quvenzhané, Quvenzhané, Quvenzhané…because it sounds like a song. Those people who didn’t bother to learn your name really missed out–they could have done their jobs and had the joy of saying your lovely name out loud.
I can’t wait to see what you do next.
Update 1/12/15: It has been nearly two years and they are still mispronouncing her name.
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
It’s not bad enough that I wake up nearly every day to some white, male member of the GOP making idiotic statements about rape, apparently, because now I have to watch as all my outraged friends react the way I did when I saw the Daily Currant story being shared all over social media today:
Yesterday, when Mourdock made his now-infamous claim that God wants women to give birth to their rapists’ children, I had the feeling Erin Gloria Ryan described in her Jezebel article Rape Fatigue and You: When There’s Just No Anger Left. This article appeared in August, and these assholes still haven’t let up in their assault on logic, reason, and our psyches. As soon as one of them gets slapped down, another one pops up–its like Whack-a-Mole, except not nearly as much fun because this shit they’re spewing isn’t just stupid, ignorant, and wrong–it’s also hurtful. It attempts to minimize rape, the experience of surviving rape, and most certainly the psychological damage that results from rape and the ensuing shitshow that comes with reporting the crime and pressing charges. And when this shit is coming at you day after day, you begin to wonder if it will ever end. You start to count the days in between like days since the last on-the-job injury. In fact, this exists:
Today, however, instead of some GOP asshole getting my blood-pressure up by saying something so ridiculous it ought to be a joke except it’s not funny, The Daily Currant (*the self-described “Global Satirical Newspaper of Record”) ran a story that is so close to the true state of things as to be completely useless as satire. I’ve long felt that the Currant plays their satire too straight; the reason the Onion works is because it’s over-the-top and almost always funny. And I suspect that unlike the Onion, which strives to entertain, TDC enjoys seeing their stories taken as truth and spread all over the Internet. I know they’re digging the traffic spikes. But in a climate like this one, where women and women’s issues are under attack, any attempt to satirize these attacks–especially where rape is involved–had damned well better be a) fucking hilarious, or b) ridiculous enough that no one is going to take it seriously. Sure, lots of people “got it” right off–they were familiar with the publication or thought the claim strained the bounds of believability. But for many it just didn’t seem that far-fetched–because frankly, it’s not, when you compare it to some of the claims actually made by GOP politicians recently.
It didn’t take me long to catch on, but by then I felt the same way I do when I see one of these stories and it’s true. As a friend of mine said, “It’s too close to home.” And every single time someone shares this story, expressing outrage over yet another bullshit statement by an ignorant Republican, I get angry and overwhelmed and depressed all over again.
So, Fuck You, Daily Currant, for making my day–a day when white male GOP assholes were apparently not planning to make any hurtful comments about rape–feel just like any other day.