[Trigger warning for sexual violence, rape apologia, and threats. The background and timeline of the Penny Arcade Dickwolves Debacle, which I will be discussing in this post, is here.]
Since yesterday, when Mike/Gabe declared "Okay That's Enough," once he found himself on the receiving end of the same sorts of threats and violent rhetoric I've been getting from his readers for the past six months—from exhortions to kill myself to threatening emails and comments to a coordinated campaign against me and the blog (to which I won't link, but it's easy enough to find if you're so inclined) which explicitly encourages Penny Arcade readers to stalk and rape me—the amount of email I've been getting has actually increased.
That's not a coincidence.
It is also not a coincidence that many of the people who came into this space to shout at me and stupidly accuse me of censorship and harass/threaten me reacted to having their commenting privileges revoked by sockpuppeting to do an end-run around our security in order to keep commenting and/or treated being banned as an invitation to take up the issue with me personally via email.
When I ask a person not to engage in rape apologia in this space, because it is my space and I have not only not consented to host rape apologia here, but have also explicitly and repeatedly deemed it off-limits, and that person continues to engage in rape apologia nonetheless, without regard for my boundaries or personal autonomy, that's not exactly someone who's demonstrating a commitment to the notions of consent, autonomy, and respect.
That's someone who's leveraging the values of a rape culture to violate my boundaries.
That's someone who's acting like a fucking rapist.
That is what is meant when people talk about a rape culture—not, as it is continually misrepresented, a culture in which one can trace a direct line from every rape joke to an actual act of rape, but a culture in which there is endemic hostility to the notions of consent, autonomy, and respect of individual boundaries, privacy, and dignity.
That endemic hostility is absolutely and demonstrably associated with high rates of sexual violence, and it is also inextricably linked with low rates of conviction for crimes of sexual violence, i.e. institutional support for contempt and/or indifference toward consent. Lower conviction rates means more rapists left free to rape, which underscores the importance of challenging apathy toward consent. And every time someone decides to say "Fuck her/him, I don't have to respect her/his clearly delineated boundaries," and it goes unchallenged, that more deeply entrenches the rape culture and its values.
This shit doesn't happen in a void, and contempt for consent breeds more contempt for consent by normalizing it, by making it a thing so ubiquitous that we begin to believe that's just the way things are.
Rape is inevitable. Subway gropers are inevitable. Stalkers are inevitable. Trolls are inevitable.
We believe those things because we don't accept that they are all part of a continuum which starts with a failure to prioritize respect for consent.
And because we continually reinforce that lack of respect for consent with entertainment—films, television shows, music, books, magazines, comics, video games, sports, advertising—that tells people who don't respect consent that it's okay to hold that belief. Some of those people will be rapists. Some of them will just be people who viciously harass ladies who happen to disagree with their male heroes. Some of them will be self-proclaimed Nice Guys who would never do anything like that, because they don't see their own slightly-too-aggressive, slightly-too-insistent, slightly-too-entitled behavior as part of the same continuum, because it's so easy to react to the evidence of one's participation in the rape culture with knee-jerk revulsion.
It's easier to call me a psycho and accuse me of calling them rapists, than it is to self-reflect on how pernicious the rape culture really is and how maddeningly easy it is to perpetuate it, even if you're not sticking part of your body (or whatever) into someone else's body against hir will.
I have done it. I have perpetuated the rape culture. We have all done it. We were born into it, and we were all socialized to have contempt for consent.
The only issue is what we choose to do about that reality.
By all rights, this entire Penny Arcade debacle should be eye-opening for anyone with a baseline capacity for logic. Of course it was always going to go down this way. Of course treating rape a little too flippantly was going to trigger survivors, and of course triggered survivors and their allies who asked for some consideration were going to get attacked, and of course when Mike and Jerry escalated it by mocking anti-rape advocates, those advocates were going be harassed and threatened in an attempt to silence them, and so on and so on until here we are.
It was entirely predictable—and not because, as the jaded cynics of internet battles would have us believe, that's the way the internet works, but because that's the way the rape culture works.
The rape culture is not just about actual and attempted acts of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment, but also about all the other ways in which contempt and/or indifference toward other human beings' consent, autonomy, boundaries, and right to halt any unwanted interaction in their personal spaces are violated.
It's about the all the narratives, attitudes, and behaviors that surround the violation of another person's boundaries and sense of personal safety.
It's about the ways in people are targeted with threats (often including threats of rape) in order to intimidate them into silence, especially around discussions of the rape culture.
The act of rape itself is not just about sexual violence; it is also about hostility toward another human being's consent, autonomy, and boundaries—and you don't have to actually be physically violating another person to show hostility toward hir consent, autonomy, and boundaries. And that is the point of the rape culture.
And that is why people like me object to comics (etc.) that, intentionally or not, provide tacit or explicit approval of hostility for consent, even if it's just by treating rape a little too casually, using it a little too flippantly to make a point—because it always turns out this way.
That's not a coincidence. That's the whole goddamn point.
I could never have made as effective an argument for what was wrong with that Penny Arcade comic as the resulting fallout itself has made.
Imagine that—a bunch of dipshits who find a comic about rape funny have no respect for boundaries or consent.
Many people will feel obliged to make the point that there are lots of people who read the comic and didn't act that way. Indeed so. But what they did do is participate in the tacit approval of the rape culture, which empowers the people who are inclined to troll and make threats and engage in general menace.
It's not good enough to say, "Lots of people can laugh at that without hurting anybody," not when laughing along conveys approval of the rape culture, whose vales are embraced by the people who do hurt other people. They aren't formed and they don't exist in a void—and the only responsible position, if you're not inclined to be their ally, is to have a zero tolerance policy on rape as entertainment.
Otherwise, you're just creating opportunities for Bad Guys to have their fucked-up values reaffirmed and for Nice Guys to communicate silent approval.
There is no neutral in the rape culture.
Recommended Reading: On Dickwolves, Ethics, and Why I'm Not Attending PAX East.
Previously: Rape Is Hilarious, Survivors Are So Sensitive, Quote of the Day, Troll Math and Teaspoons, T-Shirts and Teaspoons and Mythical Creatures, Taking a Brave Stance Against Survivors of Rape, Offended Is the Worst Thing to Be, and An Observation.