Saturday, October 22, 2011

Jerkwads of Occupy Wall Street by Alex Snider

There's a lot of Internet discussion on whether sexist, objectifying video and Tumblr Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street is sexist and objectifies the women featured. Most women and feminists and some guys are in agreement that yep, a video which reduces women to pretty faces is misogyny at work.

There are also some 'progressive' dudes that have defended the video calling it "lovely" and "romantic", several have suggested that it's a great way to draw out more people (ie men) to OWS and Steven Greenstreet, the brains behind the video has come out swinging (along with dozens of minions who descended like locusts upon feminist blog comment threads). There is the argument that since it's not just a bunch of boob shots, that the women involved weren't bombshells, that they were allowed to speak it couldn't possibly be sexist. Seriously, the correlation between taste and sexism that so many of the video's champions keep referencing does not exist.

Challenges made by women, feminists and feminist allies have been met with accusations of pettiness, of trying to hijack OWS, of "you're just ugly", of ignoring bigger misogyny.

Greenstreet took to Twitter to harass Jill Filipovic of Feministe, hunting down photos of her in a dress at a fashion show, accusing her of hypocrisy and Tweeting thinly veiled "asking for it" comments. Unsurprisingly his supporters just side-step that little tidbit as it's hard to reconcile a romantic admirer of women with a dickbag who will make harass someone online and make rape jokes*.

It's nothing new that progressives can be just as misogynistic as the other guys, as a commenter, tinfoil hattie, on Feministe put it (attributing it to another commenter on another blog), "men on the right think women are private property, men on the left think women are public property".

They can be just as bad when it comes to rape apology (the whole Julian Assange cluster-fuck, DSK, Polanski, oh my gods so many more examples!); just as quick to belittle women based on appearance/traditional markers of femininity and not substance (Palin, Bachmann, Clinton); just as prone to putting women's rights on the back-burner, if not outright accusing women of making mountains out of mole-hills (elevator-gate); and now once again we have a reminder that they can be super quick to objectify us too!

I wonder what Greenstreet's defenders would say about Zennie Abraham's video from October 1st:

From Abraham's blog post at the San Francisco Chronicle's blog City Brights which accompanied the video:
The Occupy Wall Street Movement has something the Tea Party could never claim to have: hot chicks at its protests quoting Goethe. This woman, photographed by David Shankbone during the protest at Wall Street, looks like a cross between Laura Croft and Norma Jean. It’s possible to see a whole line of fashion spring forward just from this photo – the latest in protest wear.
Additionally she, whoever she is, totally alters the image of the female protestor: gone is the dirty-haired earth girl with hairy arm pits; fashion models take to the streets.
This photo should give Occupy Wall Street detractors pause. Women like her bring out two things: men and the media.
The video is far, far worse. In addition to the staggering objectification (the camera pans all the way down a photograph of a protester, lingering on her crotch), Abraham reduces women's involvement in the protest to bait. Nothing more, there is no indication that he can see the women participating in OWS as anything other than props for the men. Once he moves past the initial, slobbering boobs = men and cameras = legitimization of OWS, he doesn't even mention women again. It's fucking gross. I would seriously challenge anyone, Greenstreet included, to not find this video vile and dripping with misogyny. 

That's where the problem lies, though, isn't it? The media and society at large have conditioned the public to see misogyny only when it's at it's most base, it's most obvious – there is no room for nuance or for subtleties. Lingering crotch shot = sexism. Got it, but sexism is also present in the more 'artfully' done video where the women were allowed to speak (big difference from given a voice). Both videos are celebrating the use of beautiful women as a way to bring out more men to do the real work of getting the message out there. Never mind that the women in question are taking part in the protest themselves.

It's the same issue with explaining/pointing out racism, people see a burning cross in a movie and they know that's racist. It's racism hitting you in the face with a whiffle bat, like, "loooooooooook at meeeeee!". But when it's a pretty White lady helping a Black kid (crushed by Black society, natch) realize his potential, that's still racism, it's just not mean to White people. Racists don't only come in white hoods just like misogynists don't only come under the banner of the religious Right. 
The more privilege one has, the harder it is to see the more insidious kinds of discrimination. And when someone is aware of social justice issues and considers themselves liberal or socialist or progressive, the sting of an accusation of sexism is all that more acute. I can understand the defensiveness up to a point, but then there comes the time when the most important thing to do is to listen. Listen to the voices of the people you are claiming as allies, who you are claiming not to see only as "hot chicks". 

When a progressive guy watched HCoOWS, he might not see the misogyny because he doesn't live with it, he doesn't realize that the reduction of women to their physical appearance is our fucking reality. That our looks are used to discredit, to shame, to belittle, to erase, to harm. Great a guy might find it inspiring and "romantic" but I find it degrading and given our experiences, I think a woman's perspective carries more weight. Just like if I were to discuss racism with an Aboriginal person, I would defer to their experience because they live it; I'm an interloper, I'm there to learn.  

It's uncomfortable to acknowledge that disconnect in experience and world-view. I've gone through it many times, and I hope to keep experiencing it because it's a signal of change and of understanding.  

Strip away bells and whistles, strip away Greenstreet's nice music, strip away Sandra Bullock and you've got the same old tropes of oppression and supremacy. 

*unless they actually rape someone...

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