In the aftermath of a few well publicized rape/murder cases in New York last year, I wrote that I found it somewhat unsettling how quick some folks were to decry as “victim blaming” or “slut shaming” any suggestion that these ought to serve as tragic reminders that, for instance, there are parts of Manhattan where it’s very dangerous to be alone and extremely drunk at 3 am. A couple of recent blog posts I came across brought this back to mind.
First, at Feministing, Vanessa cites a CDC report in which it’s described as “alarming” that more girls than boys aged 12-14 are engaged in binge drinking, and that the dangers associated with this include “being more likely to be sexually active; more likely to be engaged in sex without protection; more likely to be in physical fighting; more likely to have sexual abuse; more likely to use drugs.” Vanessa writes:
A lot of “sex” dangers in there. I would think most of these are the same “risks” for boys, don’t you think? By saying this finding is “alarming,” are they implying that a 13-year old boy is more capable of handling serious drinking than a 13-year old girl? Just a thought.
I’m not going to go digging for the data, but I would be utterly shocked if these were, in fact, “the same” risks. Most obviously, they’re different insofar as the girls bear the direct physical consequences of potential pregnancy if they have drunk, unprotected sex. And I’m willing to bet just about any amount of money that a drunk 13-year-old boy is not at anything remotely near the same added risk of being a victim of rape or other sexual abuse as a drunk 13-year-old girl. Maybe there are other sorts of risks where the consequences are more grave for young boys, but at any rate, they’re clearly not precisely the same risks.
Closer to the original case, Majikthise recently complained about a series of public service announcements, featuring creepy old stalkers, warning young people about the dangers of making too much personal information publicly available on social networking sites like MySpace. She writes:
Predictably, the Ad Council’s message is “Think before you post, little girl.” Just once I’d like to see a campaign called “Think before you stalk, dude.” Or: “Just because a minor posted this doesn’t give you the right to throw it in her face, creepy adult.”
I’m especially disturbed by the scene where the school coach yells “Loved your tattoo, Sarah” as the main character walks by football practice. In real life, such a coach would be fired for harassment.
Why is the AC making it seem as if clear-cut sexual harassment is a natural “consequence” of posting personal info online?
Now, I’ll agree it would be better to add something reminding young people that they should, in fact, report sexual harassment rather than suffering in silence. But I think the broader critique misses the mark for the same reason I’m not much impressed when conservatives think it’s a fabulous “gotcha” to point out that lefty activists are more likely to protest perceived US misdeeds than the actions of utterly horrible dictatorships. Protesting evil dictatorships is typically a waste of time, because evil dictatorships are notably unresponsive to popular sentiment. Similarly, I think it makes sense for ads like these to focus on reminding people of the risks of disclosure rather than trying to change the behavior of creepy stalkers. Why? Because it seems likely that, for the most part, stalkers are well aware that their actions are creepy and fucked up and wrong. They just don’t care: That’s why they’re stalkers. You don’t see a lot of “just say no to murder” PSAs either. Kids, on the other hand, have ample motivation to avoid drawing the attention of such creeps if they’re reminded of the risks.
Update: Jesus… this isn’t the same thing at all, but from Samhita at Feministing, who seems to have a special gift for drawing bizarre inferences:
According to a post left on Digg, when you search Google for ‘she invented,’ it asks you, did you mean ‘he invented.’ Not shocking I suppose, but no doubt one of the many ways that cultural and social norms get embedded in language. Adding ‘she’ confused the search engine, because it is assumed that an inventor is always he. According to the post and many of Digg’s thoughtful comments from mini-misogynist D&D playing teenagers it must be because women don’t invent things and never have.
Google does not get confused. Google does not make assumptions. Google is not a tool of the patriarchy. Google just compares the relative prevalence of similar search terms, and when the phrase you entered is very close to another that returns about seven million more hits, it spits out a “did you mean?” And do we actually need the collective brains of the blogosphere churning away to divine why it might be that there have historically been many more things invented by (and credited to) men? Is there anyone not a complete imbecile who actually requires a recitation of the “historical, social, racial, economic and gendered reasons” for that disparity?
Update 2: A fair enough point in the comments: This might be a case where rhetoric that’s not inherently objectionable is nevertheless deployed in an unreasonably one-sided way. You much less frequently see that sort of thing when men are victims of violent crimes.