Yes, I’m an unapologetic fan of alliteration. But actually, this is the kind of post – and headline – that just seems to write itself. I popped open my feed reader, and right next to each other in my list of new “Pagan” posts were two fascinating pieces from vastly different viewpoints. vsebastianpage at Pagan+Politics writes about “Witless Witches” who object to the label of a beer (named Witch’s Wit) that shows an image of a woman being burned at the stake. Meanwhile, Echidne of the Snakes covers the writing of an extremely conservative Christian woman who says that women shouldn’t vote.
As far as the Witch’s Wit controversy goes, I was trying to stay out of it, and in fact to poke fun at it with my review of another beer that plays off of Pagan themes over the weekend. I didn’t raise any fuss about the all-too-common stereotypical image of a green-faced, warty witch with a big nose and pointy black hat on the label of the beer I reviewed precisely because I thought it was amusing but irrelevant. (And really, who doesn’t love an awesome hat from time to time?) I’m not getting my panties in a twist over green faces and warts because I think that stereotype is a very small barrier to actual Wiccan acceptance or any other issues I care about. Nobody is getting me confused with a green-faced, warty witch who cackles a lot, or an Orion slave girl, or any other green-skinned critter. In fact, I love making jokes about things like this, precisely because it’s not a danger to me.
And I am normally the first person to agree with vsebastianpage’s call for accurate history and denunciation of “more-victimized-than-thou” syndrome. But. There’s a big but here, and that’s where the second post comes in.
Feminism is something I care about. And I am in danger of being perceived as a woman – because I am, in fact, a woman, and an uppity woman at that, who does things like vote, and cast spells, and leave my house in a skirt that (gasp!) shows off my knees. In other words, I am doing the kinds of things that extremely conservative (and just run-of-the-mill conservative) Christians don’t think I ought to be doing. Moreover, they think I shouldn’t be doing those things in large part because I am a woman. This is what the point of view that Echidne is reporting on is all about: women shouldn’t…well, they just shouldn’t, when you get right down to it. And there are people with that point of view in the States today, plenty of them. Look up Christian Dominionists or Christian Reconstructionists. These are people with seriously dangerous views about women, including, for example, the view that an abused woman can’t divorce her abuser. No, none of these people are trying to burn me at the stake, but they are trying to limit my life, and they and the ideas and policies they support do cause a lot of harm to a lot of women – physically, as well as psychologically.
I think what Cynthia Eller is saying, and what I’m trying to say, is that misogyny is a seamless garment. Apparently harmless examples of denigrating women support misogyny and misogynists. I will laugh at the joke implied by the label of Witch’s Wit when misogyny is no longer dangerous to me. When women aren’t blamed for being rape victims. When women aren’t seen as sex objects for men’s use and pleasure. When I’m not afraid any more, that joke will be funny. Until then, I’m not saying you can’t make that joke, and I’m not saying that it’s a hate crime or that it ought to be illegal. I’m saying that it’s not funny, and that I wouldn’t buy it, and I wouldn’t want my husband to buy it, or my friends, and I’d rather the company picked something else, so that we can get to that imaginary hopeful future just a little bit sooner.
Another example came up recently in a discussion with my husband. He heard about the objections raised to a recent GQ photo shoot with female cast members of Glee in provocative poses that played up the sexy-schoolgirl trope. (I’m deliberately not going to link to the relevant images.) He thought the objections were dumb – after all, none of those actresses is under 18, they can do what they want with their bodies, right? My response was that my objection to those photos isn’t about blame. My objection is that photos like that support photos like others that photographer has taken that are treading a fine line into child porn, or like American Eagle ads that have had many, many issues raised about inappropriate use of photos of partially clothed underaged teens. If photoshoots like the GQ/Glee cover stopped happening, it would put us one step closer to a world where no one makes the circular argument that “men like to look at photos of hot teens because…well, see, it’s always been done, it sells magazines, it’s just what men like, okay?” I’m not trying to make it illegal. I’m not trying to apportion blame. I’m trying to create an alternative. Heck, I’m trying to imagine an alternative, because it doesn’t widely exist yet.
I’m not high from taking offense too many times. I’m not pretending to be a victim of something I’m not, or complaining about other people’s bad morals so that I look better in comparison. I’m saying, calmly, and, I hope, reasonably, that the joke’s not funny, and in fact, it’s the kind of joke that supports a culture that hurts people.