Feminism: Stuff I Don't Want To Talk About

[Content Note: Rape, Animal Cruelty, Dark Humor, Ableism]

Dear Readers, may I walk you through my evening tonight? I hope you'll allow me that self-indulgence, since I hope you find my every thought, word, and deed as endlessly fascinating as I apparently do. It's a lovely November evening as I write this and I cordially asked Husband if he wouldn't mind walking with me around the school jogging path by our house. Because Husband is the nicest person I know, he immediately said 'yes' and away we went. This is a near-exact transcript of our conversation at one point in the evening.

Ana: I love this walking path, but I wish they would light it better. It's just too dark out here. *upset*

[Triggery conversation ensues about things that many women think about on dark jogging paths and which many men do not think about on dark jogging paths.]

Husband: Um. Can we talk about something else now? I don't like to talk about rape. *sad*

And you know what struck me, Dear Readers? I don't like to talk about rape either!

No! It's true! You'd be forgiven for doubting me, considering that pretty much every post I've written this month deals with rape and almost every post on the site that isn't a review of Crafty McCrafterson's Book of Crafts has a trigger warning on it for rape, and I spend large portions of my day reading feminist blogs that all talk unceasingly about rape, and I'm actually in fact talking about rape this very moment, but even with all that I actually don't like to talk about rape! Huh. So, thanks to this momentary insight, I decided to go home, have a nice homemade pizza, play some computer games, and not think about rape. I felt so content with this resolution.

And then I checked my Twitter account. 

The Twitter veterans among you already know where this is going (as do those of you who have experience with literary foreshadowing). You twitterers (tweeters?) are already saying, "No! Ana! You fool!" But! I am not a johnny-come-lately to the Twitter scene. I may only have 24 followers, but Dear Readers, I have even fewer Followeds. Yes, crafty fox that I am, I really only use Twitter to update my Blogger feed for those of you who don't use an RSS reader for whatever reason. This Twitter isolation approach -- born out of laziness and a deep distrust of 140 character limits -- has served me well.

Until today, when J.A. Konrath blew up my Twitter feed with Internet Drama. This was my first inclination that something was wrong:

Oh dear. Here is what I thought, Dear Reader, if my thoughts were as witty and alliterative as I'd dearly like them to be: An author I like has apparently been criticized for a rape metaphor and has decided that the best way to respond to the criticism is with 50+ tweet-flails full of tweet-fail. (My actual thoughts were less eloquent and also had some swears.)

So now it's time for some background.

Waaaaaaaaaay back in March, Famous Author Barry Eisler made the news for a few days because he announced that traditional publishing wasn't a good fit for him anymore and he was going the self-published route. Famous Author J.A. Konrath then interviewed Barry Eisler in a blog interview that was... well... a little rambly. Who am I to judge? But! In this rather rambly blog interview, we got to witness this exchange:
Joe: YouTube has proven that viewers are okay with having unlimited choices, and happy to surf to find things that interest them.

Barry: Yes! I mean, which of the networks would have broadcast that monkey raping a helpless bullfrog?

Joe: It wasn't rape. It was consensual.

Barry: I don’t know. I don’t think the frog was conscious. I’m not sure it was even alive.

Joe: I--

Barry: After the first five minutes, I mean.

Joe: I'm married. I see this all the time. The frog was conscious. Just not very active.

Barry: Yes, but he couldn’t speak.

Joe: So the frog croaked?

Barry: Aaaargh! I still think about that frog. I feel sorry for him. What happened... it just couldn’t have been in the lexicon of normal frog fears. Maybe he was worried the monkey would eat him. But then... he’s thinking, “Dude, don’t do this! You’re a monkey, I’m a frog, it’s not right, it’s against nature, it’s mmmmmmmpppphhhhh.”

Joe: It's not easy being green. How many people do you think followed that link and then, out of mistrust, never returned to our scintillating conversation?

Barry: Yeah, but the ones who returned will be our readers for life.

Joe: We're probably going to cut this entire section later.

Barry: A tear just rolled silently down my cheek.

Joe: You're twelve years old. I swear.
Included in this exchange was a link to a video. I'm not going to link to the video, but if you follow the link to the interview, you should be able to find it easy enough. I'm not going to link to the video, because it made me cry, and I do not want to accidentally make you cry, Dear Readers.

But if you're unclear from the context of the interview about the content of the video the shortest, least triggering description I can come up with is that the video features a monkey who uses a frog's mouth as a masturbatory aid. And J.A. Konrath quipped that he "see[s] this all the time" because he's married. It's... funny?

I don't really find it funny. The first time I read the interview, I felt a little queasy and sort of pushed past it. And actually, Dear Readers, I read this interview when it was published last spring. And I didn't blog about it! Why not? Well, for one thing, I can't remember that far back but I'm pretty sure I didn't actually have readers then. So there's that. But the biggest reason was that -- and here's a sentence I never thought I'd be writing, back when I was in college -- if I retired to my fainting couch every time a guy on the internet made a joke about rape and explicitly tied it to the context of his marriage, I'd leave the house much less than I already do.

And here's the thing: humor is subjective. I've laughed at a lot of dark stuff! Stuff I probably wouldn't share with you, Dear Reader! (Because there are many good things to take away from the interview above, but the main one is that it is probably not a good idea to publish every little thing that crosses your mind, even if you are a Famous Author.)

And I'll admit that I've laughed at a couple of rape jokes in my day, although now that I say that, I think they were all 8-Bit Theater jokes. But I laughed at them! And I hope that doesn't makes me a bad person! I hope it just means that I'm a complicated person capable of personal fail. And I hope that realization motivates me to edit my words carefully so that I don't make a jackass of myself online by bringing up trigger material in an online interview about self-publishing.

So! There was not a post on this blog about the Very Mature Interview Between Famous Authors because as much as I was Not Amused by LOL VIOLENT ANIMAL IMAGERY and LOL MARITAL SEX IS LIKE THAT TOO, I mentally filed the whole thing under "reasons not to blog an entire conversation without editing, particularly if it's possible that drinking has been involved" and moved on with life.

Which isn't to say I wasn't upset by all this! I really liked J.A. Konrath, if not as an author, then as a motivational speaker for self-publishing. I fully credit Konrath with convincing me to write my book and self-publish it when it's finally finished, and I owe him a debt of gratitude for that. But whereas before this interview, I would have definitely recommended "oh, check out Konrath's blog" to anyone interested in self-publishing, after the interview, I had to remember to add "...as long as you're not triggered by violent animal imagery and comparisons of same to marital sex." Kind of not the sort of thing I want to be typing, you know?

But here is the thing, Dear Reader! Here is why this is news! Here is why my nice, rape-free evening was spoiled! J.A. Konrath has recently released yet another book on his musings over the self-publishing process. And he has chosen to reproduce this interview in full in his book rather than possibly edit out some of the more disturbing bits. And he has decided that of all the titles in the world and all the cover images to choose from, to go with this:

You can't see that? Let me blow up the first page graphic:

It's a picture of a frog (top) and a monkey (bottom), with the title (and a helpful arrow!) saying "Be The Monkey". 

Because if there is any good advice to be wrung from the Very Mature Interview Between Famous Authors, it is not advice about gatekeepers or fixed publishing costs or viral marketing. No, the gold worth highlighting from that excellent interview was that it's better to be the monkey raping the dead frog than the dead frog.

A dead frog who happens -- if I understand Konrath correctly and I really hope that I do not -- to remind him of his wife because it's really funny to imply that marital sex is characterized in any way by death, unconsciousness, or complete lack of enthusiasm because one partner does not want to be having the sex but feels compelled to do so anyway. And this is in no way a case of using sexually charged power metaphors in the name of your book because SHUT UP THAT'S WHY.

So then this happened:

Four posts from Jane.

Seven posts from Konrath.

Four more posts.

Where we came in.

What's the end result of this? Well, first of all, my rape-free evening was ruined. (Thank you, Internet.) Second of all, I unfollowed J.A. Konrath and replaced the follow with Jane. So there's that. And of course I wrote this post to inflict on you all. (Sorry about that.)

Someday I keep meaning to write a "how to respond if someone says something you said or wrote disagreed with them" guide, and maybe today is that day. Here's a first draft:

How To Respond If Someone Says Something You Said Or Wrote Disagreed With Them

1. Do not respond 50 times in 5 hours, and obsessively re-post everyone who leaps your your defense. This is tweet-flail. Do not do this. Respond once, and then let it rest for 24 hours. Your one response should be, "I'm sorry, I don't fully understand why you say that. Would you be willing to elaborate? I'll read what you write and I'll try to consider it with an open mind." You may have to edit this to fit Twitter character limits.

2. Do not compound your fail with new fail, like abelism by calling the other party "insane" or otherwise othering them. This is tweet-fail. Do not do this. Respond politely, and remember that being a jackass on the internet pays great in the short-term, but less so over the long-haul.

3. If the subject in question is rape, do not post elaborate, expansive statements about the evils of rape in an attempt to counteract accusations that you trivialized rape in the past. (Especially do not do this if you trivialized rape by talking about rape in an not-related-to-rape-at-all interview about self-publishing and then self-published that interview under a title taken from the rape discussion portion.) This creates the impression that you think rape is A Rare And Special Kind Of Evil, when it is actually a very common thing that a great many people have to live with. Additionally, anyone accusing you of trivializing rape is already on-board with the idea that Rape Is Bad, so you lecturing them about it is not actually helpful.

4. If the subject in question is rape as used in metaphor, do not post disingenuous statements about where the analogy began and ended in an attempt to counteract accusations that your rape metaphor could be construed to mean offensive things. (Especially do not do this if your rape metaphor was clearly about rape because you used the term 'rape' in your rape metaphor.) This creates the impression that you do not understand that analogies are powerful and slippery things which will plot to destroy you, and additionally that this is why you do not freaking use rape as a metaphor for things like self-publishing.

5. If you have, in fact, equated a frog-being-raped to a woman-to-whom-you-are-married, do not post that you "respect women too much to compare them to frogs". This creates the impression that you do not read your material before you throw it up on Amazon for sale. (Note to Readers: I know this looks like a special-case rule unique to this situation, but this actually applies in an awful lot of cases.)

There's probably more to add to this, but... I think I've thought about rape enough for one night. *sad*


Bayley G said...

I read through a bunch of guy's blog when I was looking for self-publishing resources. The monkey/frog thing has become the central metaphor for basically all his conversations about it. I couldn't find the first interview where it came up, so I was all "....monkey? what?"

Ana Mardoll said...

And now you know! And knowing is half the battle!

I think the most amazing thing is that in the actual conversation, they recognize that they're going to have to remove the conversation. But... they don't. I see this as a very good reminder that just because your tight-knit group of followers thinks you're without fail doesn't mean that you are actually without fail. Sometimes you have to have a Fail Check from external editors.

chris the cynic said...

I don't know how you can cope with having to deal with this as much as you do. I had to leave the "False Accusations" thread while it was going pretty strong because I couldn't take it anymore, for comparison.

I understand that a lot of the time you don't have the same option to not think about it as I do, as when you're on a dark jogging path for example, but when you do have the option to just walk away and instead confront it at length ... I'm pretty sure that that's not something I could do. I am impressed by you.

Ana Mardoll said...

Thank you, Chris. :)

I promise next week's post will be slightly more light-hearted. :D

Kish said...

It occurs to me that if I were to make a Bingo card for "bob and weave after having expressed opinions about rape that you don't want to defend," "By saying there's anything wrong with what I said you're trivializing real victims" would feature prominently on it.

(Elaborating would, unfortunately, make this comment super-triggery.)

depizan said...

What the blazes is his metaphor supposed to be if it isn't a rape metaphor? At least own your own words you asshat! ^%$##^%!!!!

Ana Mardoll said...

@Kish, yes! We must put that on the bingo card. It implies that the complaining party is LESS of an activist against rape than the person who made the joke in the first place.

Steph said...

Twitter seems like a horrible platform to have any kind of discussion on; you can barely say anything, and reading a Twitter page is like reading a chat log where you can only see one person's lines. (Although that might just be ignorance on my part -- probably there's an option in there somewhere that lets you see the original things people are replying to.)

Also, they keep saying 'monkey', but I'm pretty sure that's a chimpanzee.

Darth Ember said...

If it's in your own Twitter feed/account/timeline thingy, you can see all the messages from you and the other person, and you can often click on a tweet to see what it was replying to.

Will Wildman said...

I encountered Konrath's blog at some point, found his advocacy for self-pub fascinating, and wrote his name down to check again at a later date. I am now rather glad I never got around to it.

I try to understand what could be going on in a person's head when they do this sort of thing, the rapid "No, YOU" swatting of comments back at the person who's criticized them. Are they envisioning some kind of epic duel, a sort of Errol Flynn swashbuckling scenario? Are they incapable of seeing their own flail, or do they simply imagine others will be? Do they really think that their frothing zeal will project the image of a clean conscience?

I feel like the story of the emperor's new clothes needs to be rewritten in some way so it's more obvious how it applies to the modern context.

J. Random Scribbler said...

I can probably speak to what's going on in this guy's head (from experience, unfortunately.) This applies to a lot of stuff on the Internet (even more unfortunately.)


PRIMATE BRAIN: Must protect Big-Male status! Beat chest and roar!

CRO-MAGNON BRAIN: I am a Witty Writer, therefore I am Right. Now I just need to find a reason that sounds good, not to mention Witty and Writerly. I wish these people wouldn't question me all the time. Sigh, my life is so hard. (Tweets.)

SELF-DOUBT: (diffidently) Um, maybe they have a point?

CRO-MAGNON BRAIN: No! I cannot budge one inch! If I admit I might be wrong then I'll lose my Witty Writer cred and everybody will laugh! (Tweets more vehemently)

PRIMATE BRAIN: No lose status in front of women!

CRO-MAGNON BRAIN: Aha! I'll accuse my attackers of doing the very thing they accuse me of, but worse! I'm so Witty and Writerly! Go Me!

SELF-DOUBT: You know, we probably never should have said that about the monkey and the frog in the first place. We're sort of looking foolish here. These people might have a point. Maybe it's time to stop digging?

CRO-MAGNON BRAIN: Shut up! Shut up! La la la, I'm tweeting so loudly I can't hear you!

PRIMATE BRAIN: No lose status in front of women!


Thomas Keyton said...

The monkey/frog thing has become the central metaphor for basically all his conversations about it.


Charity Brighton said...

The only thing I don't get is why he made that image the cover of his book. It wouldn't make any sense to anyone who didn't read and remember that one interview, right? It seems like, rather than just being a thoughtless, throwaway line, it was some kind of clever marketing ploy. Except it's not really clever since it's offensive to a lot of people and doesn't really make sense to anyone who didn't read the interview or watch the video.

BrokenBell said...

At the top of the thread, Bailey G said that he's gone on to use the monkey/frog thing as an recurring image in his writings on the topic, rather than it just being an obscure reference to a single conversation he once had. This is baseless conjecture, since I've never heard of the man nor do I wish to acquaint myself with him further, but I wouldn't be surprised if "be the monkey" has become a catchphrase of sorts over time, thus explaining its place on the cover of his book, and his reflexive barbed defensiveness when people try to suggest that it's not actually a funny and quirky thing to say.

Also, while the mess of misogyny and complete absence of any kind of self-awareness are much bigger issues, is anyone else kind of put off by the way he's so blasé about the frog? I mean, yeah, frogs aren't people, but that doesn't mean they can't suffer...

Charity Brighton said...

Oh, okay then. I guess that makes sense.

I understand the frog was already dead.

Amarie said...

*comes back from the nether and waves at everyone cheerfully*

Now, see…this is why I’m so wary of discussion/arguments-whether online or in real life. There are just *so* so many people that end up arguing simply for the sake of arguing. Or rather, to salvage their egos, Be Right, and/or just troll and put other people down. Eventually, the discussion simply becomes an arena for people to have the last word and what was the original subject/purpose is lost. It’s annoying, infantilizing and most of all, counterproductive because mature, intelligent discussion is for adults. Not whiny children that don’t really have the faculties to argue/discuss politely and intelligently.

Hence why I love Ana’s blog so much. So many polite, mature and intelligent people that stay on topic. Or at least, conduct interesting derails. :)

And I have to wonder…

Is one of the reasons so many people trivialize rape (besides wanting to punish females and/or their sexuality) is because it’s…difficult to believe that it’s a sick power trip? Kind of like how it’s difficult to understand that someone who yells all day, everyday is just someone that feels powerless (or just has a warped interpretation of power)? I suppose what I’m asking is…do they want it more simple, in terms of a frog metaphor? Or do they want it more complicated to be able to truly wrap their minds around something so terrible…?

It’s just so hard for me to understand people who trivialize rape…: /

Anthony Rosa said...

"And I'll admit that I've laughed at a couple of rape jokes in my day, although now that I say that, I think they were all 8-Bit Theater jokes. But I laughed at them! And I hope that doesn't makes me a bad person! I hope it just means that I'm a complicated person capable of personal fail. And I hope that realization motivates me to edit my words carefully so that I don't make a jackass of myself online by bringing up trigger material in an online interview about self-publishing. "

No, it doesn't make you a bad person. In fact, I wouldn't say that laughing at things others dislike, or that you yourself dislike in other circumstances, is a fail at all. After all, circumstances differ. It makes you a complicated person, yes, but we all are, so don't worry about it. And trying not to make an insensitive jackass of yourself online is always a good idea, so I can't do anything but root for that anyway.

Ana Mardoll said...

It’s just so hard for me to understand people who trivialize rape…: /

It may be simpler than that -- I think that some people honestly don't realize that rape is something that happens a lot.

And -- tying in to the Thinks Rape Is A Rare And Special Kind Of Evil problem -- some people don't realize what rape encompasses and entails. If your worldview is that "surprise date sex you might not actually have wanted at the time!" doesn't really hurt anyone once it's over and doesn't have potentially long-lasting psychological effects... then you're not going to be very sensitive to the issue.

In a way, it's kind of a good thing that some people manage to be so untouched by rape..... or at least, it WOULD be a good thing if we could make that the case for EVERYONE. World without rape, ftw. :)

Though trying not to make an insensitive jackass of yourself online is always a good idea

Quoted for truth. :D

Makabit said...

This whole thing is complicated, gross, offensive, and confusing all in one.

Is it just because I'm a humorless feminist that being asked to identify with a monkey using a frog as a sex toy doesn't make me feel powerful, or smart? It makes me feel somewhat slimy and pathetic, which is really not an effective way to market something. Leaving the whole Henny Youngman, 'married women don't like sex' schtick out of it.

I mean, I'm not going to judge the monkey. It probably didn't realize it was being recorded for posterity. But it's not exactly an image that makes me go "Whooo! Winning!"

depizan said...

But it's not exactly an image that makes me go "Whooo! Winning!"

Apparently this slimewad thinks that being the rapist is winning. Only he won't own that that is exactly what his metaphor says. The funny thing is, it doesn't even require the "monkey" to be an actual rapist. The book title translates to "be the person in the relationship using the other person as a sex toy." That is the most charitable interpretation.

If the asshat actually has another interpretation, I want to hear it. The fact that none of his defensive drivel includes one suggests he's just a chicken shit coward who won't own his own asshattery when called on it.

Darth Ember said...

I kind of get how one might want to send back that whole flurry of replies; it's what happens sometimes when you see it as winning the argument.
At times a person can become so caught up in what they believe to be their own wit and devastating comebacks that they forget there are actual human emotions involved beyond "Ha! I sure showed you! Look how clever my replies are!"
When that impulse gets combined with defensiveness about being criticised and a desperate need to shore up one's position, it can get messy. If you're witty, you can't possibly have been wrong.

I've done that before, and I'm still ashamed to remember the times I did. I thought I was so clever, and ignored the actual emotions involved. The difference is, when I was called on it, I took a second look; it's why I became ashamed. Because at that point I realised I'd been genuinely hurtful or insensitive. At which point I apologised profusely.

I've been trying, since then, to be mindful of what I say; I don't want to be like that again, because I know how wrong I was.

I think a lot of people do it at one time or another; the big thing seems to be that when someone actually indicates they were upset by it, it's advisable to take a step back, look at what you've been saying, and ask yourself if you really truly meant it in quite that way.

It's likely I'll mess up again in one way or another; it happens. But I can lessen the likelihood by being careful, and if I do mess up, I'm not gonna stick my fingers in my ears and pretend I didn't. The least I can do is apologise and try not to make that mistake again.

TW for depression, self-blame:

And that's because it is better for me, as well. Not hurting others is how to be decent... but it's also how not to damage my own self-worth further. Some of those mistakes sent me into spirals of self-loathing and misery, in which I told myself I was a horrible, worthless person, and if anything bad happened to me, that would just be karma. I have to try to make my peace with my mistakes and acknowledge that a person can change from how they were when they said wrong or ignorant things. Because guilt is not productive well after the fact, and just makes me feel worse - like I'm being self-indulgent and making it all about me. I've had anxiety attacks, severe ones, thinking about these things.

And I hope this isn't making it all about me; it's just... my perspective. I wouldn't say these things if I'd been involved in one of those mistakes, for example, earlier in the same comment thread as posting it (because that would be making it all about me, when the concern should be for the person or people who've been upset) but I'm seeing this as more of a general discussion on it, so I am putting that opinion in here.

End TW

And holy Wall of Text, Batman! That got long.

Ana Mardoll said...

And holy Wall of Text, Batman! That got long.

But I enjoyed reading it, so I'm glad it did. Thank you. :)

Amarie said...

Hmm…I think I can understand that. Maybe people don’t think rape occurs often because they don’t *want* to think it occurs often. Kind of like how I don’t want to think about how often parents neglect/abandon their babies. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen because no matter how I feel, it *will* happen and it happens in all sorts of ways. But I suppose that my delusion that it’s a rare occurrence helps me to slightly wrap my mind around such a tragic and outrageous concept. So, I suppose the trivialization is something of a…defense mechanism taken to the extreme?

Oh! And a shout-out of gratitude to everyone who helped me/commented on my first blog post. ^ ^

*passes out Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, etc. cookies to everyone* :D

Fluffy_goddess said...

I'm not actually going to be able to read this one, but I wanted to say: thank you, thank you, thank you, a million times, for including animal cruelty in your list of triggers.

Ana Mardoll said...

You're welcome. I remember several of you mentioned that as a trigger, so I've been trying to remember that one as a biggie. :)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Post a Comment