Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Virtue Signaling

This post discusses sexual harassment and sexual violence.

I just saw this and I thought it'd be a good bounce-off point to talk about an issue I've been thinking about a lot lately.

I mean, obviously you expect alt-right dirtbags to have gross reactions to anything deemed feminist, and this dude is . . . nah, I'm not going to write a blog entry about the specific dude. Pointless. What I am going to write about is the idea that "virtue signaling" is what these guys call stuff like this now, and why it's disgusting that this is one of their buzz phrases.

The first time I heard the phrase "virtue signaling" was actually pretty recently, though I quickly understood it had been in circulation for a while. It was (again) by an antifeminist, anti "SJW" fellow who had written a self-righteous op-ed piece about why he will never go to a certain convention again because the signs on the wall about their harassment policy made him uncomfortable and the con had some female- and marginalized-group-oriented panels. This man believed that announcing the convention's policy on consent and sexual harassment was not an attempt to discourage people who are used to getting away with such behavior, and was not an attempt to make traditionally marginalized people feel safer. He believed it was "virtue signaling"--meaning, the convention trying to show everyone how tolerant they are, because this is a trend now.

Virtue signaling. Let that sink in for a second. Obviously it's a good thing if someone feels safer because you declared your support for them proactively, so if someone is offended by it, it has to be mostly rooted in the idea that it isn't about others' safety. It's about shaming someone else so you can look virtuous, as a way of declaring yourself an oppressed in-group that is perpetually at risk for molestation by people this guy for some reason feels an in-group loyalty to, and he can't look at these public statements as inclusive. He can only see them as designed to keep him out. As if declaring a policy to protect the most vulnerable members of the community is really more about preemptively accusing HIM of committing the behavior, guilting him over it, and making HIM feel not welcome.

He and people like him have certainly never noticed when the marginalized people they're trying to protect were shamed out of these spaces if they tried to protect themselves. Their complaints about sexual harassment, lack of inclusion, and victimization used to be treated like whining--for instance, women who dress in revealing costumes or participate in male-dominated spaces are consistently touched inappropriately or aggressively propositioned, and then they are blamed for receiving the behavior. If they didn't want that, then why did they even come, or why did they even wear that? A space making a point out of saying costumes aren't consent and harassment won't be tolerated makes it more likely that people will complain about problem attendees if they are there. If they aren't--and if you're not one of them--then why does a policy designed to protect someone hurt you?

It doesn't, of course, but when they see something that is explicitly designed to include or help or uplift someone else--especially if it's someone in a group that is historically oppressed or marginalized--they see falseness, manipulation, and shame. They always, always see messages for someone else as primarily about them, because that's the way it is in so many other places in their lives. 

The man who posted the picture of female superheroes on a can of pasta sees feminist virtue-signaling immediately at the sight of cartoon ladies. They can't just be women superheroes, or marketed toward girls, or marketed toward anyone who likes those specific superheroes. I guarantee you that he wouldn't have picked up a can of pasta with the Hulk and Captain America and Iron Man on it and concluded that the company was pushing a male power fantasy. 

Actually, let's look more closely.


Do you see what I see? Because I see Batman, Superman, and the Flash on a can of pasta. How much you wanna bet the merchandisers thought "welp, superhero movies are really big right now and kids like these characters. Why not make one with boys and one with girls? Please everyone!" I'm more surprised there isn't a mixed one represented here. And I'm choking on the idea that this company is being singled out as participating in "feminist virtue signaling." Feminists are generally against the unnecessary gendering of products. A company making canned pasta that's assumed to appeal to boys and to girls separately is . . . let's just say it's not something a feminist does to tell the world about their feminist beliefs.

But here's the thing with these kinds of people. They see ladies and they immediately make it an issue. This is a FEMINIST THING! Gotta COMMENT ON IT and CRITICIZE IT. Because if women are existing in any space and there is no male representation, that is a statement. It is always a statement if a woman is doing something. She's making it womany with her underhanded, manipulative womanyness. If you see Superman, the Flash, and Batman on a can of pasta, and you're this guy, you probably won't even realize it's all men, but if you do, you'll probably nod your head in appreciation of how the superhero world should be--because giving little girls and female comic fans and people of any gender messages about female involvement, power, and worthiness is really just sticking them where they don't belong.

I've come across this SO many times. I've seen this one go around the Interwebs repeatedly: some clueless nozzle points out that women want positive representation but actually don't want equality (which means !!!they want inequality that favors them!!!), and they try to use, say, dangerous or dirty jobs overwhelmingly performed by men as evidence that women aren't fighting to muscle into men's spaces in those cases.

Coal miners! Sanitation workers! Military! Women aren't trying to get into those jobs, now ARE THEY, you feminists??

Yeah, yeah they are actually. And the roadblocks, consistently, aren't their unwillingness to perform the jobs, their failure to make active attempts to perform the jobs, or their physical inability to perform the jobs. The roadblocks. Are. Men. 

Saying they shouldn't be allowed in these jobs, and then mocking them for not being able to do them.

It's like sneering at a woman in a previous century for wanting to buy a house when she wasn't legally allowed to own property without a man leaving it to her in a will, but acting like men making those laws had nothing to do with anything. You continue to contribute to the world pushing women out of those spaces or away from being able to do those things, and then act like their absence from them is simply natural. 

What these fellows see as whiny, unnecessary, fake virtue signaling actually has significance to people who have been hurt and punished by those who do not have those virtues. Yes, the Tron guy is right that a sign on the wall doesn't actively stop a rapist from raping if that rapist is a criminal and is planning to rape someone. But like I said, it serves two purposes: one, it tells creeps that they're not in a playground like one they might have grown accustomed to where you can't prove I touched her, it's her word against mine, besides, look how she's dressed will protect them from getting thrown out and possibly disciplined; and two, it tells more vulnerable people that there is a policy on file for what happens to creeps, acknowledging that they know this happens and will not chalk it up as natural, inevitable con-going experiences for some people. Rules being posted and having attention drawn to them is the first step in making sure they're followed; you will obviously still have people breaking the rules, but that is the silliest excuse in the world to suggest that authorities shouldn't advertise them. 

And claiming that posted rules hurt people by implying they will commit these crimes, or that they create a hostile atmosphere for people who feel they're being lumped in with the creeps, is honestly pretty disingenuous. We don't think of your demographic as collectively responsible for all the bad things individuals within it do, so no, we are not shaming straight white men as an automatic consequence of declaring support for people who are marginalized for their orientation, race, or gender. Is it just too hard to believe that we haven't been assuming you're one of them because of what you look like?

Is it that hard to believe because you can't imagine not doing it to us?

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