Untroll Thursday: UpUpDownDown

Inspired by Megan MacKay, Thursdays are #UnTrollTheInternet Day, when we uplift the positive stuff on the internet to remind ourselves that this amazing global platform we share doesn’t have to be a force for vileness.

I love professional wrestling. I love computer games. I love silly mashups which make you look at people in a whole new light.

So yeah. I’m into UpUpDownDown, the YouTube channel dedicated to the superstars and divas of the WWE taking each other on in pewpew games. Good clean fun brought to you by the wonders of the internet.

Because let’s be honest, there’s nothing as funny as absurdly overmuscled dudes fighting each other through even more absurdly overmuscled computer-generated avatars.



We did a thing!

It was amazing to get so many people out, including a lot of guys. Some people have expressed concern that we played into Roosh’s hands by giving oxygen to his awfulness – but it can’t be good for the sexist douchebag cause to have such a broad, positive rejection of their ideology.

The pet rock adoption agency did a roaring business and raised $399.50 for Wellington Rape Crisis. That’s the equivalent of keeping WRC’s drop-in centre open for two days, or eight social work sessions for one of our clients. You folks are so awesome.

This is Clive, our new slightly-Cthonic pet rock.

Here’s a copy of my speaking notes. I diverged from them at points but that’s speaking notes for you. There is video of the speech but I’m pretending it doesn’t exist.

Tēnā koutou. I want to welcome you all here to the Stand Up for Women meetup, which was organised openly on Facebook and didn’t require a secret password!

Thank you all for coming out on this blustery Wellington night and taking the time out of your long weekend – if you get one – to take a stand on violence and abuse.

I also want to acknowledge that this is Waitangi Day, a day when we should remember and acknowledge one of the founding documents of our country and the ongoing struggle to have te Tiriti o Waitangi properly honoured.

My name’s Stephanie Rodgers and I blog at a little corner of the internet called Boots Theory. I’m also on the governance group of Wellington Rape Crisis.

Rape Crisis is a support centre for survivors of rape and sexual abuse, their families, friends and whānau. Like many other agencies in Wellington and across New Zealand they do incredibly important work supporting people affected by sexual violence, often on shoestring budgets and with no guarantee of government funding.

But they’re not really the answer to sexual violence and abuse. The responsibility for stopping abuse lies with each of us. When we all stand together at an event like this, it sends a message. It draws a line about what is and isn’t acceptable.

But we have to follow this up with the much harder work of getting the message out in our communities and challenging the people who share these harmful attitudes. They aren’t just strangers on the internet: they can be our friends and coworkers and family members.

When we started talking about this event and having people speak to the media, we felt it was really important to have men’s voices out there. Not dominating the conversation or shouting over women, but taking a stand, as men, against sexual violence and sexist attitudes. The reality of living in a patriarchy is that men get heard when women saying the same thing are written off as nags and bitches.

Changing behaviour is a huge process, and men have a really significant role to play in supporting each other to get help, holding each other accountable, and offering support to the people affected by the abuse. That’s as important if not more important than being a righteous dude standing here today.

At Wellington Rape Crisis we see a lot of guys who are supporting survivors. Our agency manager Eleanor told me she gets a lot of calls from men asking how they can support their partner or daughter. That’s another hugely important, practical thing men can do.

A lot of us are angry. It’s reasonable to be angry. But sometimes violence is not the answer to violence. Treatment is more important than punishment. Most sexual abuse is committed by people close to the victim, and often that means the person who hurt them is still going to be in their lives – in their family or community. Many survivors who come to Rape Crisis don’t want to see punishment – they want their abuser to understand the harm they’ve caused and ensure it doesn’t happen again to them or someone else.

Just this week we’ve seen the diplomat who assaulted Tania Billingsley here in Wellington sentenced to home detention. And her support person, the legendary Louise Nicholas, who couldn’t be here tonight, talked about how home detention doesn’t really fix anything – not unless he’s going through rehabilitation. Not unless we address this man’s beliefs about women and sex and relationships.

Speaking of men with terrible beliefs about women: I don’t want to forget the guy who brought us all together. We’re here tonight because of a man named Roosh, who writes books and blog posts about how to coerce and assault women.

His theories do sound like a joke – that rape should be legalised on private property, or that you can tell if a woman’s promiscuous because she’ll have a “slut face”.

But this is serious. The attitudes he promotes are a very dark, but very common, part of our mainstream culture. The men who visit his website and others like it are believers. They’re going out in public and putting his theories into practice – and that inevitably leads to the abuse of women, queer people, trans people, Muslims, Jews, any other group he has targeted.

This isn’t about one guy who has one messed-up idea about whether or not rape is acceptable. This is an ideology. And other men who accept that ideology planned to meet up, here, in Auckland, in Dunedin, and across the world.

But we said no. And we said it loudly, and we’ve said it together, men and women, activists and allies, everyone who is affected by this crap – everyone full stop. Thank you all for being here and being a part of that.

It’s still just a first step.

It’s actually pretty easy to say rape is bad. We all know rape is bad. But to make real progress against sexual assault we have to start with the little things. It’s the jokes about rape, the sexual harassment at work, the dehumanizing way we talk about trans people or sex workers, who are at a massively greater risk of sexual assault. It’s making excuses for your mates when they call women bitches and sluts. It’s talking about date rape or grey rape as though they’re different or less bad than rape. Every little bit builds a culture which excuses and even encourages sexual violence.

Together, we can tear that culture down and make our society safer for everyone, starting here.

Now we’re going to have a few speakers and then kick back with some music. We’ll be hearing from Robert from the White Ribbon campaign, who are looking to get more proactive on these issues. Then Fi McNamara from the Sexual Abuse Prevention Network, Hadassah Grace, and Dan Clemerson-Phillips will wrap everything up.

We want to acknowledge that not everyone is represented in our speaking lineup. We arranged this gathering pretty quickly online and tried to get a broad range of people up here, including trans women and women of colour.

But Roosh and his cronies are the kinds of people who openly talk about filming, identifying and harassing people who stand against them. A lot of people we talked to were concerned about their own safety. That’s the kind of environment these guys deliberately create through organised online harassment and implicit threats of violence. People who have more privilege, especially men, or cis women like me, don’t face the same kinds or levels of difficulty being publicly identified. That’s part of the culture which we need to change, because it shouldn’t just be people like me who get to talk about this stuff.

Our masculinity problem

It’s been frankly uplifting to see positive, active responses from men to the Roosh/Return of Kings international meetups. Special shout-outs go to my buddies @Megapope and @MrDuttonPeabody, who haven’t just “started saying what women have been saying for ages and expected cookies” – they’ve organised.

What happens way too often is that this kind of thing gets pigeonholed as a “women’s issue” or something only ~feminists~ are interested in (probably because we spend all our time looking for trivial things to take offence at). Or, when men do take a lead, it’s to the exclusion of women’s voices, and far too frequently becomes a massive ego trip. Not so here!

When people of all shapes and backgrounds stand together in solidarity against violence, it sends a strong clear message that violence isn’t going to be tolerated in our society. That means men standing with women and Christians standing with Muslims and cis people standing with trans people.

success baby

But … there’s a few less-good responses which often crop up in these discussions, and have done all over the place on this one: the violent (“I’m going to go down there and smash those rapists” or “they’re lucky I wasn’t around to see that”) and the sneering (“LOL they must not be very good-looking if they want to rape people!”)

Guys – because it’s usually guys – I want to say this as gently as possible, but it’s going to be difficult for you to hear. You have identified the enemy and decided to oppose him. Great. But you’re also playing right into his hands.

The Roosh/Men’s Rights/Gamergater philosophy is built around a caricature of masculinity. An idea of manhood which relies on using force and aggression to assert and maintain power. A male identity which is immensely insecure and lashes out violently at any threat to its tenuous power base.

Saying you’re going to respond to violent speech with violent acts only makes people like Roosh feel justified in their belief that all men are inherently violent creatures engaged in a struggle for dominance. There’s a whole school of thought in Men’s Rights philosophy in which the participants actively identify themselves as “betas” who are condemned by society’s “alphas” to be celibate and alone. When your response to them is about proving your point through physical aggression, you’re just proving their point.

Likewise, decrying them as “not real men” or fuckless wonders who “have to rape people because they can’t get laid” does the same thing. It buys into the idea that masculinity is a competition, where the winner – he who is the most real of Real Men – is naturally rewarded with and thus entitled to attention and sexual gratification from women. This idea is the foundation of rape culture.

Just because you’ve re-framed what a “real man” is, ever-so-slightly away from Dutch in Predator and half a step towards (original series) James Tiberius Kirk, doesn’t change the fact that you’re measuring men’s worthiness based on what an “ideal” man looks, sounds and acts like – and that worthiness is directly related to how much pussy he can get.

This is what we should say to these guys: you’re wrong. Women and men aren’t from different planets. Our relationships aren’t founded on trickery and coercion. Sex isn’t a contest. And we don’t have to prove we’re “real” men or “real” women at all. We don’t have to conform to narrow, ridiculous standards that no one can ever truly meet, and we don’t have to force other people to, either.

If you want to do that right now – or rather, tomorrow evening – there are two anti-misogyny events planned in Auckland and Welllington. Don’t come along because you want to smash someone’s head in or because it’ll earn you Feminist Ally Cred. Come along because it’s the right thing to do, to stand together with other people and say “we won’t be that kind of society”.

Untroll Thursday

My favourite YouTube comedian Megan MacKay wants us to #UntrollTheInternet.

I’ve written before about a point she makes, which is that we can take responsibility for the comments we allow to be published on our content. It’s not just about one douchebag commenter and how we feel. It’s about all the other people who have to see abuse or deliberately-triggering language, on our watch.

And there’s another really important point Megan makes: We can disagree. We can have good active discussions. We can talk about dark, horrible things – and we should. But there’s a really clear line between discussion and hurling abuse, or making personal attacks,

Of course that’s something I’m guilty of, and whoever you are, reading this,

And we can uplift positive stuff, if only to remind ourselves that this amazing global platform we share doesn’t have to be a force for vileness. So taking Megan’s lead I’m going to try posting something fun, useful and chill each Thursday.

Let’s start with the Canadian comedian herself, who is side-splittingly funny.

For a grown-up version of the classic Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, may I present Geoguessr, the game which drops you into a Google Streetview location … somewhere … and invites you to figure out where you are.

Chris Hadfield may no longer be orbiting our planet but his videos about science in space are still up.

And my latest favourite internet thing – though delivery fees to the northern suburbs are a bit of a bugger – is Food Ninja, the Wellington online food delivery service you’ve been dreaming about.

Happy untrolling, people.

Happy Thanksgiving

Today (well, tomorrow our time) the United States celebrates Thanksgiving. My first exposure to this holiday was through the movie Addams Family Values, and I think it was pretty comprehensive.

It’s definitely more hilarious when you’ve seen Mercedes McNab as Harmony in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. But only just.

harmony angel oh god