Oh for the love of – there’s a news story going around saying that the University of Manchester Student Union “banned” clapping, because it’d disruptive for speakers and can cause issues for students with sensory issues, and told students to instead use “jazz hands” to convey applause, like sign language!
So in other words, the University of Manchester Student Union asked students to applaud, and folks who’ve never chatted with a deaf person or been exposed to a signed language assume jazz hands is just the same as sign language, because it…involves hands?
Ah yes. Because they are so similar. (They are not similar at all.)
I mean, if you want to talk about language constructing the world and Othering, here you go; you couldn’t ask for a better example. Because at best, the media coverage of this SHOULD read “clapping out, clapping in at university – student union encourages silent applause” or somesuch to be accurate, but they went for the evocative and absolutely incorrect, Busby Berkeley frill of “jazz hands” instead. So think about it: what does BBC or ITV or anyone else GAIN from characterizing a move towards a silent applause as “jazz hands” rather than “signed applause” or “silent clapping”? It’s about how we construct worlds – and exclude people. Jazz hands and spirit fingers are punchlines, often literally. So what does that say about the writers’ view of signed languages? (Here’s a hint: nothing good.)
Ableism isn’t always about access, it’s also about environment. Using someone’s native (signed) language as a punchline, delivered while simultaneously deriding the needs of students who can experience sensory overload and the thoughtfulness of students thinking about how to make their spaces more inclusive of multiple needs and languages, is a pretty special level of “hey, you’re being a jackass.”
A long, long time ago, I wrote about BNN’s controversial “decide who gets a kidney” reality TV show “The Great Donor Show.” In the end, rather than being one terminally ill person deciding who got her kidney, it was one actress “highlighting the plight” of the families who desperately needed kidney transplants, in an effort to push forward dialog on transplantation laws in the Netherlands.
I remain skeptical of the efficacy of the concept, and firmly in the “that’s pretty damned tasteless” camp.
Somehow, I think BNN’s latest is going to have a hard time even crawling out of the muck to “damned tasteless”: their new debate show, Raped or Not?
This time around, the TV show is going to air re-enactments of rapes to male and female panelists, and will then ask them if they agree with whatever verdict was reached at trial.
the alleged sex attacks didn’t involve incidents where “someone is dragged into a bush” and attacked, but was instead about “murkier” cases. “Those are personal dramas. One says rape, the other sees it as an innocent sexual encounter. Our show is about that grey area.”
Yeeeaaah about that.
There’s this persistent narrative of the grey area in rape and assault cases, which basically comes down to “she said no, he heard yes.”1 Oh, it might be vaguer – it might be she pushed and struggled and he overcame her, it might be she said no, he didn’t listen, she was afraid and so went along with it, it might be something as simple as “the power differential was so great, she didn’t think she could say no without facing other repercussions.” Repercussions that come about specifically because of the quaint belief in these “grey areas” – that somehow, we should be able to talk about whether an employee really “wanted it” when, say, she was called to her boss’s office and he was there in his boxers.
But what we actually know about that “grey area” is that it’s really only a grey area to the men who will rape – especially those who admit to rape, so long as you don’t say rape. Back in 2009, Thomas MacAulay Millar of the Yes Means Yes! blog, looked at two large-sample surveys of undetected rapists. Turns out, as long as you don’t use the word rape, plenty of guys will admit to it – and these aren’t the oogyboogy stranger rapes, but the “grey area” date rapes and nice guys and friends of friends, raping. “The rapists who are out there are mostly using intoxication, and mostly attacking victims they know.”
And more importantly, especially to this idea of “grey areas,”
the sometimes-floated notion that acquaintance rape is simply a mistake about consent, is wrong. The vast majority of the offenses are being committed by a relatively small group of men, somewhere between 4% and 8% of the population, who do it again … and again … and again. That just doesn’t square with the notion of innocent mistake.
In case you’re holding out hope that Millar’s data is nearly a decade old, well. Let me just dash those hopes on the nearest set of pointy rocks; at the end of 2014, researchers from the University of North Dakota found that 1/3rd of surveyed college men say they’d rape if they could get away with it – again, as long as you don’t call it rape. The minute you use “the r word,” oh no, fully 2/3rds of those men all turn into good boys who would never ever.
What we have known since the 1970s, when people started looking beyond convicted rapists in prison (“the generalists who will steal anything, including sex”) and out into the community, at the specialists who get away with repeated assault: men are open about repeatedly ignoring consent, and although they have raped, these men don’t believe they are the problem.
But they are, and paying homage to the “grey area” and then putting up rape cases – cases that went to court, which is rare no matter what country you’re in – to discussion of “did they get this right?” only does one thing: it underscores, rather than undermines, the notion that there is some grey area of assault, where perception counts and one person can believe they were assaulted and another thinks they had a consensual encounter. The research is clear: that doesn’t exist. All that does is a bunch of men who know they shouldn’t admit to rape, not that they shouldn’t rape.
As many people know, last week Kris Kobach sent a letter to all 50 states asking for a lot of “publicly available” information about registered voters: “full names, addresses, dates of birth, political parties, the last four digits of their social security numbers, a list of the elections they voted in since 2006, information on any felony convictions, information on whether they were registered to vote in other states, their military status, and whether they lived overseas.”
Pence and Kobach both feel that this information all falls under publicly available, but multiple states disagree, saying that they wouldn’t, for example, ever give out any part of someone’s social security number or birth date. (Sensible, really, from a basic identity theft protections standpoint.) For this and a litany of other reasons, 44 of the 50 states have so far said no, nope, not happening, nice try, go away now. (I’m paraphrasing. Then again, Mississippi’s Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from,” so I’m only very slightly paraphrasing.) However, a few states have said yes. And those residents have concerns. Concerns that are leading registered voters to opt for removing themselves as registered voters, essentially de-registering and successfully meeting the administration agenda of voter suppression.
The response to this has been the predictable “don’t play into their hands” approach, encouraging people to not de-register to vote if they live in states handing over any of the requested data to Kobach, and my knee-jerk reaction was to agree and retweet when I saw relevant posts (as well as again being grateful I live in Massachusetts).
But here’s the thing. The commission Kobach is vice-chair of, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, is a federal entity. This means that it’s subject to federal public records requirements, and the data will become public record the minute it’s sent in.2 And that, that changes things. A lot. It’s not just about identity theft; Do you really want your boss to be able to access your political party? How easily do you want someone to know where you live? Do you want someone to look up your voter record before deciding whether to accept you in to graduate school? 2
These might not seem like a huge deal if you’re someone who lives who you are on your sleeve; if you live in a liberal state where diversity of opinion is appreciated (even if people really wish you’d vote differently); if you’ve never been stalked. But for a lot of people, the threat – and that’s what this is, a threat (cuz that’s how voter suppression works) – of people finding out this information that we typically think of as personal and private is the sort of threat that demands action. And I don’t think it’s right, responsible, or compassionate to ignore that kind of panic-fueled motivation.
Instead, I think the right reaction is to listen to the people who feel that this means they have to de-register and remove themselves from registered voter lists. Instead of telling them not to because that’s what Trump & Co want, I think the thing to do is say: yes, absolutely you should protect yourself first and remove yourself from voter rolls. And at the very same time, you need to find out when the last day to legally register to vote is, in your state/county, and then you need to place reminders to yourself to re-register to vote by that day on your phone, computer, physical calendar, and any and everywhere else you’ll see it. Because your obligation, if you pull yourself off these rolls, to yourself, your county, and your country, is to put yourself right back on those voter rolls when it counts: when you can vote. Protecting yourself from the effects of their voter suppression attempts is fine and logical – so long as you don’t literally allow them to suppress your vote.
Normally, when we hear the phrase “stay in your own lane,” it’s a chastisement that you’re swimming outside the waters you know, and you need to get back into your area of expertise and let experts be experts without your meddling. It’s a phrase I’m guilty of using quite a bit when talking about the anti-bioethics sort that inhabit the harder sciences, and it’s in general a bit of a hard push back on folks who want to opine about everything regardless of pesky details like, I dunno, knowledge.
Sometimes, staying in your own lane, your own area of expertise, isn’t one of “getting back” but knowing where to place your priorities and energies. And right now, in the current political climate, resistance fatigue, where people just roll their eyes at another protest, where you feel the weight of the world pressing heavier and harder because every day, hell, every hour, there’s another thing to resist and protest and pitch a fit against…. well, it’s a serious concern. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and you need to conserve your energy as much as you can – and one way to do that is staying in your own areas of expertise.
This doesn’t mean you don’t support everyone else, it just might mean you don’t have to organize every single act of resistance. Let other people stand up and take over, let them write the posts on topics they know best, let them be the speakers whose voices you amplify.
Take at least a day off, every week – yes, it’s hard to put everything away and be out of touch when you know bad shit is happening while your back is turned. Trust that other people will catch it while you’re gone, and be willing to hand off the protests when you come back, refreshed.
Your own self-care is now an act of resistance, especially as they seek to wear us all down. There’s nothing wrong with staying in your own lane, and utilizing the best skills, expertise, and resources you have, to make the most difference – especially if you’re high-fiving the folks in the lane next to you as you do it.