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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Meanwhile, in young adult land

Recently, a teen told Tumblr what she thought about John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars. She wrote that he was a creep whose social media presence is "equivalent to that dad of a kid in your friend group who always volunteers to 'supervise' the pool parties and scoots his lawn chair close to all the girls."
She stops just an eyelash short of calling Green a child molester, but it's pretty obvious what she's saying. Green certainly knew what she was saying and responded on Tumblr that "throwing that kind of accusation around is sick and libelous and most importantly damages the discourse around the actual sexual abuse of children. When you use accusations of pedophilia as a way of insulting people whose work you don't like, you trivialize abuse." He goes on for a bit, but ends his comments by saying "sending hate to people who say this stuff is counter-productive and only continues the outrage cycle, so please don’t abuse anyone. Thanks."
To me, it seems a pretty civil and well-reasoned response. But this writer at the Huffington Post thinks John Green is way out of line for defending himself, as are the other YA authors who responded with kind words about John Green (without, notably, attacking or even directly mentioning the original poster). 
The Huffington Post author said that Green and the other YA authors had "publicly shamed" the original poster for expressing herself. They were "victim blaming" and this was evidence of "rape culture." 
Hold the feminism phone, sunshine. That's some fancy rhetoric you're regurgitating there, but you seem to be a little confused as to what those expressions mean.
I don't want to pick too much on the Huffington Post author, on account of she's a teen herself. But it seems to me like her arguments, and the terms she's throwing around, are part of a disturbing trend that's robbing these terms of their meaning.
"Victim blaming" is when folks treat victims of rape and other sexually abusive behavior as if they've done something to deserve what happened. Accusing women of "asking to be raped" because of the way they're dressed. Claiming it's okay to rape a woman because she was drunk at the time. That sort of thing. But the term doesn't apply in this case - John Green, as far as we know, has never interacted with his accuser in any way, and the author doesn't seem to have any basis for her accusation, other than the fact she thinks he's "creepy." Finding someone creepy does not make you a victim. Seems to me that if there's a victim here, it's John Green, who has been wrongfully if indirectly accused of something there's no evidence he did.
"Shaming" refers to bashing a person for choices that don't hurt anybody and aren't any of the shamers' business. People who say cruel things about plus-sized people are body shaming. People who bash women for expressing their sexuality in a way they find acceptable are slut shaming. But not all criticism is shaming. The original poster chose to verbally attack John Green, and she chose to do it online for all the world to see. John Green held her accountable in what seems to me a civil and appropriate way. It seems to me that Green held her accountable for her choice in the gentlest way possible.

Especially considering if you said those words about my dad, I would punch you in the god damn face. Yes, literally. 

When we stretch terms like the ones the Huff Post author, they lose their meaning, like a rubber band stretched so far that it loses its original shape and size. If we shove things like defending one's self against rape accusations into the "victim blaming" category, then "victim blaming" becomes a useless term. Shaming is a real phenomenon that's causing real harm to real people. But when we lump holding people accountable for their actions in with the concept of "shaming," that term stops being useful or meaningful. We've already run the word "privilege" into the ground from overuse and misuse. These are important concepts and important words and phrases that describe real, powerful, and poisonous behavior. But the more freely we throw them around, the less power they have.

1 comment:

jenny_o said...

Well said. If only Huff Post would link to your post.

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