This post originally appeared at Prismatic Entanglements in February 2015.
[Warning: contains discussion of sexual and domestic violence, gaslighting, and disingenuous infiltration of communities by abusers (macktivists) co-opting the language of consent; mention of intra-community violence.]
Disingenuous, Shallow “Support”
Last week, two articles caught my eye.
First, let’s talk about this:
No More, the NFL’s Domestic Violence Partner, Is a Sham – Diana Moskovitz examines how several brands have decided that the reason why domestic and sexual violence persists is because these issues “don’t have a strong enough brand. So, to help get America talking about these issues, the brands created a brand, and partnered with other brands to promote this brand.” Upon asking their marketing director, Virginia Witt, to estimate how much money No More had raised for non-profits, the answer she received was… well, you can read it yourself at the link, but I think her assessment below says it all:
“Read generously, this is just marketing jargon (“brands … an asset … consumer engagement”) wrapped around an admission that no one has any idea whether or not No More actually does anything tangible for groups fighting domestic violence and sexual assault. Taken at face value, as it probably should be, it suggests that the measure of success for No More isn’t whether it actually directs new funding to, say, hotlines, shelters, and lawyers, but whether those who are already fighting domestic violence use No More branding in their own fundraising operations.
I took the No More pledge on their website. Since then, the only thing I’ve received from them is an email from Randel asking me to please share their advertisement on Facebook.”
Ah, yes. Facebook Activism. Because sharing something on Facebook for others to automatically click “like” without even reading is clearly the most effective way to promote real engagement with anti-violence work, and genuine support to survivors.
The idea that a brand is all that’s needed to get others to care, rather than something that is just there for others to adopt in order to look like they care, is so incredibly vile to me.
Why? Because it’s exactly the sort of thing that makes it easier for abusers to gaslight their victims.
Gaslighting is a tactic of presenting false information with the intent to confuse a person, and convince them that their accurate observations are wrong. Persistent, long-term gaslighting campaigns can really make someone feel like they’re going crazy, and severely cripple their ability to trust their own discernment.
No More’s logo requires absolutely no commitment to actually fighting domestic and sexual violence. Sporting it can make you look more saintly, and probably would make you feel good since it gives you the impression that you’re doing something, but it pretty much means nothing. But looking good—and silencing critics—is all the NFL cares about. This is an intentional marketing strategy meant to keep people just satisfied enough that they won’t dig too deep.
Can we really expect perpetrators—especially those who like football—to just ignore this potential tool for silencing their victims? I think not. I think some will use it to perpetuate. I think they’ll use it to project an image of caring about domestic violence and then turn around and say that what they’re doing can’t be real violence, because a person who “cares” about stopping such violence can’t be a perpetrator of it.
Which brings me to article #2.
This one is titled, What Happens When a Prominent Male Feminist is Accused of Rape? It relates the story of a group of feminists coming together to expose self-proclaimed “male feminist” Hart Noecker. It describes how he co-opted feminist discussion of consent, and used it to gaslight his victims:
Noecker was known to have talked extensively about consent with his victims over Facebook or on first dates, long before laying his hands on them. Asking them about their “likes and dislikes,” Noecker seemed highly knowledgeable about rape culture and the need for enthusiastic consent. Katherine, one of the women who dated him last July, believes that he led these discussions to plant seeds of doubt in his victim’s minds after he deliberately crossed their boundaries.
The article also contextualizes this with other recent “macktivists” who have been exposed.
Once upon a time, I didn’t think that what happened to me “counted” as real sexual abuse (much less that any of it could be qualified for the R-word). Someone came along and told me that it was abusive… and then linked me to an article by Hugo Schwyzer, a prominent male feminist at the time.
And you know what? That article made a lot of sense, and helped me contextualize what happened. It was pretty useful to me at the time.
But the person who wrote it turned out to be a liar, a manipulator, a con artist. He branded himself as a male feminist doing anti-violence work, but masked his own history of perpetrating violence against women. He had a meltdown and admitted this on Twitter a while back, but even this may just be part of an ongoing strategy of presenting himself as “changed” so that he would be allowed back into others’ good graces. Abusers tend to go through a cycle, and I’ve watched Schwyzer follow it since I first became aware of his abusiveness. (Side note: I don’t doubt that it’s true that he has a cluster B personality disorder, especially NPD and ASPD, but that’s no excuse.)
If even the language of affirmative consent can be co-opted by perpetrators in order to gaslight victims, we must be especially careful not to assume we are safe from violence just because a person seems to be part of our enlightened in-group. Learning the language of consent is very different from actually applying the lessons. Words must be proved by action.
This applies to asexuals as well as feminists, by the way. Don’t assume that dating another ace-spectrum person is a way to assure that you will be safe from abuse—even sexual abuse. It’s not… and perpetuating that idea could harm fellow asexuals who are survivors of abuse perpetrated by fellow aces. This doesn’t get discussed, but don’t assume it doesn’t happen just because you haven’t heard of any cases yet. There are good reasons not to talk about violence, and it’s especially fraught when perpetrators are also community members.
If you can stomach it, and especially if you don’t believe what I’m saying could be true, I strongly encourage you to read the whole article.
If I sound paranoid to you, it’s only because I have learned that trust based on an assumption that others must care only because they talk about caring is often misplaced trust. I’m a survivor and I talk to a lot of other survivors; they tend to confide in me. Please understand that if you are lucky enough not to be in that position, you just aren’t that likely to hear about these things. Survivors’ trust must be earned—and as we have seen, liking a post or wearing a ribbon aren’t enough to earn it.