Response to Why Erykah Badu’s Opinion Is Dangerous: A Culture of Victimization

Virgin or whore. Mary or Magdalene. Archetypes we hear all the time. I propose another. Women are sluts, men are pigs, and who fucking cares anyway? We live in this culture of victimization, always pointing to the person or group who’s wronged us. Personal accountability is a thing of the past, a thing of black and white photos and progressive politics. Dominique Matti’s piece on Erykah Badu’s tweet is a perfect example. If anything is “dangerous” it isn’t an innocent tweet about skirt lengths. Danger is crying wolf and detracting images from far more serious issues than some perv checking out your ass.

People love arbitrary labels and boxes. To a degree, it is a cognitive necessity. We process stimulus through categorization. This happens in layers. The deeper the interaction, the more information our mind has on a person, the richer the interaction, the more fine tuned and accurate the categorization. It is categorization nonetheless, and someone who defies categorization creates a great degree of cognitive dissonance. We are all guilty of doing it, regardless of gender, sexual identity, or sexual preference. Likewise, we should give others a bit of latitude, considering we are all guilty of the same sin.

We also label and categorize ourselves. A significant portion of the self is a compilation of the labels and boxes other people have assigned us. Fat. Slut. Retard. Ni**er. Whore. Pig. Broken. Criminal. Loser. Queer. Stupid. Victim. We are not born understanding these labels, others assign them and we accept them. Just how we incorporate external categorization is up to us. In too many cases they become a part of us, eroding our protective outer layers and leaving us vulnerable to every arrow slung. Victim does the most damage. The rhetoric surrounding victimization absolves the so called victim of any sense of personal responsibility, worse, personal worth.

A saying so old it has become a clichéd bumper sticker that most people pay no mind to. It bears some examination though. Negative labels are often designed to make one feel superior at the expense of another. Designed to make a person feel inferior. We put labels on people like a straight jacket and pull those straps tight. It is emotional rape. Psychological rape. Yes. I just said rape two times, okay three. Language, like labels, only has the power you give it. Eleanor’s wisdom is simple. Stop empowering those who would wrap you up in negative labels, take your identity in your own hands.

So how does this relate to Dominique Matti’s piece? In two primary ways. The first is in the way she paints girls and women as victims, prey to predatory men. Helpless. Violated. Her language is the language of an assault victim. Only the assault she repeatedly describes amounts to no more than being ogled. The second way is where the true danger lies. By over dramatizing what is, in all reality, normative behavior, the piece detracts from actual assault. It potentially moves the psychological bar, on both an individual and societal level. In doing so, it would make talking about and recovering from true sexual assault much more difficult.

Normative behavior is not assault. Can that get any clearer? People check each other out. Let me elaborate on that concept since Dominique’s piece seemed unclear on this point. People into girls check out girls. They look at their asses, their legs, their rack. Yep, used rack. First impressions are physical. Conversely, people into guys check out guys. They look at their asses, their chests, their muscles. Both genders and sexual identities objectify each other initially to some degree. To think otherwise is naive. To think it’s assault is insulting.

There is room in the discussion to find the brightline. When does it become a assalt… never. When does it become a problem… that is a different story. The issue at hand was school uniforms, male teachers being distracted by female students. That brings up the age issue. Dominique Matti responds to Badu saying:

I got my first period at 11 years old. That’s child-bearing age for me and many girls. Erykah Badu believes that it’s perfectly natural (biologically speaking, of course) for a grown man to be attracted to an 11-year-old girl. Her opinions are uninformed, uncritical. Her opinions, when met with her platform, are dangerous.

Actually, her opinions are informed. Well, they might be, or they might just be lucky. Who knows? Point is, Foucault did extensive research in the field of arbitrary age lines. They’re just that, completely arbitrary. Just like Dominique’s opinion is extremely Western Eurocetric. Historically, and still in many cultures, women are married and/or having children at ages far below what would be considered legal in the US. Hell, that’s just the US. In the UK, legal for most things is 17. It is different in several countries depending on social mores and convenience. That is part of what makes the idea of simple ogling as abuse so absurd.

That said, teachers are in a position of authority. Held to a higher standard. This is a case of cooperative blame, not a case of abuse. It is no harm no foul. Is Badu right? Yes. There is nothing wrong with expecting girls to wear skirts of a decent length at school, for teachers and for boys, who have to wear slacks. There is also nothing wrong with expecting teachers to behave in accordance with the trust assigned by school administration and parents alike. As I understand, that is how Badu clarified, and why 140 characters is a terrible way to address a complex issue.

But what about this rape culture that Badu is contributing to? Let’s get one thing very straight. Rape is an act of control and violence. It has nothing to with sex or arousal. There is no “rape culture”. What there is, is sexual assault. Don’t get me wrong, sexual assault is a huge problem. I cannot stress how big the problem is. On college campuses, on the workplace, in bars, people seem to have a problem understanding the word no or that anyone in an altered state of awareness cannot rightly give consent. Now that we have that straight, is Badu’s tweet, is the idea that girls are responsible for the presentation of their bodies contributing to the current sexual assault epidemic? Maybe, but if so it is marginal.

This problem has a lot more to do with free porn and media culture than it does with the way bodies are presented. It is a generation trying to find their way in a permissive culture, and not always doing a very good job of it. Everyone should be making smart choices, everyone is equally responsible. This is where it gets real though. Badu’s tweet didn’t feed into the problem nearly as badly as Dominique’s criticism did. Badu just said yea, wear longer skirts, dude’s are checking you out. Dominique’s criticism painted women as victims, helpless. Men have to change their behavior, regardless of the cues they’ve received through nurture and nature. Benevolent sexism is proven, in those countries most known for it’s practice, to harbor the highest rate of sexual abuse and oppression. True equality means both sides taking responsibilities.

We really need true accountability. As much as I hate to sound like certain people that I truly dislike, we are on a slippery slope of political correctness and fear of offense. There is something to be said for not discounting the way anyone processes there unique experience. I am all about speaking your truth. The problem comes when you start to label completely normative behavior as abusive, sexual assault as rape, and rape as… see the problem? Not only do you get desensitization in the media, you get desensitization in the legal system. Victims make terrible witnesses because they don’t know where the constantly shifting line is. Lawmakers often don’t know where the constantly shifting line is. Fewer cases get prosecuted at all. Charges get reduced, sentences get reduced.

I have always liked the saying, your right to hit me ends at the tip of my nose. You can look, but you can’t touch, is equally apropos. Unless you believe in psychic powers, you have to grant that no one can read minds. To feel assaulted by normative non verbal signaling behavior, such admiring another person’s form, honestly speaks to an individuals deeper issues and no one can be expected to know or take that into account. When it goes beyond signaling, we are all responsible for understanding that no means no, silence means no, any kind of intoxication means no. Any violation of informed consent is sexual assault. A tweet by a musician isn’t responsible for the current climate, we all are. Rape is another crime entirely and the sooner that delineation is made, the better for our legal system and for those who have undergone such an experience.

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