Monday, December 6, 2010

Tough Guise, Weak Personality

Tough Guise
After watching a documentary by Jackson Katz, Tough Guise, a week before, I requested to show a video about Linda McMahon's run for senator of Connecticut. I had just watched a couple minutes into the video when I realized that ti was mad by the same director. I hadn't anticipated showing all ten minutes of the segment, especially since I hadn't even watched all of it myself, but no one had cut me off. So we all bared witness to some of the most disturbing footage all class, as female wrestlers were bullied and humiliated in front of thousands of screaming and taunting men and women.

Nearly everyone in the class was extremely dismayed by what was just seen... well, at least all the women and the feminist dudes (that being me). As far as I can recall all the other guys in class said either nothing or were apologetic of the WWE, the that produced this crap. While none of them were saying it was acceptable or no big deal, several of them acted defensively in regards to their past relationship to it as boys. It was an awkward spot to be placed in, I suppose--being surrounded by several dozen upset women and a heinous wake up call what they previously enjoyed as children. A couple of the guys responded by saying that they were no longer interested in the show after they found out it wasn't "real." Professor Everbach laughed, and asked them if they would only enjoy this scene if it were real. They said "no!" and that it was only make believe and that the women participating did so on their own free will and made a lot of money.

Their response was right out of oppression bingo (I don't think one made a card for it yet). One by assuming any occupation someone takes is purely a matter of free will; second, by assuming they didn't pressure these women into doing things they felt uncomfortable with as they were under contract; three, that as long as they get paid, that makes all else acceptable.

Of course, the biggest fallacy of all was the naive divide they established between "fantasy" and "reality." I tried to explain to the best of my tired-ass ability that the distinction between fantasy and reality breaks down if we are to follow the social theorists like Erving Goffin and Judith Butler who argue that gender identity is a performance, not an essence. That is, gender is performed in a society that recognizes certain acts as signs of one's gender, that register as one being of such and such a gender simply by playing the role of that gender. That these wrestlers were "just playing" is oversimplifying the phenomenon. When people watch, whether they recognize this is "just play" or not, either way they are recognizing certain roles as masculine and others as feminine, and are in some way being instructed on how to play these parts.

The fact that there are thousands of real people cheering and sympathizing with Vince MacMahan and others as they "fake" humiliating and sexually assaulting women seems to me that something more than innocent fun is taking place. People are enthralled and impassioned by this narrative and in interviews express no uncertainty about the justness of such acts. The guys in class called these people "stupid," as if only less intelligent people would take enjoyment out of misogyny, as if wealthy and/or educated celebrities would think this behavior too low brow. But really, they would just as likely eat this up in a different context--perhaps in a scene at the theater. What happens is that they end up projecting their own anxieties over their ambiguous relationship with misogyny onto Others, displacing responsibility.

Finally, to take the cake, a couple of them came up after class after they had heard one of the students was crying on the toilet because she had been so upset by what they were saying--feeling that there was no hope for the world--and attempted to purge themselves of fault. Perhaps they wanted to be reassured that they had done nothing wrong, but even so, their attitude was a gain to displace responsibility and guilt by falling back upon the dictum of personal responsibility. AS long as they hadn't said anything wrong, and they didn't think they did, they were off the hook. There was no need to apologize because they were right in their opinion and it had harmed no one. Little did they think of the collective responsibility they shared in being men in a patriarchal culture or by being part of a mosaic of unpleasant opinions.

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