It's not just 'kids being kids' when a boy intentionally injures a girl based on a perceived rejection or slight.
More and more in recent years I've been hearing the charge that feminism has gone mainstream. It seems to have taken over the internet; creators like Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer churn out femmo-inflected cultural offerings at a cracking pace; plus it's got its own backlash movement, the Men's Rights Activists, who are as hilarious as they are threatening. If you live, work and socialise in progressive circles it can seem like feminism is everywhere, a thing we've all agreed is for the best.
But there are two important things this narrative misses, one of which is exemplified by the extraordinary reaction to this video of a boy knocking a girl off a bicycle with a basketball. The scene is pretty straightforward: a tween or teen boy shouts 'Heyyyy ladies' at some girls riding past on their bicycles. One of the girls, clearly not impressed by being shouted at in the street, replies 'f--k you'. In response, the boy throws his basketball at her, causing her to be thrown over the front of her handlebars directly into the ground. It looks painful.
Kid: "Hey Ladies"Girl: "FUCK YOU"(the rest is history)Like my page MrTechnicalDifficultPosted by MrTechnicalDifficult on Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Obviously this boy needs to learn some manners and not violently act out at girls who reject him, right? Not according to Reddit, where many commenters believed the girl had it coming and was equally culpable for swearing at the boy. Not in my Twitter mentions, where half a dozen Logical Argument Bros showed up to defend the boy for the same reason. And not according to the New York Daily News, whose coverage of the incident is headlined with 'Video of rejected boy knocking girl off bike with basketball polarizes the Internet' . A poll at the bottom of the post asks readers to pick a side, as though there's a legitimate controversy over whether it's wrong for men and boys to physically injure women for being rude.
This is the first problem with the 'feminism has gone mainstream' narrative: lots of men still think it's ok to 'smack a bitch up' for getting mouthy. Even at the height of feminism's cultural ascendancy, a sizeable chunk of blokes think women 'have it coming'. There's no excuse for hitting a woman, UNLESS she's being a bit uppity and needs to shut her piehole, am I right fellas?
Importantly for feminists, and everyone who thinks men's violence is a serious problem, this shows that society still hasn't absorbed crucial feminist messages. The guys who cheer on the boy for knocking the girl off her bike have not accepted feminism's argument that gendered violence is a specific phenomenon distinct from violence in general; that the threat of being assaulted by men structures many women's daily experience of the world, and this constitutes an unacceptable infringement of women's dignity and autonomy; and that the phenomenon is underpinned by widespread sexist beliefs and attitudes. They do not understand how this constitutes a systemic expression of power over women that requires an organised response: feminism.
The second problem is that modern mainstream feminism is heavily focused on the lifestyle issues of richer, whiter, more educated women, because we're the ones most likely to be involved in cultural production industries. Having money and racial privilege doesn't free you from the effects of a sexist society, but it sure does cushion the blows. This means structural analyses of patriarchy -- which tend to be either deeply confronting, or 'boring politics stuff' -- are few and far between.
The result is hordes of people who have never been exposed to 101-level feminist basics, and lots of men who think it's just 'kids being kids' when a boy intentionally injures a girl based on a perceived rejection or slight. When feminism is a lifestyle product rather than a radical activist movement, the dissemination of its most valuable insights into society -- the ones that emphasise collective action based on women's membership in a socially defined class -- does not occur.
Instead we get heavily individualised self-help approaches like Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, which actively discourages rich women from making a big fuss about sexism because it might damage their careers. What does this have to say about the ways boys are socialised to feel entitled to women's attention, or how this entitlement manifests as men becoming enraged when women refuse to play their correct role as property? How does this help us identify the social forces at work in a boy punishing a girl for rejecting his advances? How does it help us appreciate the video as a micro-level example of ancient and deep-seated assumptions about gender, power and control?
Answer: it doesn't. This is how we can have widespread media coverage of which celebrities consider themselves feminists, yet still have a quarter of women experiencing intimate partner violence. It's how feminist pop culture can be the flavour of the minute, but one in five young people report believing women often say no to sex when they mean yes.
And it's how we get side-by-side news reports, one suggesting feminism is 'obsolete' due to its success -- and one promoting the idea that knocking a girl off her bike is okay if she told you to f--k off. Feminism isn't obsolete, but we might have to confront the possibility that it's not doing what it says on the tin.