I first saw the image on a flag wielded by a Black Caps supporter on the news yesterday afternoon.
I managed to hide my initial reaction – to recoil in disgust – because my flatmate chuckled at it. But I had to say something.
“That’s not a suitable flag.” I meant to show on the news, but I also meant in general.
“It’s something you pass around between your mates, but it’s not a flag,” she replied.
I agreed, because I couldn’t put into words my discomfort.
I often feel that way. I don’t speak out because I don’t have the right words.
But I’ve now had 20 hours or so to think about it. I read a book; I did some cryptic crossword puzzles. I caught up on some emails, paid my insurance premium online and slept (big Saturday night at my house). The image kept playing on my mind and I still couldn’t decide why I felt so upset by it. Am I just a prude? Do I have no sense of humour? Have I read so many feminist blogs that I can no longer function in the mundane world of sports fans and friendly across-the-ditch rivalry? (Actually, was there ever a time that I understood sports fans?)
You’ve probably seen it. It’s done the rounds on social media. A kiwi and a kangaroo (not even a little bit to scale) depicted in a sexual act. The kiwi is ‘taking’ the kangaroo from behind. Whether it’s supposed to be anal sex or doggie style is of no importance. The inter-species mating doesn’t bother me: I understand the intended implications of the anthropomorphism. I don’t think that sex should be a taboo subject, even on the 6 o’clock news (though I do respond unfavourably to sports news featuring before 6.30, and I am often upset at the sensationalist way sex is used to attract viewers to the “news” items that feature it). So what has me so upset that I am willing to spend a good portion of my Sunday afternoon writing about a silhouette of a couple of stylised animals going at it?
Images like this normalise sexual violence.
I have written before about my decision to eliminate phrases like “fuck that shit” and “screw you” from my vocabulary. Not that I’m much of a cusser anyway, but I occasionally get riled up enough to say such things (when John Key talks; when my students claim they ‘can’t’ do something; when people make jokes about fat people being lazy, greedy or stupid; when girls with leadership skills are described as ‘bossy;’ or when people make rape jokes). When I disagree with something, I feel I should be able to express my oppositional stance without resorting to over-used (read: lazy) sentiments of violence. Given the generally accepted meaning of the word fuck, what are we saying when we say “fuck you?” At the very least, when we uses this phrase, we mean “I don’t value you and I don’t want you (or your opinion) around,” or “I want to intimidate you with socially inappropriate words.” But at the heart of it, we’re saying “I want you to be the subject of sexual assault.” Even when we say “I’m fucked” (maybe because we haven’t studied and the exam is tomorrow), we’re likening our situation to being on the receiving end of violent or unwanted sex.
So I make an effort, when I’m angry, to be careful about the words I choose, because I don’t want to be part of a language shift that normalises sexual violence.
In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t swear much, and I often flinch inwardly when I hear my students, or even other adults swear. I am alarmed at how much a part of our everyday language swear words have become, even though I am all for accepting socially driven changes in language. But that’s not what this is about. I may not welcome the word “lol” with open arms but I’m not going to write pages about how upset it makes me. “Fuck off” and “fuckin A” are terms I would rather not hear, but honestly, I don’t see the point in trying to stop people from saying them in informal situations. “Fuck you” is different, and I will speak up when I hear it.
I feel that the kiwi-kangaroo image is an extension of that. It suggests that the New Zealand Black Caps will screw the Australian cricket team. I can’t imagine many circumstances where the Ozzies would appreciate that, let alone give consent. So it’s rape. And we laugh.
This doesn’t just normalise sexual violence, it normalises joking about sexual violence. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Rape jokes are not okay.
What is it about a picture of our national animal having sex with Australia’s national animal that makes people laugh? This is where the feminism comes in. There’s this socially accepted discourse that says a person who penetrates someone in sexual intercourse is dominant while the person who is penetrated is inferior. This is offensive to me as a woman. I enjoy penetrative sex. That’s NATURAL and BEAUTIFUL and HUMAN! It’s not funny. It doesn’t make me weak or inferior or incapable of playing sports well. Many people: men, women, and people who don’t live within the gender binary enjoy penetrative sex both as the penetrator and the penetrated. Those who choose to penetrate are not all trying to assert their dominance or belittle the person they are having sex with. Those who choose to be penetrated are not lesser, in any way, to those who penetrate them.
This image is repulsive to me because it promotes the idea that sex is a power battle. It suggests the sexual position a person takes is an indicator of that person’s worth. It says “we’ll fuck them, with or without their consent, and that’s funny.” I say it’s not funny.
I say that images like this, and the unthinking acceptance of the social discourse it perpetuates, are the reason sexual violence is not taken seriously by many. How can we laugh at that, then wonder how teenage boys can think it’s okay to threaten to rape girls who insult their pride? We taught them that. It’s time to stop shaking our heads in disbelief and placing blame elsewhere. Yes, there are some psychopaths out there who, due to chemical imbalance or I-don’t-know-what, will commit heinous crimes whether I yell “fuck you” at the loser who’s revving his engine loudly across the street at 3am or not. But there are also many people who are growing up with a skewed sense of what it means to be strong or funny, thanks to the language we all use, and the things we all laugh at. I say we are all responsible for teaching the next generation what respect is.
I also say, if you laughed at it, don’t be offended by what I have written. I’m not saying I think you condone rape. You’ve been conditioned to believe it’s funny, because hey, Australians are pussies who love to take it up the bum, amirite? Instead, think about it. Decide if what I’ve said is something you care about. Maybe you will decide the image is not that bad, and you’ll still share it with your mates, and if it looks like NZ is going to lose today, you’ll say, “We’re buggered.” And if we win, you’ll say, “We gave it to them good.” Maybe that’s okay in your books. But I’m just saying: it’s not okay in mine.