Many moons ago, in a different arena, I floated the idea that some parts of anti-feminism were kind of like a cult or religion, but they lacked a critical feature: shared cultural ritual. Someone replied back “what makes you think they lack it?” The reply didn’t come with evidence, sadly, but if there really was a shared cultural ritual I’d find it on my own anyway.
Just recently, I saw this float across my social media:
My first thought: who’s Emma Sulkowicz? How is she representative of all of feminism? As it turns out, she’s the student who carried around a mattress as performance art, to raise awareness about sexual assault and protest Columbia university’s handling of her case and sexual assault in general.
This is good activism, but saying Emma Sulkowicz represents all feminists is like saying the Students for Secular Humanism are representative of all secular humanists; one person or group cannot represent an entire community, even if their views on one topic align with nearly everyone else in that community. Had Sulkowicz been doing poor feminist activism, the worst we could say was that Sulkowicz was doing poor activism, not that feminist activism was poor.
My second thought: did she actually say this? In what context was it said? So I immediately punched the phrase into Google and found a lot of MRA and alt-right chatter but nothing from Sulkowicz herself. It was enough to trace the origin of the quote, though: on April 16th, 2015, she gave a talk about her performance as part of a month-long awareness campaign for sexual assault. During her talk, a few people live-Tweeted what Sulkowicz said, including:
It’s more plausible that Sulkowicz was using “science” and “proof” as synonyms for “hard fact.” This makes sense as we’ve demanded hard evidence for a crime that frequently doesn’t leave hard evidence, we’ve demanded proof of resistance under the assumption of automatic consent or “playing hard to get,” we’ve demanded police reports and legal proceedings without recognizing there are good reasons not to and myths that prevent it from happening.
Of course, I wasn’t there and no transcript has been released, so I might be wrong. For that matter, so might be the multitude of MRAs who echoed that tweet as factual. I’m quite sure they don’t care; a feminist said something outrageous, and that proves feminism is outrageous. No context is necessary or even desired, because they might realize it wasn’t as outrageous as they first thought.
What is far more important is that they’re fed a steady stream of these small, context-free soundbites, because that keeps them from sitting down and trying to understand what’s actually being said. The net result is that MRAs and the alt-right spend a lot of time generating and enjoying memes about feminism.
Or, in other words, they have a shared cultural ritual. One which helps signal group membership and strengthen belief in their worldview, by using emotional manipulation to discourage rational thought. It’s all rather religious, no?