So much outrage, so little time
A few days ago, a 53-year-old resident of an affluent Rhode Island town (but Iâ€™m repeating myself) of Barrington, Alan Sorrentino, wrote a tongue-in-cheek letter to his local newspaper (circulation 5000), decrying the phenomenon of yoga pants. According to Sorrentino, yoga pants have been the worst development in fashion since miniskirts and should not be worn outside a gym and/or by women over 20. Sorrentino happens to be gay, so you could call his unsolicited fashion advice â€œQueer Eye For the Straight Galâ€. You might think his observations funny or pathetic, accurate or off-the-mark, necessary or stupid. And you might leave it at that. Because you are a normal person.
What you might not think of doing is send Sorrentino death threats, or leave expletives-laden messages on his answering machine. Or organise a rally outside his house, with hundreds of women and girls in yoga pants protesting his sexism and misogyny.
Sorrentino told a local radio station that â€œthe letter was meant to be a humorous break from the current political campaign rhetoric and that he doesn’t really have an issue with yoga pants. He says he even owns a pair.â€ He also said that the â€œvicious and intimidatingâ€ campaign against him reminded him of the prejudice he has faced as an openly gay man.
Asked the commentator Jazz Shaw:
Hereâ€™s one question we might want to be asking: is life simply too easy these days? Seriously. How did that many people manage to find time in their schedules to gin up a social media campaign and organize a protest over this guyâ€™s letter to the editor? Is the country really in such great shape that we have nothing else to occupy our waking hours? Donâ€™t you people have jobs? And if not, donâ€™t you need jobs?
Meanwhile at News.com.au the top most-read story yesterday was a long screed by Jenna Martin, â€œfreelance writer, dog lover and author of Driving Under The Influenceâ€ against Facebook censorship. You see, Facebook has taken down a group photo of seven women on a â€œ#girlsnightâ€ posing without their tops, with nipples tastefully covered by photoshopped hearts. Writes Martin:
My friend was outraged, and put the photo back up again soon after, daring the site to take it down while wondering what the hell some moron found so offensive about seven pairs of bare boobs covered in hearts.
Iâ€™m guessing it was for two reasons: Because it was empowering and because it was confronting.
Empowering because these women were owning their bodies and confronting because it didnâ€™t conform to one of two tightly held notions of femininity: Sexual being or maternal figure.
There was of course nothing arbitrary about Facebookâ€™s decision; it has a policy about nudity, regardless how â€œempoweringâ€ the nude or semi-nude people think it is. But of course thatâ€™s, youâ€™ve guessed it, misogynistic:
That same photo could have been a group of shirtless blokes and no one would have batted an eyelid and Facebook wouldnâ€™t have responded, an act that was rash, dumb and highly misogynistic because there is nothing, absolutely nothing, offensive about a group of topless chicks sitting politely for the camera.
What about a group of women â€“ or men â€“ flashing their bums? Or their genitals? Whether in photos posted on social media, or indeed in public places? Because they are owning their bodies and because they find it empowering. Should that in fact be the new legal test for public and semi-public behaviour? â€œExcuse me, mâ€™am, but youâ€™re masturbating in full view of a group of schoolchildren.â€ â€œIâ€™m empowering myself, officer.â€ â€œOh, thatâ€™s alright then. Please carry on, mâ€™am and apologies for the interruption.â€
Or you can ask yourself another question: WTF? Or in Shawâ€™s words, â€œis life simply too easy these days?â€
Seriously, is this it? Have the Social Justice Warriors solved all the world big problems, so they can concentrate on trivia now, or is this an acknowledgement that they canâ€™t solve the real problems so have to pick on something insipid instead?
Whichever it is, the outrage is real, but the targets are easy. If the fruit was hanging any lower it would be a root vegetable. And so the victories are easy too, but this does not stop any of the participants feeling like new millenniumâ€™s Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandelas or Emmeline Pankhursts. â€œHow to be a hero(ine) without getting out of bedâ€. Itâ€™s easy when you pick on a middle-aged gay guy or a social media platform run by committed progressives. And even if for some reason you donâ€™t actually win the battle, there is nothing to worry about, you have managed to very publicly signal your virtue without having to suffer any hardships. Unlike Gandhi you wonâ€™t be thrown into prison, unlike Havel you wonâ€™t lose your livelihood, unlike Hirsi Ali you wonâ€™t have to go into exile. All gain, no pain. Itâ€™s an ideological courtship and mating ritual.
Whatâ€™s really outrageous is that in the world of war and conflict, poverty and hunger, oppression and suffering, sickness and death, so many people are outraged by bullshit. It seems vaguely obscene in a world of Aleppo, Pyongyang or Caraccas. Who needs to fight Putinâ€™s aggression when you can fight microaggression instead? Who needs to worry about world hunger when itâ€™s so much easier to worry about fat-shaming? Mandela must be spinning in his grave.