Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

He Who Is Not Against Us

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After the Rose Bowl, where Oregon defeated Florida State, several Oregon players were chanting “No means no” in the cadence of the cheer Florida State uses. You can see a clip of it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jd8HZDdCDWo.

In an article on ESPN, Kate Fagan takes a dim view of this, saying:

In that context, the Oregon players seem to be using rape, and consent, as the fuel for some trash talking against a beaten opponent. In that context, the moment no longer seems like a strong stand by a few socially conscious athletes. In that context, the chant seems tasteless, further trivializing sexual assault, which is actually a very serious problem on college campuses, including at Oregon. In that context, “No means no” is being wielded as a joke, a way to gloat.

I respectfully disagree that the chant trivializes sexual assault. And I should also note that the Florida State player in question was never charged, which is why his name does not appear here.

I do agree that it is a way to gloat. But think about that for a minute: An opponent is being called out for his reputation for sexually predatory behavior. That reputation is seen as a weakness, something to exploit. Isn’t that a step in the right direction? Isn’t that better than having it seen as something to brag about to his friends?

To get social norms turned around so that everyone knows having a reputation for sexual assault is Not OK, we need more than a few socially conscious athletes. We need the vast middle who are not socially conscious to buy into the not-OK-ness of being known as a sexual predator. It’s a fundamental difference in how one believes social change comes about.

Discussing the reactions to the video, Fagan writes:

Some people felt the athletes were bringing awareness to consent, while others pointed to the spirit in which the players were chanting — the words were not used to offer support and solidarity with victims but rather to mock an opponent.

The Oregon players absolutely were mocking their opponent. But five years ago, would it have even been thinkable that a player could be mocked for his reputation as a sexual predator? The fact that this is seen as something to mock, something to call someone out on, seems like progress to me.

In the stumbling, three-steps-forward-two-steps-back way that humans achieve social progress, this looks like a good thing to me. This looks like a social norm moving away from “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” and toward “this is not OK.”

Fagan complains:

In that context, it is not social activism. Those Oregon players are not contributing to a solution. As nice as it would make us all feel if our beloved football — the sport didn’t have the best 2014, after all — was helping to make positive social change, that’s not what happened here.

But it is, in its own clumsy way, social activism. It may not have motives that Ms. Fagan — or even I — would consider pure. But when you want to create social change, you can’t depend on the people whose motives are pure. They are too much of a minority to move the needle. You need to penetrate into the perceptions of people whose motives are impure and mobilize them to change everyday behaviors. You have to create a coalition of people who don’t necessarily share your motives but still see the issue at hand the way you do.

If all the colonies had to have the right reasons to vote for independence, there would never have been an American Revolution. If all the soldiers who fought for the Union had to believe that slavery was an injustice, we would have had a very different outcome in the Civil War.

The Oregon players, in their eagerness to taunt a defeated opponent, are actually saying the words: No means no. Whatever their motivation, they are buying in. They are accepting the premise that sex without consent is rape. They are publicly spreading the word. This is helpful.

No, rape is not a joke. But if a reputation for committing rape is cause to mock someone, rather than something to just not talk about, I believe that will be a factor in causing men to refrain from forcing themselves on women. For my money, that’s an advance. That’s society getting better.

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Written by srojak

January 5, 2015 at 12:09 am

Posted in Ethics, Politics

Tagged with , ,

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