Thursday, December 13, 2018

'Tis the season... which people start complaining about how they aren’t allowed to/are shamed for/tired of hearing about listening to Baby, It’s Cold Outside. 

I get it. I listened to that song growing up too. It’s catchy. It’s part of the canon. It’s part of the culture.

It is, in fact, a creation of that culture. And maybe it hits that nostalgic note for some in which men were men and women were women and the relations between the sexes were seen as simpler. And wouldn’t it just be great to get back to that… Romance, desire, lust even. Enjoyable things for many.
We are still there/here. Because one, things are (and were) never simple. But two, we still are immersed in a culture of sexual coercion and assault. We breathe that culture. We keep it alive. Brett Kavanaugh does not just happen. Brock Turner does not just happen. Sexual traffickers do not just happen (nor do life sentences for their victims who kill their captors). Fraternity presidents who rape women get plea deals and no jail time do not just happen. This is not Bad Apple Syndrome. This is rape culture.

Yes, I am making a connection between Baby, It’s Cold Outside and horrendous acts of violence. Is there a direct line? No. But we don’t live in a society of direct lines. We live in a matrix of power relations and interconnections.

This is sometimes an abstract concept and not everyone gets it (or wants to). Power is complicated. We are all implicated in it. Here is something a little more concrete. Every semester I assign Sexual Coercion Practices Among Undergraduate Male Recreational Athletes, Intercollegiate Athletes, and Non-Athletes. Male athletes—both intercollegiate and recreational—were more likely to engage in sexually coercive behaviors than non-athletes. It was not because of the mere fact that they are athletes—it is because they had high scores on measurements of rape myth acceptance and traditional gender role attitudes. Those things are reinforced in many sports cultures, but they are not only in sports cultures. When rape myth acceptance and traditional gender roles attitudes were controlled for there was no difference between athletes and non-athletes in terms of engagement in sexual coercion. 

In other words: 1. Culture matters and, 2. We learn these things in our social institutions. Entertainment (and sports, and law, and education, and religion) is a social institution through which cultural norms are transferred. Movies do that. Books. Television. And songs.

So listen to the song—or don’t. Listen to the She and Him version in which the “roles are reversed” and call that equality (it’s not #becausepatriarchy). But we cannot dismiss the critique just because it tempers our enjoyment. Our cultural products matter. Our continued use of them matters.