Disingenuous, Shallow “Support”

[Warning: contains discussion of sexual and domestic violence, gaslighting, and disingenuous infiltration of communities by abusers (macktivists) co-opting the language of consent; mention of intra-community violence.]

Last week, two articles caught my eye.

First, let’s talk about this:

No More, the NFL’s Domestic Violence Partner, Is a Sham – Diana Moskovitz examines how several brands have decided that the reason why domestic and sexual violence persists is because these issues “don’t have a strong enough brand. So, to help get America talking about these issues, the brands created a brand, and partnered with other brands to promote this brand.” Upon asking their marketing director, Virginia Witt, to estimate how much money No More had raised for non-profits, the answer she received was… well, you can read it yourself at the link, but I think her assessment below says it all:

“Read generously, this is just marketing jargon (“brands … an asset … consumer engagement”) wrapped around an admission that no one has any idea whether or not No More actually does anything tangible for groups fighting domestic violence and sexual assault. Taken at face value, as it probably should be, it suggests that the measure of success for No More isn’t whether it actually directs new funding to, say, hotlines, shelters, and lawyers, but whether those who are already fighting domestic violence use No More branding in their own fundraising operations.

I took the No More pledge on their website. Since then, the only thing I’ve received from them is an email from Randel asking me to please share their advertisement on Facebook.”

Ah, yes. Facebook Activism. Because sharing something on Facebook for others to automatically click “like” without even reading is clearly the most effective way to promote real engagement with anti-violence work, and genuine support to survivors.

The idea that a brand is all that’s needed to get others to care, rather than something that is just there for others to adopt in order to look like they care, is so incredibly vile to me.

There are four lights

A Cardassian torturer famously tried to gaslight Captain Picard. His direct approach didn’t work. Successful campaigns are usually more subtle, and sustained for longer.

Why? Because it’s exactly the sort of thing that makes it easier for abusers to gaslight their victims.

Gaslighting is a tactic of presenting false information with the intent to confuse a person, and convince them that their accurate observations are wrong. Persistent, long-term gaslighting campaigns can really make someone feel like they’re going crazy, and severely cripple their ability to trust their own discernment.

No More’s logo requires absolutely no commitment to actually fighting domestic and sexual violence. Sporting it can make you look more saintly, and probably would make you feel good since it gives you the impression that you’re doing something, but it pretty much means nothing. But looking good—and silencing critics—is all the NFL cares about. This is an intentional marketing strategy meant to keep people just satisfied enough that they won’t dig too deep.

Can we really expect perpetrators—especially those who like football—to just ignore this potential tool for silencing their victims? I think not. I think some will use it to perpetuate. I think they’ll use it to project an image of caring about domestic violence and then turn around and say that what they’re doing can’t be real violence, because a person who “cares” about stopping such violence can’t be a perpetrator of it.

Which brings me to article #2.

This one is titled, What Happens When a Prominent Male Feminist is Accused of Rape? It relates the story of a group of feminists coming together to expose self-proclaimed “male feminist” Hart Noecker. It describes how he co-opted feminist discussion of consent, and used it to gaslight his victims:

Noecker was known to have talked extensively about consent with his victims over Facebook or on first dates, long before laying his hands on them. Asking them about their “likes and dislikes,” Noecker seemed highly knowledgeable about rape culture and the need for enthusiastic consent. Katherine, one of the women who dated him last July, believes that he led these discussions to plant seeds of doubt in his victim’s minds after he deliberately crossed their boundaries.

The article also contextualizes this with other recent “macktivists” who have been exposed.

Once upon a time, I didn’t think that what happened to me “counted” as real sexual abuse (much less that any of it could be qualified for the R-word). Someone came along and told me that it was abusive… and then linked me to an article by Hugo Schwyzer, a prominent male feminist at the time.

And you know what? That article made a lot of sense, and helped me contextualize what happened. It was pretty useful to me at the time.

But the person who wrote it turned out to be a liar, a manipulator, a con artist. He branded himself as a male feminist doing anti-violence work, but masked his own history of perpetrating violence against women. He had a meltdown and admitted this on Twitter a while back, but even this may just be part of an ongoing strategy of presenting himself as “changed” so that he would be allowed back into others’ good graces. Abusers tend to go through a cycle, and I’ve watched Schwyzer follow it since I first became aware of his abusiveness. (Side note: I don’t doubt that it’s true that he has a cluster B personality disorder, especially NPD and ASPD, but that’s no excuse.)

If even the language of affirmative consent can be co-opted by perpetrators in order to gaslight victims, we must be especially careful not to assume we are safe from violence just because a person seems to be part of our enlightened in-group. Learning the language of consent is very different from actually applying the lessons. Words must be proved by action.

This applies to asexuals as well as feminists, by the way. Don’t assume that dating another ace-spectrum person is a way to assure that you will be safe from abuse—even sexual abuse. It’s not… and perpetuating that idea could harm fellow asexuals who are survivors of abuse perpetrated by fellow aces. This doesn’t get discussed, but don’t assume it doesn’t happen just because you haven’t heard of any cases yet. There are good reasons not to talk about violence, and it’s especially fraught when perpetrators are also community members.

If you can stomach it, and especially if you don’t believe what I’m saying could be true, I strongly encourage you to read the whole article.

If I sound paranoid to you, it’s only because I have learned that trust based on an assumption that others must care only because they talk about caring is often misplaced trust. I’m a survivor and I talk to a lot of other survivors; they tend to confide in me. Please understand that if you are lucky enough not to be in that position, you just aren’t that likely to hear about these things. Survivors’ trust must be earned—and as we have seen, liking a post or wearing a ribbon aren’t enough to earn it.

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14 thoughts on “Disingenuous, Shallow “Support”

  1. Thank you for mentioning the capacity for asexual partners to commit abuse, both sexual and non-sexual. I’ve been on the receiving end of some push back in the community when I’ve even hinted that an asexual partner could do something abusive to their partner (ace or otherwise).

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  2. There’s a zine that came out recently centered around abuse in QPTs, called Rotten Zuchinnis. Not quite the same as asexuals abusing other aces but it has a high enough overlap that I thought it was worth mentioning. I’ll see if I can dig up a link for it, the editor has another zine about erasure/compulsive silence in the ace community which I follow so I should probably be able to find it

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      • I’m glad you found my “Rotten Zucchinis” zine helpful. (I’d hoped it would be a bit of a start of a larger conversation which still isn’t happening. But if the conversation people want to have is about other kinds of ace-relevant violence in relationships that aren’t necessarily QP ones, I can always broaden the scope of the zine.)

        If you have stuff to say about ace-ace violence that you’d like to put out there, I’m putting together a couple new issues of my zines– a second issue of “Rotten Zucchinis” and I have an ongoing zine “f-ace-ing silence” about ace-related stuff people feel silenced about in ace spaces. (This next issue of “f-ace-ing silence” I’m trying a theme, but as always with a zine, I see what people submit and go from there.)

        The advantage of zine format, over say a blog post or a thread on a messageboard, is that it’s hard for people to “push back” against it: there isn’t a space for anyone to put down people who write stuff in the zines. (The disadvantage is that these zines aren’t particularly widely read, and more difficult to interact with people about stuff they’ve written that you identify with.)

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        • Well, I haven’t experienced ace/ace violence myself, I just know of others who have. So I don’t have anything to contribute personally. However, I did notice that you’re using sendspace to host the zines, and at least one of the links is no longer working (forgot which–sorry!). If you’d like a place to host them more permanently, I could possibly arrange that in the next few months (tentative time frame–this could potentially take much longer).

          However, I will note that we may have to set some ground rules about that, as the project I am working on is specifically meant as a safe space for survivors to get support, and sometimes promoting things like zines (any kind of promotion, really) can come across as the kind of shallow support that I discussed in this post. I realize that promotion is very much necessary in order to get the word out about a project, but survivors have very good reasons to distrust things like that. It can come across as pressure to talk about experiences that they may not be ready to put out there yet.

          I think that’s the main reason that this conversation hasn’t started in earnest: the people who experienced that kind of violence just aren’t ready to talk about it right now. It takes, on average, 5 years for a survivor to come forward. For ace survivors, there are more barriers, so that average is probably significantly increased. When it’s intra-community violence, I would expect it to take MUCH more time, as these survivors will be dealing with a lot more fallout within their own community than other ace survivors. There may be other complications to talking about it, too. So honestly, we have to just do what we can to acknowledge that their experiences are possible, try to provide safe spaces, and avoid implicitly shaming them for not speaking. Because it’s perfectly understandable why they wouldn’t–in fact, it’s a normal part of healing!

          Broadening the scope of the project may be a good idea? I don’t know if it’s right for what you’re doing or not, but I get the sense that some survivors have issues with the narratives about sexual violence and the idea that there’s one specific way that it happens, and one way to be a “good” survivor. Knowing my experience is not representative of “how these things happen” (as if there’s one particular way) is a major reason that I’m working on supporting others instead of just publishing my own memoir. It could all too easily be twisted into The One Narrative and then used to perpetuate more violence, so I want to make sure there are other perspectives out there first. That everyone has a place to go to talk about their own experiences–not just individual blogs or zines (because as you said, those are easy to ignore), but a place that could have equal or (ideally) even more attention than my book will.

          A multiplicity of formats is probably the most ideal solution. That way, people could write blog posts, send their work to a zine, share on forums, or just talk to each other privately. Each format has advantages and disadvantages, but if they’re all available, then everyone can weigh the risks and benefits for themselves, and pick the one that suits them best.

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          • I actually just checked all six links and they seemed to be working fine for me. I’ll have to check them from a different computer tomorrow. If I find one that’s not working I can just re-upload it, so I’m not worried about hosting. I’ll work that out in the next couple days.

            I’m not trying to start something specifically about ace-ace violence, and I really wouldn’t be a good person to do that. But I do have two ongoing zines that might possibly be appropriate places for people who want to share stories of ace-ace violence to do that. My point was that those zines are options. Hopefully, there will be many other options coming into play as time goes on.

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            • Oh, they’re working now? Good! I wonder why one of them wouldn’t load for me last week, then? I remember it saying something like “file not found,” but I suppose that was the server messing up.

              And yeah, hopefully there will be many more options in the future!

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              • I am either asexual or at the very least fit in the ace spectrum, but don’t feel comfortable identifying as ace for several reasons so I’m sort of in a situation where I worry for the community (and blatant ableism, homophobia, rape apologism etc I’ve seen. I’ve been told that ace people cannot be abusive period, and lot of the stuff I’ve seen scares me) but I don’t feel like it’s any of my place to try to address intra community issues.
                Since I don’t feel like I belong to that community. Because I’m alienated by it.

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                • Well, you don’t have to identify as ace to participate in the community! It’s okay if you’re questioning, and it’s okay if you decide that the ace spectrum doesn’t fit you after all.

                  I’m with you on feeling alienated by aspects of the ace community. Ace people can certainly be abusive, whether or not people want to believe it. I’ve been harassed by another ace person before. I know of others who have also had ace abusers.

                  If you are interested in writing about what alienates you from the community, I can feature it as a guest post here if you’d like. I think a lot of people would be very interested in hearing what you have to say, and it can only help to make the community better.

                  Good luck to you. :)

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