In summer of 2012, Michigan House Democrat Lisa Brown made an impassioned speech in protest of proposed legislation which would enact upon the abortion industry regulations which she did not approve. Brown ended her speech with the following:
“Finally Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.’”
The statement was inflammatory, insinuating that her specific body was of interest to other legislators. It was accusatory, as ‘no means no’ is a widely recognized anti-rape slogan, insinuating in the context used that rape was an issue between the legislators. It was unnecessarily graphic, as the legislation was largely about licensing, insurance, safety measures, and fetal tissue disposal, not Lisa Brown’s vagina. For breaking decorum, she was suspended from speaking on the floor for a few days.
Considering recent events, one would not think this a big deal. After all, people lose their jobs over less overt behavior. This is the proper protocol for handling offensive use of sexual innuendo in a professional setting, right?
All hell broke loose among the left-wing press, feminist media, the internet community, and the general female public as the vaginapocalypse rained down upon the heads of Michigan House Republicans. The incident was treated as an act of misogyny, a labeling of women’s bodies as dirty and unacceptable, an attack on reproductive rights, evidence of a conspiracy of patriarchal domination, everything except a disciplinary action related to an individual’s inappropriate, flippant use of sexual innuendo in the context of a serious discussion.
Protest was made against the censure, on the basis that silencing Brown over her glib remark constituted condemning the use of correct terminology for women’s body parts. This was a red herring assertion, given the rest of her statement. The response from the house would have been the same if she had used a slang term. The statement itself was unmerited and out of place.
Discussing it at the time, it seemed like the outrage over the censure was consistent with feminist objection to Victorian morality standards. It must be acceptable to refer to body parts in discussion in a modern, enlightened society, right?
Apparently not, considering the response to Donglegate, in which Adria Richards claimed to be offended after hearing an anatomy reference and a second statement pass between two men sitting behind her at the PyCon Conference in Santa Clara, California.
Richards chose to impose her sensibilities on her colleagues by two means. She publicized the incident, tweeting the photo she took of the two men, along with a complaint about their speech. She also texted event staff, requesting enforcement of the conference’s rules against harassing behavior. In other words, she interpreted a conversation that did not involve her to be a form of harassment, and requested that an authority address it, but first she made sure to openly slander those involved.
The feminist defense of that choice made Richards out to be a combination victim and hero, as if she had suffered some type of damage from overhearing the men’s joke, and overcome an attack by leveling one at them. As the discussion continued, her supporters dug themselves deeper, relating dongle jokes to patriarchy, and offending female sensibilities to assault. They compared perceived importance of the speech involved in the two incidents, but ignored the similar details, and the not-so-similar visibility.
Both incidents took place in professional environments. Both environments had at least some level of expected decorum. Both involved speech with sexual overtones, to which at least one member of the sex opposite that of the speaker took some offense.
In both cases, censure resulted because the behavior was disapproved. In both cases, the reasons for disapproval were the same: Breach of professional decorum, and concern over the offensiveness of the statements made.
The men photographed by Adria Richards, dubbed “the Donglers” by the internet community, were seated in an audience during a presentation, speaking quietly to each other. Their speech was not stated to, stated about, or directed at her. They were not on camera (yet,) nor were they speaking for an audience. Richards simply picked a few disapproved sentences from their conversation, and reacted.
Lisa Brown addressed the speaker of the house directly, and used language which is associated with anti-rape campaigns, thereby insinuating not just sex, but chastisement for an attempted sexual assault. Her statement was made in front of members of the house, and the cameras of the press, during a moment when she had the floor, and therefore everyone’s attention.
Contrary to feminist assertions, Brown’s comment was worse. It was more public, and more targeted. If we must respond to sexual speech with offense, Brown’s comment was more offensive in the suggestion that it contained. If feminist advocates were honest, they would have had the same reaction to both incidents, with either more criticism for Brown, or more support for the Donglers.
The same political and social groups who flipped out over the censure of a politician for her unnecessarily sexualized speech on the Michigan House floor during a televised discussion have been supporting the complaint that got a man fired for a private discussion that was less overt and less inflammatory. Some of them have even protested the idea of providing his family with any financial aid in the wake of his job loss. That effort was condemned as sexist, and everyone associated with it denigrated in blog posts and the discussions taking place in the comments underneath them, for the heinous crime of showing some compassion for the now jobless dongler. All of that response seems to be based on the idea that reference to the penis is, by itself, automatically sexist against women.
What a contrast. Mention of the word vagina draws support from the feminist-influenced public as must-be-protected speech, while discussion even hinting at the concept of a penis draws criticism as a form of aggression. Taking things just at face value, the obvious conclusion is that while feminists treat women’s bodies as something special and sacred, they consider men’s bodies a dangerous affront.
Of course, there is more to the difference in the two responses than that. It isn’t just a matter of body parts. It’s a matter of gender, and gender issues. Yes, feminists do treat women’s bodies as sacred, and men’s as a dangerous affront, but they also treat feminist-defined women’s issues as sacred, and men’s issues as a dangerous affront. Vaginagate wasn’t about the use of the term vagina, nor was it about the inflammatory manner in which it was used. It was about supporting the feminist position on abortion issues, and the feminist politician making the statement.
Reddit feminists discussing the contrast between Donglegate and Vaginagate stated as much, asserting that the two incidents didn’t compare because Brown’s statement was made as part of a political argument against legislation which would place regulations on the abortion industry. They were willing to support speech which they would otherwise find offensive, specifically because a feminist politician said it in support of a feminist cause. They condemned Brown’s critics, not because said critics were sexist or prudish, but because they were criticizing feminist-approved arguments.
The feminist treatment of overheard Dongle jokes and talk of forking repos as harassing behavior is in a way consistent with Vaginagate. Feminists disapprove men, masculinity, and male sexuality, deeming the male body vexatious, and any mention of it vulgar. It isn’t that sexual humor, in and of itself, offends them. It’s offense at humor expressed without feminist approval.
Donglegate wasn’t about men’s bodies, or about inappropriate or inflammatory statements. It wasn’t even really about female sensibilities. Deeply offended as Adria Richards claimed to be, she wasn’t so upset that she couldn’t make similar jokes and worse in her twitter feed. One of the two statements at which she feigned offense was not even innuendo, but a commonly used phrase with no sexual connotations except those Richards applied herself. Her response wasn’t about the men’s words at all. It wasn’t about the feminist attitude toward men’s bodies. It was about the feminist attitude toward men, and how in social settings, women can use perceived victim status to wield against them the power of castigation and character assassination, forcing accommodation whether it is needed or not.
It’s about control.