What Men Dare Do! "O, what men dare do! What men may do! What men daily do, not knowing what they do!"


Penny Arcade, the Internets and Homosociality

So, I got called out yesterday evening, by a lovely feminist friend whose birthday I was helping to celebrate on not having posted for a while.  And thus, as an effort to remedy that, here we go:

Let me wade into the most recent Penny Arcade controversy.  Shakesville's most recent post on the topic is here and it's primarily what I'm responding to.  They also have an initial post here.  Although I don't particularly want to link to it and encourage it, for the purposes of discussion, if you're unfamiliar with the comic (and the t-shirt, which Jerry/Mike pulled) is here.

Part of what Melissa is talking about in her post is about rape culture and better explaining what it is and it isn't.  I don't think I've read it much better explained than when she writes:

That is what is meant when people talk about a rape culture—not, as it is continually misrepresented, a culture in which one can trace a direct line from every rape joke to an actual act of rape, but a culture in which there is endemic hostility to the notions of consent, autonomy, and respect of individual boundaries, privacy, and dignity.

I think we need to also have a discussion of what the rape culture means for men and masculinity.  Rape culture is in many ways a manifestation of homosociality.  Homosociality is the set of ideas or phenomena whereby men value relationships with other men above relationships with women.  Homosociality can be reinforced in many benign ways: men get together and watch football together (a thing that women can participate in), or say, go to bars with other male friends.  But some of the most powerful ways to reinforce homosociality and to reinforce our relationships with other man is to engage in activities and behavior that exclude women, hurt women, or otherwise reinforce our masculinity. Hugo Schwyzer has an excellent post up about it in the context of street harrassment.

As the heteronormative narrative goes (which is crucial to understanding homosociality, as it exists within that context) rape is something that happens to women.  It doesn't happen to men.  It's something that bad men do to women.  So the act of making a rape joke is one of these ultimate homosocial acts, like street harassment.  It's something to bond men to other men, and only other men.  Women can't participate in this type of bonding, because rape is something that only happens to them and something that only men can do to women.

And this is where Penny Arcade comes in.  Now, as many people have written Jerry and Mike could have simply apologized and moved on, but instead engaged in insincere apologies and passive-aggressive responses.  This is all just dog-whistling homosociality.  Gabe and Mike realize that they can't explicitly make rape jokes anymore and instead, they now have to engage in more subtle attempts to use rape as a means of bonding with men/their-readers.  For example, this past December, Penny Arcade put out some December swag to sell, a Dickwolves t-shirt among them, with the tagline: "After the ladies spoke earlier they spoke again. This time they wanted their own Dickwolves shirt. We refuse to deny the ladies anything!"

So I'd hopefully like to add on to what Mellisa at Shakesville has said: these kinds of things do contribute to rape culture in eroding notions of consent, but they also reinforce bonds between men.  Heterosexual rape culture has its spectrum, from rape to rape jokes, and not only is it a way to increase masculine power and hurt people, in the way we traditionally understand rape culture to do, but it's also a fundamentally homosocial act designed to bond men together, be they making a joke aloud to a friend or in their webcomic.