Men can do the most outrageous, disgusting things and loads of people – mostly men but also women – will inevitably come to their defense even when the facts are damning. This can only happen in a culture that supports and worships male power, and devalues females. These two biases are self-reinforcing and serve to ensure that whatever men do, they’ll escape punishment and whatever women do, we’ll continue to be exploited, disbelieved and harmed. Sure, men are being called out, but rarely do they actually get the justice they deserve. The actions of celebrity men are highly visible, but how many average men have done terrible things and gotten away with it? Just from my experiences alone, I can list dozens.
Journalist Deidre Olsen recently published a shocking (not so shocking) thread on Twitter about the creepy advances that ‘Prince of Pot’ Canadian activist Marc Emery allegedly made to her when she was just 17. Further along the thread, she provides details and shares the stories of other women.
The entire history of @CannabisCulture is that of an Old Boys Club where middle-aged men worked alongside vulnerable teenage girls and young women and watched as Marc Emery groomed, harassed, assaulted and exploited them.
Emery has admitted to being a pervert but insists no one has ever complained to the authorities about him. That’s a solid defense because we all know most sexual assaults are reported. Right?? Well, Marc, maybe no one spoke up before but they sure as hell are now. He went on to say:
I’ve never had sex with anyone under 19 ever, so this idea that I’m grooming young women is not true
Emery may be a greasy sleazebag, but I’m sure he’s smart enough to know this doesn’t wash. Do all instances of sexual abuse involve actual intercourse? Of course they don’t. It remains to be seen what will come of the recent allegations but things don’t look good. Despite this, many are rushing to his defense. Just check out the incomprehensibly asinine comments of support posted under Emery’s statement on his Facebook page. Apart from the current allegations and those that have apparently been floating around for a long time (Jian Ghomeshi comes to mind), there’s plenty of evidence that makes it clear what kind of man Emery is: an egotistical chauvinist who enjoys debasing women and encourages other men to dominate and abuse them too. Like Roosh V and James Sears, Emery likes to bond with other men by humiliating women. Shall we review the evidence?
Yeah, dude. We could have told you famous men have always preyed on vulnerable women and girls. That’s because we live in patriarchy, not because it’s okay.
…But he’s not a pedophile, you see, because they’re probably of legal age. Nothing wrong about a middle-aged man getting turned on by girls, taking their picture while their backs are turned, and posting it on social media so other pigs can objectify them too. Please proceed to the next exhibit with caution. Emery is one sick fuck…
So do I believe that this violent vacuum of humanity tried to groom a 17 year-old girl on the internet, and has probably done and said a lot of other disgusting things to women and girls over the years? Yeah, I do.
There’s always been a backlash to political correctness. Many behind the backlash say they’re sensitive to the legitimate concerns of disadvantaged groups but things have gone too far. More often than not, when you dig a bit deeper, their solution is usually something like: why can’t we all just relax and treat everybody the same way? Well yeah, that’s the point – but the question is, who isn’t being treated fairly and what’s being done – and by whom – to keep these people from achieving social equality?
There are some people who’ll never believe that by virtue of being members of certain groups based on shared ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, etc., individuals are vulnerable to mistreatment and often are mistreated on that basis. They might do a bit of research and number-crunching to support their views, but more often than not, they just don’t care. Even if it could be unequivocally shown that certain groups in society are disadvantaged, they wouldn’t change anything about their own behaviour. It rarely seems to be noted that for every offense taken by SJWs, there’s an equally-vocal group who instantly become offended that someone is offended. These types relish in the notoriety of holding controversial opinions whether they have a genuine belief or familiarity with the ideology that underpins them, or not.
It’s clear to any decent, honest person who isn’t a misogynist that Baby it’s Cold Outside is a manual for sexual harassment, its easy acceptance by most people a horrifying signifier of women’s oppression. It doesn’t take much effort to see the problem. The machinations of gender are clear: we see how femininity has conditioned not just the woman in the song but women as a class to be nice, to do everything possible to avoid hurting men’s feelings, to give in to their pressure; and how masculinity has given this man such a sense of entitlement to this woman’s attention and body that he feels totally comfortable taking advantage of his greater size and strength, and the woman’s desperate attempt to balance her internalized duty of politeness with her own instinct for self-preservation. Over and over again, she says no – but he has a smarmy rebuff each time. How, then, can there be a critical mass of people who feel no shame in whining so much that radio stations felt they had no choice but to put the rape apologist song back on the air? All this in the era of #MeToo when there are literally countless examples of male violence exposed for all to see. You can prove in the clearest terms that these problems exist, how they work, and how to eradicate them. But facts don’t matter when you don’t have power.
It’s within this context that I’d like to discuss recent news that Coop les Récoltes, a bar and co-operative at the Université du Quebec à Montréal, banned white comedian Zach Poitras from performing there because he has dreadlocks. Their public statement can be read here (in French). I think there’s a debate to be had about the current climate of safe spaces and censorship at universities in Western countries, but this is a legitimate issue that won’t go away for good reason.
I approach this case with two main questions in mind:
Is it justifiable for private establishments to ban someone who engages in cultural appropriation?
Is this an example of cultural appropriation?
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that white people who wear dreads are engaging in cultural appropriation. What should we do about it as a society? We can’t force the offenders to stop, so some form of social censure is required if we agree that this practice is rude at best and harmful at worst. Is it fair to exclude cultural appropriators from certain events and spaces out of respect for black people who also wish – and deserve – to enjoy those same events and spaces? To me, it turns on one fundamental observation: there’s been ample debate for some time now that white people who wear dreads can’t possibly feign ignorance to the fact that many black people say it’s insulting. Why isn’t that enough to make them stop? Why is their personal aesthetic more important than the right of black people to be treated as equals? There are two rights here, and in my mind one is manifestly more important than the other. People shouldn’t engage in practices that are disrespectful to a disadvantaged group unless they have a very, very good (i.e. rights-based) reason for doing so. Individual style doesn’t make the cut. So consequences should be expected, and reasonable, which I would define as decisions that don’t violate fundamental human rights. I don’t think this is one such example, so Coop les Récoltes had a right to make the decision they did. That being said, I get why it’s controversial.
As to whether this case is indeed an example of cultural appropriation, I think an honest, robust analysis leads to a fairly easy conclusion that it is. I saw many comments on the Facebook post that are lazy and shallow. One person linked to a Wikipedia page which says:
During the Bronze Age and Iron Age, many peoples in the Near East, Asia Minor, Caucasus, East Mediterranean and North Africa such as the Sumerians, Elamites, Ancient Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Akkadians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Hittites, Amorites, Mitanni, Hattians, Hurrians, Arameans, Eblaites, Israelites, Phrygians, Lydians, Persians, Medes, Parthians, Chaldeans, Armenians, Georgians, Azeris, Cilicians and Canaanites/Phoenicians/Carthaginians are depicted in art with braided or plaited hair and beards.
This point is irrelevant. Braids and plaits aren’t the same as dreads and no skater dude, stoner, new ager or anarchist is trying to emulate an Indian sadhu or Aztec priest. Dreadlocks as a concept and style are known in the West primarily and specifically as a result of the growth of the Jamaican diaspora. Ask any random person what springs to mind when they think ‘dreadlocks’ and they picture a black person by default.
There are two main reasons why dreads are typically worn by members of the subcultures I’ve listed here: (1) they presumably give one an earthy, ‘ethnic’, ‘hippie’, ‘alternative’ kind of look; and (2) they’re a symbol of resistance popularized by Rastafari, most famously by Bob Marley. Another person who comes to mind is Zack de la Rocha, formerly of Rage Against the Machine. White people, and other non-black people, adopt the look because this connection conveys for them an ineffectual, cool, edgy image.
Dreads and cornrows are firmly located within black communities and are meaningful from a black liberation perspective because black people – and by extension, black hair – have been so heavily stigmatized. Just like the afro and the comb, dreads are an unmistakable symbol of black pride more broadly even if dreads are ultimately attributed to Jamaican culture specifically. How is a white person treated and regarded when wearing dreads, compared to a black person?
White people mimicking black people is nothing new, but the argument can’t rest on comparisons alone. Either a practice is right or wrong on its face. Otherwise, we’ll continue to go in circles forever, failing to recognize that these are not isolated, trite issues. You’d have to know all of this and not care about the message you’re sending as a white person wearing dreads, especially if you want to socialize with people of all backgrounds. I’m sure Poitras has met black people who’ve told him he’s alright and his hair doesn’t offend them. Several responses to the Coop les Récoltes’ announcement say as much. Then again, I’ve also met women who hate lesbians and think all women should have children, so…
I logged into my Meetup account today because apparently someone sent me a message. I didn’t recognize the name. It was from a man named Ben who is also a member of a nature group. I’ve never attended an event.
Ben thought it was imperative to tell me he thinks I’m looking good. He’s grey-haired, looks like he’s maybe in his 50s and is seated beside a woman who’s wearing a wedding ring and seems close to him. Maybe she’s his sister?
FYI – I look like I’m about 25.
I joined the group because I want to see trees. Not dicks. If I wanted to be looking at dicks instead of getting some wonderful fresh air, I’d be looking at dicks. It’s not all about dicks.
Women are people. Not objects of conquest, robots, blank slates, holes, brainless zombies standing around waiting to be interrupted by a perpetual teenager. When I’m waiting for the bus on a given day, I’m thinking about the errand I have to run after work, what to make for dinner, or that weird dream I had last night. All of those things are exponentially more important than what Mr. Macho Mouthbreather has on his mind. Nothing says “you’re my property” like assuming your intimate thoughts are important enough to spew to a woman you don’t know.
Of course, it’s about power – not attraction. Sometimes men feel the need to tell a woman that they don’t want to rape them. Like that’s supposed to make them sad.
Almost every day, another allegation surfaces of a powerful man who made a woman feel like garbage because he could. Far too often, a woman is assaulted by a strange man or (more likely) assaulted or killed by a male partner. We’ve gone too far now in mainstream culture to pretend that this is acceptable.
There are some issues that divide feminists. This isn’t one of them. There are two sides in this debate and they’re clear: either you’re committed to challenging male entitlement or you don’t value the lives of women. Call it what you want. Even if you’re watering it down as “sexual harassment” instead of male violence, it’s front and centre in the media now and there are just too many fed up women to let this go.
At around the same time I joined the nature group, I also joined a women’s hiking group. Everyone has been friendly and respectful. Some women met each other on hikes and are now dating. I’ve been an active member for months and have never gotten a creepy message.
To me, women’s spaces aren’t about avoiding men. They’re about connecting with people I feel safe around and realizing how much power women have when we get together.