The Capacity for Violence

April 3, 2009

We all have the capacity for violence. Rape, and promoting rape, is not limited to cis straight men, to white men, to men of color, to men you don’t know, to men at all, to cis people, to straight people, to people who aren’t survivors, to people who aren’t your close friends, to people who don’t speak out against rape, to people who don’t volunteer on rape-crisis hotlines (that really sucked, by the way), or even to people who don’t write forwards to anti-rape anthologies, or who haven’t written songs against date rape and dedicated them to Sarah Palin.

Those last two categories are pretty specific, huh?

In case you’re wondering, I’m talking about this (trigger warning):

If it’s hard to see, here’s a basic rundown: a Katy Perry lookalike comes onstage to lip sync “I Kissed a Girl.” A few people make brief passes at her, then Margaret Cho, wearing a purple strap-on, and Amanda Palmer come up from opposite sides of the stage and trap “Perry” between them. Cho takes “Perry’s” hand, puts it on her strap-on, and *holds it there* while Perry looks anxious and uncomfortable and tries to remove her hand. Then Palmer touches her belly, “Perry” momentarily looks more uncomfortable, and then suddenly “gives in” and starts acting enthusiastic, making out with Palmer and pushing her butt back towards Cho. (You can see her facial expressions better in this video if it’s hard to see clearly.)

Just in case it wasn’t clear that this was a revenge fantasy rather than just a “oh she really wanted it it’s ok” fantasy (still rape promotion, but still)–A curtain goes up, and when it comes down, Cho is dressed as a minister/pastor/whatever, and “Perry” and Palmer are in wedding dresses… and “Perry” is bound hand and foot, with duct tape over her mouth. She tries to hobble away, and Palmer stops her, making an expression of overdone, false-looking bliss with a sinister undertone. (This part is somewhat more easily visible here) A “Fuck Prop 8” banner goes up and the crowd cheers.

There’s really not a lot more to say. I understand being angry about “I Kissed a Girl”–I’m none too pleased about it myself. (Not knowing my name, fine, I can work with that, but I’m your “experimental game”? … Excuse me?) The song is exploitative/exoticizing/fetishizing/objectifying whatever other words you want to use. Basically it’s gross, keep your hands off my sexuality. But resorting to dramatizing sexual violence as a revenge strategy? (Hell, revenge at all?) Not cool. And it’s not as though Cho could ever objectify or fetishize anyone. Nor Amanda Palmer.

At Women & Children First, one of two Chicago stops of the YMY! tour, there was a comment exhorting [straight/bi] men to stand up and say they’re not rapists, because otherwise all the women would assume they were. But standing up and speaking out doesn’t make you an ally/not a rapist. Not raping people makes you not a rapist. If you don’t think of yourself as a potential perpetrator of violence and consider carefully how to exist in the world as nonviolently as you can, you will perpetrate it. Violence, including but in no way limited to sexual violence, is the norm in this society, not the exception–though often it’s not quite as blatant as Cho and Palmer just put on display for us, or quite as clearly intentional.

X-posted to the Yes Means Yes! blog

11 Responses to “The Capacity for Violence”

  1. thanks for helpful post 😉

  2. Daisy Bond said

    Great post! I’m not surprised by this from either of them, but I’m certainly disgusted.

    Are either of them even queer? Not that that would make it okay — it wouldn’t — but somehow people doing something this offensive in response to an insulting song… When they’re not even part of the group to which the song was insulting? What the hell?

  3. Cedar said

    I’m pretty sure they both are–w/cho it’s made clear in the links.

  4. Daisy Bond said

    Huh, good to know! I used to listen to Palmer’s music and I’m sure she identified as straight a few years ago, but maybe that’s changed. Anyway, as I said earlier, I certainly don’t think that makes this okay.

  5. Cedar said

    She identifies as bisexual.[25] “I’m bisexual, but it’s not the sort of thing I spent a lot of time thinking about,” Palmer said. “I’ve slept with girls; I’ve slept with guys, so I guess that’s what they call it! I’m not anti trying to use language to simplify our lives.”[26] “I actually tend to like really femmey girls,” Palmer said. “You can deconstruct this with armchair psychology and really nail me, but I like girls about my body type and about my mix of masculine and feminine.”

    Thus quoth wikipedia. (also re: Cho.

  6. SS said

    The persistent use of “Fuck” as a negative action that you do against things you don’t like is a pretty persistent engagement with sexual violence… right?

  7. Cedar said


    Yeah, it is. Is that a criticism of me or a more general observation? “Fuck ___”, along with “fucked up” are definitely usages that I try to minimize within my own speech but don’t have the energy to eliminate completely (which I focus on negative senses of ‘bitch,’ ‘crazy,’ ‘lame,’ and maybe a couple others I’m not thinking of right now). Unfortunately, other than ‘busted’ and ‘stale,’ all the slang I know for thing-or-person-I-don’t-like is oppressive to one degree or another; I feel like “fuck” is more divorced from its literal meaning than some of the others, and it’s been my concession to having-limited-energy.

  8. Cedar said

    ack, the grammar of that second sentence changed part way through, but I think it’s still intelligible.

  9. SS said

    Hi Cedar… I was actually referring to the “fuck prop 8” banner in the Palmer/Cho video, not a critique of you specifically. Though I suppose it’s a critique of all of us who use the word without considering the implications of it, myself included. As far as what could be used in the situation… I’m partial to Eliminate Prop 8 or Prop 8 = Hate, but of course I’m partial to a rhyme.

  10. Cedar said

    I just fixed my html, turns out the embedded video didn’t show up? I’m confused how that happened/I could’ve sworn it was in there earlier, but it’s there now. …sorry everyone.

  11. […] What if we had a vision of justice that didn’t include getting excited about raping people you think ‘deserve’ it? A vision that doesn’t support the very institutionalized violence that victimizes trans […]

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