Tricks and Treats?

A friend recently told me a story about an absurdly comical incident at a summer street festival. A man had constructed an elaborate costume: he stood ten feet tall, on cloven goat-leg stilts, which seamlessly blended into his own thighs that he had covered with thick black hair; an extra set of exposed ribs extenuated and hollowed his abdomen; a long black cape hunched over his back and arms; and his head was concealed entirely by a thoroughly grotesque mask, dripping with god knows what. This creative festival attendee then proceeded to weave in and out of the borders of the street, spontaneously pouncing on unsuspecting groups of young people. At one point, he picked the wrong girl. After pouncing, she screamed, immediately turned and started running full-speed in the opposite direction. The man felt terrible, and started running after her to apologize.

There may come a point when women no longer feel that “spider sense” or innate flight syndrome or unconscious “check-list” of their surroundings when they are walking down the streets alone at night. I’ve often tried to imagine what that would be like, how we might imagine some kind of social contract that deals with this scenario and all of its psychological baggage effectively…

Feminist scholar Katie Roiphe is famous for hacking away at “victim feminism,” arguing controversially that feminists only perpetuate the fear of “rape culture” by blindly delineating oversimplified roles for men as demons and women as victims. She targets Catherine MacKinnon’s work of constructing women as new innocents, advocating that women should “Take Back the Mind” instead of “Take Back the Night” – since victim feminism is merely acting as "a trope- convenient, appealing, politically effective." Check out Vanderbilt Professor, Jean Bethke Elshtain’s summary of Roiphe’s debate:

The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism on Campus

Roiphe is an extremist argumentatively, for sure; her reliance on the “facts” and statistics of rape to make her claims are obviously questionable. For example, how did she manage to miss out on all the complex reasons why rapes are not reported accurately? No one knows. At any rate, she is a useful troublemaker. I can appreciate her demand for co-responsibility by both men and women in the construction of a safe world, and her demand for renewed feminist definitions of demons/victims in the context of diffusing “rape culture.” I, for one, certainly do not want to live in a “rape culture.”

On Halloween I fully expect to be scared, grabbed, yelled at, and generally haunted on the street. My expectancy is really no different from any other night, but for the striking contrast imbued in the sense of “holiday,” a contrast that temporarily suspends the normative definition of fear. Halloween night has been staked out for anyone and everyone to romanticize and sublimate their involvement with ghoulish things, to hollaback at terror, and to turn death into the carnivalesque. Meanwhile, we all appear to covertly understand that the real demons are shamed into hiding on this night, and are supposed to take the night off so that even children can play in the dark without fear of being victimized. Given, real demons don’t always do this – but those who disobey the rules of play are immediately socially ostracized, ripped of their status and any claim to power; no questions asked. How perfectly delightful is this inverted reversal of the social power scheme? To risk waxing idealistic, why can’t we do this every other night of the year?!! Is this not the very definition of collectively responsible freedom and safety? A type of freedom that beautifully deconstructs the binary of predator and prey?

Written by: Michelle Riblett. Protected by Creative Commons License 2.5. Any copying, redistribution, or replication in any form of this work is prohibited unless permission is obtained from the author.

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