“Keep Calm and Rape Me”

By: Ben Atherton-Zeman, founder of Voices of Men

In 2006, retailer K-Mart sold shirts that promoted violence against girls.  K-Mart refused to remove the shirt, saying it was meant to be funny.  The Maine group “Hardy Girls, Healthy Women” spearheaded a national campaign to get them to remove the shirts – finally, they did.

Last weekend, Amazon.com’s United Kingdom site was caught selling shirts that said “Keep Calm and Rape Me.”  They immediately removed the shirts, apologized and may be paying donations to women’s groups.

Are things getting better?  Not when shirts like these, comments like these, Oscar hosts like these are far too common.  We white men dish out the daily indignities of sexism, racism, homophobia etc., then defend our comments as “humor.”  We benefit from institutions that have policies that favor us, then claim “reverse discrimination” when those policies are challenged.

Is the outrage getting stronger?  Not really – feminist outrage has always been strong, articulate, well-organized and immediate.

Perhaps it’s the advent of social media and (dare I say) blogs like this one to organize such outrage.  Amazon would have faced a tidal wave of feminist outrage had they not taken immediate action.  (They still may have some more work to do, as the “Keep Calm and Knife Her” shirts remain online.)

Shirts like this will continue to create (and benefit from) a culture of misogyny.  Institutions and individuals will continue to perpetrate acts of sexism and oppression (Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker was frisked last month in a Manhattan deli).  But it remains to us to be vigilant, to speak up and to organize outrage when this happens – together, we will create a world where it doesn’t.

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