With Thanksgiving over, it’s now time to look ahead at the next month, and what it’ll bring us. Specifically, a lot of people making exactly the same trip home in roughly three weeks to attempt to survive family time without an argument/mishap/battery charge. This highlights both the massively inconvenient timing of winter scheduling (seriously, why would this happen? We’ve got several major holidays within six weeks of each other, and then ten solid weeks of frozen nothingness. Didn’t it occur to anyone that we might need a little Pick-Me-Up-Holiday at the end of January when the bleak grayness is killing us all?), and the wildly partisan culture we’re currently living in. If nothing else, maybe this holiday season will finally prove to everyone that the personal is, without a doubt, the political.
But what to do if you desperately want to educate friends and family on the dangers of rape culture without causing a fight by using the words “rape culture”? That’s when you employ your good friend the allegory. Allegories are a great way to get someone to see your point without spelling it out for them. If you’re dealing with someone at least halfway competent and compassionate, an allegory will at least frame your point of view in a way that makes it accessible to others. They still might not agree with your overall point, but at least they don’t shut down as soon as they hear the words “toxic masculinity.” And in the sharing spirit of the holidays, allow me to share with you a few personal allegories I’ve used. Feel free to tailor these to make them your own. May they help you avoid “accidentally” stabbing Aunt Dorothy with the turkey knife again.
Allegory One - I Didn’t Even Want To Be Here
Fun fact: Allegories don’t always have to be made up. Lessons can be learned from contextualizing real life events. For instance, a friend of mine was apartment hunting recently. The agent she was working with showed her around to a few places, one of which was pretty far outside of the neighborhood she wanted to live in. She told him she didn’t want to see that unit. He said she’d love it. They get there, she hates it, wants to leave. He actually bitched to her about how she wouldn’t give it a chance. *And* the agent said, “We came all the way out here, and you barely looked around.” She rightly finished the conversation by responding, “Yeah, I told you I didn’t want to come out here in the first place.”
The moral of this story is, don’t take your dick out at work.
Allegory Two - The Inadvertent Mistake
This one is also a true story, but my true story this time. At work, a new employee has recently joined my department whose name is George. But because it’s the French spelling, it has a silent “s” at the end. Georges pronounced “George.” Except for my boss. He pronounces it “Georges.” Like “gorgeous” with a soft “g”. Not the way you’d pronounce the possessive form of “George,” but something slightly kinder to the ear. My coworker hasn’t corrected our boss because he doesn’t want to embarrass him. I haven’t corrected my boss because I want to curl up and go to sleep inside the way he says “Georges,” and the first person who ruins this is dead to me. However, knowing my boss, I expect that when he eventually realizes what he’s been doing, he’ll feel slightly embarrassed at his mistake, will apologize to George (whose name he now says the regular garbage way), and will move on. He won’t insist that George should have said he doesn’t want to be called “Georges”, or pretend that he did nothing wrong. He’ll recognize that errors were made, correct them, and move on.
This tells us it’s important to keep in mind that there never has been, and never will be, any justification for grown adults attempting to initiate sexual contact with children.
Allegory Three - The Drunken, Not-So-Inadvertent Mistake
Sometimes it helps to acknowledge some of your own mistakes when talking about larger societal ills. I, for instance, tend to indulge in a little too much holiday cheer. And by “holiday” cheer, I include summer holidays, weekends, most weeknights, and an occasional sunny afternoon. I’m a woman living in the modern world, y’all. We’ve all got to let loose in one way or another.
The point is, while I’m usually a happy, kind drunk, I’m also often a steal-y drunk. I’ve swiped more than my fair share of glassware from bars because I’m a little tipsy, I have a large purse, and I feel like this glass just *gets* me, you know? But I’ve also tried stealing things that are wildly inappropriate/unnecessary. Like when I tried to take the package of windshield wipers from the backseat of a friend’s car as he was acting as our DD. Not only could my friend hear me stage whispering about how sneaky I was being in stealing said wipers, but I didn’t own a car at the time. There was literally no reason for it other than the thrill of the theft. My “holiday” cheer made me behave in ways I was ashamed of, I apologized to my friend, returned his windshield wipers, and promised to allow him to swipe whatever he wanted from my place the next time he’d had a couple of glasses.
You can see exactly where I’m going with this one, right? Telling someone you’ll give them a job or promotion if they perform a sexual act on you isn’t “how business works.” It’s actually “disgusting” and “a crime.”
Allegory Four - The Witch-hunt
I usually try to keep my allegories mostly symbolic, but it’s not always a bad idea to have more blatant examples. Drawing a more direct line between one kind of injustice to another can often result in the person you’re speaking with more closely identifying with the story because it’s familiar.
For instance, let’s say you were to find out a close friend of yours, someone you respect and admire, was charged with a DUI. You don’t understand what happened. Your friend is a responsible family man. He’s never had any allegation of alcohol abuse, and is one of the most law abiding people you know. In fact, he’s worked tirelessly on behalf of issues that are important to you. The entire idea of him getting drunk and getting behind the wheel seems antithetical to the person you know and love. You then find out that he was caught up in a random checkpoint. He was coming home from a holiday party, and blew a .081. Barely over the legal limit. He’d had slightly more alcohol than the law allows, but he was driving perfectly well. You acknowledge that he made a mistake, but don’t think it’s fair that he face criminal charges for something so insignificant. Plus, he’s done everything right. He accepted the ticket without argument, he’s been cooperating with the police, he’s apologized to his friends, family, and the greater community. He’s even willing to donate to MADD to make amends. Compared to what some other drunk drivers have done, we really should let him off the hook for this one (or two) instance(s), right?
Sure, it’s a little thin, but the bit o’ wisdom here is if you have a woman passed out behind a dumpster in an alley, she sure as shit has not given you her consent. And if you think she did at one point consent, that consent was revoked when she crumpled into a drunken puddle on the ground. Why the fuck would this even be a thing someone needs to explain to you?! Who looks at some of the cases coming out now/forever, and thinks “Well sometimes men just try to get the people around them with less power and influence to touch it, and that’s just how men are. Boys are going to be boys when they transport a drunken teen-aged girl from one party to another so they can film themselves physically violating her. That’s just what kids do. Plus Roy Moore went to Vietnam, and when he got back, all the women his age were taken so he just had to start sexually assaulting children”? HUH? How is that a thing? And remember how some assholes were all “Rape culture doesn’t exist because everyone knows rape is bad”? But then those same assholes were all “Well everyone knows getting raped is bad, but getting groped, catcalled, propositioned in a way that jeopardizes your job to refuse, and casually degraded isn’t the same as rape so stop complaining because at least you have it better than women do in the Middle East”? And it takes literally everything you have to not scream at your cousin “Hey, dumbfuck, that’s what rape culture fucking is”?
I don’t have an allegory for that.
Also Al Franken fucked up, guys. He admitted he did. We’ve got to stop pretending otherwise.
Emily Chambers lives in Chicago, and doesn’t attend extended family functions often for some reason. You can follow her fledgling Twitter presence here.