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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

The Stampede Threesome: Sexism, Social Media Shivarees + Social Tipping Points





There I was, just trying to read a thoughtful piece on the problems with policing in Toronto by my friend Andray Domise when this headline catches my eye:

Catching Up With the Woman From the Calgary Stampede Threesome at Her Strip Club Debut


I can't say I've ever been to the Calgary Stampede, but somehow I doubted that anything featuring a threesome would be part of the official agenda.  My curiosity was piqued enough to see what was going on.

The story that emerged - and I'm surprised I didn't hear of it first on Twitter, where I spend an inordinate amount of time - was of a woman and two men who had consensual three-way sex in a somewhat public space.  Someone saw it, was disgusted and to properly express their disgust in a 21st Century way, filmed and posted video of the act that caused them such discomfort.

No more the "look away, kids" mentality of our parents - when we see something we feel is out of tune with our social norms, we take the story viral.  We'll come back to this later.

The bias with which the Stampede Threesome (Stampedesome?) story has been portrayed online and what that says about our male-centric society has been much discussed.  Men are encouraged, even celebrated for being sowers of seeds where as women, society's nurtures and child-rearers, are shamed for being sexual creatures.  How exactly men are supposed to sow if fertile fields are closed to them remains one of those social paradoxes that we tend not to explore.

Of course the shaming of women isn't limited to sexuality (which is regularly a substitute for social power) - it applies to women displaying any non-demure behaviour.  Another recent case in point - Imperator Furiosa.

Furiosa - Charlize Theron's character from Mad Max: Fury Road has been viscously and virally attacked for hijacking a movie whose title references the male hero.  Apparently, she's part of an insidious feminist conspiracy to undermine masculinity, a forcibly planted female lead in what's supposed to be a boy's movie.  

Written and directed, mind you, not by a feminist auteur like Ava DuVernay, but by the same dude who has sheppearded the Mad Max franchise from the beginning - George Miller.

What's the connecting thread?  Society's men call the sex/hero shots and someone has altered the rules.  And the macho men, they don't like it.  They feel threatened.  It's like the Muslimification of the Western world, only worse, because this time it's their own women undermining man's natural role as roost-rulers and power-wielders.

Meanwhile, Alexis Frulling - the lady at the centre of this story - has done a remarkable job of crisis management (own the story from the outset, ensure your own narrative is well-told and widely-circulated).  More than that, she seems to have done a pretty good job of turning an avoidable moment of infamy into an entrepreneurial opportunity.  There's strip dances, sex tip videos, etc, etc. She could probably do well with a line of merch, too - the ways she could continue to reap benefit from her 15 minutes are endless.

If Frulling were a guy, she'd be given props for ingenuity and seizing an opportunity.  She's a woman, though, so instead the whole incident is being framed as a manipulative publicity stunt (still no mention of the men involved, mind you).

The fact that this 20-something (manipulator!) beautiful (Delilah!) woman (whore!) has become a magnet for social castigation from a vocal segment of the population isn't surprising.  Same thing happened to Jennifer Lawrence, although her source of sexual infamy was intended to be private; the same thing's happening to Steph Guthrie for fighting back in a way that would, again, be celebrated as tough political winning if she was a man.

It's a well-established social phenomenon best represented by the shivaree, an ancient custom intedned to force social outliers to conform to societal norms.  Instead of pots and pans, though, these mass-shamings now take the form of viral campaigns, like #DuffyPickUpLines or #TellVicEverything.
Mike Duffy and Vic Toews, mind you, are/were supposed to be social elites, defenders of tradition, etc.  They were shamed for abusing their position, whereas Fulling is being castigated for stepping beyond the prescribed bounds of acceptable female behaviour and nudging into males-only territory.  

Castigated by a vocal few, though - hardly the majority.

Back to the Andray Domise article that kicked all this off:

Without a highly visible outcry that shames the Board into adopting changes, the work done by police to increase transparency and reduce fatal encounters often amount tohalf-baked and widely criticized measures. 

Highly visible.  Shaming.  What he's calling for - what #BlackLivesMatter or any of the related campaigns around young black men killed and young black women abused by police represent - is a shivaree, public pressure for behaviour modification.  

It's what any protest seeks to accomplish, really; forcing the shapers of public norms (ie policy) to get more in line with the public (or a subset of the public) mood.

Gay marriage is another example of this, with even corporations getting on board.

You may note something of a trend-line connecting the dots here.

Yes, Alexis Frulling has many vocal online detractors, but she's also got a lot of supporters who are equally turning on the societal norms that punish women for doing what men get celebrated for (while still being told to be more like men when it comes to breaking the glass ceiling in work or politics).

Society used to be a lot smaller - homogeneity and cultural standards were easier to universalize through shaming efforts such as the shivaree.  By and large, though, those smaller societies had more standardized social roles, too - roles that limited people to certain constraints that may not have reflected their individual capacity.  Marriage was limited to men and women, holidays were Christian affairs, men - particularly alphas - dominated in the boardroom, the bedroom and in the House of Commons.

Society has changed; the needs of society have changed.  We've collectively outgrown the standards of the past which actively impede economic and social success.  What we need always comes second to what makes us comfortable, though - which is especially true on the macro scale.  As traditional society and the failings of our political, economic and social systems and norms fail a growing percentage of the population, though, the scale is tipping from efforts to maintain the status quo (shivarees) to calls for systems disruption and more equitable social standards (protest).

Perhaps Alexis Frulling is the perfect metaphor for this tipping point; the passive, minority partners in our social relationships are weak and passive no more.  

The time of top-down messaging and social norm-defining is over.

We're into three-way conversations now, and the usual suspects are just going to have to get used to sharing the marketplace of power.





1 comment:

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