In one of the absolute worst takes I’ve ever seen in my life, Alyssa Rosenberg at the Washington Post wrote a piece titled “Stop sexually harassing Ammon Bundy and his fellow Oregon occupiers.” In it, she takes a hard look at the extremely good wave of bathos foisted upon the Oregon militia in the form of bulk-mailed dildos and suggests that we as a country should remember our progressive ideals, eschew all this sexual aggression, and send them—this is a real suggestion at the close of the piece—a bunch of Portlandia DVDs instead.
Where do we start! Well, the dildo idea, as Rosenberg points out, came directly from the heavily armed, wishlist-making, libertarian drama queens themselves: noted anti-Muslim organizer John Ritzheimer uploaded a YouTube haul video on January 12 in which he unpacks a bunch of sex toys and is all, “Hate, hate, hate—everyone is spending their money on hate.”
It’s left me feeling amazed at the speed with which some liberals seem to take leave of their senses and principles when they have an opportunity to tweak people on the right and far right.
Ritzheimer may have been overstating the case when he called sexual paraphernalia “hate mail.” But this campaign to barrage the occupiers with sex toys and sexual material is definitely sexual harassment.
I mean, can you imagine what the reaction would be on the left if conservatives were sending sex toys to feminists in order to mock them? Or if conservatives were trying to tar the Occupy encampments by implying that they were the sites of gay orgies?
Yes! What if this thing that happened had been a complete other thing! What if clock were actually bomb?!!
The outrage would be overwhelming, and it would be completely justified. Pushing sexual material and equipment on someone doesn’t suddenly become whimsical and cute rather than aggressive and harassing just because the recipient is a man or a conservative. And raising the specter of gay sex as somehow discrediting is homophobic, even if your target opposes gay rights. This isn’t cleverness: It’s thoughtless and bro-ish.
This is one of my least favorite genres of rhetoric, which crops up a lot when people are talking about the trumpet (?)-blowing weirdos in Oregon: the idea that the smart thing to do is to escalate to the worst possible scenario (i.e., “if only the police treated Ammon Bundy like they treated Tamir Rice”) or, maybe even worse, to the highest level of offense. It is never useful to look at the most overheated possibility and trickle your logic back down from there. It is only reasonable to tell people to get angry when there is actual harm—which is different from vague, reaching, rhetorical harm—being done.
Those situations, the ones involving actual harm, are ever-present. So is actual sexual harassment, and that’s part of what makes this take so bad. Language for things that are important—discrimination, harassment, rape, violence—should be reserved for those things precisely, for one. And, furthermore, sexual harassment and the like depends on an imbalanced power dynamic; sending dildos to a bunch of freakishly puffed-up elk daddies does not.
Arguably, probably objectively, these Guns N Camo sleepaway camp jamokes have more power than the dildo-mailers do. And so the dildos in this context are consequently wonderful—little stupid weapons that chip away at Ammon Bundy and Crew’s 100 percent undeserved self-image, the insanity of thinking their ideals are worthy of an armed occupation that costs Oregon $100K per week, the fact that despite this group being full of prior arrests and convictions for crimes ranging from assault to murder, they are getting away with just hanging out and vandalizing federal property every day. The Oregon militia’s ideology rests on them being magnificent masculine prophets literally operating under a divine order to take what’s theirs. We have the right to show them otherwise, via dildos—that they are not special, and that they’re as dumb as a barrel of dicks.
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Image via AP