Friday, January 30, 2015

The Cuddle Alarm

I was hesitant to write this post, fearful that putting the words out into the universe would send some kind of cosmic retribution and take their truth away from me. Or maybe that four consecutive years of sleep deprivation had simply left me in the throes of profound hallucinations. But other people have witnessed this phenomenon and affirmed it as a temporal experience, and it has been going on for several uninterrupted weeks, so I feel safe in stating to the world this simple fact: my child has slept through the night. Multiple times. Consecutive times. My child has slept through many consecutive nights.

First, some background.

My daughter has never slept soundly or sometimes at all. In infancy, she would wake to nurse every two hours without fail even long after the baby books (those lying, vindictive baby books) told me that she would sleep a solid six hours with a full stomach and peaceful, fluttering eyelashes. Lies. After she was weaned, she adopted some nighttime preferences. If these preferences were not met, she would protest with some truly awesome (with the original connotation of inspiring fear and trembling) tantrums that nothing would relieve. To avoid this, she required a nighttime routine of back rubbing and quiet shushing that could last up to an hour every night. When she was finally asleep (a state that could only be ascertained after three or four false positives), I'd complete the ritual by making the sign of the cross four times, crossing my fingers, and tiptoeing backwards out of the room while weaving a blanket of horseshoes and rabbit's feet before launching myself into my own bed and praying to every God and Goddess I had ever heard of for just two uninterrupted hours of sleep before she came crashing into the room demanding a repeat performance.

By the time she was two and a half, we had evolved into the "best" sleep we'd gotten in her life. This meant that we could leave her, awake but drowsy, in her own bed and go sit quietly in our own room until we went to sleep. Sometime around two or three in the morning she'd awake from a spot on my bedroom floor--having arrived there through some teleportation granted solely for my torture--and stand like a horror movie protagonist at eye level mumbling something unintelligible until I let her get in bed with me. Early on, I caved to these demands because I was too tired to protest, but I soon learned that meant I would get no sleep as I was stabbed by seven tiny hands in my rib cage and bruised by fourteen little feet to the temples (did I mention she grows extra limbs at night?) Instead, I'd send her back to her bed with much protest in order to repeat the entire conversation every hour until the alarm went off at six to go to work.

Then it was Christmas break, and I finally figured out what was going on. She wan't going to sleep in her room as she had so cleverly fooled us into believing. She was lying in her bed and waiting until the light went off in our room (our rooms are conjoined with a door between them). Since my usual 10pm bedtime crept back to midnight or 1am during break, this meant that she was getting virtually no sleep, and her daytime behavior was definitely worse for wear. She was so afraid of falling asleep and missing the chance to take advantage of my worn out defenses that she just refused to do it. No amount of lullabies, bedtime books, warm baths, veiled threats, or tears of desperation could sway her.

So I tried something new. I set an alarm and showed her the glowing numbers, explaining that it would go off twenty minutes before I had to get up and that she was welcome to then come get in bed and snuggle. Lo and behold, she went to sleep immediately and stayed in her own bed all night long. The alarm seldom wakes her, but it wakes me, so I go and tell her that it is cuddle time. Then she'll climb into my arms and I'll spend twenty minutes holding her in a dreamy half-sleep until I have to get up for the day. She gets the assurance that she won't miss this time that is so important to her, and that bit of confidence is enough to keep her from the mental and physical gymnastics she'd been committing to guarantee it before. Most importantly, we all sleep, and all is right with the world.

Photo: Diana Schnuth 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The "This Girl Can" Campaign and Rhetorical Approaches to Feminist Fitness

Fitness, fatness, and my personal relationship to each have been intersecting sources of frustration and confusion for my entire adult life (and part of my childhood). This is something that I have written about on many occasions at this blog (see here, here, here, and here, for example).

When I discovered the fat acceptance movement, I thought I had my answer. In particular the Health at Every Size approach to fitness was inspiring. I was refreshed by the notion that I didn't have to hate my body to take care of it, heartened by the idea that movement and energy were more important than jean sizes and pounds lost, and motivated to change the way that I looked at my relationship to myself. I read blogs like Dances with Fat and this Tumblr on the need for fat acceptance and felt this radical departure from the typical barrage of body shaming rhetoric to be awe inspiring.

It was an important step in my growth as a functional, fit human being, and I hope that nothing that comes after this sentence disparages that movement and the work that it does. Body acceptance approaches to fitness (rooted in feminist principles) have been life-affirming and incredibly important to many, many people, and I include myself among them.

But the fat acceptance movement and HAES approaches have not been enough to fully encompass my lived experiences. This isn't to fault them; it's just that I was trying to use them to serve a purpose they were never designed to serve (I'll get back to that in a minute, but I wanted to make sure that we're clear that I'm not dissing these approaches. I love them. I support them. I promote them.)

The truth is this. I believe wholeheartedly that fat bodies deserve the same right to exist in our society and that people who have fat bodies deserve the same rights, respect, and treatment as people with thin bodies. I also believe that you don't take care of your body by hating it and that learning to respect yourself as you are is the first step to any kind of self-care.

But I also know that there are times in my life when I want to change my body. (This does not mean that I think other people whose bodies look like mine need to change them. This is a good example of the "Underpants Rule" coined on Dances with Fat).

The HAES approach didn't leave me much space to deal with that reality. Instead, I felt guilty for wanting to change how I looked, fearing that the tension with my relationship to my own body would be read as giving into (or even used to support) the damaging and conventional societal narrative of fat hatred, self-loathing, and stereotyping.

So I teetered. I bounced back and forth between the desire to change how I looked through motivations that were based in both health and vanity and fully embracing the HAES philosophy. In many ways, the mental script as I did this see-saw act fell into the two camps nicely, and it was then that I realized my personal relationship to fitness and fatness was actually an embodied example of the rhetorical perspectives that I spend my scholarly life studying.

I was stuck between a wholly antagonistic script and a wholly cooperative one. What I needed was some agonism.

Antagonism, Cooperation, and Agonism: Some Quick Definitions

I wrote a post about this a while back, but basically, our contemporary understanding of rhetoric tends to break things down into polar opposites and then force us to choose one approach or the other.

This love for polar dichotomies extends even to the rhetoric we use to talk about those polar dichotomies. You've probably seen this principle at work at every dinner party argument, every comment thread, and most newscasts you've seen.

In general, we tend to seek out echo chambers where we are surrounded by people who agree with us. These echo chambers can be useful because they give us a space to grow and develop our ideas without someone cutting them down. You can think of it like a greenhouse for planting seeds. It's an optimal environment where the temperature, water, and sunlight is controlled, creating a place where the seeds are most likely to take root and grow strong. This is cooperative rhetoric.

But some people never want to leave the green house. These echo chambers become enclaves that are isolated from and distrustful of differing voices.

On the other hand, there are situations where we intentionally create conflict between opposing voices, often pitting these discussions as a "war" or "battle." Think of news talk shows where the different "sides" of an issue are each given a spot in the conversation and spend the time shouting over one another in an attempt to drown out the other side(s) and thus "win" the debate. This is antagonistic rhetoric.

As a culture, we're not very good at handling our beliefs in a way that is neither antagonistic or cooperative. We tend to fall into habits that support one or the other. The solution to this gridlock is the rhetorical practice of agonism.

It is tempting to place antagonism on one end of the spectrum, cooperation on the other end, and agonism in the middle as a reasonable compromise, but that's not how it works.

Agonism functions when we oscillate back and forth between those two opposing viewpoints. We are practicing agonism when we spend time shifting between a cooperative mode and an antagonistic one, when we spend time alternating between believing our own argument and doubting it and then between believing the voices of those with different perspectives and doubting them. Agonistic practices operate in a never-ending loop of criticism and support. We never have to choose one pole or the other, and we don't find a happy middle between them; instead, we spend time accepting (if temporarily) the tenets of each and then rejecting (if temporarily) the tenets of each, using the knowledge that we've gained to sharpen our own understanding. The effect is that our own views come out changed, even if they don't fully match either of the perspectives that we used to hone them.

Fitness Campaigns and Rhetorical Approaches

There are many efforts to make people healthier. These are supported by governments, medical professionals, and educational institutions. We've placed an emphasis on health as a cultural value and justified it through fiscal, psychological, and moral arguments (especially when it comes to collective health practices).

Those efforts are then co-opted by profit-driven companies to sell diet products, fitness wear, and gym memberships.

The result is that there is a conglomerate of efforts aimed at motivating people to exercise, diet, lose weight, and/or be more health conscious. Often, these efforts manifest themselves as PR campaigns, and it is in these campaigns that we can clearly see the three rhetorical frameworks of antagonism, cooperation, and agonism at work.

Antagonistic Approach: Special K and the Battle with Your Body

Just about every mainstream fitness campaign is going to fit into this category, but I think the Special K example is particularly interesting because it operates under a guise of feel-good, body-positive rhetoric.

The Special K "Gains Project" features the slogan "What will you gain when you lose?" and promotes weight loss through a series of ads aimed at showing the way life can be improved once weight loss is achieved. Their efforts have been award winning and praised for focusing on the mental and emotional impact of fitness rather than the physical.

Here's an example of one of those ads:

In this video, the focus on "pride" and "confidence" rather than a number on a scale carries overtones that align with the HAES and body acceptance movements, but the slogan of "What will you gain when you lose?" and the fact that the advertised product is a low-calorie food designed to fit into a weight loss plan demonstrates that "pride" and "confidence" are things that you get only after you have lost weight.

This commercial makes that point even more obvious:

As the voice over and text promises viewers they can "lose up to 6 pounds in two weeks," it's made clear that the women are not getting on the scale and seeing positive words like "joy" and "shine" in place of their weight; they're seeing those words because the number on the scale has gone down. They only get "pep," "pride," and "spirit" because they've managed to lose weight. Before, they didn't have these things.

By setting up a rhetoric in which you have to lose weight to gain positive qualities, the Special K campaign actually puts people (and it's not really all "people" since all of the characters in the ads are women) at war with their own bodies. What's keeping you from joy and pride and hope? You! Fight it by literally eliminating parts of yourself until you reach this target feeling (by reaching a target weight).

 Even in a campaign that feels light and positive, the dominant message of self-loathing and body shame is lurking just below the surface. This antagonistic approach of pitting women against their own bodies is pervasive, and one that we see particularly clearly in most "fitspo" messaging (an approach that is bad for you if health is your actual goal). 

The Cooperative Approach: The I Stand Campaign

With messages like the ones above so prevalent, it's no wonder that the HAES campaign moved radically to the other side of the equation with their "I Stand" project. This project by Marilyn Wann was sparked by her anger upon seeing a fat-shaming (and very antagonistic) billboard campaign aimed at children as part of the Strong4Life campaign. 

In an explanation for her campaign, Wann had this to say:

It [the Strong4Life billboard] shows a fat girl (an actor!) in a striped shirt, with this slogan over her belly: ‘It’s hard to be a little girl when you’re not.’ This is not a health message, it’s a hate message. I decided to put a photo of me in the place of that girl, with a slogan that tells children of all sizes I’ll stand up to their bullies, even if it’s a big hospital system (or the first lady) who does it.
She did this by creating a truly inspiring campaign of cooperative rhetoric. As she identifies in this statement, her audience is people who feel like their bodies are not accepted or acceptable, people who have been shamed, harassed, and bullied by the typical antagonistic rhetoric surrounding weight loss and health. With the "I Stand" campaign, Wann attempts to create a safe space where people can hear a message they very rarely hear: their bodies are fine as they are.

That initial reaction sparked an entire campaign using this kind of cooperative approach, and the results are truly radical in the face of so much antagonistic promotion of body hatred.

Every message takes an overt stance against shame and fear and promotes acceptance of all bodies repeatedly. Many of the images chosen portray fat bodies in ways we rarely see them. For one, they're fat bodies that actually have heads and faces, which can be a rare portrayal in itself. Many are also shown in poses of action and movement, happily demonstrating strength and power, a message that directly counters the Special K-promoted belief that we can only feel these things after weight loss.

An Agonistic Approach: This Girl Can and Tension without Hatred

The "I Stand" campaign goes a long way toward promoting body acceptance and providing people who are truly happy with their bodies a space in which they can feel affirmed and supported.

But what about people who do not want to be at war with themselves but would like to lose weight (be it for health, vanity, to fit into their clothes better, whatever)? They are left with the work of agonistically moving between these two rhetorical approaches to fitness and health. They can spend some time listening to the antagonistic approach (and they won't have to do much work to find it; it will seek them out in the form of billboards, commercials, and well-meaning but tone deaf acquaintances at every dinner party). The message that they need to lose weight in order to be healthy and that they can only do so by fighting against their current selves is entrenched in society.

Then they can actively seek out the alternative approach put forward in campaigns like the "I Stand" project. The message of body diversity and fat acceptance is not mainstream, but it's certainly much more prevalent than it once was. By moving back and forth between these two perspectives, taking what works and leaving what doesn't, wrestling with the tensions between the two (and there are many), we can begin to come to an agonistic understanding of the interaction between fitness and fatness, health and relationship we have with ourselves.

That agonistic endpoint is nicely (and fairly uniquely) captured in the new "This Girl Can" campaign from the UK's Sport England. The creators cite statistics showing that many women are intimidated by working out as their motivation for producing an advertisement that encourages a range of fitness activities for a range of bodies. They did not use models for the ad, instead opting for images of every day women to demonstrate the accessibility of fitness.

If you haven't seen it yet, here it is:

What I love about this ad is that it isn't shying away from the physical challenge of fitness. These women are exhausted and sweaty. But they're still having fun. I also love that it shows so many different kinds of fitness. Not into yoga? Fine! Hit that punching bag. Don't want to be alone? No problem! Here's a dance class. Hate the gym? Go run through an open field.

In some other spots for the campaign, that notion of challenge and tension is even more evident. Some of the women featured briefly in the video are given more intimate explorations of their own. One of these is titled "Julie vs. Inhibitions":

Julie talks about having to battle her inhibitions in order to take advantage of the fun and fitness offered in a public Zumba class. She is having to tackle a part of herself in order to accomplish this particular fitness goal, and the video tackles that without making Julie's conflict one of war. She isn't defeating herself the way the antagonistic fitspo memes tell her to; she's working through that tension to arrive at a better understanding of herself and fitness. 

That message is summed up perfectly in this spot "Kelly vs. 'Mummy'":

Here, Kelly is a single mom of three kids who struggles to find time to go to the gym. The video shows her working out in her living room with the children including doing sit-ups with a baby sitting on her chest.

I'm particularly interested in the title: "Kelly vs. 'Mummy.'" It's clear that this is not a battle. She is not stopping her role as 'Mummy' to take on her role as fit Kelly. She has to find a way to blend the two, and that blending is not a simple compromise; it's full of tension and conflict, but it is rewarding and valuable.

In the behind the scenes look at Kelly's video, we see Kelly's weight loss transformation in before and after photos and hear her talk about the gradual nature of fitness motivation.

Kelly's discussion of how just starting fitness and then continuing to do "a bit more and a bit more" will cause your body to push you further is a great example of the agonistic approach that this campaign embraces. It is not cooperative. There is a struggle between you and your body in this particular fitness endeavor, but it is not one of hatred or war; you are not "losing" yourself to become someone new. Instead, your body becomes part of the motivation, and that tension is a productive one rather than a destructive one.

Final Thoughts

I don't think the antagonistic approaches to fitness are going anywhere any time soon. I think that the dominant conversation surrounding fitness and fatness is going to be mired in the rhetoric of war. We're going to continue to hear that our bodies are our enemies and that we must hate them to make progress.

That's a heartbreaking and damaging message, so we have a few ways to counter it. The cooperative approach of body acceptance is an important part of untangling the mess left after a lifetime of antagonistic messages regarding fitness.

But this agonistic approach is the one that I personally respond to the best. I know that tension will always exist in my relationship to my body, and the act of lived experiences (like having a baby and breaking an ankle) have only made that more obvious. The state of my body and what it can do changes over time in different circumstances; that means there is a constant flux in the way that I can enact fitness in my life.

The only way that I can adequately address that fluctuating tension is to have an approach that embraces it and reacts to it. For me, that's an agonistic one.

Pete, harmishhk, Virgina (Ginny) Sanderson

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Good, the Bad, and the Curious (Links!)

It's a new semester! I love the new energy and getting back to a routine, but I'm only two days in (and don't even have students back yet), and I'm already exhausted. If it's a new semester for you, I hope it's going well, and if you live in the non-academic world, then I hope you're having a great week!

Anyway, here are some things I've been reading that made me smile (The Good), cry (The Bad), and think (The Curious). If you've got anything you've been reading or writing that you'd like to share, feel free to link up in the comments.

The Good

The Pope (who is infallible, at least to some) declared it fine to breastfeed in the Sistine Chapel, so I think we're pretty much good everywhere.


This 50 Greatest Cult Movies list is a good one. How many have you seen?

Dances with Fat has a post about how waiting until we reach a certain weight to enjoy our lives doesn't make much sense. 

Viola Davis giving the NYT a much-deserved burn.

Mallory Ortberg's satirical response to this horrendous article about a man's paternity leave experience is hilarious. 

The Bad

Bill Cosby.

Damon Wayans (talking about Bill Cosby around 22:30):

The new video form the Tamir Rice shooting shows police tackling his 14-year-old sister

The Curious

The Chronicle has some advice on writing with a heavy teaching load. It's good advice, but I don't know how much of it I'll actually use. (It's not easy.)

Talking Points Memo has a discussion about how Obama's call for free community college (which, let's face it, probably isn't happening) brings up questions and difficult circumstances that we need to face:
The result is nearly three decades of the wild west of higher education funding. States spent what they wanted to when they felt like it. They made big investments when times were good and took all of that and then some when times were bad. Students suffered in the form of greater tuition and more debt, but Uncle Sam never stepped in to bring law and order.
If adopted, today's announcement changes all that. It finally creates a formal expectation for what states should contribute to help their residents afford college.
I saw this post from Nicole Jankowski about why marriage will never be fair shared widely, but I think that conclusion is a little too simple. Just because we can't get (and shouldn't strive for) a 50/50 breakdown of duties on a daily basis doesn't mean that we can't get an overall partnership that is equitable, and talking about how we do that is the only way it will happen.

New NHS guidelines tell low-risk pregnant women to avoid hospitals for delivery.

This Salon post about Scott Aaronson and the connection between feminism and "nerd shaming" (as well as the links within it (and this one on the same topic) fascinated and perplexed me.

This (I don't know how I feel, but I definitely feel):

Countess Margaret didn't really birth 365 mouse-sized children. Or did she?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Blogging to My PhD: Stepping Into the Contact Zone (How Can We Talk About Dick Pics?)

I'm reading Identity Matters by Donna LeCourt, a book I'm really enjoying so far. In it, LeCourt talks about how her acceptance of contact zone pedagogy led to some really difficult places in the classroom.

Contact zone pedagogy draws from Mary Louise Pratt's work, which posits that the "contact zone" is the area in which two cultures overlap (often unevenly). Pratt's concept has been pulled into rhetoric and composition theory by scholars like Patricia Bizzell and Joseph Harris. Harris' article "Negotiating the Contact Zone" does a good job of summarizing much of this discussion and includes the following passage that dovetails nicely into LeCourt's work:

So far as I can determine, contact languages do not often seem to hold the sort of symbolic or personal value for their users that native languages do; they are rather born out of expediency, as a way of getting by. It is thus a little hard to see who (except perhaps for a teacher) would have much at stake in preserving the contact zone, since it is not a space to which anyone owes much allegiance.
We ask our students to adopt "contact languages" in the composition classroom because we are asking them to negotiate confrontation (and, most often, conflict) between the discourse they most commonly inhabit and the discourse of the academy. Their "home" discourse, of course, does not have the same weight or level of authority as the academic discourse, creating an imbalanced conflict aligned with Pratt's idea of a contact zone. This is a space filled with contention, grappling, and tension.  

Harris uses his conclusion to move (theoretically) beyond this kind of contact zone pedagogy:

But I am growing less inclined to valorize notions of conflict or struggle in and of themselves. I want instead to argue for a more expansive view of intellectual life than I now think theories of the contact zone have to offer-one that admits to the ways in which we are positioned by gender, race, and class, but that also holds out the hope of a more fluid and open culture in which we can choose the positions we want to speak from and for. To work as teachers towards such a culture, we need to move beyond think- ing in terms of fixed affinities or positions and the possible conflicts between them. We instead need to imagine a different sort of social space where people have reason to come into contact with each other because they have claims and interests that extend beyond the borders of their own safe houses, neigh- borhoods, disciplines, or communities.
LeCourt became similarly disenchanted with contact zone pedagogy when she realized that her success in getting students to see their subject positions as culturally inscribed and socially constructed did not always translate into them successfully moving beyond those inscriptions. In fact, she says her "students were just as likely to become more mired in their own positions" (18). Pointing out the subject positions and the way that they are constructed often had an effect that directly opposed LeCourt's goal:
Discussions often foregrounded the constructed nature of positions--for example, with comments continually prefaced by 'as a white person' or 'as an African American.' Students claimed ownership of those positions so vociferously that African American students would claim whites could never 'understand' a reading by Cornel West, or female students would tell male students they had no right to discuss an essay on women's experience. Seeing claims of positionality as a means of discussing difference did not lead to exceeding such positions to traverse boundaries. 
This is a tricky place for composition teachers. Ignoring the differences that culturally-enforced subject positions bring to our classrooms is detrimental and erases the lived experience of students while simultaneously cutting off the rhetorical power of ethos. Contact zone pedagogy is so attractive because it gives composition instructors a way to put those differences up front, pull them out of the margins and grapple with them as part of the instruction rather than as a distraction from it. But, as Harris and LeCourt are both exploring here, it doesn't always work out the way we hope. So what are we to do?

LeCourt identifies the source of this block in the way we perceive identity, even if we readily admit (in theory) that identity is a construct and one that we inhabit with multiplicity:
identities are too often acted upon as if they were authentic and unified within the cultural categories by which we explain our experience to ourselves and others. While we may wish to enact these multiple subjectivities in favor of other kinds of discursive action, the way we perceive identity frequently prevents such an intervention into culture
In other words,  you may be intellectually aware of the fact that social conditioning has led to your identification with particular groups and that your experiences are actually a multiplicity of those groups. I, for instance, recognize my subject position as a woman, as a wife, as a mother, as a teacher, as someone who grew up in poverty, as white, as heterosexual, etc. I can even recognize that the way I experience those identities is socially constructed. But when the time comes to "intervene into culture" by voicing my experiences from one of those positions, I often feel that identity in a way that is more visceral than that theoretical understanding allows.

When I am discussing something like the public breastfeeding debate, for example, my identity as a mother no longer feels socially constructed and like a splintered part of my many intersecting identities; it feels all-consuming and essential, and I speak from that space passionately.

We have to grapple with difference if public rhetoric is to have any meaning. As LeCourt says "a unitary public is no longer viable" and if rhetoric is to have any use it must "highlight what those positions might be by providing opportunities where difference is no longer marginalized under a false concept of a unitary consensus about social norms but becomes a possible site of rhetorical action."

And the internet has done that, right?

It has given people the opportunity to have a public voice without the censoring power of an authoritarian screen. No longer do you have to pitch your story to the editor of a powerful magazine to get it told; you can start your own blog and tell it without any censorship at all. We've found niches and tribes and communities for slivers of identity that would have seemed unfathomably small. If you want to read a blog about Wiccans who knit or new mothers who do sex work or tech geeks who drink herbal tea, you can do it.

It's a beautiful thing to have such access to these communities, and one that was virtually impossible even just twenty years ago. You can find the people who are like you easier than you've ever been able to before, and because of that you can find just what it is you are like in ways that you may have never even recognized without the aid of a community to show you the way.

But just as this highlighting of identities in LeCourt's classroom caused some unexpected consequences, we see the same thing happening in the larger public. We become so entrenched in those identities and so emboldened by our community membership that we stop trying to see things from other perspectives; we shut down conversations rather than engage in them. We create echo chambers where we only hear voices that agree with us.

Today, Salon shared an old post on their Facebook page about a woman who contacted a man's mother after he sent her an unsolicited picture of his penis. (I promise I'll make the connection in a second; I know that was a jarring leap.)

The Facebook comment thread on that post does an excellent job of illustrating the type of problems we're discussing.

Several men in the comments are angry that a man sending a picture of his penis to a woman who didn't want it and then calling her a "prude" for asking him to stop is called "rape culture" in the article.

Commenter Nathaniel Raddin said:
"I wonder what girls would think if guys started doing this? Honestly do you think most of the naked photos going around online are dudes sending pics? I think guys need to start treating girls the way they treat us honestly, if you talk to me in public and I don't want to hear it I am going to scream 'rape culture', if you flirt with me and I don't like you I am going to scream 'rape', and when I girl sends a naked picture you should send it to her mother and post it on the internet to shame her. Cause I am sick women screaming 'rape' when they don't like the attention, and then wearing almost no clothing in public and being mad when someone notices."
Commenter Brad Downy explains:
"She's on a dating site and when this guy makes an advance in a manner she doesn't like, it becomes "perpetuating rape culture"? Yeah, riiiight. Some women respond to that sort of direct approach, others do not. Calling her a "prude" is not a nasty reaction to her rejection. She should have just moved on instead of turning this guy's bad manners into some sort of political statement. It's ridiculous."
While you can go read through the thread for yourself for more examples, there's definitely a trend of men coming forward and calling this woman's response an overreaction. There are some people (both men and women) who try to take these comments to task. They try a variety of rhetorical strategies.

Many take to name calling and dismissal, but some attempt to create a "contact zone" of sorts by creating hypothetical situations in which these men could find some empathy and understanding. Commenter Jeremy Selenfriend, for example, tells Brad that this would be the equivalent of a man "whipping it out" at a bar just because a woman was flirting with him. Many women ask men to consider what it would be like to get constant pictures of penises and threats of violence sent to them.

Several other men get angry at these types of comments and use their position as a man to make their objection more powerful. For instance, Bob Bates says "A perfect response to a bully. Out them. No one should ever have to say 'knock it off' twice to unsolicited idiot nudes.What the FUCK is wrong with some of you guys? Don't make me come over there and rip up your 'Man Card.'"

But none of it seems to work. As I'm sure will not surprise you in the least, there are no "ah-ha, you've changed my mind about this!" comments anywhere in the thread. This is the most frustrating part of the internet: it seems to be a rhetorical dreamland, a utopian agora where ideas can be shared and minds can be enlightened, but instead it mostly turns into inane argument where no one is going to change their mind (see this hilarious argument over how many days there are in a week as a prime example).

Much like a classroom operating under the direction of contact zone pedagogy, a Facebook comment thread puts difference on full display. There is no upholding the illusion that we all exist in a consensus. Conflict is inevitable and often embraced.

But we also don't get anywhere. Despite the fact that numerous women are saying that these unsolicited pornographic pictures insult them, there are still several men saying that this is just a way of "making an advance" in the dating world. Not a single woman is coming forward to say "Yeah. I love a good unsolicited dick pic," but the men defending this action are so entrenched in their subject position that they don't notice, and the fact that there is more than one man making that argument emboldens them and gives them a community to fall back on. It's the reason that pick-up artistry is so disturbing. Creating a community of people who share a discourse gives strength to that discourse. In many cases, this is a fantastic way to give voice to the marginalized and draw attention to perspectives that have often been ignored and erased from history, but that same strength in community can also create bubbles around already privileged (and sometimes abhorrent) positions.

And that's what I think is happening in the dick pic argument. There are enough men sharing the perspective that this kind of behavior is okay that they can effectively shield themselves from the rhetorical acts of those around them. The men and women taking a variety of tactics to demonstrate the problem with their view can't get through that bubble. The dick pic supporters are so entrenched in their subject position (one of culturally-constructed notions of masculinity, patriarchy, and sexuality) that they are using that subject position to shield themselves from other perspectives. In fact, I think that part of what has them so angry in the first place is that the woman who sent the picture to the man's mother drew attention to the fact that we inhabit multiple subject positions simultaneously. The man was also "son." By pulling his mother into the conversation, the victim of the dick pic assault shattered the illusion that we can inhabit only one space at a time, and since that illusion brings a lot of power and comfort, we don't take such realities lightly.

Where does that leave us, rhetorically? I share Harris' and LeCourt's frustrations with contact zone pedagogy in my own composition classroom, but even more than that, I become frustrated with the way that attempts at embracing difference play out in our daily public interactions. I believe in the power of conflict and difference as a way to learn, grow, and thrive as human beings, but it's a potential that seems constantly squandered even in spaces where it is theoretically understood and embraced.

Pictures: Peggy Reimchen, Kathryn, Tim