Getting Punched In the Genitals by a Christmas Song
Walking down Division Street, headed from a morning workout, I’m all smiles. I love this time of year. Colored globes and fake snowflakes hung on the poles along the thoroughfare, festive decorations in the storefront windows and at least a sense of good will permeates the myriad bodies heading to and fro along the sidewalk.
“Good morning and Merry Christmas!” I bark out, to no one in particular. “Baby, it’s cold outside!”
This haphazard reference to the Christmas song that has become the latest obsession for its possible references to date rape suddenly offends a woman walking by. She doesn’t say anything to me but her withering look tells me all I need to know. She’ll get on the L and write a Faceborg post about the creepy old white guy quoting the date rape song on the street and how she thought about confronting him but was in a hurry to get to her yoga class with the misogynist teacher who stares at her ass.
Some would say that her offense is justified and the impact of my statement is cause for me to take responsibility for her discomfort. Others would argue that my offense was completely unintended and therefore not my responsibility.
Impact versus intent.
It seems that so many of the ugly disagreements on social media today revolve around this idea. Those most likely to embrace a sense of perpetual grievance — against the Patriarchy (of which apparently I am a member though without a special card or knowledge of the secret handshake), White Supremacy, the Able-Bodied, the Heterosexual, the One Percent (whew! At least I’m not included in one of the Opressor Categories!) — will argue vehemently that the intent behind a problematic song or a micro aggressive request of where someone may be from, or a suggestion to smile, is irrelevant. It is the impact upon the aggrieved that matters and matters monolithically.
The call to arms is for those who offend or trigger or make someone feel unsafe to practice empathy and find a sense of compassion and accountability. Most of us do this almost reflexively — if someone inadvertently bumps into a stranger, the natural reaction is to say “Excuse me” and perhaps apologize for the error. This empathy is almost instantly erased when the person bumped into instantly demands that apology, feels immediately entitled to some sort of verbal restitution, and declares “What the fuck? Watch where you’re going, asshat!”
I’d suggest that to truly practice empathy and have the practice mean anything pragmatic, both the aggrieved and the aggrieving parties have to focus on empathy for the other. In other words, when a manager who has demonstrated virtually zero racist tendencies in the three months you’ve worked with him inadvertently uses the term “Lawn Jockey” and you are extremely offended and voice your distress, he should immediately employ some empathy to understand why you are offended and take some responsibility for that offense, and you should employ a bit of empathy by taking into consideration that your offense was unlikely intended.
Without both sides doing that empathy thing, the balance of the issue boils down to the believability of harm. You’re offended. He doesn’t empathize and so you amp up the level of reaction like a kid who skins her knee and screams louder when no one notices. The higher the stakes of your offense, the less likely he believes he has caused you any distress and the more likely he sees your histrionics as a power grab using the currency of victimhood as leverage.
Simply put, the louder you bitch the less likely I/he/she/we/they am/are to be empathetic. So if your goal is mutual understanding of how we affect one another, your stridency fails. If your goal is to simply “put me in my place,” shout me down, and create more animosity than there was before, you’re succeeding remarkably.
Welcome to the Faceborg Nation, friends and neighbors. Try the coffee — it’s bitter and unforgiving and comes only in Black or White.
Is “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” a bit creepy? Maybe. IF you decide to look at it through that lens. Is it a brick in the institutionalized rape culture that must be eliminated from the Christmas lexicon and if you don’t agree you’re a rape apologist? Gimme a fucking break, OK?
That said, perhaps I’ll be a bit more careful with my Christmas playlists (careful to avoid overtly Christian songs in the presence of agnostics, atheists, and non-Christians as well as anything sung by domestic abuser Bing Crosby) and maybe limit my holiday greetings to people I know.
Probably not, though.