Max and Montle: Sticks and stones will break my bones... and words hurt too.

2013-07-21 10:57

The crass facebook banter, by the now infamous jokers Max Barashenkov and Montle Moorosi, which hit the headlines recently, was insensitive.

Max wrote: I propose correctional rape and sterilization for any white person who twerks.

Montle wrote: i think rape can be quite fun if executed in a romantic manner. like saying “i love you” before you slip a roofie into her Earl Grey tea.

But the behind the scenes fighting as supporters and detractors pit themselves against one another can be considered as appalling.

The prosecution bayed for Blood: Max and Montle are fucking awful people. Patronising, non-empathic, self righteous pricks. Never met them, never want to. After first making those jokes, and then writing that apology they’ve proved they're dicks!

The defence was heated: You’re entitled to your opinion – no matter how blatantly flawed it is, FemiNazi! Are you bringing your knitting needles along to the public slaying?!

The furore around Max and Montle’s facebook comments points to the sensitivity of the nation when it comes to rape; a raw nerve was exposed, an underlying angst and awareness of how terribly wrong and damaging rape is, that rape cannot, ever, be joked about. Rape is abhorrent. Whether it’s corrective rape, male rape, date rape, as a violation of human rights it’s a crime which too often results in horrific murder.

But the twitter slanging match took the lid off another can of worms – an arrogance around the way we speak to each other on social media. The more I’ve thought about it, the more offensive I find the behind-the-scenes rapier thrusts from either side of the cyber courtroom. The expectation is that teenagers will banter the way Barashenkov and Moorosi did, but that adults will not. And an equal expectation is that adults will try to understand the deeper issues here, from all quarters, without reacting aggressively.

The aggression of the ‘jokes’ as indicative of an underlying disrespect to women can’t be ignored, and hasn’t been, but the vicious retaliation shouldn’t be ignored either. It all brings us back to the power of words.

People, too fast and loose with their tongues, too often spout sexist, violent, racist language which, it turns out, is as fear inducing, as ugly, as violating and as wounding as a violent physical act itself. Words are the reason why the two men, Barashenkov and Moorosi, have now lost their jobs. Their careless comments have cost them their livelihoods and their reputations.

Yet, if words hurt, if jokes in bad taste are felt so severely, then why is it okay, and it goes uncontested, to brand a man ‘violent’ or a ‘self-righteous prick’ on a public forum? Or to liken feminists to blood thirsty ‘Nazis’. If a joke about rape is in effect a manifestation of violence, then surely the insulting backlash, on both sides, is as abhorrent.

At any time, on facebook or twitter, distasteful comments abound; people attack others; they vent and rant and fling around nasty, underhand accusations. There’s something about the ‘faceless’ aspect of facebook and twitter that allows people to risk the kind of comments, and base language, that would not be tolerated in face to face conversation. There’s no decency in aggression. And relentlessly spewing vitriol in the name of justice smacks of hypocrisy.

I’d be a little afraid if I was Max Barashenkov, who seems to be taking the brunt of the scrutiny. Every sexist, male-chauvinist word he’s ever written is being dredged up for public consumption. I don’t know him. He might be immature and juvenile, but I can’t believe he is completely the monster he’s denounced as. And if he is?

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission taught us something, surely. The value of forgiveness. I’ve written before, that forgiveness means letting go of one’s own pain. I always remember Linda Biehl. It was violence that killed her daughter, Amy. Sticks and stones broke her bones, fists beat her to a pulp. Yet through a process of engaging, of listening, of talking with the men who beat her child to death,  the men, who grew and learned, were not only forgiven, but employed by Linda once they were released from prison. A number of them went on to do great things. The act of murder led to the establishment of the Amy Biehl Foundation from which so much good has come.

Moorosi and Barashenkov’s apology, see here,  in the form of an open letter had too many caveats attached to be taken seriously. It came across as insincere and defensive, and acted as a spark to ignite an inferno.  A simple (and remorseful) ‘We are so sorry’, without the bluster and excuses, might have been more effective, and might have been ‘heard’ by the injured parties.

But they made one very pertinent comment which comes after the apology clause, and it’s a phrase we should take heed of: 'Once again, we extend our deepest apologies to all victims of rape and to those that we have offended. We hope that people will remember that the spirit of this country is based on tolerance and understanding, not on blind hate and public lynching'.

We pride ourselves, as a nation, on reconciliation, on forgiveness, on tolerance, on conflict resolution. We know the theory - attack the problem, not the person. It concerns me that Barashenkov and Moorosi have not been engaged in some sort of meaningful exchange.

As objective, conscious, mature, rational, evolved adults (!), we can surely take a step back from vehemence and find a way to talk to each other when conflict arises. I mean talk face to face... It’s too easy to take bits and pieces out of context to build a case, either for or against, over social media, which can have dire consequences for all involved.

The sense of anger is justified, again shining the spotlight on the problem: the high incidence of rape in this country. Linda Stupart, who outed the jokers, explains and stands up for her actions in this article, entitled On the Pain of Violent Men, or Why I'm not Sorry about Max and Montle.

Let’s just make sure that as we make a stand for dignity, that as women and men, we maintain our humanity into the bargain.

I'm on twitter @JoanneHichens

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