I’ve been a yes-girl in my steampunk community for a while. Anytime I’m asked to help with something I say, “Yes. What do you need?” My talents are limited, but it turns out I have a knack for dressing well and looking cute, so more often than not my contributions are posing for a camera and letting people use the results. This year I was asked if my image could be used as a place holder for a page three girl slot in a Steampunk convention’s schedule. The schedule was meant to be in the style of an old newspaper. I said, “Yes, of course as long as it’s tasteful.” I have no qualms with using the sexual nature of humans as long as there is consent involved. However, my picture over/next to an image of a woman’s body divided into cuts of meat. The image was a very classical example of dehumanization and dismemberment (in this case implied) of women in the media. My image was sitting next to the implication that women are meat. Meat to be cut up. Meat to be consumed. At that moment I became meat and I remained meat for the rest of the convention.
Dismemberment of women in media is not a topic talked about often enough. It is so normalized that most people don’t even realize that they are looking at an image of something that was human. The image of a person becomes a part, a chunk, a piece of meat. A woman becomes her thighs, her hips, her breasts. She stops being a person. Once she is dehumanized, she becomes an item for consumption. That is what happened to me and many other women attending this convention.
I’m one of the dismembered torsos in there. I’m the black bustle and red corset with the hip twitch. My head has been cut off. My identity as a human being has been removed, and I’ve been reduced to a headless torso: a piece of meat to be consumed.
The above screenshot was my response to this offensive, dehumanizing video. I was quite displeased that my image was being used without my consent in a dismemberment, creeper-shot style video. To expand a little on the content of this video, there was a mannequin in the mix of female torsos. It is almost completely unrecognizable as such to the point that multiple people on a following thread about this video did not believe it existed. This mannequin served a wonderful purpose in this video. It served to show us that female bodies were being portrayed in such a way that the female bodies were indistinguishable from an actual object.
Later that night the video was apparently deleted after the Facebook altercation. However, instead of a graceful removal of the video with an appropriate apology for objectifying women, there was this:
“And since no one can agree on what is proper or degrading, or ugly or beautiful, dehumanizing or consenting, a proper angle or disgusting view of someone..I have removed the video…The Man who put together video has over 200 hours of video he took at the convention..Those that knew he was video taping you can see they responded by waving or pointing at the camera..the rest were area shots that he took angles and paned up on a scene sorta like scrolling on a picture..Carry on..Find something else to complain about.”
In other words, for “the rest” who did not consent, “The Man” took shots at surreptitious angles reducing human beings to headless tits, hips, and asses in a corset.
The video was removed from the convention’s FB group.
Carry on..Find something else to complain about.
The following comments were along the lines of calling me and my handful of friends who took issue with this video “trolls and haters.” There were a lot of comments about how these “trolls” and “haters” were trying to make everything fail, particularly the convention. One comment that really struck me was, “No statue, monument or plaque has ever been raised to a critic. Just sayin.”
Only they have been raised. Take a moment to think of all of your civil rights leaders. They were critics.
Beyond the dismissive nature of most of the retorts, one of the chairs of this con posted a seething post about how much work went into this with little to no pay addressing the audience as, “To All who love and enjoy Steampunk in any way.” In the same response, begging the fact the photographer that filmed this video has over 200 hours of video, he asked, “So..before you attack or put down someone elses work..take a min..think about it..Does tearing down someone’s work really do anyone any good?” He didn’t address the fact that the women in the video were hurt by this use of their sexuality without their consent all the while implying they don’t care for this scene.
So, did my public admonishment accomplish anything? Did my addressing the fact that my sexuality was being used without my consent do any good? Did pointing out that we have been reduced to objects do any good?
This is how the community responded to blatant misogyny and the objectification of community members (paraphrased):
So what?; There are boobs in corsets; This was about the corsets; There were some faces shown; This is clearly just about consent to use faces; Anyone who is uncomfortable with boobs and bustles is going to have a hard time in the Steampunk community; This is art. People can do whatever they want with their art.
My body and sexuality were exploited in a way that reduced me to sexually objectified body parts ready for consumption. “Who cares?” the community asks.
And I am using my voice to say that this isn’t okay. For speaking out against this blatant disregard for consent and sexual objectification of women in my community, I am getting dismissive, angry backlash.
Women who speak out against sexualized violence get backlash. Jackson Katz in The Macho Paradox says, “Women who dare to break the customary female silence about gender violence are often reminded that there is a price to pay for their boldness. They certainly run the risk of evoking men’s hostility and anger, because to challenge men’s right to control women is to threaten men who see such control as their birthright.”
Right now, in my immediate community, the discussion of how we portray women’s bodies continues. My “tearing down” someone’s work accomplished that. And while the men in charge may not be comfortable, angry even, with this discussion, I won’t be silenced.
I will never be silent again.
So, my request to you is: Carry On. Find Something Else to Complain About.
Don’t stop until misogyny is no longer a problem in our community. I know I won’t.
Jenny Choate is a recent University of Michigan graduate. She spends a lot of time playing table top role playing games, larping,or participating in her Steampunk community. The rest of her time is spent reading up on feminist world issues. She is a no wave, intersectionalist, radical feminist.