An open letter to Kickstarter

UPDATE: 6/21 – Kickstarter has done the right thing in my opinion. I am quite happy with the outcome. http://www.kickstarter.com/blog/we-were-wrong

The author Ken Hoinsky has also opened up dialogue to help fix some of the problems with the text. Even if it doesn’t solve everything, it is great that this really has become a teaching/learning moment. That is a very positive outcome! From: http://www.theawl.com/2013/06/ken-hoinsky-on-rape-culture-women-and-mistakes (ignore that the author of this article doesn’t actually understand what was wrong with the book in the first place and makes a series of confused, straw-man arguments in favor of the book)
“I’m still writing the book. I admit wrongdoing and apologize for some of the language in the book. I have been in touch with Do Something and some leading anti-rape and anti-abuse organizations to rewrite the problematic advice under their guidance and advice. I am starting a public dialogue on the intersection of men’s dating advice & feminist issues. With this I am attempting to kill the stigma against men’s “seduction” advice once and for all.”

——

To whom it may concern:

I have been an avid Kickstarter user for 3 years. I have backed 103 projects and received funding for my own film project via Kickstarter. I believe in the power of crowdfunding to bring creations into the world that would otherwise be infeasible. I believe in the power of crowdfunding to make the world better by breaking down barriers and democratizing access to necessary resources for good ideas.

I understand that making decisions about whether projects meet your guidelines, and even the development of those guidelines is running a maze of gray areas. I do not envy the job of those who make these decisions. It is my belief, however, that you have recently made a significant error in judgment on these policies.

I’m disappointed that the _Above the Game_ Kickstarter project was approved via review for inclusion as a fundable project on Kickstarter.com. I suspect that even the author and backers do not have a full grasp on the problems with the implications of the language used in the project, nor with the damaging implicit ideas about consent and male-female relationships that are perpetuated by a project like this.

I recognize that it is likely too late to reverse funding on the project and can accept that there will be challenges and growing pains as your platform encounters new types of projects and new unexpected complexities. I do hope that this can be used as a learning moment to prevent projects like this from being greenlit for site inclusion in the future.

I’ve seen some support for this project, citing free speech as a reason that all ideas must be allowed an opportunity to appear on the site, but as I am sure you are aware, this is a flawed idea. I certainly would not assert that this “Guide to Getting Awesome with Women” should not be allowed to be published. I would, however, suggest that no one believes that resource providers, such as publishers, are obligated to support anything simply because it exists. Kickstarter is under no obligation, implied or otherwise, to provide its resources to projects that are considered morally abhorrent. In fact, it’s quite clear in the content policy that this has been considered and a decision has been made on the matter:

  • No offensive material (hate speech, etc.); pornographic material; or projects endorsing or opposing a political candidate.

Therefore, there is no doubt that freedom of expression and idea is not without bounds in your system. Now we enter the gray area in which I believe an incorrect decision was made.

Consent itself is complex. We tackle issues of consent daily with every person we encounter. We read social cues and use accepted (and ever-progressive) norms for behavior toward one another. In times of ambiguity, we might make verbal requests or inquiries regarding consent – may I sit here? Can I touch the fabric on the sleeve of your shirt? etc.

Consent in sexual pursuit is even more complex and is significantly muddied by some extremely dangerous implicit ideas (with quotes below in italics that are from portions of the sources for the proposed output of this project).

1. Pursuit should be viewed as a cat-and-mouse game.   
If we’re looking to reduce sexual assaults, we must stop portraying sex as a prize to be won (or taken). The entire premise of this project is problematic in this sense, but the specific language is really where the actionable issues stand.

2. No means maybe until it’s shouted.
“If at any point a girl wants you to stop, she will let you know. If she says “STOP,” or “GET AWAY FROM ME,” or shoves you away, you know she is not interested. It happens. Stop escalating immediately and say this line:

“No problem. I don’t want you to do anything you aren’t comfortable with.”
Memorize that line. It is your go-to when faced with resistance. Say it genuinely, without presumption. All master seducers are also masters at making women feel comfortable. You’ll be no different. If a woman isn’t comfortable, take a break and try again later.
All that matters is that you continue to try to escalate physically until she makes it genuinely clear that it’s not happening. She wants to be desired, but the circumstances need to be right. With some experience, you will learn to differentiate the “No, we can’t… my parents are in the next room… OMG FUCK ME FUCK ME HARD” from the”SERIOUSLY GET THE FUCK OFF OF ME, YOU CREEP” variety of resistance.”

This is perhaps the biggest challenge regarding navigating consent. We are all clear on what rape/assault looks like on film, but I’m extremely concerned that we don’t all consider repeatedly pushing a physical action that has been denied previously to be on the assault spectrum. Is this “making women feel comfortable” or simply a form of psychological attack, relentlessly pushing until either the recipient gives up, feels guilty, or MAYBE, as is stated in this, becomes interested. How can one ever expect to really know the differences between those? I suspect this guy’s “learning” involved evaluation based on outcome. In other words, did they eventually give in? If so, they really wanted it?

It is a suggested (and is probably true) that a cycle of attack-apologize-attack-apologize results in either “success” or screaming protest. Does seeking success in this case really then mean that the only way that a woman can break this cycle is screaming protest? Do we need to train women to scream every time they don’t want someone to kiss them? How many times have rape victims been told they weren’t really raped because they didn’t fight back (another)?

Make her push your hand away as you get closer to her vagina. Fucking ravish her.”


Do we really consider this acceptable just because there is no screaming? Demand that she fights back with physical force?!?!?

3. There is underlying desire for you, even if you are rebuked
“You realize that all women desire passion, good sex and adventure. It is your mission on this planet to bring that to them – to make them feel sexy, loved and beautiful.”

If we are implictly told (and believe) that women want us and just don’t realize it, it is not only our right to coerce them, but we’re then doing it for their benefit. It is not only acceptable, but it is then noble to use psychological warfare to break down women’s resolve until they give in.

Suggested action – policy change/clarification

I recognize, again, that decisions regarding the suitability of projects are subtle and complex, but I feel reluctant to use Kickstarter, either by contributing to projects or creating projects, until a policy that would prevent projects like this from being greenlit in the future, has been implemented.

I certainly also recognize that  you [Kickstarter] hold final say in the creation and enforcement of policies, but I hope that you will consider the moral values of the community that you hope to attract. I am active in supporting organizations that consider progressive morality, and active in not supporting organizations that do not.

I hope that you consider me to be part of your valuable user base and that you will make these policy changes as soon as they can be reasonably and carefully organized and considered.

It may be surprising, but I believe that the plausibility and acceptability of these ideas in this particular project makes them more dangerous than a discussion that is framed as explicitly misogynistic or aggressively male-sexual-rights focused. In particular, the entire project is framed as a methodology for showing how “you are genuinely delighted by women. You cannot help but celebrate their beauty.”

Sounds great. I’m just not sure that my delight with women and my celebration of their beauty involves assault.

Thanks for considering a policy revision. I look forward to an announcement of change.


If you wish to read more:
http://caseymalone.com/post/53339539674/this-is-not-fucking-harmless
http://caseymalone.com/post/53394156872/hey-everyone-if-youre-here-its-probably
http://www.thedailybeast.com/witw/articles/2013/06/19/above-the-game-a-guide-to-the-art-of-rape-seduction.html
http://news.yahoo.com/kickstarter-wont-down-guide-getting-awesome-women-231331273.html
http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/06/19/kickstarter-pick-up-guide-tells-men-pull-out-your-c-ck-and-put-her-hand-on-it/
http://freethoughtblogs.com/brutereason/2013/06/19/tell-kickstarter-not-to-fund-this-gross-book-about-how-to-get-laid-by-assaulting-women/