On February 2, a group of Boston University students ventured to the House of Blues, joining the Northeastern University members of a group called “Knockout Barstool” in protesting Boston Barstool Sport’s “Blackout” party. Shouting “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Rape culture has got to go!” the students, female and male alike, held a party of their own outside the venue.
“Rape culture” describes a climate in which rape has been trivialized. Some of examples of rape culture are jokes like, “I just got raped by that chem exam!” Rape culture also encompasses victim blaming. Victim blaming is what occurs when someone says a rape victim, having been dressed provocatively, was “asking for it.” The girls of the “Knockout Barstool” movement believe the blog Barstool Sports is laden with examples of rape culture at work.
Barstool Sports is a 7 year-old blog curated by media man and huge Boston presence David Portnoy, or “El Pres,” as his faithful followers affectionately call him. As one would expect, the Barstool Sports website features primarily sports news. It also has regular features such as “Smokeshow of the Day,” “Guess that Ass,” a hot-or-not style game called “Smoke Smash,” and “Grading the Newest Sex Scandal Teacher,” a column in which he grades female teachers accused of sexually assaulting students in areas of physical attractiveness and bad judgment.
Portnoy’s site has been under fire in the past. In one incident, Portnoy posted a nude photo of Tom Brady’s 2 year-old son and referenced the child’s genitalia in the adjacent article. Portnoy subsequently removed the photo from the site after being advised by the police to do so.
The website also hosts “blackout” parties. At these parties, which have been touring the northeast, college students wear neon clothes and dance under black lights in a club-like setting. Many people believe the party’s name, “blackout,” connotes getting blackout drunk.
A group of Northeastern University students banded together to fight their school’s association with a Barstool blackout party. The students created a cleverly titled group: Knockout Barstool. They feel that in taking a stand against these parties, they are taking a stand against a website they believe perpetuates and contributes to rape culture. Their efforts began with a simple Tumblr.
The following are interviews with both a founding member of Knockout Barstool and “El Pres” David Portnoy on rape culture, accountability, and the possibility for future protests.
Anna Siembor, founding member of Knockout Barstool:
Q: What is the ultimate goal of Knockout Barstool?
A: Originally we wanted Northeastern to publicly disassociate themselves from Barstool Sports, and this is still one of our goals. But because of all the attention and support we’ve gotten, because other universities are getting involved, we want to create a dialogue about the epidemic of rape on college campuses. … Ultimately, no Barstool Blackout Tour will go unchallenged in the eyes of a student body.
Q: Have you had any direct contact with representatives from Barstool Sports?
A: No. We have not. Dave Portnoy has done nothing but insult and harass us and encourage others to threaten, stalk and insult us.
Q: How do you think organizations like Barstool contribute to rape culture?
A: Joking about rape normalizes the idea of sexual assault. From a recent BS article: “we don’t condone rape of any kind at our Blackout Parties in mid-January. However if a chick passes out that’s a grey area though.” That’s supposed to be a joke, but women (and men) have been raped when passed out. It happens every weekend, at parties, bars and clubs. Why is that OK to joke about? Because rape has been normalized. Because people don’t understand the psychological trauma a sexual assault victim must go through.
Q: In what ways, other than demonstrations such as Knockout’s, can college-aged girls stand up against rape culture? Why is it important that they do so?
A: College aged women and men can both stand up against rape culture. They can write blogs or simply just talk to their friends. They can practice enthusiastic consent in their own sex lives. It’s important because safety is important, because equality is important.
Q: What are some of the occurrences of rape culture you think college students have become “blind to”? How is rape culture a presence on the campuses of Northeastern and BU?
A: Some stoolies have dismissed us as ugly butch lesbians. Apparently, it’s the worst insult they could think of. I think that speaks to perceived importance of the male gaze. Women are told that if they are not attractive, they are nothing. Even now, when women make up more than half of incoming college students, we’re still being made to feel secondary, as if we’re just eye-candy. We know to cover our drinks so we don’t get roofied. We know to hold out our keys as a potential weapon if we’re alone and looking for our car. We say that other women are sluts if they’re wearing clothing that in any way exposes their shape. These are all examples of rape culture, of things that wouldn’t occur if we didn’t victim-blame.
Q: After Northeastern’s blackout party, will those who’ve dedicated their efforts to Knockout move on? Or will they find another cause to contribute to?
A: Knockout Barstool won’t end after the NU Blackout. We hope to bring KOB to other campuses, including BU and BC. We will continue to fight for equality and educate about rape culture.
David Portnoy, President of Barstool Sports:
Q: When and how did you discover the existence of the “Knockout Barstool” campaign and what was your initial reaction?
A: A couple Northeastern kids emailed me the link. My initial reaction was that it was a joke started by some over-the-top feminists who hate my guts and have nothing better to do than make a stink about nothing.
Q: Knockout supporters believe Barstool contributes to “rape culture.” What’s your reaction to this sentiment?
A: I think it’s crazytown. We don’t condone rape. The millions of college guys and girls who read us know that. We are a satirical comedy website.
Q: What security/safety precautions are taken at Barstool’s blackout parties to keep partygoers safe?
A: The same precautions that exist at every concert venue in the United States. Professional security hired by the venue. We’ve had zero sexual assaults/complaints or anything of that nature in seven years of throwing parties. The only police report in seven years of business that has been filed has been by KO Barstool against me for apparently being funny. It’s easy for five people at KO Boston to bitch and moan but the facts are there are no facts to back up anything they say.
Q: How does Barstool plan on addressing any protests at future blackout party dates?
A: Ignore them.
Q: From a post addressing Knockout Barstool: “I don’t know what misogyny means but if it’s good we’re it and if it’s bad we’re not.” Being that misogyny is “bad,” do you deny any misogynistic tones on your website?
A: If you’re asking if we make jokes based on stereotypes the answer is yes. Not just women but everybody. KO Boston shouldn’t be crusading against us. They should be crusading against comedy in general.
Last thing… 99.9% of college students love Barstool. Guys and girls. We’ve had more girls in the last minute ask for tickets to our sold out events than KO Boston has in their group. I will give these girls credit that they are a determined bunch. But they are serial protesters. If they weren’t making a stink about us it would be something else. Facts are we don’t condone rape. We’ve made off color jokes about everything in every walk of life. I believe they have two examples of rape jokes that were clearly satirical in seven years of blogging. That’s hundreds of thousands of blogs. Everybody with a rational thinking mind knows that. There is a reason girls and guys love the site. Basically this handful of women are trying to tell the rest of the world they are smarter than them and know how they should think and act.
On Saturday, March 31, the House of Blues will play venue yet again, this time to Boston University’s own blackout party. Members of BU’s feminist collective, Fem Co, have gathered to create a protest of their own. In several blog posts, David Portnoy has responded to the actions of Knockout Barstool. These “sluts” and “crazy bitches,” as he has called them, are tossing around ideas for an alternative party and educational events on rape culture. With their determination and the backing of Knockout Barstool’s founding members at Northeastern, one can imagine it will be difficult for “el Pres” to simply “ignore them.”