When the popular blog Barstool Sports announced its Barstool Black Out Tour would be making a stop at Northeastern University, tickets sold out fast. However, some students were a little less enthusiastic about the event due to the content of the website, which they feel is offensive and misogynistic. To oppose NU’s affiliation with the event, a group of students assembled to create a group called Knockout Barstool.
Barstool is home to a bro-ish kind of humor that often features the objectification of women as its subject. Among the site’s most infamous segments are “Guess That Ass,” and “Local Smokeshow of the Day,” which allow readers to vote on celebrity rumps and rate local college girls based on their bodies. But what upset the KO Barstool team most is Barstool’s celebration of rape culture, a term used to describe the normalization of sex crimes.
“The idea is that rape jokes normalize rape. Thinking that these kind of things are funny is very hurtful and triggering to sexual abuse victims … it encourages a kind of a violent rhetoric, a rhetoric where women are at fault, where it’s okay to make threats,” says Anna Siembor, NU student and member of KO Barstool.
While Barstool’s head honcho Dave Portnoy, better known as “El Presidente,” claims he does not encourage rape, he has made sarcastic statements including, “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,” and “Even though I never condone rape, if you’re a size 6 and you’re wearing skinny jeans you kind of deserve to be raped right? I mean skinny jeans don’t look good on size 0 and 2 chicks, nevermind size 6′s.”
Such is the rhetoric that fueled the KO Barstool team to publicly disprove of the Blackout party in a letter published by the Huntington News, the University’s unofficial student newspaper:
“We demand Northeastern University and its administration stand for women and denounce Barstool Sports and the NU Blackout Party.”
Shortly after being published, the letter fell into the hands of Portnoy himself, who immediately began his attack on the KO Barstool team. He posted the letter to the Barstool site and called its supporters “dykes” and “ugly, hairy, lunatics,” causing his followers to flood The KO Barstool Tumblr and Facebook pages with negative comments.
“A lot of the rhetoric on the site has been used against us to threaten us. People who identify as stoolies saying ‘I’m going to rape your for that.’ It was basically insulting us: calling us fat, calling us ugly, [saying] we were just jealous,” says Seimbor.
Despite the antagonistic responses, KO Barstool has received much support from students and NU’s administration. A Speak Out organized by KO Barstool and Students Occupy Boston proved to be a success, even though Portnoy showed up and tried to speak but was denied a platform to do so. Though the Blackout party did end up happening, the name of the event was changed from the “Northeastern Blackout Party” to the “Huskies Blackout Party.”
“It was never our intention to shut down the party, I don’t think that’s really an attainable goal. It was mostly our goal to kind of come out and say ‘We’re Northeastern students and we disagree with this,’” says Seimbor.
As a woman, and as a college student, I appreciate the goal, even though I think the protests gave Portnoy and his website more publicity than both deserve. While the content of Barstool Sports is obviously intended for a certain audience, such humor provides a forum in which it is acceptable to degrade women. Whether Portnoy is trying to get a laugh, or a paycheck, or whatever, he is reducing women to one or two parts of their body. What’s worse is that the young men reading the blog now have a community of people who support that value system. Ultimately, Barstool Sports places women on the same level as livestock. The argument is not solely about abolishing rape culture, or combating the bounds of freedom of speech; it is about raising our social standards so that misogynistic humor, or any sexist humor, is no longer acceptable.
Opposition of Barstool Sports continues as Boston College and Boston University join the protest. To get involved with Knockout Barstool, check out the Facebook page.