The Feminist Gadfly

Discussing the problems of feminist identification in the context of gender egalitarianism

Category: Activism

Missing the Point

by aronjerrison

[Content Notes: Male privilege, Discussion of sexual harassment and rape culture]

In a fantastic, recent article [CN: Reference to sexual harassment and assault] on Jezebel, adult performer Stoya made a call to action. Women across the world face verbal and physical sexual harassment every day while people look blithely on. This should not be the case. We need to speak out when we see this occurring, we need to speak out when we hear about it having occurred, and we need to speak out when we hear someone considering it.*

She’s right.

There’s no question about it. In order to combat the sexual harassment that has become so ingrained in our society we need to do more than just not perpetrate it, we need to actively stop it being perpetuated.

Apologizing for gendered harassment helps no one. As she says:

Men have been responding saying that they want to divorce their gender. That they didn’t realize, until we started sharing our stories en masse, what it is like to be a woman. That they wish there was something they could do. That they’re sorry for the way other men treat people. Men shouldn’t have to feel like they need to apologize on behalf of their gender, or feel ashamed of being male. Unless they’re one of the ones doing the harassing, I don’t think they should apologize.

Why then, when I scrolled down to the comments, did I find three different people apologizing on behalf on their gender on the very first page?

It’s not simply a matter of not being responsible for other people’s actions, apologizing on behalf of our gender helps no one. Apologizing for sexual harassment isn’t going to stop it happening; if you’ve sexually harassed someone, apologizing isn’t going to erase what you’ve done.

Over on Shakesville about two months ago, Melissa McEwan wrote a post in which she said the following:

contemplating rape culture for the first time as a 44-year-old man with two daughters, and patting oneself on the back for it instead of framing it as the profoundly regrettable evidence of privilege that is is, isn’t something that ought to be praised—and praising it breathes life into the terrible idea that rape culture is difficult for “men” to understand. That is not accurate.

She was discussing Louis C.K.’s role in Toshgate, but it seems to be applicable here. Saying “Oh shit, I never realized how bad things are. I’m sorry.” and thinking that that is going to help shows a profound misunderstanding of how negative aspects of our culture are perpetuated. Just as harmful as the people who degrade and objectify women are those who stand by doing nothing or offering their condolences. By not speaking out, they exacerbate the problem, their passivity is why rape culture exists.

Men have a role to play. We need to stop our friends, family members, and acquaintances from engaging in degrading behavior.

Sometimes, it’s just a matter of ignorance. Telling a friend that his behavior is misogynistic might be enough to open his eyes. Other times, however, it won’t be enough, and cutting that person out of your life may be in order.**

Either way, standing by, saying “I’m sorry” isn’t going to help anyone; it’s just missing the point.


*Please, don’t take my word on this, read her article.

**I understand how hard something like this can be; I am currently struggling with it myself. (There may be a forthcoming post on the topic)

I Welcome the Coming Polyamorous Revolution, and You Should Too

by EddyNorthwind

[Content Note: Polyamory, discussion of homophobia and anti-poly sentiment*]

Over on Role / Reboot, an article said something that got me thinking.

My son told me that as much as he enjoyed it, he did not plan to do multiple partner sex again. He thought it was great as an introduction, but now he wanted to go back to a single heterosexual partner. As I audibly sighed with relief, he reminded me gently, “Mom, poly is the new gay.” If I wanted to keep my cred as a liberal parent I would need to accept it. This set me back for a second. I thought about how quick I was to judge other parents who refused to accept their adult children’s homosexual relationships. Poly is the outpost on the sex positive frontier that my children’s generation has reached.

Poly is the new gay. The similarities are definitely real. The Christian Right believes our “lifestyle choices” are abominations, and would rather us not exist. Poly marriage is as illegal as gay marriage, and has even less popular support. We’re both extremely othered by mainstream culture — gays with archetypes like the gay male pedophile or the scary man-hating lesbian, and poly people with images of philandering jerks and religious cults. I can easily imagine the same battles we’re fighting now over gay rights being repeated 50 years down the road over polyamory, with one key difference.

Polyamory actually is a lifestyle choice. And that’s awesome.

We’re making progress on the gay rights frontier, but that progress has mainly come about by changing how society views homosexuality, and not by changing how society views sex. I’m fine with this. All the same, it does leave much to be desired.

While it’s possible that poly rights will follow a similar route — normalizing polyamory rather than promoting sex positivity, that seems unlikely to me. There is no “born this way” for polyamory; it’s a choice. To win this one, we’re going to have to convince people that poly lifestyles are no better or worse than mono lifestyles; it’s simply a matter of preference. To do that, we’re going to have to convince people that sex is fundamentally private and personal, and that good consent, safety, and honesty are the only issues society has any business regulating or stigmatizing.

Read that last sentence again, because those two propositions are the absolute core of sex positivity. If we win poly rights, we win the culture war, at least about sex. There will be no need to worry about de-stigmatizing (safe, consensual) BDSM, because it will fall under the umbrella ideal of “your sex is not my business.”

I want to live in that future, and applaud those who are making it possible. Keep kicking ass.


*After reading AJ’s recent post and a ton of Shakesville, I decided to personally adopt the Shakesville policy of putting content notes on everything instead of trigger warnings on potentially volatile stuff. I haven’t talked to the other Gadflies about this yet, but if you see them doing it it’s because we’ve agreed to all start doing it.

Facebook and casual sexism

by EddyNorthwind

First, an image:

As you can probably guess, I made this after seeing one too many of the “As’ rules for Bs'” Facebook memes, and figured I’d share it in hopes that someone will find it useful. This phenomena deserves more than just a 92 word response, though, so I figured I’d comment on it here in a more extended manner.  But first, some source material:

…and you get the gist. (content copy/pased after the jump for non-Facebookers and in case links break)

This stuff is pretty obviously sexist, but for the sake of completeness, I’ll go over why:

1) It makes a hugely general claims about classes of people (men and women) that vary widely; many of these claims don’t even apply to a majority of people in the given class. Example: It’s pretty hard to get statistics on “sports fans”, since the term is so loosely defined, but Super Bowl XLV had 111.3 million viewers. Given that the United States currently has 310 million people, less than 72% of US men watched the most-watched game of the year, even if we assume that literally every person watching is a US male. More realistically, the figure is something like 48%, which is what it is if 2/3 of the viewers are male. Sunday is not sports day for me, or, apparently, for the majority of men, and claiming that it is universally so erases the existence of a huge swath of the population. This particular example is relatively benign, but some of the claims made by these memes, like “all women are unapologetically horrendous while on their period” and “all men are cheating pigs” are genuinely harmful, because they encourage such poor behavior as a means of gender performance. These ideas also make it easier to make excuses for poor behavior, i.e. “Boys will be boys.”

2) It erases homosexual and transgender people. These are universally voiced as one cisgendered individual addressing another cisgendered individual of the other gender. It’s easy to say, “well, yeah, these are specifically about cisgender, straight relationships, so of course they’re going to be cis and straight-centric. You don’t hear people complaining about how the Women’s rules for Men don’t directly address women, do you?”, but such an argument is flawed, because there are no (no widely shared, at least) “Men’s rules for Men”, or “Women’s rules for Women”. Sure, you can say they’re not widely shared because they don’t apply to as many people, but I for one have seen plenty of men sharing the women’s rules, and vice versa, even among people who I know have never been in a relationship. These memes aren’t about actual experiences in relationships, they’re about the kinds of relationships we see in TV and movies, which are almost universally cis and straight.

Casual sexism sucks, because it often feels like there isn’t much you can do about it. You don’t want to be labeled a “humorless feminist”, but at the same time you don’t want to just do nothing while people you know contribute to a shitty, sexist culture. What’s one to do?

Fight bad jokes with good ones, is what I’ve concluded. If someone is engaging in casual sexism, they’re probably not going to respond well to Shakesville links or Naomi Wolf quotes; direct confrontation without social backup is typically a losing proposition. An obviously fake laugh and some well-done sarcasm, on the other hand, provides negative feedback and expresses that you don’t find the joke funny, but does so without making you into a Captain Ahab, unable to see anything but the White Whale of sexism (even if, in reality, sexism is more like the matrix: the only reason people don’t see it is because it’s everywhere). Unless you’re literally surrounded by sexists, it’s pretty easy to come out of such an encounter ahead, which will teach the casual sexist that “hur hur sexism hur” is not going to make them any friends.

…and that’s pretty much the gist of it. The question of how best to engage a sexist world is a difficult one, but if the response I’ve gotten on Facebook is any indication, stuff like this seems to be pretty effective.

Read the rest of this entry »

On speaking out, and carpooling

by EddyNorthwind

I recently had the pleasure of carpooling home with Lucy for spring break, and she said some things that got on my nerves. Many of them have nothing to do with this blog (though if I hear one more person refer to the DDoS attack on as “Anonymous hacked the FBI”, I will rip my own ears off), but her views on marriage and men popped up and, well, they’re repugnant. Very briefly:

Lan, a friend of Lucy’s from a relatively well-off Vietnamese family who was staying with Lucy for the break, said something to the effect of, “My mother says I should find a nice American guy and marry him, but I don’t want to do that. I’d rather make enough money for myself and marry somebody who I love.”

Lucy responds, “Yeah, I agree, but I don’t want to marry anyone who is too poor. My standards aren’t that high, but I do have them.” (emphasis mine, un-emphasized part is paraphrased)

First, props to Lan. I have no idea what Vietnamese culture is like, but I imagine that it’s at least no easier to say something like that over there than it is here in the States, and likely harder.

Second, I don’t know where to begin with Lucy’s comment. It suggests a belief that a woman cannot be the primary earner in a household, and, equally bad, that a man’s value is determined solely by how much money he makes. In the context of previous comments she has made, it continues to spread the narrative that women trade sex for financial security, which contributes to rape culture. I’m sure there are other problematic aspects of this (including the obvious classism), but that’s actually not what I wanted to make this post about. Despite her bass-ackwards views on gender and sexuality, I actually like Lucy. She’s been pretty accepting of others and my quirks and idiosyncracies, and is really sweet. I don’t want to make this any more about her than it already is.

What I wanted to talk about is how, despite the wrongness of what she was saying, I didn’t say anything.

Maybe I was tired. Maybe I’m just a weak person. Despite rejecting what she was saying with every fiber of my being, I made a choice to stay quiet, only texting AJ about what I was hearing. Was I right to do so?

I have no problem arguing abstracts with people, but when it gets personal, I don’t know what to say. Lucy was not explicitly saying that This Is How All Relationships Are, and yet from previous conversations I know that is how she feels. Would it have been appropriate to call her out on that? If I had, would it have made a difference?

I believe that talking about gender is the single most effective way to get people thinking about it, and getting people thinking about gender is the single most important thing we can do to promote equality. At the same time, kyriarchy is fucking everywhere, and if you point it out every time it comes up, you’re going to lose friends pretty quickly, or else your only friends will be fellow egalitarians (in which case, you’re not accomplishing anything when you point out kyriarchy).

Was I right to stay quiet? Was I at least not wrong to stay quiet? I don’t know. And that’s what bothers me.


As always, names are changed to protect the innocent