The Feminist Gadfly

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

Category: Sexism

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.

-AJ

*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)

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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:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/301184903264628/


…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.

~Eddy
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