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Imagine it was Mitt Romney

Via Dana who found it via Kylie, a Facebook note by Harriet Page. I know, not everyone is on Facebook. But that’s where it is!

She introduced it with

This week I wrote a response to the several occasions on which I had been challenged on my feminism by men and women who felt that I was misguided, wrong, aggressive or unhelpful in my responses to what I viewed as sexist behaviour.

Been there. Many times. I can remember heavy sighs back in the early 70s when I pointed out some (to me obvious, indeed blatant) bit of everyday sexism. And of course have been there again just lately, with people who consider themselves feminists nevertheless going into Full Outrage mode because I had the gall to criticize something sexist that Michael Shermer said.

(Really. Imagine it wasn’t Michael Shermer who said it. Imagine it was Mitt Romney. Imagine Mitt Romney was on a talk show and the conversation turned to the scarcity of women in politics. Imagine Mitt Romney said: “It’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it; you know, it’s more of a guy thing.” Imagine I did a blog post saying that was a sexist stereotype, and a particularly damaging one at that. Would there have been the same kind of outrage from the same people?

I don’t know the answer, of course, but I think it’s extremely unlikely.

Notice by the way how plausible it sounds as a thing Mitt Romney would say. Notice how well the clueless smug “that’s just how things are”ism fits Mitt Romney. Notice how many other clueless smug prosperous dudes one could slot in there and notice how unsurprising that remark would still be.

So why is it so hard to see it that way when it’s Michael Shermer who said it?)

Back to Harriet Page.

…what I want to talk about is not the obvious misogyny that we can all agree to despise, but rather the unconscious behaviours and attitudes that go unchallenged because in this country there is a taboo about breaking the silence on the wearying, everyday grind of normal, legitimized sexism. And so I want to talk about the men who claim to stand on the side of equality but, through their words, actions and inaction, perpetuate the culture of sexism. I want to talk about feminism’s false allies; the men I call the sleepwalking sexists.

Sleepwalking because sleepwalkers can get aggressive if you wake them up suddenly.

And, in a way, this is exactly what happens when nice, reasonable men who call themselves feminists are called out on their unconsciously sexist behaviour and attitudes. These men have sleepwalked contentedly through the minefield of gender relations without ever having cause to question what they’re doing and then BAM. Some crazy feminist with no regard for how scary and disorienting it’s going to be comes along and wakes them up with the rude news that, actually, they have unintentionally been engaging in some pretty sexist behaviour.

BAM. Some crazy feminist who isn’t a big Name in Skepticismolandia comes along and says “that was a sexist stereotype.” And the world comes to an end.

In the case of sleepwalking sexists, the responses are more varied. It might be immediate, unhinged abuse – ‘Crazy bitch, you must be on your period or something’. It might be icy politeness and contempt – ‘I’d thank you not to be so aggressive, it’s completely unnecessary’. It might be fake concern – ‘You maybe don’t realise it, but when you attack men like me who are only trying to help, it hurts the whole cause of feminism’. Whatever the method used, the result is the same; instead of reflecting on their own behaviour and attitudes, these men will retreat into an impenetrable defensive fortress.

Here’s the hard and unwelcome truth. You are a sleepwalking sexist if:

-You think jokes about rape and domestic abuse can be funny.

- You know that victim-blaming is wrong, but you also feel that in purely logical terms, it’s obvious that women who wear provocative clothing are taking stupid risks.

- You have ever told a woman to ‘get over it’ because she was upset by a sexist joke, a catcall or a whistle.

- You have ever felt that a woman’s frustration or anger invalidated the content of her argument.

- You believe that you have as much right as a woman to determine what does and doesn’t count as offensive material, even though you are not the subject of the material in question.

- You believe that the world is full of men who are potential-feminists, and that they’d be mobilised to help if only women would be a bit nicer to them.

- You believe that a woman making a generalisation about men is just as harmful and oppressive as a man making a generalisation about women.

- You did consider yourself a feminist. Then one upset you when she pointed out some problematic behaviour, and now as far as you’re concerned the feminists are on their own!

- You believe that it’s counterproductive for feminists to call you out on your accidental sexism when there are men whose behaviour is so much worse than yours.

Recognized.

This is the hard truth that must be learned; if you are one of those men who looks for these slip-ups, then you are NOT a feminist. If you are one of those men who believes in equality in some vague and idealistic way, but then turns on a woman the second she says something that remotely implicates you or the people you share a common chromosome with in something you don’t like, you are NOT a feminist. If you believe that a woman has to reward your attempts at feminism with niceness, like a dog getting a treat for a trick, you are NOT a feminist.

Being a feminist means believing ALL the time, regardless of whether women are nice to you, that the struggle for gender equality is on-going and real and essential. It means condemning all those ‘harmless’ little jokes about nagging women, female drivers and periods because you recognise that from the fertile soil of casual, unconscious sexism sprout the seeds of justification for serious assault. It means making the connection between a joke about a woman who bares her breasts on screen in the portrayal of a rape, and the man who thinks it’s funny to grope a woman in a club because she has cleavage showing and Hollywood tells us that boobs exist purely for sexual entertainment. Being a feminist is not about wanting equality for women because they’re nice to you. It’s about fighting for women every single day because you believe that they are human and that humanity is worth defending regardless of how nice, kind, clever, rude, attractive, funny, accommodating or mean the woman in question is.

That.

Comments

  1. rnilsson says

    That, indeed. So there you are, all peacefully blogging and browsing — and BAM! goes the FtB tripwire mind-feeled. Imagine the surprise!!½

  2. Divizna says

    I have a bit of trouble with this point:
    “You are a sleepwalking sexist if: (…) You believe that a woman making a generalisation about men is just as harmful and oppressive as a man making a generalisation about women.”
    So, is it sexist to think that women shouldn’t humiliate men either? Or is it supposed to mean that since men are statistically more likely to hold power, it’s always worse if a man (any man, including the lowest slave) does that to women than if a woman (any woman, including the highest boss) does the same to men? Or is it just worse if it is from a man actually holding power?
    I just don’t get it. Women can be very derogatory towards men too. Surely you don’t approve of it if it comes that way?

  3. rowanvt says

    We do not approve of being derogatory to men, but what happens if a woman is? She gets brushed off as a feminazi, as overemotional, as a bitch, as being on her period. When a man is derogatory towards women… he gets sage nods, often even from women as well.

  4. says

    It bears repeating:

    “Being a feminist means believing ALL the time, regardless of whether women are nice to you, that the struggle for gender equality is on-going and real and essential. It means condemning all those ‘harmless’ little jokes about nagging women, female drivers and periods because you recognise that from the fertile soil of casual, unconscious sexism sprout the seeds of justification for serious assault. It means making the connection between a joke about a woman who bares her breasts on screen in the portrayal of a rape, and the man who thinks it’s funny to grope a woman in a club because she has cleavage showing and Hollywood tells us that boobs exist purely for sexual entertainment. Being a feminist is not about wanting equality for women because they’re nice to you. It’s about fighting for women every single day because you believe that they are human and that humanity is worth defending regardless of how nice, kind, clever, rude, attractive, funny, accommodating or mean the woman in question is.”

    That, indeed.

  5. says

    @Divizna #4 – As a man, I get your point. But consider this from a perspective of power balance: any person who uses a position of power to demean others with less power is wrong. In most extant human cultures, it is rare for women to have that kind of power over men. The result is that men demeaning women is a matter of institutionalized priviledge, while women demeaning men is not. It is this institutionalized priviledge that makes it worse.

  6. says

    @ 4

    I have a bit of trouble with this point:
    “You are a sleepwalking sexist if: (…) You believe that a woman making a generalisation about men is just as harmful and oppressive as a man making a generalisation about women.”
    So, is it sexist to think that women shouldn’t humiliate men either?

    Wow, that was a big jump. Making a generalization about men is not the same thing as humiliating men.

  7. says

    I believe the Romney example is appropriate in this context, but not for the reason you believe. In the campaign, for example, Romney said: “I like being able to fire people.” The Obama re-election campaign used that out-of-context quote to create a narrative about Romney. What Romney was referring to was a response to the question about being able to choose among competing health insurance providers, I’ll post the full quote below:

    “I want people to be able to own insurance if they wish to, and to buy it for themselves and perhaps keep it for the rest of their life and to choose among different policies offered from companies across the nation. I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep people healthy. It also means if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. If someone doesn’t give me the good service I need, I’m going to go get somebody else to provide that service to me.

    That’s why some people, even liberals like myself, took issue with the way that soundbite was used. But we expect that chicanery in politics. From freethinkers, the bar is a little higher, and even when obtaining their information from a trusted source -let’s say a column in Free Inquiry- they’ll (the freethinkers) sometimes check the primary source. There you find the main source of the disagreement.

    For some people, the fact that you left out the pre-face of his comment “I think it probably really is 50/50.” and presented your opinion as:
    The main stereotype in play, let’s face it, is that women are too stupid to do nontheism. Unbelieving in God is thinky work, and women don’t do thinky, because “that’s a guy thing.”
    Is it a dishonest representation on Shermer’s sentiment, a false attribution?
    I understand that you will disagree with my opinion, but you do have to admit that it would not be very difficult to, for example, quote something you wrote or said, in a way that would present you as expressing something that you don’t believe.

  8. says

    Yes but Rowan, Gregory, note that Page didn’t say “demean” or “derogatory” – she said generalization. Just generalization, that’s all. It’s not the same issue is demeaning or derogating.

  9. says

    Yes, I will disagree with your opinion. That’s because I think it’s obvious what I was saying, and that the other reading is tortured. And that is my point. I flatly do not believe that if I had said that about Romney the tortured reading would have come into play. I think it came into play only because there’s a little army of people who torture everything I say online in order to get the most demonic reading possible and because Michael Shermer is treated as a God of Skepticism. I think both are contemptible, and sexist, and abject.

  10. rowanvt says

    You are right, Ophelia. I misread that. Which makes their post sound even stranger. As to Axel, sure. The makeup of those of us who are skeptics/atheists probably IS pretty 50/50…. but whose faces do we predominantly see at gathers, as speakers, in the media? Men. Shermer said that men are mostly seen because “it’s a guy thing.” Leaving the 50/50 out doesn’t change this meaning. Men do things like be intellectually active about skepticism, not women. It’s a ‘guy thing’. And it’s bullshit.

  11. says

    Oh good gods, another lame-assed OT attempt to nitpick Opelia’s criticism of Shermer? Puh. Lease.

    For some people, the fact that you left out the pre-face of his comment “I think it probably really is 50/50.”…

    We’ve been over this countless times: we left out the “preface” because it doesn’t change the meaning, or the lazy sexist asininity, of what came after it. Really, how hard is that to grasp? If I say “Jews are evil,” would it make any difference if I’d “prefaced” that with “I don’t have a problem with Jews?”

    …you do have to admit that it would not be very difficult to, for example, quote something you wrote or said, in a way that would present you as expressing something that you don’t believe.

    If Shermer didn’t actually believe what he had said, then he shouldn’t have said it. If you say something stupid, then no amount of “preface” will save you from sounding stupid.

  12. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    It seems pretty obvious that when someone religious says something sexist then the (otherwise) anti-feminists will use that against them; however, when that someone is one of their poster children, it’s a very different story.

  13. rnilsson says

    @axelblaster: You appear a bit out of joint, petardwise perhaps.
    @Divizna: I cannot divine what you mean.

    Another (symbolic) cookie served in your names. Well, within my mean means.

  14. doubtthat says

    @9 axelblaster

    Tough to decide what’s worse, the Romney defense or the Shermer excuse. Romney lost and was humiliated, so Shermer is more relevant.

    Adding the 50/50 line reduces the sexist nature of the statement by exactly 0%. The claim is just that the population of atheists is half women and half men, but women just want to sit in the crowd passively while the men do the important thinking, arguing, and speaking.

  15. fastlane says

    Divizna, my wife and I had a discussion about this, in the context of reverse sexism, to use the term we started with, in sit-coms and TV-commercials. You know the ones, the guy, big dumb, but likable, is shown how to do things the Right Way (TM) by the smart, funny, and good looking woman who deigned to marry such a schlub. There are probably a dozen commercials of this stripe running at any moment, but I wouldn’t know, since I watch so little TV these days.

    Anyway, my wife brought up the subject of how if the genders were reversed, people would be all over these sexist (and they were) stereotypes. We actually agreed on that point for quite some time, and still do mostly. I noted that men are traditionally the ones with social power/control/whatever, though, and maybe that makes these more of a pushback than a real sexist issue in the sense that we first saw it.

    I can think of a current commercial (series) that I find very sexist and annoying. They have to do with one of the cable providers and a ‘TV Genie’….that’s about all I remember off the top of my head. Some were quite outright abusive, and others were more old school sexist.

  16. says

    @fastlane, most commercials that employ the clueless/big-dumb-but-likable man and smart-funny-goodlooking wife trope strike me as rather sexist, and not in a “reverse sexism” sense, but in a reinforcing traditional, sexist gender roles sense. Almost all the examples I can think of have the man trying but failing miserably to perform some task traditionally assigned to women (cooking, cleaning, changing or feeding the baby, buying groceries, etc), only to have the woman swoop in and save the day. The message being that these houekeeping type tasks should be left to women because they’re just naturally better at them.

  17. Stacy says

    @fastlane & @Hein

    Also, the men are usually the stars of the show, while the women are straight men (er, women.)

    Those know-it-all sitcom wives are often dull and two-dimensional.

  18. theoreticalgrrrl says

    “Almost all the examples I can think of have the man trying but failing miserably to perform some task traditionally assigned to women (cooking, cleaning, changing or feeding the baby, buying groceries, etc), only to have the woman swoop in and save the day. The message being that these housekeeping type tasks should be left to women because they’re just naturally better at them.”

    Women can take satisfaction in knowing they’re really the smart one when it comes to mopping floors, washing dishes and how to properly work a blender. Yay!

  19. Forbidden Snowflake says

    fastlane:

    if the genders were reversed

    …feminists would fall all over themselves praising the fact that women as mediocre-looking as the husbands in sitcoms usually are actually get to play roles on TV now?

  20. nullifidian says

    axelblaster, so only your reading of Shermer counts, and we really shouldn’t pay attention to what a mere woman like Ophelia thinks about his words, because clearly she’s incapable of reading them correctly. That strikes a familiar chord somehow.

    Ah, yes! “Here’s the hard and unwelcome truth. You are a sleepwalking sexist if… you believe that you have as much right as a woman to determine what does and doesn’t count as offensive material, even though you are not the subject of the material in question.”

  21. says

    axelblaster #9:

    That’s why some people, even liberals like myself, took issue with the way that soundbite was used. But we expect that chicanery in politics. From freethinkers, the bar is a little higher,

    err, what? I have no idea how this is the case considering the sort of chicanery pulled by the slymepit, who claim to be “freethinkers”. in fact, slymepitter actions sometimes blur the line between chicanery and libel; they’re definitely along the same lines as the actions of Romney’s supporters towards Obama during the campaign.

    in fact, Shermer engaged in similar chicanery when he wrote his ‘liberal war on science’ column by burning strawmen when trying to rebut criticisms of evo-psych and paint such critics as rejecting evolution as far as the brain is concerned, even though there’s very good criticisms out there (Jen McCreight posted one today). it just so happens that evo-psych as it stands tends, if not outright tries, to reinforce institutionalized discrimination with “science” the same way shit like The Bell Curve did; this definitely counts as a strike against Shermer’s feminism.

    considering Shermer’s willingness to defend pseudoscience that supports his privileged worldviews, I’m not buying your claim of chicanery. I think Shermer’s got some unexamined sexism and that’s what he displayed with those comments. granted, I think Shermer’s got some massively unexamined privilege overall considering that he’s a goddamned libertarian who believes that counter-oppressive regulations are bad and we need free markets (because, ostensibly, oppression doesn’t exist so we don’t need to regulate against it).

  22. georgelocke says

    That doesn’t make Shermer himself necessarily sexist.

    For the most part, asking whether or not a given person is a sexist isn’t particularly useful or enlightening. I mean, some people are just big sexist poopheads, but I think most everyone else is likely to do or say something sexist at some point in there lives. If this happens to you a lot, then you’re a sexist, but how much is “a lot”? It’s a silly question and there’s not much advantage in knowing the answer.

    Better is to just ask whether a certain statement is sexist and acknowledge that we live in a sexist society where people should be expected to make sexist remarks from time to time. My point is this: it’s not a wholesale condemnation of your character to point out when you make a mistake. Pointing out when Michael Shermer betrays sexist bias is not the same as tarring him as a sexist, nor is it even particularly surprising that skeptics are not immune to bias.

  23. debbaasseerr says

    @fastlane – careful, if you start applying the ole’ switcharoo (imagining a given situation with the genders switched) and you’re gonna wind up riding an angry bull of cognitive dissonance through the fine china shop of ways you think it is acceptable to treat half of humanity.

    Go on, I dare you. Picture “The Genie” you mentioned in those TV ads as a man – young, vaguely exotic looking, wearing a loincloth, who never speaks, but kind of writhes around next to some DVR-copy while making constant “come-hither” eyes at you — all in the context of “sign up for our TV service”.

    Rest assured, if you come to a(ny) feminst conclusions about it, there are a steady avalanche of dudes prepared to explain the innocence of the status quo.

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