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.
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.