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Aug 22 2013

Because it’s less hassle that way

Laurie Penny is tired of “Not all men!!” and similar petulant irrelevancies. True, it’s not all men, but that’s not the same thing as not a problem.

You can be the gentlest, sweetest man in the world yet still benefit from sexism. That’s how oppression works. Thousands of otherwise decent people are persuaded to go along with an unfair system because it’s less hassle that way. The appropriate response when somebody demands a change in that unfair system is to listen, rather than turning away or yelling, as a child might, that it’s not your fault. And it isn’t your fault. I’m sure you’re lovely. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a responsibility to do something about it.

Dealing with sexism – that is, trying to change it – really is a massive hassle. I know why that is, too – it’s because we’re all tangled up together. Women and men live together, work together, ride the bus together, swim in the culture together. Sexism is all over every bit of that stuff. To change it you have to pay attention to fucking everything, and that’s a huge pain in the ass. Nag nag nag – why is this show all about men working together and having a beer together and women are just an occasional dead body? Kvetch kvetch kvetch – why are you telling me to smile when I don’t know you from Adam? Call me a waaaaaaaambulance – I wish people could disagree with Hillary Clinton without calling her a bitch or a cunt.

But many hands make light work, right? If more people did it, the rest of us wouldn’t have to be such nagging kvetching Professional Victims.

Sexism should be uncomfortable. It is painful and enraging to be on the receiving end of misogynist attacks and it is also painful to watch them happen and to know that you’re implicated, even though you never chose to be.

Mmmmmm. No. Not as painful and enraging, at least. She doesn’t say it is, but she seems to imply it with that sentence structure – and I can tell you, it’s not. How do I know? Because attacks on people in groups that don’t include me are not as painful and enraging to me as misogynist attacks on me are. That’s a filthy thing to say, I realize, but it’s the truth. I hate them, but not as viscerally as I hate the ones that are personal.

Saying that “all men are implicated in a culture of sexism” – all men, not just some men –may sound like an accusation. In reality, it’s a challenge. You, individual man, with your individual dreams and desires, did not ask to be born into a world where being a boy gave you social and sexual advantages over girls. You don’t want to live in a world where little girls get raped and then are told they provoked it in a court of law; where women’s work is poorly paid or unpaid; where we are called sluts and whores for demanding simple sexual equality. You did not choose any of this. What you do get to choose, right now, is what happens next.

You can choose, as a man, to help create a fairer world for women – and for men, too. You can choose to challenge misogyny and sexual violence wherever you see them. You can choose to take risks and spend energy supporting women, promoting women, treating the women in your life as true equals. You can choose to stand up and say no and, every day, more men and boys are making that choice.
It’s a hassle. Do it anyway.

17 comments

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  1. 1
    johnmckay

    “That’s a filthy thing to say, I realize, but it’s the truth.”

    It’s not filthy; it’s honest and realistic. Empathy is affected by distance. I’m going to be far more outraged at something that happens to my sister than I will be over something that happens to you, and I’ll be far more upset about something that happens to you than I will be over something that happens to some woman in Romania who I never heard of till now. We don’t need evopsych babble about genetic distance to know that that’s true. It’s not genetic distance that counts, it’s social distance.

    It’s also not possible to be 100% empathetic. I used to have a drinking buddy who was sent to Vietnam while I wasn’t. Periodically, when we were in our cups. He’d go off about the war and end up grabbing me by the shoulders yelling, “you don’t know what it was like! You can’t know what it was like!” And I’d shout back, “you’re right! I can’t know what it was like! You have to tell me!”No matter how hard I try, I will never know what he went. But if he tells me, I might at least manage to have an intellectual appreciation of what he went through.

    The first part of “STFU and listen” is knowing there’s something to listen to. That seems obvious, but no one is going to listen to an exposition on a problem that they aren’t aware of. That’s the discomfort that people need to feel. They need to think “Something is wrong here. That person is in pain and the cause of the pain is… optional, for lack of a better word.” Once they recognize that something is a problem, not just a fact of life, a long complicated process can begin (though that doesn’t mean it will begin).

    I seem to be babbling and not saying anything new. I suppose the best thing I can say is that I am listening. I’m someone with two degrees in humanities fields, so I have been aware of the concept of “privilege” for a long time, but I continue to find new nuances in it. “Oh. I never noticed that there was a privilege aspect to this or that.”

    Thank you for letting me listen.

  2. 2
    piegasm

    Of course the first comment is some guy fully acknowledging that there’s inequality but calling the article misandrist for expecting men to lift a finger to try to change things. I love it when these guys try to disagree with a complaint and end up exemplifying the problem.

  3. 3
    Pen

    Because attacks on people in groups that don’t include me are not as painful and enraging to me as misogynist attacks on me are. That’s a filthy thing to say, I realize, but it’s the truth.

    I think with some people, dependent on personality type, it probably goes the other way. The last time I flew completely off the handle with someone they had just explained to me that they thought the life of one American soldier was worth the lives of several thousand random Muslims. As well as being angry I was very upset. I couldn’t understand how I could be living in a world where people think like that. I don’t belong to any of the groups concerned and it was a hypothetical but the guy has a metaphorical hole in his ceiling where I went through it. Even when men pull quite explicit ‘women need raping’ stunts right there in front of me I can be pretty blunt but I don’t get angry or feel hurt. For some reason which I can’t explain at the moment.

  4. 4
    piegasm

    @4 Pen

    Looks to me like the disconnect is that the victims in the 2nd half of your comparison aren’t male (or easily imagined to be male). Ohai unexamined biases! Sup?

  5. 5
    Pteryxx

    Even when men pull quite explicit ‘women need raping’ stunts right there in front of me I can be pretty blunt but I don’t get angry or feel hurt. For some reason which I can’t explain at the moment.

    Seconding piegasm. Pen, I suggest reading some men-on-men military rape accounts and compare how you feel about those.

    (disclaimer: yes, I also get less viscerally angry about women-blaming rape narratives than I do about ones more like mine. That makes it MY responsibility not to erase them.)

  6. 6
    Dave

    Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall down a manhole and die. Mel Brooks, what an asshole.

    Then there’s Hume:
    Where a passion is neither founded on false suppositions, nor chuses means insufficient for the end, the understanding can neither justify nor condemn it. `Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger. `Tis not contrary to reason for me to chuse my total ruin, to prevent the least uneasiness of an Indian or person wholly unknown to me. `Tis as little contrary to reason to prefer even my own acknowledge’d lesser good to my greater, and have a more ardent affection for the former than the latter. A trivial good may, from certain circumstances, produce a desire superior to what arises from the greatest and most valuable enjoyment; nor is there any thing more extraordinary in this, than in mechanics to see one pound weight raise up a hundred by the advantage of its situation. In short, a passion must be accompany’d with some false judgment. in order to its being unreasonable; and even then `tis not the passion, properly speaking, which is unreasonable, but the judgment.

  7. 7
    Pen

    @4 plegasm – I am female and therefore a potential and sometimes actual victim of sexual harassment. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

  8. 8
    Pen

    @ 4 & 5 – by the way, the victims of the proposed Arab assault included men, women and children, the proposal that made me angry was for a flat out bombing on civilians. I’m not quite getting either of you, so we could be talking at cross-purposes but I don’t know where.

    Pen is sometimes a masculine name in the US??

  9. 9
    Pteryxx

    Pen @8 – my apologies for assuming. Yes I’ve heard Pen as a masculine name in the US, but that’s no excuse.

  10. 10
    robertbaden

    Pen, maybe it’s because of children being involved?

  11. 11
    piegasm

    @7, 8 Pen

    I’m sorry for misgendering you as well.

    What I was getting at is that the person in your comparison whose victimization you found yourself unable to get angry over was also the only person or group who was explicitly not male. That’s just what jumped out at me. Being female doesn’t preclude there being some unconscious bias at work. Or I could be totally off base.

  12. 12
    johnthedrunkard

    There is an ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ effect that doesn’t get recognition.

    As an Officially Gentle, Sweet Man, it is difficult to recognize that my inward workings are dramatically different from those of a troll. Defaulting to gender-sympathy is crazy. Reports of abuse and harassment should not, in any way, invoke comparison with MY sexual behavior. The men described are, in effect, ‘pods’ with whome I have little or no natural sympathy.

    Seeing an abusive stalker in action: his malevolence, his smooth capacity to enlist sympathy, his default to lying and justification even when he was revealed in all his evil—I think it took this for me to really stop trying to ‘understand’ abusers by comparing them to myself.

    When women hear about invasive, coercive, rapey behavior from men, you can bet they just about every one will be able to compare experiences that make the report intuitively plausable. A man hearing the same report, and trying to compare experience will come up with a blank.

    It is a failure of imagination and, more important, a simple failure of sympathy for men to go all ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ when confronted with pathological behavior in other men.

  13. 13
    johnmckay

    @2 piegasm

    Of course the first comment is some guy fully acknowledging that there’s inequality but calling the article misandrist for expecting men to lift a finger to try to change things. I love it when these guys try to disagree with a complaint and end up exemplifying the problem.
    Where did you get the idea that I think any of that? I agree with everything Ophelia wrote.

  14. 14
    Pen

    Hi all who replied. No problem about getting my gender wrong, it was my mistake for assuming it was clear. But about your suggestions about why I get angry at the times I do, I gave it some thought as well. My idea is that I tend to get angry when I have a strong moral response to a situation and no possibility of direct action. I tend to feel powerless in those situations and I hate that. With sexual assault, harassment and discrimination against women which are obviously ongoing aspects of my life as for other women I just don’t get angry maybe because I’m often in the thick of it. One of the most spectacular examples was when I was in a car wash with a guy I carpooled with and he said ‘what would you do if I raped you right now?’ I didn’t (and don’t) feel anything except contempt for him, I don’t know if he was serious and I never thought about it at the time but I told him if he did that I would endeavour to make sure he regretted it by any means at my disposal – in the tone of someone explaining a basic mechanism. Since, I’ve been reading here, I realise not everyone would react like that. But what do you think? Should I have yelled at him regardless of the fact that I didn’t feel angry or scared? Should I tell you now that his behaviour makes me angry when what I actually feel is contempt?

  15. 15
    Stacy

    @johnmckay

    Where did you get the idea that I think any of that? I agree with everything Ophelia wrote.

    I’m sure Piegasm was referring to the first comment on Penny’s article in the New Statesman.

  16. 16
    jose

    “Not all men are like that” reminds me a lot of the claim that “there is no universal female experience”.

  17. 17
    Jonny Vincent

    being a boy gave you social and sexual advantages over girls.

    She forgot to list what these social and sexual advantages were. But as I’m not looking for advantage, I may have missed out on my advantages. Perhaps the opportunities flew past each time I was made to reach for my wallet.

    I fight misogyny wherever I see it. I keep getting called a misogynist by women who hate women; it’s quite a routine phenomenon. For what it’s worth, I consider slut-shaming a girl for having Self-respect to be hatred of women. I do not believe a girl is respecting herself by reserving her body creeps who pay a high price for purity. Eww.

    Saying that “all men are implicated in a culture of sexism” – all men, not just some men –may sound like an accusation. In reality, it’s a challenge.

    Saying that “all women are implicated in a culture of slut-shaming” – all women, not just some women – may sound like a conspiracy. In reality, it’s reality.

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