Kylie found this incredible piece of writing that should be widely shared. It’s called “Sleepwalking into Sexism,” and it’s by Harriet Page. I’ve included a long excerpt here; the piece itself is much longer, and every single sentence is worth reading. I’d like it if everyone reads this. I’ll settle for a few sleepwalking sexists, male and female, who need to be jolted awake before they do damage to self and others.
No matter what you have to do to get there, read it. Now.
There’s a rule that you shouldn’t wake sleepwalkers – the sudden transition into consciousness can be terrifying. My little sister can testify to the fact that on the one occasion that she woke me mid-somnambulance, I was so surprised I slapped her face. It’s startling to suddenly find that you’re not where you thought you were and, moreover, that you have no idea how you got there.
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.
The result is, metaphorically speaking, the slap to the face that I gave my sister. She was the one who woke me from my comfortable reverie, and my instinctive response was to defend myself with a rapid attack. In her case, it was an ill-deserved slap. 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.
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.
Read the whole piece. I wish it had been there in the days when I needed the not-exactly-short, but definitely sharp, shock.
(Reminder to any new visitors: read the comment policy.)