So the thing about having your consciousness raised is that you can’t really lower it again. When your attention’s repeatedly drawn to something important, when people chip through your resistance and decades of cultural conditioning and open your eyes to things you should have seen long ago, you can’t close them again without seeing after images.
Take the fucking projector that has caused a good part of angst in my personal life just lately. Years ago, I’d not have noticed the endless parade of dude stuff. Dude stuff was just fine with me. Who wanted that icky chick stuff, anyway? Who cared if the ladiez didn’t get a look-in – they’d probably choose some awful chick flick thing. Eww.
And then I started spending my time around people who, like fish investigating the invisible medium they swam through, had discovered such things as everyday sexism and microagressions and the billion and one ways we tell women and other minorities they’re second class. I’ve learned about chilly climate and niceness as a tool of oppression. I’ve learned I had a bad case of internalized sexism, and that it’s more common than the common cold, which means any woman I meet could be suffering it, too. I’ve learned that intent is no excuse for problematic behavior. I’ve learned that this same patriarchy hurting me and mine is hurting every gender, including men. And I’ve learned that the incidental shit we surround ourselves with – the jokes, the entertainment, the places we go and the people we choose to see – can have an outsize impact. For instance, that harmless sexist joke told by the non-sexist among us? It could be encouraging the closet sexist in our midst to feel good about himself and fuck women over with a clear conscience, free of social consequences.
Along the way, I’ve had to learn uncomfortable truths about my own sexism and racism and privilege. I’ve had to learn that a person can be the furthest thing from a sexist or racist or other ist, and yet do ist things. I’ve watched people completely fail to understand that, and snivel when they should be solving. Sometimes, I’ve been the sniveler. But I’m trying. Now that my eyes are open, I’m trying to do better.
So the projector, it rankles. It wouldn’t have done before. I’d have been with B: it’s no big deal. Don’t make a fuss. But I cannot in good conscience do that any longer. And every time this shit comes up, when I know I’m going to have to gear up for Yet Another Battle With a Good Person™, I get grouchy and sad and tired. I think of just letting this one slide. And then I think of Jean Valjean:
If I speak, I am condemned.
If I stay silent, I am damned.
So I bloody well speak.
Damn the consequences.
Because this shit matters.
It doesn’t matter to the dudes who live comfortably on top, who refuse to have their masculinity threatened by The Notebook (heaven forfend they should like it). They’ve given the ladies a shot at it! They graciously let us watch So I Married an Axe Murderer that one day didn’t they? Of course the dudes complained and grumbled because ew, ick, wedding dress, but they let us get away with it. And they’re fine with us picking stuff out – as long as it’s kung fu movies, or police procedurals, or shoot-’em-ups, or Duck Dynasty. See – when you ladies are one of the guys, it’s no problem! Fairness and equality for all. As long as you don’t mind seeing your gender represented as nothing but a sex object every time you look up, if there are women on the screen at all. As long as you don’t mind a constant barrage of testosterone. And as long as you understand that your viewing choices can and will be superseded by what anyone with a penis decides he wants to watch at any point during your flick. Move along, no sexism to see here.
They don’t even realize that’s what they’re doing, because no one’s ever shown them. They’ve spent their lives this way, with the women most often letting them have their way, going along to get along. Because lord knows, if you piss off the dude with the projector, he may take his projector and go home, and then everybody suffers. Don’t be that girl.
And it doesn’t matter anyway. Nobody really watches this stuff. We’re busy taking calls! It’s not a democracy! But everybody’s gotten to choose something! You can’t get everybody to agree on everything. You’re making a big deal out of nothing. These are all excuses I’ve had thrown in my face since suggesting that maybe, just possibly, it’s not cool to shut out the women on the team, and I for one will not be putting up with it.
I’ve very likely lost an important friendship with something this bloody stupid as a catalyst. One thing’s for sure: even for women who, like me, don’t usually get a lot of crap for being a social justice warrior, there are sometimes severe consequences to giving the boat even a slight, careful nudge. And you can never tell when the explosion will happen or who will set it off.
My life would be easier and happier if I could close my eyes and soothe my consciousness to sleep again, if I could tell my conscience to shut the fuck up. But that’s what’s brought us here: too many good people unwilling to do the right thing because other good people get nasty, and it makes everyone unhappy for a while, and the consequences are too much for many of us to bear. So, I have a Jean Valjean moment:
If I speak, I am condemned.
If I stay silent, I am damned.
And I decide that being condemned by the people around me, however uncomfortable, is not a patch upon the damnation that will be visited upon me by my outraged moral compass, and that changing this world just a little bit for the better is worth any amount of personal pain and professional discomfort. I do not, to my everlasting shame, always decide to do this. Despite what people who think I’m a loudmouthed crusader think, I don’t always speak. But I should.
And I will. As often as I can, as loudly as I can manage.
And as long as the person I am speaking to, who has the power to fix this, is the personI think he is, the conversation won’t go too badly. He’ll see that these microaggressions are bad things, and that soaking in endless masculinity isn’t much good for the dudes, either. He’ll still say this isn’t a democracy, but it won’t hurt to introduce a few democratic principles into the totalitarian government of our team. He’s already agreed not to stop shows partway through. We will work out further equitable solutions, and considering all three women on this team do actually love kung fu more than princesses, the masculine suffering should be minimal. We’ll have some stuff on with kick-ass female characters, and gays, and lesbians, and transsexuals, and POCs, and even some heart-string tugging things that will get the super-macho among us sniffling about dust in their eyes, and everyone will come out of this a bit better and broader than they came in.
Because this isn’t just about giving the women equal time. It’s also about setting men free from strangling gender roles. It’s about creating a better environment, wherein people don’t have to keep themselves closeted over the things they love for fear of social censure. And it’s about giving people a chance to discover that there are things out there they’ve never suspected they could like, but do, and don’t have to be ashamed about admitting it.
These constant battles are fucking exhausting, and they cost. Oh, they cost. But the price, ultimately, is worth it.*
I do not want to live in a world where, forty years from now, we wonder why we’re still held back by the same old shit.
I do not want to have to look back and say, “Well, because it was because I didn’t do anything to change it.”
Instead, I want to be painting my friend’s grandson’s toenails pink while debating the virtues of the latest Porche vs. Ferrari with an honorary grandniece while she orders something fashionable for her transsexual friend. I want to take them outside to play in a park afterward where kids aren’t busy shaming other kids over their fashion and bodies and lifestyle choices, and sure as shit aren’t concerned about their color or religion. I want a world where people can be people in all their endless variety without being shit upon. I want a world where everyone gets a chance to visit the buffet groaning under the eternal variety of things that make us human, and can pick whatever they want, without shame or fear. Except, you know, for those sexist, racist, and other ist dishes. I hope we’ll have consigned those to the garbage forever by then.
We may never have that world. But it’s a world worth trying for. And even a less-than-perfect version will be wonderful.
For a crash-course in social justice, clear your calendar, lay in a supply of coffee and alcohol, and visit these link roundups:
*For me. At this time, in this place, with my privilege, I can bear this cost. Others may not be able to, and it is no shame if they can’t fight the fight openly. Everyone has to do their own math, and decide what they can take, and when for their own good they’ve got to disengage.