Decades after we decided as a society

Even the Telegraph has a blog post about the heroic adventures in schooling women of Elan Gale.

Look, joking aside, and God knows Elan is a risible clown who deserves all the pointing-and-laughing one can mete out, there’s something profoundly depressing about the fact that, decades after we decided as a society that using sexual threats and demands as a means of shutting women up was unacceptable, young men like Elan are still using them on strange women in public spaces and other young men are cheering them on.

His mommy must have glowed with pride as she stirred the turkey soup. But perhaps he doesn’t care. Perhaps, after all, this random middle-aged woman reminded him of mommy and he was acting out. But I’ll bet you £100 that, had he deemed this woman worthy of his beardy sexual interest, he would never have behaved toward her in this manner. And that fear of getting more than a slapping would have made him duck his head had Diane been a man.

Really. Does anyone seriously think he would have done that if Diane had been a man? Or, if you think he made the whole thing up (and apparently he has a history of such invention), do you think he would even have made it up with the role of Diane played by Donald?

I sure as hell don’t. Why? Not primarily because of relative degrees of physical fear. No, it’s more than that, and worse than that. I think it’s more because of an unconscious background assumption that women are a class subject to being schooled and that men are not. I probably share the assumption, in case that makes you feel any better.

But that’s one reason I think this story deserves some heavy breathing, even though it is “just Twitter.” (But then, “just Twitter” isn’t all that tiny, is it; not in the sense of being totally without impact.) Maybe it will help a lot of people recognize that background assumption and try to correct for it.


  1. A. Noyd says

    I think it’s more because of an unconscious background assumption that women are a class subject to being schooled and that men are not.

    Yes, this. Women don’t even need to do anything irritating or morally bad, either. We get this shit merely for failing to act in a way that appeals to the other person. It’s the same deal as commands by strangers to smile.

  2. says

    Not just schooled (which is bad enough), but disciplined for their behaviour and appropriately punished when they get out of line (according to whichever man happens by). They are only exempt from strange men doing this if they are obviously in the company of a man, a rightful owner, who can do the job. I bet that Elan wouldn’t have done it if she had a male companion with her either.

  3. thephilosophicalprimate says

    In a world where women are regularly cajoled by male strangers to “Smile, sweetheart” — and scorned or bullied for not immediately complying — there is literally no level of talking-down-to, taking-ownership-of, behavior- and appearance-policing-of, and generally controlling behavior toward women and girls that I find even slightly surprising. Repellant? Absolutely. Surprising, shocking, unusual, or even notable? Not really.

    But we must take notice of it. And we must oppose it. Or we will never change it.

    The first step in any fight against any form of oppression is to pay attention to it, to discern it in spite of the many layers of “nature” and “culture” and “tradition” and “religion” and “just the way things are” that are imposed on it.

    The second step is to de-normalize it — to explicitly and publicly point out that it IS oppressive, that it IS unjust, that there is NO possible justification for it. And to keep publicly pointing it out over and over and over and over and over… until we finally start making a dent in the assumption of normality.

    There are people who recently have referred to this process as something they label with terms like “call-out culture” or “privilege-checking” and the like, and criticisms of it abound. Some of those criticisms may be legitimate, insofar as focusing too much effort on criticizing *individual people and their actions* without always at the same time calling attention to the broader context — that is, to the system of oppression and privilege concealed behind the veil of normality we ought to be fighting against — is probably not helpful, and is perhaps even vulnerable to becoming a tool for bullying people. In short, people can “call out” others in bullshit ways for bullshit reasons. I’ll grant that criticism some validity. But most uses, definitions, and discussions of terms like “call-out culture” I’ve seen are so hopelessly muddled that their usage doesn’t seem to consistently make such fine distinctions. I would think it’s obvious that something is wrong with the “call-out culture” critique if it is used in any way to imply that Ophelia (and others) are wrong to criticize Elan Gale’s outrageous sexist bullying. If they are serious about social justice issues and aren’t just trolls wearing a paper thin mask of concern for social justice, at least some of the people railing against “call-out culture” need to think again, with considerably more care: Because calling people out for their sexist, racist, heterosexist, classist, or otherwise oppressive behavior is not something we can ever stop doing if we actually want to change the culture for the better.

  4. Gordon Willis says

    I think it’s more because of an unconscious background assumption that women are a class subject to being schooled and that men are not.

    I think that this is true. Even though I do not rationally believe it, I personally feel the same way. It’s something to do with the fact that women look so young and — generally — so insubstantial and defenceless. I’m sure that it’s an instinctive response, and it needs to be addressed. All my experience of teaching (and bringing up) young women militates against this view, but it is hard to set it aside.

    I probably share the assumption, in case that makes you feel any better.

    No, it doesn’t. I think that many of my female students think the same way as you, and it worries me greatly. I think of their intelligence and their abilities, and I worry that they will submerge these wonderful talents in deference to some stupid boy who doesn’t think about what he is demanding. I have had to help girls with this problem, and I worry also about the boys: that they aren’t being taught that they can do so much better, that they aren’t god’s answer to the universe and they don’t need to be: they only have to be.

    This “problem” that boys are the really disadvantaged sex is worrying because it has never been the case before that they were in any way inferior, and suddenly, girls are doing better. Big problem. For aeons, nobody cared that boys did better at school (e.g. maths), but now it’s a big problem that girls do better and boys are being sidelined (i.e. not doing as well). When the stakes are equal, girls do better in all sorts of things than boys. Yet, for centuries, girls weren’t even allowed to compete, because boys had to be on top. So now there is a big outcry, not that we are being deprived of good mathematicians, but that boys are being disadvantaged. Clearly, girls just ought not to be better than boys. It’s just wrong, because if, after aeons of being treated as slaves, girls show that they have brains, this is really bad for boys, and that matters much more than having good mathematicians, whoever they are. I worry that there is more talk about equality when boys are disadvantaged than there ever was when girls were trash.

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