Please, read this

Melissa McEwan has the guts to write things I’ve thought more times than I can tell you, but never put into words (before now, or without help). Her whole piece at  Comment is Free is important and well worth the fifteen minutes it will take you to read it in its entirety. The parts I found most relevant, the parts I found myself nodding the most affirmatively to, follow.

If I played by misogynists’ rules, specifically the one that dictates it only takes one woman doing one mean or duplicitous or disrespectful or unlawful or otherwise bad thing to justify hatred of all women, I would have plenty of justification for hating men, if I were inclined to do that sort of thing.

[…]

My mistrust is not, as one might expect, primarily a result of the violent acts done on my body, nor the vicious humiliations done to my dignity. It is, instead, born of the multitude of mundane betrayals that mark my every relationship with a man: the casual rape joke, the use of a female slur, the careless demonising of the feminine in everyday conversation, the accusations of overreaction, the eye rolling and exasperated sighs in response to polite requests to please not use misogynist epithets in my presence or to please use non-gendered language (“humankind”).

But I don’t hate men, because I play by different rules. In fact, there are men in this world whom I love quite a lot.

There are also individual men in this world I would say I probably hate, or something close – men who I hold in unfathomable contempt. But it is not because they are men.

No, I don’t hate men.

It would, however, be fair to say that I don’t easily trust them.

Trust isn’t so much my issue, personally, because I am ridiculously trusting of anyone –male or female– who doesn’t act like like a complete creep from the get-go.

As for mundane betrayals, I personally wouldn’t go as far as to say they mark  “my every relationship with a man.”  Actually, “every” would be way too far. But many? Perhaps even most? Yes, that would be pretty accurate. And, like McEwan, I am not talking about men I hate, but rather ones I respect, like, and even love.

There are the insidious assumptions guiding our interactions – the supposition that I will regard being exceptionalised as a compliment (“you’re not like those other women”), and the presumption that I am an ally against certain kinds of women.

This is one of the inherent dangers of having, as my wise little sister succinctly put it when we discussed McEwan’s piece this afternoon, “honorary dude status.” Not only do others often perceive me as an exception, but I perceive myself as an exception. And I go to extraordinary lengths to cultivate this exceptional identity –in my own head and among my peers.

My field is one dominated by men and traditionally masculine ideals. My language is one often infused with militarism (think: “refugee protection surge roster”), and my writing style is often confrontational. My interests are wonkish, disquieting, “ballsy,” cerebral –all things that, in our society and age, we don’t equate with “feminine” or “female.”

Since I moved to this city, I rarely do anything but work, study, and argue with people online. These things constitute most of my existence at the moment. And so, I am counted among the boys –at least most of the time. In some ways, this is positive. For one, it allows me to participate equally, to “pass” if you will.

But being an “honorary dude” has definite drawbacks. If I exhibit any traits that are overtly feminine, I get immediately kicked out of the club, if only for a few minutes, for the duration of a staff meeting, for lunch. If I speak up against a sexist comment, or attempt to get members of the group to consider the subject of our discussion from anything other than an implicitly male perspective, I become an object of ridicule, my ideas the inspiration for eye rolls and sighs and knowing glances between the bro’s.

Again, I am not talking about raving misogynist assholes. I am talking about guys who read Jezebel, and guys who care deeply about, say, women war victims.

I am exhorted to join in the cruel revelry, and when I refuse, suddenly the target is on my back. And so it goes.

There are the jokes about women, about wives, about mothers, about raising daughters, about female bosses. They are told in my presence by men who are meant to care about me, just to get a rise out of me, as though I am meant to find funny a reminder of my second-class status.

I am meant to ignore that this is a bullying tactic, that the men telling these jokes derive their amusement specifically from knowing they upset me, piss me off, hurt me.

Occasionally, I call them on their comments. But I usually backtrack soon after. “It’s OK,” I tell them, “I wasn’t being serious. Well, not that serious. You know what I mean. You know me. I’m not one of those women.” Finally, just to make sure they get the point, I drop a quick and derogatory comment about those vapid, hysterical girls my age I’m definitely not like.

And the vicious cycle continues, because I’m an active, knowing collaborator. I don’t admit this with pride, merely self-awareness.

There are the occasions that men – intellectual men, clever men, engaged men – insist on playing devil’s advocate, desirous of a debate on some aspect of feminist theory or reproductive rights or some other subject generally filed under the heading Women’s Issues. These intellectual, clever, engaged men want to endlessly probe my argument for weaknesses, wrestle over details, argue just for fun. And they wonder, these intellectual, clever, engaged men, why my voice keeps rising and why my face is flushed and why, after an hour of fighting my corner, hot tears burn the corners of my eyes.

Why do you have to take this stuff so personally? ask the intellectual, clever, and engaged men, who have never considered that the content of the abstract exercise that’s so much fun for them is the stuff of my life.

“Stop being so self-involved,” you say. “Stop being so sensitive.”

And I ask myself,  would you consider it self-involved or overly sensitive of a person of color to object to the nonchalant, everyday racism of her or his friends and colleagues?  No, you probably wouldn’t.

There are the stereotypes – oh, the abundant stereotypes – about women, not me, of course, but other women, those women with their bad driving and their relentless shopping habits and their PMS and their disgusting vanity and their inability to stop talking and their disinterest in Important Things…

[…]

And I am expected to nod in agreement, and I am nudged and admonished to agree. I am expected to say these things are not true of me, but are true of women (am I seceding from the union?). I am expected to put my stamp of token approval on the stereotypes. Yes, it’s true. Between you and me, it’s all true.

That’s what is wanted from me. Abdication of my principles and pride, in service to a patriarchal system that will only use my collusion to further subjugate me. This is a thing that is asked of me by men who purport to care for me.

Often. So very fucking often.

And there is the denial about engaging in misogyny, even when it’s evident, even when it’s pointed out gently, softly, indulgently, carefully, with goodwill and the presumption that it was not intentional. There is the firm, fixed, unyielding denial – because it is better and easier to imply that I’m stupid or crazy or hysterical, that I have imagined being insulted by someone about whom I care (just for the fun of it!), than it is to just admit a bloody mistake and say, simply: I’m sorry.

When called on one of my many flaws –be it my religious prejudices, my casual racism, my hypocritical classism, my propensity for belligerent  intellectual laziness, or even my own sexism— I will own up and apologize.

Why can’t you do the same?  That’s all I ask.

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11 thoughts on “Please, read this

  1. I don’t see how “raging misogynist bastards” and “guys who read Jezebel” are exclusive. Guys who read Pandagon, or Feministe, maybe, but … Jezebel?

  2. Jezebel has evolved quite a bit since it first launched, and especially since Megan began blogging there. I mean, Latoya Peterson –as in, Latoya from Racialicious — was a guest blogger last week, and she blogged about Afghanistan, US foreign aid, and Islamophobia, among other topics. And Jezebel had a really thoughtful piece on the NYT Magazine’s ‘Saving the World’s Women’ issue, posing the question, “Are women the new ‘deserving poor’?” Anna. N wrote that post, which basically objected to the NYT pieces for the same reason I did, they argue that the status of women worldwide needs to be improved as a means to other ends, rather than an end in itself.

  3. Despite recent improvements, Jezebel’s still a guilty pleasure for me. In a lot of ways, it reminds of me of the men mentioned above. Progressive, liberal, “feminist”, except when it comes to content that will generate page views, in which case, all bets are off.

    I am constantly horrified by men who would never (ever EVER) make a racist “one of the GOOD ones,” comment, but think that it’s totally OK to say things like that about women.

  4. I admit I’m shocked – it looks like you’re in Washington D.C., and you’re talking about “guys who care deeply about, say, women war victims.” And this is a present day blog, rather than something written 50 years ago.

    It makes me wonder if I’m somehow being sexist myself and not realizing it. Of course I am sometimes, but female friends tend to be surprised by the strength of my feminist stance on things.

    Of course as a male I’m very rarely on the receiving end of sexism, so it’s less obvious to me – but surely I’d notice a “casual rape joke”. Maybe it’s just that I’m not in a male-dominated office environment.

    I’ve lived in a society with very sexist aspects, and met a partner there who suffered a lot from the patriarchal system that allowed abuse to flourish in many forms. I’ve seen how women are encouraged and educated to become “active, knowing collaborators”. I learnt that sexism is still serious and that feminism matters.

    It’s just very disappointing and surprising to read this about the kinds of places and people that you’re writing about.

    • Chris,

      No, I’m actually not in DC. Quite far from the Beltway, actually.

      This post was a response to many different things, not just my workplace experiences. On the whole, my workplace interactions are great, but, when they go off the rails, they go off the rails. The comments aren’t intentionally malicious at work (they are in other contexts), but they unsettle me nonetheless.

      I would like to add, though, that it was McEwan who referred to casual rape jokes. No one at my office makes those. There are, however, people who love to highlight the failings of female former colleagues by pulling out stereotypes about emotional, flaky, can’t-hack-it-when-the-going-gets-tough, don’t-want-in-my-guesthouse women. And then there are the comments about how the normative lens through which I view the world is a product of my possession of a uterus, rather than, oh, everything I’ve experienced and studied.

      It’s the kind of place where older female colleagues feel the need to preface statements with, “Not that I’m a dyed in the wool feminist, but…”

      We shouldn’t have to say that to be taken seriously, to not be subjected to heavy sighs and eye rolls.

  5. There are other things that bother me, too. For example, I told a friend about how I was harassed by guys on the street while walking to the pharmacy. My friend took one look at the dress I had on and said, “In that dress? Of course you were.” (For the record, this friend would never sexually harass women himself.)

    I’m not sure if much more was implied in the remark than the reality that wearing a sleeveless purple dress makes a woman more likely to be sexually harassed in my city, but my friend’s comment was not a supportive response. And if it was meant as such, it should have been followed up with something that implied that although sleeveless dresses might make one a target, the utter lack of self control guys in this town exhibit is the problem, not my clothing choices.

    When I go out, I have to pause before leaving my apartment and consider whether I am showing “too much skin” and will find myself dodging “hey baby” and “come over my way” and “lookin’ fine, honey” and numerous wold whistles and pursed lips on my way to the fucking pharmacy, or the supermarket, or my office. Because I am usually alone, I have to think about how I’ll handle the next situation in which a guy gets angry when I ignore his rude advances.

    I resent having to think about these things.

    The idea that I am responsible for other people’s reactions to my everyday attire is highly obnoxious. We all –women AND men– see people on the street we find attractive and momentarily imagine in some kind of sexual scenario. That’s biology. But women seldom make the jump from thinking about a stranger in a sexual way to physically lunging into that person’s space, or even verbalizing their sexual thoughts.

    How hard is it to recognize that women don’t exist solely for men’s visual and physical pleasure, that we just might not be dressing up for you, random horny dude on the street, but instead for ourselves, for our friends and significant others, for other women?

    If we can look and fantasize, but not touch or leer, surely men can do the same.

    I don’t buy the idea that sexual harassment isn’t at all about sexual attraction. I think that IS part of it, at least sometimes, and to the extent that a women who dresses provocatively is thought of as desirable yet worthless at the same time, and available to any man who crosses her path –in other words, a whore. But it’s about power more than anything else, about keeping women in their place by unsettling them as they go about their everyday business, reminding them who’s boss and who has ultimate control over whether they feel safe or not.

    When I had a social worker-esque job and had to pound the pavement, I took to wearing ankle-length skirts, long-sleeved blouses even mid summer, no makeup (with the exception of intentionally heavy black eyeliner to make me look unfriendly), and flat athletic sandals. I was harassed less when I dressed this way, though the harassment didn’t cease entirely.

    But that’s not the point anyway. What I wear –what any woman wears, anywhere– doesn’t determine the behavior of men. Men determine men’s beahviour, and they should show self-control.

    (Catches breath)

    Anyway, thanks for your comment, Chris.

    • “And if it was meant as such, it should have been followed up with something that implied that although sleeveless dresses might make one a target, the utter lack of self control guys in this town exhibit is the problem, not my clothing choices.”

      You say this was said by a friend, judging from the previous sentence a male friend. Think of this: if I were a friend of yours, neither would I include that follow-up, for the very simple reason that I would trust you to understand that that is what I mean — as a friend, whether I am male or female. Why would being a male friend mean that I need to qualify what I say in ways that you do not expect from a female friend? Isn’t that exactly what you and McEwan are writing about?

      • It was a matter of tone and facial expression, too, a kind of “Duh, don’t wear dresses down Central Ave if you don’t want to be harassed,” kind of thing.

        I kind of regret posting any of this, truth be told.

      • Knowing my female friends (and most of my male friends, too) they would have just said “assholes, sheesh,” or something similar. However, this friend made the comment above.

        Anyway, he’s reading this, and I think I’ll lock the comments now. What needed to be said has been said.

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