Monday, 14 September 2015

Sexism .... again. And again. And again. why do we still have to explain this stuff?

A message in response to a Facebook friend (no longer) who posted this-  

Dear humourless Feminazi friends, can I just clarify that if I say your profile picture is "stunning", what I mean is it's so dull that I literally fall unconscious from the tedium.

How fucking dare you post this on your page?  How dare you – with your word ‘feminazis’ – imply that women who demand respect are Nazis?
There were several research experiments back in the 70s, when feminism was still fairly new, that demonstrated that when teachers were scrupulously fair in dividing their attention 50/50 between boys and girls in the classroom, the boys ALWAYS perceived the teachers as giving ALL the attention to the girls.
Likewise, researchers have found that men always perceive a roomful of people, with exactly equal numbers of men and women, as being full of women, not half and half.
This is the reaction of privileged people when inequality is redressed. When their privileges are removed and replaced by exactly equal treatment, they see themselves as victims of discrimination. This is what is meant by the phrase “a sense of entitlement.”  I have frequently attended workshops where women were in the majority, with only 1 or 2 men, and the men never failed to comment on how they feel at a disadvantage. If a woman, who has battled her way up through the ranks of some male-dominated career, to find herself attending a meeting where she is the only woman, draws attention to the fact in that way, she is generally judged to be angry and victim-playing.
The same is true for black people in a white world.  As a white, educated, middle-class woman, I know I can feel very hurt by any suggestion that I might be racist because of some unthinking comment.  It’s my privileged position that makes me feel entitled to react like that. My black colleague would be expected just to smile and stay quiet, no matter how offensive the casual assumptions white people make.
So – when a woman tells you, my male friend, that you are being offensively sexist by commenting on her appearance in a workplace context, if  you feel stung and victimized by her anger, that is your sense of entitled privilege reacting. 
We women know damn well that when a man tells a woman she is attractive, unless he is her partner, then the chances are he’s not saying it out of friendship, he’s not treating her as an equal, he is putting her in her place by reminding her that looking attractive to men is her primary purpose for existing on this planet. He is belittling her. It’s all on a spectrum, with groping and sexual propositioning at one end, and casually assuming that it’s a woman’s job to pour the tea at a meeting (as happened to me once) or do the photocopying, while a whole roomful of more junior men don’t even move a muscle.  
And before you bring it up, no – the fact that I am a Lesbian does not play any part in my failure to be flattered by your so-called compliment. It’s because I recognize your remark as the thinly disguised sneer that it is.
You, as a man, are NOT permitted to set the terms of this debate, any more than I, as a white person, am entitled to do so in a debate about racism.  The woman who twittered her riposte to a senior colleague who ‘complimented’ her on her profile pic, had about 400 responses within 24 hours, from women describing their own experiences. After being viral for a few days I assume there have been millions such. Every woman, even in our equal-rights society, has had similar experiences. It is not YOUR place to challenge this, and we don’t want to hear you whining about how none of us can take a compliment, or a joke.
Surprisingly enough, we can tell when we are being respected – and when we are being put down. It’s called emotional intelligence. Most women have to numb and blind themselves to this kind of behaviour, just to get through life. The ones who are prepared to take the risk and speak out are just the tiniest tip of a colossal iceberg.  And we should all be grateful to them – even men.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Cath,
    I'm just a bystander here, but I found your article interesting and powerful. I think I share many of your views on the toxicity of privilege and entitlement.
    I was wondering whether when you say
    "when a man tells a woman she is attractive ... He is belittling her,"
    you would agree with me that this is often unintentional and comes from a desire to observe cultural norms of affection and courtesy (however ill-conceived those norms may be).
    I realise that the quotation which opens this blog post is a display of failing to take criticism with grace, but it seems a shame to give up on your friend. As you say
    "I can feel very hurt by any suggestion that I might be racist because of some unthinking comment,"
    and people sometimes say and do silly things when they feel hurt - I know I do.
    I guess I'm a sucker for a happy ending and I'm hoping that you two find a way to work through the problem, but I'm also fond of saying that "you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar" where the flies are misguided, inappropriate attitudes, the honey is compassionate debate and the vinegar is ceasing communication.
    Sorry if I've over-stepped a mark and thankyou for processing your difficulties in a way that can be informative and enlightening for the rest of us.