It’s a tale as old as the internet. A piece of male douchery surfaces, one that perfectly epitomizes the harassment and male entitlement that women must navigate in their daily lives. The women gather together to gaze upon douchery and nod and say, “Yes, indeed, this really does sum up the problem.”
Cue the trolls, cue the misogynists, cue the willfully obtuse assholes. But also, cue Nice Guy™, who is hurt and confused by these women and their hostility, for he is sweet and gentle and thinks you really need to know how beautifully your eyes match your scarf today.
This guy will leave a long blathering comment (what is it about sexism that makes dudes so long-winded?) that boils down to: “Let’s make this entire conversation about educating me on how best to approach women in public. I would like a foolproof formula that doesn’t involve me actually thinking about women’s experiences or expending any empathy. Please and thank you.”
And more and more frequently, women reply with a simple “Yeah, maybe just…don’t?”
“Just don’t approach women in public? Like, why do you feel the need to talk to strange women? Maybe just don’t do it.”
Cue the rage.
“Fine, so I’m just not allowed to TALK to ANY WOMEN EVER!? HUFF PUFF FOOT STOMP.”
Or, sometimes, the wounded self-pity.
“But but but if I can’t talk to women in public places, I will be FOREVER ALONE WOE IS ME.”
There’s a lot of stupid in this argument, but I’d like to talk about the main stupid, which is the idea that modern romance – and consequently the human race – will somehow grind to a halt if men are not “allowed” to talk to women in public. You see, by not “allowing” men to talk to them in public, women are thwarting casual encounters, which are the only way people ever end up going on dates ever. If women are not actively seeking a meet-cute, Nice Guy™ is doomed to a life of impotently lusting after potential soulmates on every train platform, in every elevator, across the dusty vinyl sleeves in every quirky secondhand record shop in every city in the world.
Ted: I just gotta bump into her somewhere. Now if only I knew her schedule, I could arrange a chance encounter.
This idea is, obviously, ridiculous and has no bearing on reality outside of romantic comedies. (You know, those things that women purportedly base their lives around.) However, not only does it have no bearing on the reality of dating, it also actively clashes with the reality of being a woman in public.
Earlier this year, I read an essay called Shining a Light on Cutoff Culture. It’s almost four thousand words long and before I was halfway through, my shoulders were drawn up around my ears and my head was vibrating with ill-defined rage. Fortunately, Captain Awkward chose to tackle it on her blog and helped me pinpoint exactly why this essay made me so deeply uncomfortable. It took me a long time to sort my thoughts out on this one, but here is my letter to the man who wrote that essay.
You claim to be trying to shine on a light the dangers of cutoff culture. But here is the thing.
Most women do not live in a cutoff culture. Far from it. Let me tell you a bit about the kind of culture women live in when it comes to dating, relationships and sex. Your essay extrapolated from an example from your own personal experience, so I’ll give you one from mine:
Right. Elliot Rodger and the Isla Vista shootings. Within hours of the story breaking, a number of friends and readers got in touch asking if I was going to write a reaction piece. After five minutes on my newsfeed and on Twitter, I was overwhelmed by exhaustion. That was my dominant emotion. Not anger, not frustration, not sorrow. Just numbing here-we-go-again exhaustion. After half an hour, I did not want to write about this. And watching the conversations pick up speed and the comments roll in – the justifications, the derails, the rationalizations, the outright defenses – made it all feel even more hopeless.
But then I spoke to my sister, who reminded me why it’s important to keep writing and that even if it feels repetitive, these things can’t be said too many times. So thanks, Lars. Also, many of these points are hers or riffing on hers.
And now, in no particular order, my thoughts:
1. There exists a sub-section of men who literally cannot sit through a discussion of structural misogyny without receiving constant and emphatic reassurance that no one is accusing them personally of being a misogynist. This is a derail and an attempt to shut down debate. Because, to quote Sometimes, it’s just a cigar:
“Suppose you disagree with women about whether rape is part of the structure of our society, used to reinforce patriarchy. Do you make that debate possible by standing on your wounded pride, and just insisting that the debate must start with a disclaimer that says you’re not a rapist? Forgive me, but that’s nothing more than narcissism.”
The conviction that you have never participated or been complicit in structural misogyny is dubious to say the least, no matter what your gender. But even if you are resolute that you, personally, have managed to transcend the system you were born and raised in and now stand as a shining beacon of gender equity outside the mire of patriarchy? Good for you, but structural misogyny still exists and we still need to have a conversation about it. If you think you have nothing to learn, go play elsewhere on the internet.
James Delingpole recently wrote an article called “Why it’s not sexist to say boys should never play with dolls“. I have to ask: is it just me, or are the James Delingpoles of this world getting more and more frantic in their efforts to shove gender roles back into neat little boxes marked Male and Female?
Because to me, interrupting a group of young women during a discussion of their career plans to ask them if they want to settle down and raise a family… that sounds like the behaviour of a floundering man. Delingpole admits that he did this deliberately in part to undermine their “zappy” headmistress, and then brags about in his article as though he’s scored a point for… well, for who or what exactly is unclear. Whatever Delingpole was trying to achieve by recounting this anecdote, he succeeds admirably in coming across as smug, clueless, priggish and thoroughly out of his depth when confronted by a room of bright young women who expect to enter the world as equals to men.
“Does this make me sound like a complete sexist pig?” asks Delingpole, as though a modicum of self-awareness might make it not so.
First off, apologies for my long and undoubtedly keenly felt absence. In the last month, I have been busy completing a Masters, moving country again, starting a new job, finding somewhere to live and trying to revive my French. Many of these activities necessitated extended periods of being away from my beloved Internet.
BUT I AM BACK NOW. Here is a list of links from the past few weeks. Above, watch Lily Myers use beautiful words to express some sad things about the way women are socialised to apologise for taking up both physical and intellectual space.
This is a heavy link farm. There’s been a lot of crappy stuff in the news, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and I have not had much time for Feminism Lite recently. Most of this is link farm is articles and most of them are angry and important or both. Emphasis on the important.
NIRBHAYA: Human Rights Theatre (Kickstater, content note for graphic theatrical depictions of rape) Nirbhaya means “fearless one” and it is the pseudonym that the press gave to Delhi student Jyoti Singh Pandey, the young woman who was violently raped on a bus and subsequently died of her wounds last December. It “tackles the issue of sexual violence by exploring the true stories of sexual violence endured by each of the performers who use Jyoti’s death as a catalyst to break their silence.” It won multiple awards at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Watching the trailer made me go cold and start shivering. The company now want to take the show on tour in India. Theatre can change things and this is important. If you can afford to throw some money their way to help achieve this goal, you definitely should.
Neo-liberalism and the Defanging of Feminism (video) This lecture is an hour long, but it’s essential viewing for anyone who takes their feminism seriously. Professor Gail Dines on how modern feminism has lost its way by focusing on “the individual rights of a small group of elite white women” instead of functioning as vehicle for radical social change. She absolutely annihilates I-choose-my-choice individualist feminism; the idea of feminism as a personal philosophy that’s different for every woman, a customisable set of beliefs that can be altered and decorated just like fun hat! It’s all grounded in historical context, economics, critical and political theory and… seriously, just go watch the whole thing.
Rebranding Feminism(article) The ever excellent Laurie Penny explains why the idea of “rebranding” feminism is and always will be a massive crock of shit, especially when the charge is being led by a “fashion and beauty magazine, not a historically notable manual for gender revolution.”
African women blazing feminist trails (article) Did you know women form the majority in the parliament of Rwanda? Did you know Malawi, Liberia and Senegal all have female heads of state? Because I sure as hell didn’t. Minna Salami asks why these achievements have been met with loud silence from western feminists and why we aren’t taking more cues from the African women who have actually made real progress in the arena of political equality.
I Am So Very Tired (article) – For any woman, nerd or otherwise, who is sick and tired of having to state her case for being allowed to exist in traditional male-dominated spaces without being harassed or objectified, over and over again, online and offline, patiently wading through the same fucking prosaic, flawed and harmful arguments from gender essentialists, harassment defenders and fucking devil’s advocates, please have this cathartic rant from Foz Meadows. I love all of it, but especially this: “I am tired of assholes who think that playing Devil’s advocate about an issue alien to their experience but of deep personal significance to their interlocutor makes them both intellectually superior and more rationally objective on the specious basis that being dispassionate is the same as being right (because if they can stay calm while savagely kicking your open wound, then clearly, you have no excuse for screaming)”
And finally, last week Emily Yoffe (of the Slate’s Dear Prudence) wrote a long article imaginatively entitled “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk” which is, shock horror, about how young ladies should never have more than two drinks – and certainly no shots! – if they don’t want to be raped by horny college boys. On the one hand, snore, because there is literally nothing in the entire article that has not been addressed, deconstructed and roundly and rigorously critiqued by feminists, in multiple forums, from multiple backgrounds, approximately one million thousand times. On the other, FUCK SAKE, because Yoffe has an extremely popular advice column, which implies that people actually take her views on this shit seriously. So yes, here are the two best takedowns of her harmful victim-blaming rape apologia.
College Men: Stop Getting Drunk(article) The litmus test of sexist bullshit: do the same standards and rules apply to men? As Anna Friedman effectively illustrates, it’s drunk men doing all the raping, so why is it the ladies who have reign in their partying and forego tequila shots?
And on that note, I am going to lie down and watch some cartoons. Something resembling a regular blogging schedule should resume now that I have an apartment with an internet connection and a reliable source of tea.
I’ll irritate most of my friends for saying this, but I’ve always found feminist writer Laurie Penny immensely enjoyable, in person and in writing.
What a thoroughly odd way to start a book review.
I say that as someone who is – or at least was – appalled by practically everything she says. Why “was”? Because I’ve just finished her pamphlet Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet, and it’s… well, it’s terrific.
Oh I see, it was necessary to qualify that you don’t hate Laurie Penny personally while pandering to your friends who are ready to kneejerk at the very mention of her name, but also make it clear that you are normally “appalled” by her work. Glad we got that cleared up. Carry on.
Yes, all of the old problems are there. There’s a bit too much sodding hysteria, too much is taken for granted and too often
“Hysteria”. Gendered word choice #1. Keep your eyes out, there are a lot of these! Hysteria is a state of uncontrollable or excessive emotion and also an outdated psychological term for a disorder that exclusively afflicted women, because it was caused by disturbances in the uterus (similar to disturbances in the Force, I suppose.) So just to be clear, Penny is not angry, she’s not impassioned and she’s not vehement. She’s hysterical. And not just hysterical, but “sodding” hysterical, because Milo has had to endure this emotional lady nonsense in the past. Moving on.
I have not been blogging much recently because I have been living in the small but comfortable hell that is trying to finish up my MA before I move to Geneva IN LESS THAN THREE WEEKS HOLY SHIT DON’T THINK ABOUT IT THE PANIC. Life is comfortable because I have moved back to my lovely clean warm family home in the west of Ireland, where my mother does my laundry and keeps me well supplied with tea and hearty dinners and all I have to do is stay hunched in front of my double screen set up, flicking between spreadsheets with manic intensity. Like Gollum, only fatter and better at making graphs (we can assume).
Anyway, because life is a bit erratic and I am feeling erratic, have an erratic series of links of things I have been enjoying on the Internet recently!
Stop Telling Women To Smile(video, image, text) This is one of my favourite anti-street harassment campaigns, because it addresses the micro-aggressions (as opposed to the outright aggressive aggressions, which tend to get more airtime.) Micro-aggressions are small incidents of sexism that do not seem significant when viewed in isolation. However, when they begin to accumulate and become constant feature of your daily life, it starts to wear on your mood, your energy and your sense of worth as a person. If you have a few spare cash monies, consider using them to help Tatyana Fazlalizadeh make her public art project go nationwide in the US.
Are you afraid of tampons?(video) Because these guys…like, they’re definitely not… but they’re still not going to like… help a lady out by purchasing them for her or anything. I mean, c’mon. That’s gross.
Cliteracy 101(image, text) New York artist Sophia Wallace wants to dispel all the ignorance surrounding that most mysterious of sex organs… and she’s doing it with street art, clitoris-themed swag and a GIANT GOLDEN CLITORIS THAT YOU CAN RIDE LIKE A FREAKING RODEO BULL.
Lady, You Really Aren’t “Crazy”(text) This article is an oldie, but I stumbled across the other day and remember how much it resonated with me. “Dudes of the world – if you do not return your girlfriend’s calls for a week, and she shows up at your door yelling, she is not crazy. She is angry at you. There’s a difference. “Crazy” would be if you did not return her calls for a week and she decided she was a lighthouse.” Which in turns reminds me of…
Two Sides To Every Story(comic) A great little strip from Kate Or Die about how the “crazy” narrative often plays out in relationships.
Scenes From Majora’s Mask That Brought Me To Tears (article) If, like me, you are part of the subset of Zelda fans who maintain that Majora’s Mask is best game and kind of like… really deep and important art even though you can’t articulate quite why… well, this article is for you!
Ladies’ Brunch(article) Also, more from The Toast, because The Toast is fast becoming my favourite feminist humour site. Fact: Party Brunch is a real thing that happens in New York. Other fact: My browser will not accept that bachelorette is a real word. MISOGYNY.
What About Teh Boyz?(text) The ever excellent Jem Bloomfield on why society is so keen to separate the men from the boys when it comes to sexist behaviour.
What Not To Wear(text) Do you guys remember Trinny and Susannah and What Not To Wear? Well, The Vagenda does and holy shit, were those ladies ever peddling some toxic gender norms under the (admittedly thin) veil of helping ladies improve their self-esteem.
A Guide to Cat Colours and Patterns(image) A friend sent me this insanely detailed and TOTALLY DELIGHTFUL guide to figuring out the precise colour of your darling kitty, created by artist Joumana. The Kitten (pictured above) is a lilac cap-and-saddle torbie and white. OR SOMETHING. Also, your cat could be a “theoretical fawn-based caramel” in which case, you should probably put it on the Internet so everyone can make theoretical cat memes. HOURS OF FUN.