(Content: rampant sexism, discussion of rape, violence, and related statistics. Fun content: a bajillion links and mild video game pastiche.)
It was a week ago and I still giggle about it sometimes. It’s taken me a week to finish this post because I desperately did not want to go back and reread the whole nightmare to make sure I covered all the points.
Last Thursday was International Women’s Day, and I celebrated by getting into a fight on the internet with a colossal jackwagon. It was one of those situations where you either have to laugh or throw up forever and then sing the song that ends the Earth, so instead I am electing to write about it here. Everyone should have their Derailing For Dummies bingo cards ready because we are getting All Of The Bonus Points today.
Allow me to set the stage for our carnival of horrors: a friend posted a link to an article about how dudes can avoid being a skeeze when approaching women, and why it is that women might not always be super-trusting and happy to have a random dude introduce themselves on the bus or something. (Spoiler: it is because some dudes are rapists and women are socialised to believe that if they get assaulted it will be their fault, or at the very least that everyone else will tell them that it’s their fault.)
There were a few people involved in the conversation, aside from the person who linked the article – one who was clearly not able to approach the issue in a serious way, one who was reasonably smart but still fell for some of the usual justifications for telling women to hush up. Both of these guys also submitted the common response of “But I’m not a rapist, so why is this article being mean to me?!” Protip: if it is an article about rapists who are men, and you are a man who is not a rapist, then it is not an article about you. It’s great! You’re not under attack and therefore don’t have to defend yourself! But I try not to be excessively harsh with these people, because they respond well to intelligent arguments and they legitimately think they are doing the right thing for gender equality. They’re wrong, and need to learn more, but they are not consciously trying to oppress anyone.
I cannot say the same about the last individual, who just made me want to turn to my friend and channel Joseph from Scott Pilgrim: “Your friends are douchebags*. Seriously, get new ones.” This guy (where necessary to specify I will refer to him as Derailer) began his list of grievances by stating that a ‘true feminist’ would want to destroy the backwards notion that all men are ‘rapists until proven otherwise’. If you didn’t open the article back there, you may wish to do so now to help follow the arc of horrors. Because the article in question literally begins by stating that the author is sure her male readers are all wonderful and respectful people who would never rape anyone. As if that weren’t gratuitous enough, our Derailer simply decides to ignore it. This was the rhetorical equivalent of the bar coming down in front of you before the roller coaster gets moving.
I pointed out that the article was not saying that all men are potential criminals or assaulters, but that a woman can’t be expected to know instantly whether she’s being approached by a potential assaulter and that some caution is (or at least should be) understandable. But I kind of suspected this wasn’t going to be over that fast.
Next we had his assertion that ‘assigning wariness to one sex’ is wrong, because if a stranger approaches him in a dark alley, he will still be nervous. (But That Happens To Me Too! 20 points.) Because obviously the characteristics of this scenario are exactly the same regardless of your gender and obviously what the author was saying is that men are never victims of violent crime. (Derailing for Dummies is far too general to include something as specific as What About Men but I’ll give a 10 point combo bonus for Anything You Can Do.) When the friend who linked this tried to provide some of her own experience being approached by aggressive men, Derailer demanded to know if she would feel safe being approaced by an aggressive woman. (I’m going to go ahead and award 15 points for You’re Arguing With Opinions Not Fact for gloatfully dismissing someone else’s actual own experiences rather than looking at whether they line up with the data. After all, it’s not like the vast majority of violent crimes are perpetrated by men or something.)
For an interlude (combo breaker!), someone came in to complain about how articles like these just served to dismiss assault on men and make nice guys more nervous about approaching women. He wasonly joking, but also relatively easy to shut down by pointing out the vast gulf of incomparability between ‘worried cute girl will turn me down’ and ‘worried stranger on the train will get off at my stop, follow me until I am alone, and attack’. He still protested that the article went to far and made it seem like even if you were a philanthropist you were doomed, causing me to wonder if he actually believed there’s no such thing as an apparently good man who still thinks that sexual consent is optional. But let us move along, because I went and said the article was trying to give a female perspective on a situation.
Derailer sprang into action by announcing that ‘the female perspective on rape doesn’t matter’ because, again, this only increases the gender division, because PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE and it’s not like all men are criminals or all victims are women and honestly I have a hard time figuring out what kind of point he thought he was making here. Gender is a socialised thing – Derailer had obviously embraced that much – because if it weren’t, there would have to be some biological reason why the vast majority of violent crimes, including rape, are committed by men, and I refuse to entertain the idea that I am biologically inclined towards evil. So, given that the vast majority of rapists are men (about 99%) and the vast majority of victims of rape are women (about 91%), just mayyyyyyybe there’s something gender-related in socialisation going on here? Just maybe there’s something about the way our society treats men and treats women that makes it easier for men to be rapists and women to be targeted? Is this a startling idea to anyone?
We are wrapping up now, because the last part was just Derailer reiterating his super-enlightened position of totally ignoring gender and basically saying that there’s no way a woman could have something valuable to say about being targeted for rape unless she was actually a victim. (I tried supplying him with statistics as well, but I knew he would have Immunity To Fact; I just thought the effort was important.) I endeavoured once more to point out the social differences, to suggest that women who are not victims might still have noticed the huge track record of women who accuse someone of rape to get an enormous public backlash against them and their character, flooded with additional threats of violence, and just maybe women know they’re living in a hostile environment and have tried to adapt in response, but Derailer was resolute in his insistence that this was just a bias against men, and accused me of being sexist** for implying that such a backlash could never occur against a man. (I invited him to find an example of this happening; he mysteriously did not take me up on the offer.)
But then we get to my favourite part, the Secret Bonus Ending that made it so very rewarding to have beaten my head against this particular wall for a few hours, because then he called me a bleeding heart.
Achievement Unlocked: “We’ve Got A Bleeder!” 50 points!
I love it. ‘Bleeding heart’, really? At that point you’ve basically decided to be a Saturday morning cartoon villain without the sweet mustache. When the best insult you can come up with is “Oh yeah? Well, you care about people other than yourself!” then possibly it is time to reconsider which side of the argument you have elected to support! Note to everyone everywhere ever: ‘bleeding heart’ is a terrible insult that really only serves to highlight what a hilariously awful person you are. It’s like a wardrobe malfunction, but instead of a harmless nipple, your clothes slipped and everyone saw the gaping void where your soul should be.
Anyway. Though I may not have made much progress with that particular jackwagon, I was able to make these arguments because I listened to smart people until I realised how and why they were right. In particular, I listen to a lot of women.
Women I know through the internet: Kit Whitfield, mmy, Izzy, Ana Mardoll, Ginny, whose blog I just realised lately I should really have been keeping up with, and so many more whose names I wish I could remember. Women I know in real life: Erica with a C, Erika with a K, both of the Saras without an H, Ally with a Cat. These are women actively enriching my life and it is a godsdamn travesty that so much of our culture is designed to make life harder for them, to limit their freedom and their safety and their rights.
And notably my mother, who gave me a huge advantage by helping me start out life by demonstrating on a regular and ongoing basis that women are in fact fully people - and like any other person, when you try to keep them down, they will barrel on through and achieve what they want, and if that means using the trampled bodies of sexists as an on-ramp, so be it. My mom is kind of awesome that way.
It’s been a week since International Women’s Day, but for some reason not every issue disproportionately affecting women seems to have been resolved. We should get on that.
*I waffle continuously over what I think of this particular insult. On the one hand, it appeals to the inherent sexism of ‘eww, lady stuff is gross’. On the other hand, douches are legitimately a potentially-harmful contraption shoved onto women by a misogynist culture and they should be spoken of with contempt. There seems little hope of reaching universal agreement.
**So here’s a distinction: if a man is discriminated against on the basis of his gender, that’s a gender bias, and the same if a woman is discriminated against on the basis of her gender. But only in one of these cases will the discrimination have the weight of the vast majority of social, cultural, and in some cases legal institutions supporting and amplifying it. For this reason, some people suggest that ‘sexism’ should only be used to describe discrimination against women, i.e., the type of discrimination that’s really, really popular. I like precise terminology, so I tend to agree with this. But at the same time, whenever someone says ‘reverse sexism’ or ‘reverse racism’ I can’t help feeling like they’re complaining that someone is breaking the rules, because while it’s obviously not good for women to be discriminated against, discriminating against a man is just cheating.
***This footnote doesn’t actually attach to anything; it’s just a place for me to note that the other potential title for this post was ‘Reverse Double-Pump Fastbreak Sexism’. Instead I went with a reference to the Shakesville teaspoon terminology, which is used in awesome posts like this one.