Why do we do this? Why do we write about our experiences and talk about misogyny and women in today’s society and put all this out into the world?
I used to wonder that. Why bother? The only people reading are a) people who already agree with you or b) people who honest to God just want to fight with you.
The people who should be paying attention usually aren’t, and if they are, it’s only to argue. Most misogynists don’t even realize you’re talking to them, because no one self-identifies as a misogynist. Even the most ardent among them love women, you see. They have mothers and sisters and everything. Some of their best friends are women. You can’t change the mind of someone who can’t hear you, so these are obviously—as much as we might wish otherwise—not the people we’re talking to.
So who does that leave us with? Are we honestly just left sitting around in a big internet circle talking to ourselves?
I used to think so. I believed that everyone who talked about feminism and the way women are treated in media or in life just wrote blog posts so they could all sit around and agree with each other. Because who else was reading that sort of thing? Just a quick glance at the comments showed people either vehemently agreeing or trolololing. No one else was commenting, so obviously no one else was reading.
Except…I was. Not consistently or anything, because I’m not a big blog reader in general, but I’d get the link in an IM or on Facebook and I’d read it. And the weird thing for me is that I walk away from most articles or blogs neither agreeing nor disagreeing. I would walk away feeling that I had just read something interesting, but I develop opinions very slowly. I would read it, think about it, and then mentally file it away before going back to whatever I was doing.
This annoys some people, I think, who send me links and expect me to immediately jump in with strong reactions, but that’s just not the way I process information, and it never has been. I file it away, and I add to that file as I absorb more and more information on any given topic. Over time, the information all combines in my head when I’m not paying attention, and then poof! like a puff of smoke days or even weeks later, I suddenly have thoughts and opinions on things. But at that stage, I still don’t always feel like I can express my thoughts. When I try, the first time someone counters me, I stumble around my words. “I, uh…well, I mean there was this article I read…it was a few weeks ago…I can’t really remember, but I thought it said…I mean…”
I’m not the world’s best speaker. I can do it if I try super hard, but then add in trying to defend a topic—even one I know quite a bit about!—and I feel so put-on-the-spot that I can’t actually retrieve any of my information. I believe I’m a good writer (it’s my day job, after all), but my first drafts are always just gibberish ideas of what I think I want to say, be it fiction or non. When I write, I can literally look at my ideas, judge which ones have weight, which ones are well worded, which ones I need to rephrase. I can set them aside for days at a time, letting them sink into the page and into my head, then I can easily move them around when I come back to the draft and see if I still think all the things I thought I thought. I see if it still all makes sense, and if it all holds together.
I don’t have the luxury of doing that in any spoken conversation. I thrive in the ability to make my points slowly, not to awkwardly roll them out of my mouth in some collection of words that almost resembles the thing I kind of wanted to say as someone stands ready to shoot them down the second I get them out. As such, I usually avoid discussions on topics I haven’t thought about extensively—and even some I have. If a debatable topic comes up, I usually just shut up, and it’s not that I don’t have opinions or that I’m not smart enough to understand what’s going on. It’s that I’m taking in what everyone else is saying. I’m listening and adding all the information in the room to that part of my brain that collects blog posts and this side’s point and the other side’s point and eventually smashes them together into a big fusion of What I Think—but that process takes a while.
So I don’t comment on blogs. Almost ever. But I’m still listening.
So are a lot of other people. More people read an article or blog than comment on it—that’s just basic math right there—so while comments may look like any given blog post exists solely for the rah rah in the comments, really the people we’re talking to and trying to reach are the ones who don’t leave comments. We’re talking to the girl who gets called a lesbian because she doesn’t want to wear skirts, but is confused about what is inherently bad about lesbians or good about skirts. We’re talking to the preteen or teenage boy who feels uneasy when his friends make rape jokes, but he hasn’t yet pinned down exactly why. We’re talking to our husbands and coworkers and male friends who aren’t dismissive, but find our experiences so alien to their own that they’re unsure how to even participate in the conversation. We’re explaining what it feels like and what it looks like and what it sounds like when we are harassed or put down or dismissed on no basis other than gender.
And we’re talking to women who have never had this experience. That used to be me, too. It was easy to dismiss that “crazy feminism thing” because, well, I had never experienced it, so obviously the people who talked about it were just getting all uppity about every little thing they could latch on to. (Later I would realize that all the times I’d tried to make myself stand out as the Girl Who Could Carry Stuff, the Girl Who Could Work While Her Boyfriend Stayed Home and Cleaned, or the Girl Who Didn’t Wear Dresses were actually a direct result of people telling me what I couldn’t, wasn’t allowed to, or had to do based on my gender.) We’re talking to these women even though they’re only half paying attention. Some people get really mad about that, the half paying attention thing, but you know what? I think that’s fine. If every one of them gets to breathe their last breath having been treated completely fairly in every facet of their lives, then that’s honestly fantastic.
But that is super unlikely. And when they face that inequality—when they actually see it up close after never having had to face it before, what will they do? They may ignore that part of them that says something about the situation doesn’t sit right—and, probably, that’s exactly what they’ll do for a while, because it’s hard to just wake up on Tuesday and decide to believe in the boogey man when you’ve spent your whole life denying that he’s real.
Eventually, if she’s lucky, each of these women will notice that she can’t quite let it go. She’ll try to work out why this situation feels wrong. If there’s nothing there to pull from, then it’s too easy for her to dismiss the feeling as nothing. If she’s even half read a few articles or blogs that cover what gender judging feels like, though, then her brain can recall that, and bit by bit, she can start to feel more confident in calling what is happening to her “discrimination.”
Any time you write a blog or an article that focuses on what could potentially be a narrow target audience, it can feel like you’re just talking to yourself, or to the people who either agree with you or can’t hear you. Remember, though, the silent majority who don’t speak because they feel they have no voice, who don’t speak because they feel they lack anything to contribute, who don’t speak because they don’t understand or even have their own opinions yet. Don’t give up on getting your message across just because you don’t think it’s going anywhere new. We are making a difference, even if we can’t see it yet—or hear it.
Guest post by Derryl Murphy
The November 9/16, 2012 issue of Entertainment Weekly has a commentary by Keith Staskiewicz titled “Worst Wives Club,” which purports to ask why TV fans have so much hate for the women in their favorite shows. Booing Lori Grimes at NY Comic Con, being happy that Rita on Dexter was killed (“good riddance” is the quote used), and more: examples trotted out also include Betty Draper on Mad Men, Skyler on Breaking Bad, even Carmela Soprano, because wanting your husband to maybe lay off the nasty shit and come home for dinner is apparently the height of bitchiness and you therefore must pay.
-Keith Staskiewicz, “Worst Wives Club” Entertainment Weekly (November 9/16, 2012)
I wrote a letter in response, which is a tad shorter than what you see here, but still covers the same points.
Keith Staskiewicz’s column in the November 9/16 issue really seemed to miss the mark. A quick glance at the web and the news shows how fanboys have treated Anita Sarkeesian after her Tropes vs Women Kickstarter and her comments on misogyny in video games (start here and then move on if you wish). You can also see how members of the atheist and scientific community treated Rebecca Watson after she spoke out against harassment – see her article on Slate for the low down on this and make sure you read the comments to remind yourself just how horrible males (I refuse to use the word men) can be. And of course we can’t ignore how women were viewed by a large segment of people running for office in the latest US election, and how many religions treat women. It seems that misogyny is an equal opportunity blight, and no matter what community one might belong to, there are plenty of reasons offered by other members of that community for us to bow our heads in shame. Is it a surprise that TV fans (male, of course) feel threatened by women who don’t behave exactly as they want? Perhaps it’s time EW looks at how fans of pop culture treat females who tread on their so-called territory. At the very least, I’d be curious to know what their mothers and sisters and maybe even sometimes–unlikely as it would seem to many that people like this would even have them –wives and daughters think about the language they use, the rape fantasies they seem to harbor, the anger that just won’t go away.
Derryl Murphy is the author of the novel Napier’s Bones (CZP) and the new collection Over the Darkened Landscape (Fairwood Press). He lives with his family on the frozen Canadian prairie, and is on Twitter as @derrylm.
Thanks to Derryl for letting me share this. I haven’t read the EW piece (it’s not online yet or I’d link it here), so if you have, chime in and let us know what you think. I think it’s so important that we speak out in whatever way moves us whenever we’re inspired to, and I sincerely hope EW gives some thought to Derryl’s suggestion. ~Rosie
The following is from the editor of the Niagara Falls Reporter to film critic Michael Calleri who wondered why some of his reviews were not being published:
Michael; I know you are committed to writing your reviews, and put a lot of effort into them. it is important for you to have the right publisher. i may not be it. i have a deep moral objection to publishing reviews of films that offend me. snow white and the huntsman is such a film. when my boys were young i would never have allowed them to go to such a film for i believe it would injure their developing manhood. if i would not let my own sons see it, why would i want to publish anything about it?
snow white and the huntsman is trash. moral garbage. a lot of fuzzy feminist thinking and pandering to creepy hollywood mores produced by metrosexual imbeciles.
I don’t want to publish reviews of films where women are alpha and men are beta.
where women are heroes and villains and men are just lesser versions or shadows of females.
i believe in manliness.
not even on the web would i want to attach my name to snow white and the huntsman except to deconstruct its moral rot and its appeal to unmanly perfidious creeps.
i’m not sure what headhunter has to offer either but of what I read about it it sounds kind of creepy and morally repugnant.
with all the publications in the world who glorify what i find offensive, it should not be hard for you to publish your reviews with any number of these.
they seem to like critiques from an artistic standpoint without a word about the moral turpitude seeping into the consciousness of young people who go to watch such things as snow white and get indoctrinated to the hollywood agenda of glorifying degenerate power women and promoting as natural the weakling, hyena -like men, cum eunuchs.
the male as lesser in courage strength and power than the female.
it may be ok for some but it is not my kind of manliness.
If you care to write reviews where men act like good strong men and have a heroic inspiring influence on young people to build up their character (if there are such movies being made) i will be glad to publish these.
i am not interested in supporting the reversing of traditional gender roles.
i don’t want to associate the Niagara Falls Reporter with the trash of Hollywood and their ilk.
it is my opinion that hollywood has robbed america of its manliness and made us a nation of eunuchs who lacking all manliness welcome in the coming police state.
now i realize that you have a relationship with the studios etc. and i would have been glad to have discussed this in person with you to help you segue into another relationship with a publication but inasmuch as we spent 50 minutes on the phone from paris i did not want to take up more of your time.
In short i don’t care to publish reviews of films that offend me.
if you care to condemn the filmmakers as the pandering weasels that they are…. true hyenas.
i would be interested in that….
Jezebel hits the high points in their summary, but you’ll find the whole (very long) story at the Chicago Sun-Times blog. This is not some guy selling papers on a street-corner spouting his nonsense to anyone who doesn’t walk away fast enough. This is the editor–the person who controls what news stories people see in a local newspaper that was apparently well regarded until 2012 when editor/publisher Frank Parlato took over. Mr. Parlato is so secure in his belief that men are the superior sex that movies featuring strong female characters disgust him and he won’t publish reviews about them. Will. Not. Publish those nasty, nasty reviews with woman stuff all over them.
What else doesn’t pass Frank Parlato’s moral filter?
To those of us who know these people still exist in positions of power (and that’s anyone who was awake during the recent U.S. election cycle), this may not even come as a surprise. But every day I encounter people who think feminism is just a euphemism for women hating on men, and I’m fucking sick of it, for lack of a more elegant phrase. They’re not listening. They’re not reading. Or they’re listening to Fox and reading the Niagara Falls Reporter, I dunno. All I know is that every day I’m more and more convinced that I have to keep doing what I’m doing even if gets me into more than my share of arguments and sometimes costs me “friends.” We need feminism because there are still too many people out there, male and female, who believe that “traditional” gender roles are sacrosanct–that a man’s rightful title is Head-of-Household and a woman’s is Little-Girl-Mother-Wife whose office is in the KITCHEN (with a view of the swingset) and YES! It’s the fifties! Happy Days Are Here Again!
Not on my watch.
Guest post by Sid
I watched a fair amount of TV growing up—much more than I do even now (I also played outside more than I do now and read more than I do now, so I assume there were simply more hours in the day back then). When I was old enough to stay home alone—during the summer in particular—I would watch whatever I could find on TV while I baked or ate lunch or figured out which book I would read that afternoon. It was at this time that I discovered the channels with stand-up comedians on the air, back-to-back, all day long. And I watched them. I watched them all. Well-known or not, dozens of them came across the screen, often in sets of three on something like Premium Blend.
Often, the shows would repeat, so I’d see them a couple times, and over time I came to notice that several of the male comedians had a common theme—they complained about women. A lot. Women did this, and women did that, and doncha hate it when a woman does this? “Oh,” I thought to myself at the time. “This is like…a guide. This is stuff I shouldn’t do.” And that was the first time—but not the last—that I would think to myself, “Well, I don’t want to be one of those girls.”
One of those girls. At—charitably—twelve, I didn’t want to be like the loser wimpy girls who love shoes and shopping and pink and ribbons…because those girls were annoying. Those girls were troublesome. To men. They were annoying to men. And at twelve, I didn’t really have the capacity to understand that these people on stage were not representatives for all men everywhere. My house consisted of my mom, my dad, and me—I didn’t have brothers and I didn’t have a reliable way to gauge what these comedians were saying against the real world, so as far as I knew, these were important tips that I needed to remember for when I was old enough for them to matter.
I ended up internalizing a lot of it, and at this point I don’t like shopping because…I really don’t like shopping. I can’t stand the crowds, trying a bunch of stuff on is exhausting…plenty of reasons that have nothing to do with some random jackass comedian I saw when I was twelve. But that’s still where a lot of it started. Once I started dating, I had this list of things in my mind that I couldn’t be or shouldn’t be. And like I said, now I simply am who I am, all preconceptions be damned, but I still think it’s interesting to examine how I got here. I didn’t want to be one of those girls. (To be completely honest, I still hate pink, but for no really identifiable reason. This one might be a remnant from the time I’m talking about because nothing about the color is inherently offensive to me, but my avoidance of it borders on compulsion.)
I have a friend who is vehemently against people who say they aren’t one of those feminists. Pushing yourself away from the word and the cause behind it, she posits, only serves to weaken the base of feminism and what it represents rather than strengthen that base. I think she has a very good point, but I have been guilty on more than one occasion of hesitating to use the word “feminist” to describe myself. The word holds such a stigma—and while I agree that “fuck stigma, feminism is not a bad word,” I know that more than once I’ve tried to set up a barrier between myself and the word “feminism” specifically because I wanted my audience to take my point at face value, not filter it through an “oh, she’s just talking about girl stuff” lens.
Is that wrong? Or is it just tactical? I’m honestly not sure, and if it leaves me open to criticism then I’ll take it. Either way, though, the fact that I feel like I have to frame my words for anyone to hear them is part of the problem—if not the crux.
My roommate has a theory that the problem with the words “feminist” and “feminism” are the “–ist” and “–ism” suffixes. In our vernacular, he suggests, that suffix is almost exclusively associated with negative things or forms of supremacy. “Racist” and “supremacist,” specifically. In this way, the word itself is actually damaging to the cause, because the word itself provokes defensiveness. This is a fascinating approach, and while I don’t exactly agree with it (especially after a quick Google search that immediately disproves the “most –ist words are negative” part of the theory), at the very least, it’s an interesting thought experiment—would we have a better reaction if we called feminism something else? Would it be easier to talk with people and explain simple ideas? Would we be less likely to have our points dismissed as “girl stuff” or “angry stuff”?
One way or another, though, separating ourselves from other women for the sake of looking better to men only hurts us. It shows the kind of men who would try to bully us out of our autonomy and into fantasy roles that this is an excellent plan. That if they continue, they will get the results they are after, because look, this girl totally agrees with us.
When I was in my early twenties back in my hometown, I was talking with a high school friend of mine. He was getting into venture capital and telling me, along with two other guys, that their firm had one really hard and fast rule—they would not deal with female business owners. “Women are crazy,” he explained in the same tone of voice you might use to explain that grass is green and fire is hot. Naturally, I had an immediate and loud reaction to this.
“Yeah, they are! I know exactly what you mean.”
Because I wasn’t one of those girls, remember? I was cooler than that. I got him because I was awesome. Or because my self-esteem was in a shape at the time that I couldn’t really argue, because then I wouldn’t be as cool (and he might think I was one of those girls after all).
This conversation stands out in my mind not even because it was the first time I’d said something like this, but because I remember feeling a strong, “Are you serious?” reaction underneath my verbal reaction, and that was new. Even while I was agreeing with him, I was suddenly very certain that I did not want to be around him. This may have been the last time I saw him.
I don’t think my high school friend was trying to bully me or anyone out of autonomy—truth be told, I’d bet a small fortune that he was only parroting what someone at his job had espoused—but he was, intentionally or not, supporting the kind of attitude that breeds this bully behavior by placing the central tenet on a pedestal: women are less. From there, it’s a simple jump to assuming they should behave as you wish. Because they are less than you.
By separating yourself (as not one of those girls), what you’re really saying is, “But I’m not less,” when what you perhaps ought to be saying is that none of us are less.
One of those girls, one of those feminists, one of those anything—no one identifies themselves that way. So whoever you are and whatever you represent, remember that separating yourself from a group may be a quick method of self-defense, but focusing on the group as a whole—and pointing out that no one is less—is the only way to make any lasting progress.
Guest post by Amanda Rose Smith
“I’m not going to Smith College.”
That’s the first thing I said to my college counselor, when at 16 years old and a junior in highschool, I came shuffling into her office in my leather jacket and walmart-bought steel-toed boots. It’s safe to say that just about nobody would have ever called me a paragon of femininity or a “girly-girl,” but even so, the word “feminist” had always seemed a little bit like a dirty word to me. I felt that it implied victimhood, a need of special treatment, and was determined to prove to anyone who would pay attention that I didn’t need that. As such, I found the idea of an all female college completely repugnant. Still, despite my statement and the finality of decision-making that it implied, I did, in fact, end up going to Smith College. It was mostly a matter of financial aid, school reputation, and proximity to home. Also, they had a *great* program in what I wanted to do. It was a bit perplexing to me, but everyone kept saying how perfect it would be for me, and how much they knew I would love it. Despite the fact that I still had some misgivings, I went. Aside from that whole “no guys thing” as I called it, it made sense.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the school (although I sort of suspect anyone reading this kind of blog probably is) it is one of the few originally all female schools left that still only admits women. It is one of the top 20 liberal arts colleges in the entire country, male, female, or co-ed. It has graduated tons of famous women, including Julia Child, Gloria Steinem, Sylvia Plath, Betty Friedan, Tammy Baldwin…it is also the Mecca of feminism. Smith was where I learned about the different ways of spelling woman (womyn, for example) I learned the pronouns that you use for transgendered people and aaalll about “The Patriarchy.” While other girls were going to frat parties and joining sororities, I was eating vegan cutlet and discussing affirmative action. That’s not to say I was immediately converted. During freshman (sorry- I meant to say, “first year”) orientation, all the new girls in my dorm sat in a circle, taking turns telling the group what they hoped to accomplish at Smith. When they got to me, I smirked and said, “I’m just here to find a nice man.”
That’s pretty much how it went the entire time. As I had when I was younger, I struggled against the idea that I was somehow disabled because I happened to have been born with a vagina. In fact, in a bizarre kind of way, I sort of liked the idea of things being a little harder for me than they were for other people. I liked the challenge. I liked the idea of doing more with less, and so, whenever I heard other girls complaining about it being harder to “make it” in their areas of study, I would roll my eyes and think, “If they just worked a little harder, and shut up, everything would be fine.” I mean, if they really did do as good a job as their male counterparts, they’d HAVE to accept them, right? RIGHT?
I don’t mean to give the impression that I didn’t love being at Smith. I did. I really did. It was an amazing environment for learning and I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had in my life there. The women I spent 4 years brushing my teeth next to in the morning are now lawyers, doctors, engineers, publishers, and then there’s me, the hybrid technologist/artist. We’re a pretty awesome bunch, if I do say so myself, especially having reached all that before the age of 30. ANYWAY.
So then I graduated, and moved to NYC to start my freelance career and to go to grad school. My degree at Smith had been in classical composition and now I was going for a masters in Music Technology. It was my entrance into this kind of work that introduced me to the fabled misogynist.
The first few times that it happened, I didn’t really think much of it…being passed over for internships which went to guys who were a lot less intelligent and experienced than myself, being talked down to by employers in a way that didn’t seem to happen to my male counterparts. There were times that I suspected what was going on, but after being so inundated at Smith by people talking about discrimination, and seemingly blaming EVERYTHING that went wrong in their lives on that dreaded Patriarchy, I REFUSED to be THAT girl. I would keep quiet. I would work harder.
The thing is, it only got worse. During my third internship as a sound designer at a post studio, I was leaving the studio late one night with one of the senior engineers. There were 11 interns, 10 young men and me. During the ride down in the elevator, the engineer was complaining about how us interns hadn’t done well enough in our duty of cleaning the studio every day. I shrugged. He continued, “Hey, you’re a girl. Why don’t you teach the rest of them?”
Now, I’ve always been loathe to let anyone accuse me of not being able to take a joke, even when it comes to things that a lot of other people wouldn’t find funny. So, I dutifully waited for him to crack a smile or say “Just kidding!” or something to that effect. Nothing. I stood there in shocked silence for a minute before saying, “Yeah…and then maybe I can make you a sandwich. How would that be?” If what he said had been a joke I didn’t get, he didn’t get mine either. After another moment of silence, the doors parted and I went off on my way.
After a few more incidents like this, I began to get angry. As a house engineer at a nightclub I had to watch bands give their mix directions to my male intern rather than to me, and have drink orders yelled at me by rowdy patrons assuming my having tits made me a waitress. Visiting male engineers wouldn’t let me lift gear because they assumed I would break like a delicate flower the first time I tried to lift with my legs. Male co-workers would stop talking when I came around the corner during their re-tellings of a previous night’s hot and heavy date. I found that attempting to create a comfortable space by telling MY stories of sexual conquest was mostly met with awkward foot shuffling. So much for being one of the guys.
I felt betrayed because being “one of the guys” was exactly what I wanted, and what I’d always figured I could have. Every time I sat at Smith and listened to these stories of sexism, there was a part of me, steeped in that environment of female power, that didn’t believe them. Somehow I had internalized this feeling that those women who told those stories, unless they were talking about “the olden days,” well, they were just being oversensitive. I didn’t believe that sexism was still real. I thought that feminism was all about special treatment, not about equality, because I had been under the impression that I already HAD equality.
So here I was, considering the things I had learned at Smith, years after graduating. I felt trapped. I didn’t know how to approach this problem. I didn’t want to be viewed as “THAT girl,” as I’d always thought of that stereotype, but now that I’d had some first-hand experience, I also felt that I couldn’t let certain things pass anymore. Whenever I hear people say that certain jokes are out of bounds, or talk about being “offended,” I usually want to retch. So. how do you talk frankly about something, and how do you address the fact that jokes sometimes ARE telling of a person’s actual prejudices without being that stick in the mud, lame “womyn” that no one wants to hang out with? I couldn’t stay in the Smith College world forever. I HATE vegan cutlet.
Navigating sexism today is hard, and I meet a lot of other women and girls who like I used to, react to it by way of refusing to admit that it exists. At first glance it appears to be a place of power, but in large part they are actually doing themselves a disservice. Ignoring something doesn’t make it go away, and can in some cases actually be interpreted as acceptance. Of course the new-wave pseudo-feminist technique of dwelling on it doesn’t really help either. Problems need to be acknowledged, and they need to be overcome, but there is a difference between working to change something and using it as an excuse. The two get mixed up a lot, and when the problem is as subtle as it often is these days, its easy for someone who doesn’t have to deal with it, like your male friends or coworkers, to assume that you’re making something out of nothing. The real challenge is trying to communicate, in an effective way, why these things aren’t, in fact, “nothing.”
I don’t yell at every person I hear make a joke that could be interpreted as sexist, I don’t automatically assume that I didn’t get a job because I’m a woman, and I don’t, ever, if I can avoid it at any cost, use the word, “Patriarchy.” Here’s what I do: I pick my battles. If you’re on someone about every little thing that they say, they’re never going to stop to consider anything that YOU say. Instead, try to just respond to something here and there, as innocuously as you can. Sometimes making a joke works too:
“Hey Amanda! What do you tell a woman with two black eyes? Nothing! haha! You already told her twice!… OW! WHY DID YOU KICK ME?”
“That was me telling YOU once. Don’t tell that joke. If you still want to be able to walk home, don’t make me tell you twice!”
Thats how I’d like to deal with it, and would have (ahem…actually did…once) but this is probably a better way:
“Hey dude…that’s kind of a shitty joke. I know lots of girls who’ve been abused.”
“…I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just a joke”
“I know. And I get that, but I mean, what if someone here has been knocked around and you’re bringing that all up again? I’m just saying, its not a good idea.”
“Ok. I guess you’re right. Sorry.”
We’re all allowed to grow, right? There is of course a chance that he won’t react as favorably as all that, but if he does, rather than alienating someone by yelling at them, you may have actually caused them to think about what they’re saying, and that’s a great thing.
So, post Smith College, here’s basically what I think about trying to be a “feminist” out in the normal world: I’ve learned that denying that sexism exists isn’t the way to get over it, and distancing yourself from feminism as a way of being accepted by the people perpetrating it won’t help you in the long run. Just be tactful and honest, funny when possible, and give people the benefit of the doubt.
Amanda Rose Smith is a film composer and audio engineer. She lives in Brooklyn with a nifty man and two cats. Visit her at www.amandarosesmith.com.
New and Improved! (6/23/2015): This list has been updated since its original publication in 2012 to a) include words suggested by readers and continued experience doing this thing I do and b) clarify some of the definitions.
It happens all the time, every day, in ways we might not even notice until someone points it out to us. When people don’t like our ideas and opinions—when they don’t like the reality we tell them that we experience—they use words that attempt to reduce what we say to the rantings of some irrational creature whose emotions somehow suck all meaning from what she says and who, by the way, cannot appreciate humor.
Have a look at some of the words the people around us use to silence us when we talk about feminism—or just our lives—along with my definitions/interpretations of their meanings.
(Thanks to friends and readers here and on Facebook and Twitter for contributing to this list.)
See also “Emotional.” This word seems to be most often used in an effort to make women feel as though we are scaring people away with our terrifying emotions. We’re told that if we were only less angry, we’d reach more people. “You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” That may be true to a point, and yet anger is not only a natural reaction to the injustices we see and experience, it’s often a catalyst in our becoming activists. But people who use this word rarely allow that our anger might be justified and rational. Instead, this word (as Sid points out in the comments section below), “is meant to imply ‘flying off the handle and completely unreasonable, and by the way I can’t talk to you when you’re like this–all not agreeing with me and shit.'”
Though it’s really in a class by itself, this is one of those catch-all terms (stay tuned for more of those) that is refreshing in that it doesn’t hide behind semantics. It says what it means! You are a woman and therefore, the speaker dismisses you. You have thoughts and opinions that they don’t like, and you are not afraid to tell them when they’re wrong, and when all else fails, this word sums up all their disdain for your gender and your unladylike behavior.
Like “bitch,” the word “cunt” is gender-specific. It seems most often to be employed by people who want not only to dismiss a woman but to utterly degrade her at the same time. “Cunt” means “vulva” or “vagina” but let’s face it, those words don’t carry the same weight. This word makes clear that your being a woman is the real problem here, and by the way, the worst thing I can call you is a word for that body part that defines your sex–a word that doesn’t just identify that body part but tells us (by the context in which it is invariably used) that there’s something inherently wrong with it.
You have brought up an emotionally charged subject the speaker doesn’t want to deal with. “You’re just creating drama.” “She’s such a Drama Queen.” Yes, some people thrive on drama, stirring it up wherever they go. But discussing a subject you’re passionate about is not the same thing. Calling people out on bad behavior is not “creating drama.”
This word gets whipped out when the speaker doesn’t want to engage with our actual argument, especially when we’ve attempted to clarify it for them because they didn’t get it the first time and misconstrued our meaning. Especially if we show any emotion in the process. “See, now you’re just getting defensive.” The speaker has obviously struck a nerve, so nyah-nyah, and this renders your argument invalid somehow.
You are a woman showing emotion and that is a Bad Thing so you should stop talking now because clearly you can’t have a rational discussion if you FEEL anything. You will almost never hear this word used to describe male behavior unless actual tears are involved. Men are passionate. Women are emotional.
You are placing emphasis on something that is obviously not a priority for anyone who is not some kind of radical feminazi and you should really lighten up. “You’re exaggerating the importance of the issue. It’s not that big a deal.” Also, shut up.
Feminists are all angry lesbians who hate men and want to rule the world. Don’t you dare admit to being a feminist and for rich, old, white Pete’s sake, do not talk about sexism, rape culture, the gender gap, equality, or any of that angry woman nonsense.
You didn’t like something the speaker said or did for reasons the speaker doesn’t like and is not willing to learn about, so obviously the problem is with you. Grow a thicker skin.
Humor is King! The speaker is hereby officially, divinely, and in all other ways absolved of all responsibility for and/or scrutiny of his/her words. “I was only joking!” “Can’t you take a joke?” “You have no sense of humor!”
Not only are you a woman, but you’re a feminist, so you must hate men, so you must be a lesbian, because everyone knows lesbians hate men. “Lesbian” is the best insult some folks can come up with. I don’t personally find it insulting, but I do recognize it as a desperate attempt to shut me up.
Not All Men
What can I even say about this? It’s a phenomenon to the point where I get comments like this:
I wish I thought he was kidding, but unfortunately, I saw his other comments. This is a phenomenon to the point where a woman created the #NotAllMen hashtag to ridicule the men who say this, and they appropriated it to talk about how not all men are awful. I just…
See also “Sexist.” Along with “White Knight,” this is a go-to for Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) who read or hear stuff they don’t like. Yes, there are women who hate men, but Google “misandry” and you’ll find hundreds of links and images whose message is “Feminism=Man Hate.” People using this word are (in my experience) mostly not interested in being a part of a conversation that includes women who identify as feminists, but rather want feminism to go away entirely.
As Sid astutely points out in her post on the subject, this word is often code for “shut up.” You have pointed out a problem, and the other person doesn’t want to hear about it. Facebook is filled with memes that tell us we have no right to be “offended” by anything, which is another way of saying we have no right to speak up when we see something that needs changing.
You are a woman with opinions you’re willing to discuss and defend. How dare you.
(See Exaggerating, Hypersensitive.)
“Calm down! You’re getting all worked up—you’re going to blow a gasket!” Shut up. No, seriously, just shut up now. The speaker is not even listening anymore, and the goal here is not to relax you but the exact opposite. Walk away and live to fight another day.
Sexist (or Reverse-Sexist)
Yes, you heard right, someone just called you “sexist” for talking about women’s rights and issues and possibly implying that men enjoy privilege and power over women in our society. This accusation is most often leveled by men who are uncomfortable having their privilege pointed out to them and really wish you’d stop.
Also, “whore.” Mandaray put it best in the comments: “A lot of times, when men are frustrated with a woman, they will immediately use one of these terms to not only dismiss her, but to imply that she is sexually “overavailable,” thus making her have even less worth somehow. ”
Bonus Word: White Knight
This one is for the guys. You’ll hear it when you speak out against sexist behavior on the part of male friends who have done their homework and know all about the feminist conspiracy to castrate all males. It means that you don’t really care about feminist issues, you just want to score points with the chicks. It means that you’re a big wussy who likes girls and girls have cooties. It means the speaker is very likely an anti-feminist MRA who believes in Straw Feminists.
Bonus Word #2: Butthurt
I saved this one for last because Wow! It combines many of the words on this list (Hypersensitive, Overreacting, Emotional, Offended, Relax, to name a few) into one neat little rape-culture-promoting package! It’s not just me, right? I really never thought about it, but when a friend wondered what it meant, I realized that this word had always bugged me due to the vaguely rapey implication. Anyway, as my friend pointed out, this word is used when the speaker wants to express utter dismissal and invalidation of your thoughts, ideas, and feelings. Neat!
Some readers also related phrases used to silence them (you’ll notice some familiar words):
“Oh, you are one of those.”
“Not THAT again!”
“We don’t want to hear from you.”
“Women like you…”
“Stop taking everything so personally!”
“Learn how to take a joke, not everything is about how hard it is to be a woman.”
“You’re too sensitive. Don’t take everything so seriously. Relax.”
“That’s just coming out of nowhere!”
“Is that what they’re telling you in those sociology classes?”
“Isn’t [feminism] when women try to be like men? Are you a lesbian?”
And here’s a topical tweet I ran across RT’d by @EverydaySexism. Follow them if you haven’t–a steady stream of eye-openers.
While there are certainly exceptions, most people who use words like these in the ways I’ve described are not trying to understand our points of view. They aren’t here learn anything, even though they may ask questions seemingly in earnest. They’ve already made up their minds, and I’ve found it’s really not worth my time (or the emotional toll) to engage with them, so I mostly don’t. But for those who say these things without thinking, maybe this will help us help them understand why words matter—how while some of us have run out of fucks to give and will probably never STFU, others hear these things and decide to stop speaking out about the things that matter to them.
We need marginalized voices, and we need privileged people to make room for those voices. One of the ways we do that is to stop resorting
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
I was so tense yesterday that I was unable to see into the future. Not in a psychic way (which would be really cool but also not), but in the way that we do all the time where we imagine what things will be like if this happens or that does. The future was like this dark spot in my vision because I couldn’t imagine what might happen to my country if things turned out the way I feared was all too possible, and I couldn’t quite dare to hope that everything would be ok.
But I did hope, because that was all I could do, and as day faded into evening I settled into a sort of faith that our president would carry the day. I felt almost cocky at times, but then I’d remember Toby Ziegler’s timeless warnings against tempting fate, and I’d take a deep breath and grit my teeth some more. At no time did I imagine what life would be like on the other side of the divide. The future was still a dark spot on the horizon.
When the final results broke, I didn’t dare to believe at first, and I went off verifying it everywhere I could as tears sprang up in my eyes. When the last domino fell, I collapsed into a heap of sobs, traumatized, my relief expressing itself in tears and snot all over my boyfriend’s shirt. And when the sobs subsided, the sighs took over. I must have sighed a hundred times as I let myself relax for the first time maybe all year.
That was way too close, people. In an alternate universe, Alternate Rosie woke up to President Romney this morning, and some poor Weimaraner found out he was getting strapped to the roof of a limousine for a trip to the White House. In that universe, Alternate Rosie is writing a blog post about how to combat the upcoming troop-surge in the War on Women. In this one, we showed Mourdock and Akin and Ryan and Romney the door, and with any luck we’ll see a return to some semblance of sanity among the GOP. In this universe, we won the most important election of my lifetime. And the relief I feel today is only exceeded by my optimism for the future.
We’ve still got plenty to do in this universe before people like me can stop ranting on the Internet about gender equality and rape culture and the patriarchy. But in this universe, the President of the US is a feminist. I pity Alternate Rosie, but I’m glad it’s her and not me.
Back to work.
Trigger warning for rape and child sexual abuse.
She was twelve years old. An age at which, in a perfect world, she might have been curious about sex, but years away from worrying about it. An age when, in a better world than this, she should have remained an innocent child with no idea of the dark side of people like P.E. teacher Julie Correa who manipulated and abused her for three years.
This past September, 30-year-old Kristen Lewis Cunnane brought suit against Moraga School District in Southern California in order to seek justice for what happened to her and to help ensure it doesn’t keep happening. In what they claim is one of nine defenses they have no choice but present, Moraga School District’s recent filing states the following:
Carelessness and negligence on [Cunnane’s] part proximately contributed to the happenings of the incident and to the injuries, loss and damages.
I’m going to repeat myself here, and probably more than once:
SHE WAS TWELVE YEARS OLD.
After I was raped at 12-years-old, I sat in the witness stand completely unprepared as the public defender accused me of being a willing participant in a sex act and later panicking and crying “rape” when I realized I might become pregnant. I was a child and I had no idea that all over the country women and girls faced victim-blaming daily. But I would learn.
This little girl trusted her (female) P.E. teacher exclusively with the information that another (male) teacher, Dan Witters, had abused her. Little did she know, her P.E. teacher was already in the process of grooming her as a sex slave. For several years, Julie Correa raped Kristen and used fear to control her. Kristen finally broke free and blocked the whole thing, but when it came bubbling back up again she got Correa on the phone and eventually coaxed a taped confession out of her and Correa was convicted of sexually abusing a child entrusted to her care. She got 8 years. Now Kristen wants the school district to take responsibility for the fact that multiple teachers perpetrated abuse against her and other students. And the district is fighting back.
Now assistant head coach of the women’s swim team at UC Berkely, Kristen Cunnane says she was “floored” when she read the school district’s filing. You know who else should be floored? Every single parent with children attending school in the Moraga School District. Because guess what? If teachers abuse your child, your school district will blame your child for the abuse in an attempt to avoid taking responsibility. Your 12-year-old will be held responsible for being in the wrong school at the wrong time with the wrong teacher because the school district has to protect itself. After all, as school superintendent Bruce Burns explained,
“…this is a significant case that could have serious consequences for our school district. She is demanding several million dollars in damages. As a result, at this point in the proceedings we have an obligation not to waive any potential legal lines of defense. The district raised nine possible arguments that might be used in court. Attorneys routinely insert these into Answers filed to Complaints. Ms. Cunnane and the media have seized on only one of the nine potential areas and over-exaggerated its importance.”* [emphasis added]
“It is beyond devastating that the District would blame me for the years of horrific sexual abuse I was subjected to when I was just a child. There is a critical need for a culture shift in Moraga and elsewhere when it comes to tolerance of child abuse in schools, and this just underscores that we have further to go than I even thought. I can only hope that this lawsuit will move us one step closer to zero tolerance, while also going some way to compensate me for the years of abuse I suffered.”
This culture that allows us to blame children for sexual abuse? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s called rape culture and it’s where we live. It’s bad enough that adults face this bullshit every day, but the fact that it is acceptable in a court of law to suggest ANY fault for adult-on-child sex abuse might lie with the child is a symptom of a very sick society. And the only cure is for every single one of us to fight it everywhere we see it–by writing about it, posting about it, talking about it until everyone tells us to shut the fuck up, and then we have to keep doing it. For Kristen. For me. For every girl or woman abused and then shamed for her behavior or her clothing, blamed for having the audacity to walk alone while female or trust a male friend or–God forbid!–an authority figure.
Say it with me:
*According to the San Jose Mercury News, “No dollar amount is listed in Cunnane’s lawsuit.” She believes “it’s for a jury to decide.”
6/20/15: Kristen tells her story on CBS’ 48 Hours. Via that report:
The school district paid out a total of $18.65 million to Kristen Cunnane and the three other victims who filed civil lawsuits*.
Julie Correa is eligible for parole in 2018. Her husband has filed for divorce.
*Three “Jane Does” filed suit for their abuse at the hands of teacher Dan Witters (the same teacher whose abuse Kristen Cunnane trusted Julie Correa to help her deal with).
Abuse Lawsuit: Arguments Over Timeliness – Lamorinda Patch, 4/1/13
“Statute of limitations is issue in lawsuit of Kristen Cunnane against the Moraga School District over prevention of sexual abuse from the 1990s.”
Sign this petition to tell the school district they’re out of line.