5 Responses to Sexism That Just Make Everything Worse
The worst response to sexism is of course to brush it off or cheer it on or suggest that it is somehow "over"; let that not be in doubt. But as good as it would feel to go off on a jeremiad about such things, it's likely going to be more productive to focus on what we the non-sociopaths are doing when faced with the depressingly ongoing issue of people treating others based on a few trivial anatomical differences. Like all problems, it persists because the majority of people are not doing enough to combat it, so what could we the majority be doing better? A lot, probably. Because so often our reactions when faced with sexism are a Pogo paradox-style causality loop of inadvertently making the problem worse.
Not Thinking of It as Your Problem
Sexism is everyone's problem, but many continue to ignore the fact that we are not two separate species and paint it as a women's issue, to the point where you can reliably predict that any given news article about sexism will inevitably talk about how "women are outraged." No, you know who's outraged? Anyone with fucking common sense. The point is not that women and men face equal amounts or extents of prejudice, because we do not -- women objectively have it worse, every day, everywhere, to soul-eating extremes, to the point where some people quite, quite understandably lose their empathy. The point is that discrimination against any group hurts every group, whether it seems like it or not. Many men complain that they're just as beholden to idealized images, that the pressure to be macho is overwhelming and just as bad as what women face, but there'd sure be less pressure to be tough if you weren't defining men as normal and women as a bunch of weaklings that one must therefore appear tougher than.
You can't discuss sexism without first acknowledging that as a culture we define the heterosexual male as normal and everyone else by how different they are from that arbitrary normal, "arbitrary" being the key word. As a great (wo)man once said, if elephants were in charge, we'd all be constantly reminded of our noselessness. If you're room temperature on the gender thermometer, then you've got the pressure of living up to that, and, even worse, if you're not what's normal, you're constantly being reminded of it. Anyone on either side who thinks they have something to lose by redistributing power belongs in the dustbin of history along with their dumbass old-timey predecessors.
Or think of it this way: If you're a dude and it perhaps bothers you that there are a lot of other dudes out there giving you a very bad name, then this is most definitely your problem. That and your shameful noselessness.
Not Questioning Institutions
Why aren't there more female investment bankers? Maybe it's actually the same reason there aren't more male investment bankers who aren't insufferable alpha males -- because investment banking is a gigantic fly trap for macho assholes and ideally nobody should be doing it. The real question is why are there so many macho assholes, and why do we let them beat the economy like a rented mule? This is of course in no way to suggest that efforts to reduce gender imbalances should cease, because there are going to be people of any gender who want to be investment bankers for whatever reason, and equality means all of them should by God have an equal chance at wasting their lives (and the legal right to be paid maternity/paternity leave to raise their devil spawn). The point is just to illustrate that what men do is automatically seen as desirable, as opposed to maybe asking if maybe something having no women in it maybe means it's maybe bullshit maybe.
The better reaction would be to glorify whatever it is that's actually positive and ensure that as many people as possible get to do it. Investment bankers don't improve the world. Nurses do, though, and we should be glorifying the fuck out of them and paying them eleventy billion dollars a year and saying what can we do about the crisis of not enough men going into nursing (for me personally, it's because I faint at even the DESCRIPTION of blood, but what's your excuse, gents?). We just assume that we should be doing more to include women in all the dominant institutions, and while that's overwhelmingly true MOST of the time and to imply otherwise would be the worst thing ever, it's possibly in some cases the wrong response and at least a missed opportunity to question the value of institutions that may just be clubhouses for the kind of hideous macho greed that has no place elsewhere. There's seldom the consideration that maybe women as a group aren't doing some things because, like most of us, they fucking have better things to do.
Misidentifying the Problem
Here's an article asking why women are so underrepresented as guests at comic conventions, especially when 40 percent of attendees are female. And this would normally be a fantastic question, except here it's missing the point completely, which is that women are always going to be underrepresented when the media habitually focus on Where the Men Are. A bunch of men are making men comics, and the media calls that The Comics Industry, and then people ask what can we do about getting more women in there. Except the women are already here, you're just not putting the camera on them. When you take away the gatekeepers that govern creative industries, i.e., when people publish online, then you unsurprisingly find that some of the biggest names are women, and the scene is one without a huge gender imbalance. The problem is that the media shape our perceptions, and their definition of "mainstream comics" hasn't kept up with reality (TIP: THE INTERNET IS MAINSTREAM).
If The Comics Industry was being portrayed as, say, "all the people who are making comics," then there'd be no problem with not having enough female guests at conventions. But it's not -- it's still defined as what it was 30 fucking years ago. The medium has evolved to bypass tradition, but the media have not kept pace. Why aren't there more female guests at comic conventions? Because you keep sending reporters there and telling everyone that THAT'S the comics scene, and the people running these things in turn get their perceptions from you, and then you wonder where all the women are. I use comics as the example because it's what I'm familiar with, but it's indicative of the greater trend that the media are, like Dexter, so often the cause of the problems they're investigating.
Telling Women to Cover Up
If there's one cure that's worse than the disease, it's telling women to "cover up," like they were the fucking Elephant Man. The best example of this is another convention, a video game one in this case. Even if it was outside the context of the sheer moral-authority-forfeiting hypocrisy of banning displays of the female body at a video game event, there is in principle just something singularly offensive about demanding that women dress a certain way. Maybe it's because telling them to cover up reinforces the tiresome message that women in particular are responsible for how others act toward them. Maybe it's because it assigns women the responsibility for dealing with the fact that assholes have decided that the female body = sex, and instead of addressing the actual problem, it's instead just PUT A SHEET OVER YOUR NATURAL SHAME. P.S. THINK OF THE CHILDREN.
Maybe it's the fact that you're not instead going around telling assholes to cover up their huge, naked immaturity. Maybe it's because you're taking the same strategy you would in designing characters for comics or video games and applying it to real people, except fictional characters are a representation of how you choose to see people or wish them to be portrayed, whereas real people get to do their own choosing, because nothing is more sexist than denying someone the right to choose, regardless of what that choice may be. Or maybe it's just that enforcing a dress code is the hallmark of places that treat women like subhumans, and when you tell women to cover up, you evoke that and only that, and you are wrong to do it and your mouth should be covered up.
Very little makes me more pissed off than gender prejudice, but what do I ever do about it? Pretty much I just assume I'm not part of the problem, so enjoy your hive of scum and villainy, everyone, I live on a higher plane. And here you have by far the worst response to sexism: nothing. The response of choice of we who love avoiding confrontation (and comment section shitstorms). And so transgendered people continue to be disproportionately persecuted because not enough people are ensuring a supportive environment, and women continue to get chased off Twitter because not enough people are ensuring a supportive environment, and rape victims continue to not be taken seriously because not enough people are goddamn ensuring a supportive environment.
The ability of the Internet to make it seem like there are more assholes than there really are is allowing such bullshit to run wild, and the people who do speak up get hung out to dry by the silence of others. Not enough of us are making it clear that this is the world of the majority and not the vast minority fringe group of idiots, and so the one shithorn talking in the theater ruins the movie for the other 76 people who are afraid to speak up. Peer pressure is what drives humanity. Why aren't there any women/men in certain industries? Because the absence of women/men there keeps the others away. But we can harness peer pressure for good, too, and remind sexists that they are alone in the room -- especially online, because a tidy neighborhood discourages crime, and this is a neighborhood that needs a lot of fixing up.
The best response to sexism? Having zero tolerance for these absolute wankers. And it can be done; the infrastructure is already in place. If we have the wherewithal to instantly arrest people for making Nazi salutes or to accost women within 10 seconds of removing their shirts, then we can similarly be on hand to call out anyone who thinks they can tell others how to fucking dress. People like me need to reduce the disparity between how opposed we are to sexism and how much we actively do to help create an atmosphere that's poisonous to it. If you're in the same boat, then let's do this -- let's actually be part of the conversation, because it works. Captain Picard himself has given the order, if that helps (IT SHOULD). Because doing nothing is not good enough, dammit. Not good enough.
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