helenic: (tales of gods and monsters)

I should know better than to open up this can of worms again on LJ, but there are two really worthwhile discussions going on which you should read:

On rape and men by [livejournal.com profile] cereta, challenging the non-sexist or non-sexist-identified men who always protest that "not all men are like that" to stop telling women they're wrong about their own experiences, and start actually challenging sexism where they encounter it.

You're the guy who would never rape a girl passed out on your bed (who, for that matter, knows that such an act would be rape), or the woman in the village your battalion/troop/whatever is overrunning. You're the guy who wouldn't do such a thing even when his buddies were heckling him, telling him he's a fag and a pussy if he doesn't. Even more, you're the guy who would stop his frat brother from raping that girl, and get her home. You're the guy who would stop his comrades, or at least report them.

Now, here's my question: where the fuck are you?

It's a challenging post, and the thread is full of heart-warming stories of men who didn't rape someone, which didn't particularly surprise me. I know an awful lot of men who are prepared to be decent when in a situation with a drunk or vulnerable woman; who will not only fail to rape her, but will look after her and make sure she gets home okay. That's not really the issue, for me. The issue is that I also know an awful lot of men who aren't prepared to be decent in those situations, and most of my friends have been raped or sexually assaulted once or multiple times, because no-one is prepared to challenge the sexist fuckwits. To tell them to shut up when they make rape jokes. To get them to chill out when they're drunk and yelling at strange women. To tell them to their face that they were out of order when they groped a woman in a club, or pestered someone for sex after they'd already said no, or carried on messing around with her after she passed out.

Before you join in the next conversation about rape protesting that "not all men are like that", think about how much you've done lately to challenge the idea that men are entitled to look at/comment on/touch/fuck women's bodies and if the woman objects or resists she's a stuck-up bitch; as [livejournal.com profile] cereta put it, "the idea that if a woman is not actively preventing a man from sticking his penis into her (and even then, if she's an enemy), he is doing nothing wrong, and hey, who can blame him?"

The second post I want to point you at is Perusing Penises in the Park (no, seriously) and some street harassment stories, [livejournal.com profile] khalinche's response to [livejournal.com profile] cereta. This is not so much about sexual violence or living in fear of rape, but the ubiquity of sexual harassment, especially if you live in the city:

I suppose the point of this long, long post is to do what I always try to do - tell a story. Today it's the story of what it's like to live with the constant possibility of having your appearance or person commented on, loudly, by strangers, and of being on your guard many times a day. It is not about my fear of being raped, because that doesn't figure in my life as much as in those of some of the commentators at the linked post. It is about men feeling that they have a right to talk and shout to me about what they want to do and what they think of my body. It is about trying to get through to the men who don't do this quite how common it is and how it affects the lives of most women.

I had limited success expressing this a year ago; and the number of men who told me then that I was wrong, that this was nothing to do with gender, that if I'd only been more sensible I could have avoided it, only proves how necessary this conversation continues to be. [livejournal.com profile] khalinche's post is excellent, and deserves a wide audience.

Edit: Talking about this in IRC, I ended uo looking up this post by Kate Harding, which has a lot of practical suggestions on how men who aren't like that can act to confront harassment and sexism where they encounter it, and why it's important that they do.

helenic: (book; graffiti)

I've got a massive text file here of various links and thoughts that I've been wanting to post to this tag, but the epic thread a couple of weeks ago wore me out a bit. I've been slowly working up to returning to it, but my text file runneth over, so I've should probably start somewhere.

One thing I've been thinking about is the two opposing responses I've seen to inequality. One is to articulate it: to talk about it, to rant about it, to ask questions, to have debates, to try to convince others that it's happening and it shoudn't be. The other attitude is to accept that stuff is unfair and get on with living as fair and just a life as you can, with a strong spirit, fighting unequality with action rather than word.

I've been called a "shouty" or "angry" feminist by people who fit into the latter camp. Which made me blink a bit. I mean I didn't talk about this stuff at all until recently, and even now I am I'm trying very hard not to shout. I want to express my hurt and anger when I'm hurt and angry, and I want to talk clearly and powerfully about stuff that seems to make sense to me, but I don't want to shout, because that makes me too easy a target for people to tell me to shut up.

Shouty vs quiet activism? I think both are invaluable in different contexts, at different times and to achieve different ends.

My ends, let me show you them. )


The other thing I've been thinking about is the tag itself: "Sexism: every little helps."

Several people pointed out that my usage of the word "sexism" in my first post was inappropriate. I don't, on balance, have any interest in a conversation that's defined as being about things that only happen to women. The world is full of exceptions and I do not want my interpretation to be derailed by someone piping up with one. And of course men suffer from gendered abuse and harassment as well.

So my subject matter is, I guess, the way in which gendered abuse and harassment directed at women by men is part of a wider pattern that makes the conversation different from how it would be if the genders were reversed. And the statistical slew of various sorts of rudeness, invasions of privacy, harassment, abuse, violence, inconvenience and disadvantages. When picking out examples from that pattern, whether it's a man or a woman being treated badly because of their gender or sex, I would call it sexism. I've been told this isn't the term other people would use. There's "misogyny", which I'm considering, but is there no gender-neutral word or phrase that can be used in the same way? This is a serious question, because there's no point setting myself up have my language torn apart every time I start talking. What word should I use?

I don't mind calling myself a feminist because I think feminism hasn't finished its very necessary work yet, but in general I prefer the term kyriarchy to patriarchy, and actually the term I'm happiest to describe myself is "gender activist". "Gender egalitarian" is another useful phrase, but I don't just think we need to equalise the genders, like some sort of binary balancing act on a pair of analogue scales, I think we need to break down the whole structure of gender and all the assumptions and restrictions and expectations attached to it.

So that's fine, but is there a better word for what I'm objecting to? Words are important: a lot of people (myself included) find it difficult to think clearly about something until they have the vocabulary to do so; and I certainly find that expanding my vocabulary helps me think more clearly and powerfully. Denny felt that I should avoid jargon when writing about this, because he finds the academese of a lot of feminism off-putting; he found my first post to be so convincing precisely because it took the talk back to the streets, back to day to day experiences, and away from abstract discussion of sociopolitical trends and invisible concepts like patriarchy and privilege. It made it visible. (Personally I think the visible stuff is only noticable once you contextualise it in the more conceptual stuff, but still, I see his point, especially given my intended audience.)

What word should I use, if not sexism, for gender-based incidents which reflect a more widespread and historically-rooted oppression? Bonus points for suggestions that fit into a catchy tag.

helenic: (Default)

The comments expressing affirmation and solidarity on my previous entry are very much appreciated. Thankyou to the women who had the courage to post their own experiences of gendered harassment at risk of being told by others that those experiences are insignificant or other than you experienced them; it's a tough thing to do, and I'm grateful to everyone who's helped me demonstrate that incidents of this kind are not isolated, and do not exist in a vacuum.

Thankyou, too, to those men who have listened. I've been heartwarmed by some of the support and understanding you've showed - it's gone a long way to reassure me that I don't have to talk solely to my own gender if I want an ally, even if totally public fora are still unsafe. Your support doesn't fiix anything, of course, but before writing that post I was despairing of finding any male allies among my social circle other than [livejournal.com profile] cyrus_ii, and a handful of sympathetic ears is definitely better than one.

And even though the debate has been exhausting in places, thankyou to to those men who have been willing to listen and have your minds changed. I'm not expecting to convince anyone overnight. It's a slow reveal, and next time I bring this up, more groundwork will have been done, and that's valuable.

For the record, I had no intention when writing my previous post to make a commitment to chronicle every example of gendered discrimination I experience. As such I'd appreciate it if no-one holds me to one. This stuff is going on whether or not I notice it, or am offended by it, or post about it, and whether or not you believe me.

There are some fantastic bits of writing in the comments, several of which have got rather lost in the pages of debate. This comment by [livejournal.com profile] biascut is particularly worthy of attention:

Here's a question for the men on this thread:

Would it help if, instead of framing this as a discussion between women and men, we framed it as a discussion between experts and non-experts? Because that's what we are, when it comes to sexism and misogyny, for two reasons. Firstly, because the evidence for what we're talking about is the stuff of our daily lives. Secondly, because, this being [livejournal.com profile] libellum's friends' list, the overwhelming majority of women here are feminist-identified, and have spent years discussing and analysing this stuff.

I think many of the men here are getting defensive because they think this is something that we can debate, and they're being told that they're not allowed to. What you need to realise, guys, is that this is a discussion with different viewpoints allowed, but we've been having this debate for years, and basically, we're way ahead of you. You're on GCSE Feminism, and we've all got degrees in it and between three and thirty years' of professional experience. If you don't respect that, it comes off as patronising and superior – and, because of the dynamic of the discussion, as sexist, because you can't help sounding like you think you know better than us because you're men.

Let me give an example to show what I mean. Let's assume, because of the demographic that [livejournal.com profile] libellum tends to attract, that you're a programmer of ten years' experience, and I know nothing about programming. If you're trying to explain to me how it works, I'm not going to understand immediately, and I'm going to ask questions. If I phrase my questions as an attempt to catch you out, because I think I know more about programming, you're going to get pissed off. If I say, "But wait a minute! You've clearly contradicted yourself here! This can't possibly be true! Ha!" and look pleased with myself – you're going to roll your eyes, because honestly, you're just explaining the basics to me. You're explaining that two plus two equals four. OF COURSE you know how a stupidly basic bit of code works, because if you didn't none of the programs you've written which use far more complicated ideas would function. If I say dubiously, "Well, I guess you might be right about this bit, but I still think you're wrong about that" – ditto. I mean, you're laughing at me by now, aren't you? I just sound stupid. And you sure as hell don't want to bother trying to continue to educate such an obtuse and disrespectful student.

On the other hand, if I say, "Oh right, I see what you mean – but I still don't get that, so could you explain it again?", it's totally different. One assumes that you know what you're talking about, and the other is patronising as fuck, because it assumes that I must be twenty times cleverer than you to have spotted something that you haven't noticed in your ten years' of programming experience. Just occasionally, it is the case that someone can cast a fresh eye on a problem and solve it. But generally, experts are better at stuff than non-experts.

Think of it that way – it's not that this isn't up for debate, but the bits that are up for debate are the things that the people with ten years' experience disagree about, not the things that people at GCSE level disagree about. The things that the programmers are discussing when they're trying to resolve a particular technical difficulty, and it sounds like a foreign language to non-programmers. If you think that you can spot a logical flaw in my feminist philosophy that I haven't spotted and resolved to my satisfaction in ten years' experience of experiencing, studying and talking about sexism and patriarchy and misogyny and feminism and postfeminism, and you declare that triumphantly – it's really, really hard not to feel like you think you know better than me because you've got a cock.

[livejournal.com profile] libellum has explicitly said that her intention here is to educate you. Be grateful for this opportunity, because there are plenty of us who are totally over educating men who struggling with GCSE Feminism and yet think they know better than us, unless we're getting paid for it. You are not on an equal footing with me, not because you're men, but simply because I'm an expert and you're not, and the reverse would be true if we were talking about whatever your area of expertise is. You want to ask questions and learn, go ahead. Ultimately, you can decide you don't agree with me, and you'll have lost nothing and gained a more respectable intellectual basis for that disagreement. But don't disrespect mine or any other feminist woman's expertise and then complain because I'm not nice to you.

If anyone wants to highlight anything else as being Compulsory Reading for [livejournal.com profile] libellum's Friendslist, please let me know and, if I agree, I'll repost it here.

While I'm asking, a couple of people have expressed a vague interest in being better-educated when it comes to feminist theory, and honestly, I'm a bumbling amateur and have no idea where to start. If anyone has any favourite bookmarks which might be appropriate for beginners (particularly male ones) who are willing to learn, or suggestions for a basic Feminism 101 bibliography, could you post them in the comments? I'll appreciate the tips, if no-one else :)

helenic: (windowsill; cafe; people-watching)

I'll admit it: the main reason I repost links like these isn't because I think I need to check my own privilege (although I do); it's because I'm tired of having conversations about gender with people who don't believe that sexism is a problem for most women today. Usually well-meaning, smart, decent guys who live in the same queer-friendly alternative bubble as I do. Asking them to listen before they become defensive is an important part of that conversation. However, I've started to think it might be worth actually keeping notes on the sexism I experience.

One of the problems I have with feminist analysis is that I have no stomach for anger. I just don't have the energy for it. Sometimes something will offend me, but I'm much more inclined to shrug it off than dwell on it. Sometimes something that happens to me will strike me as intellectually offensive, but my emotional barriers stop me from being personally riled by it. This is a valuable self-defense mechanism and a political weakness. I'm much more interested in putting my time and energy into creating positive, beautiful, affirming artworks and experiences for people than I am in maintaining an anger at the injustice I perceive around me. Injustice is everywhere: being angry all the time would make me unhappy. I have a flash temper and it often doesn't take much to hurt or annoy me, but I don't stay angry easily.

I'm pretty sure I have no real concept of the scale of the sexism I've experienced in my life. Women are, let's face it, used to being victims of sexism - we rationalise it away, shrug it off, don't dwell on it. Which is all very well for short-term personal happiness, but not for revolutionising society. We go out of our way to avoid sexism, which is often self-defeating when our long-practised skills at avoiding abuse result in a lack of convincing examples to persuade anyone that there is, in fact, a problem.

I'm not interested in being angrier, really. But what I can do is observe, take notes, make a record. I think it might be interesting to start using this LJ to record examples of sexism when I notice it. And I won't notice everything; I'm not trained in this sort of analysis. But it would be useful for me to have a better idea of the scale of it, rather than having a transient, unsubstantiated, emotional sense that it's there, but never being able to think of good examples during relevant conversations. I don't want this to turn into a list of complaints; I certainly don't want anyone to start criticising me for not balancing this list with examples of female privilege. That's not what I'm focussing on, here. Nor am I trying to say that women are the only victims of sexism or oppression. I'm just trying to combat a very real belief among my (mostly male) friends that a feminist perspective is out-dated and inappropriate in our society.

I'd encourage anyone who's had similar experiences to comment, just because I know it's not just me, and I think it's important to notice the little things.

recently )

That's all I can think of right now. I'll add more as and when they happen; I have no doubt that they will. Please feel free to contribute your own, whether or not they're related to the above. The more anecdotal evidence I have, the more chance we have of persuading the non-feminists reading this that we aren't imagining things.

Next question: what's the best way to respond to this kind of thing? The older and more confident I get, the more ready I am to stand up for myself in public, to make a fuss. I would dearly love to respond to these examples by loudly and clearly calling attention to the behaviour and making it clear that it's unacceptable. I don't; I keep my head down and hurry on. Occasionally I manage a contemptuous laugh or a withering look first. I'd love to have a clear, pointed comeback that called people who do this up on it without starting a confrontation that could get nasty, but sadly, I doubt it's possible. If anyone has any bright ideas, I'd love to hear them.

In the meantime I shall await the inevitable responses from male readers telling me that they're not like that; that I'm overreacting; that the above are neither indicative of endemic issues nor examples of sexism. G'wan, prove me wrong. :)

April 2016

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