Let’s talk about sexism, violence, and culture

OK, so I was totally going to continue with Armchair BEA and do a post about author interaction (I’ll summarize: it’s super neat to interact with authors on Twitter), but — let’s face it — this weekend was rough, and there are some important things we need to talk about.

I woke up this morning to an awesome post on my friend’s blogs, Defies Description and Beauty in Budget Blog. She’s right: we need to talk about this stuff.

I was out of town this weekend with limited internet access, but I spent some time last night reading through a tiny portion of the #yesallwomen tweets. Many of them I found affirming, like not only are all these women speaking up about the countless ways sexual violence and the threat of danger touch every woman’s life on a daily basis but also the sheer volume of tweets, blog posts, Tumblrs, Facebook posts, etc. is having a somewhat surprising result: people are listening.

(I mean, let’s be honest, it’s not like women suddenly discovered this weekend that they have a voice and can speak up about life. We’ve been speaking up and speaking out all this time, but I don’t think we’ve been heard, or maybe it’s just been so easy to explain away individual women’s individual stories as isolated incidents. But it’s kind of overwhelming when more than a million women share eerily similar stories. Maybe we do have a pervasive cultural problem that affects not just half the population but all people.)

But I want to back up a little bit, because this conversation isn’t just about the events of last Friday evening in Isla Vista, Calif. It’s also about the epidemic of rapes that occurred at UCSB during the recent academic year. In fact, it’s also about the epidemic of rapes and sexual assaults that occurred (read: is occurring) at college campuses all over the country and how college administrations responded. It’s about how perpetrators (and alleged perpetrators) of sexual violence are viewed with sympathy while victims are shamed. It’s about how rare it is to find safe spaces within our culture for the discussion of all these things.

For example, if you hop on over to Twitter and browse through the #yesallwomen tweets, you’ll find a whole spectrum of responses to the conversation, from women sharing their stories and men responding humanely to men responding badly (and, sadly, unironically). I do have to point out that however irritated I am by some of the less-than-stellar responses out there (ranging from sympathy for a mass murderer to calls for all women to open their legs and prevent mass murders to calls for women to stop it with the #yesallwomen nonsense because not all guys are douchebags to MRA defenses), I do think these voices need to be heard. I mean, there’s an obvious reason, right, in that it might be easy to pretend that we live in an equal society with no more pesky sexism except… oh, right.

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Never mind; there’s some sexism right there. But beyond the demonstrative value of these responses, it’s vital for all of us to engage in this conversation, because the broader this conversation is, the better. I mean, just taking that one Twitter interaction as an example, we can talk about “nice guys” (and why those words often appear in ironic quotes), the overall tone of public discourse and whether or not it’s disturbing (I tend to find it very disturbing), the use of the word “mangina” to invalidate other men’s humane reactions, etc.

Let’s talk about all of it, because as long as we all stay silent, the status quo is maintained. And, I don’t know about you, but — for me — the status quo kinda sucks.

I don’t know about you, but I’m uncomfortable bringing up my daughters in a culture that turns a blind eye to street harassment, that objectifies and sexualizes women and girls and then punishes women and girls for being sexual objects, that ignores the horrifying statistics of reported sexual assaults and rapes on college campuses (to say nothing of the assaults that are not reported or are actively hushed by administrators), that perpetuates the myth that most reports of sexual violence are falsified (because, what, hell hath no fury?), that finds it easier to blame and shame victims than to talk honestly about the culture that nurtures the sexual assault epidemic.

So let’s talk about it, because this conversation is important for so many reasons. It’s important for women to share their stories and feel — maybe for the first time — that they aren’t alone, and it’s important for men to hear those stories and respond in any way they can, whether with defensive anger (stop sharing your stories, women, just shut up, because not all men do that!) or wonder (wow, I can’t believe that these things have been happening this whole time while I’ve been blithely living my life.) or compassion (my heart goes out to #yesallwomen). Let’s talk about what feminism actually means (gender equality) and maybe talk about how the word has become a pejorative byword over the past few decades. Let’s talk about all the truly awesome men in our lives and how wonderful it is to feel supported by them and by our friends, sisters, and strangers on the Internet whose experiences are so similar to our own.

Let’s talk.

10 thoughts on “Let’s talk about sexism, violence, and culture

  1. Great post, thank you for writing it. You’re completely right, that talking about it is really the only solution. It’s unfortunate how silent we stay about topics that are uncomfortable. Because as soon as we do start talking, it becomes easier. And the easier it becomes to talk about, the more willing we are to share with more people. I know that going through twitter lately has been a bit sad for me, but it’s also been encouraging. I know that I as a woman am not alone in my experiences. I’m not the only one who insists my girlfriends call me while walking alone at night. I’m not the only one who’s been catcalled as a teenager. I’m not the only one who’s studied how to make my car keys a defensive weapon. And as we share these experiences, many men have sympathized and offered support. It is very good to know that there are good men out there, not just a bunch of “nice guys”.

    • Yes, exactly (especially on the keys)! I was at a book club meeting a few months ago and mentioned that I had a pretty powerful bias against men, and my statement was met with appalled shock by all the men in the room. So then I felt foolish until another woman spoke up and agreed with me, saying that pretty much all women suffer from PTSD just from living their lives and that it is not only rational to fear men but insulting for men to be bothered by that rational fear. The next week, only one guy returned to the book club. The woman who spoke up for me (for all the women, really) made that book club a safe space for me, and the guy who stuck it out earned my respect and admiration.

      • That is a perfect description for it. PTSD. When you mentioned that comment a little light bulb came on for me.
        Hopefully all of those men who didn’t return to book club will think about why the comments make them feel uncomfortable. Because recognizing that feeling and questioning one’s own feelings about a topic can help a person to better understand that topic. Hearing about that one guy who did come back gives me mixed feelings. Yes, definitely kudos to him for sticking with it even if the situation might have been an uncomfortable one. I’m glad that there are guys who are willing to admit that we are equals and they may have something to learn from us as women. But I also am starting to feel that it’s incredibly sad that these men end up elevated. Not because they’re decent, but because it basically throws a stark contrast on all of the others who aren’t. It points out how many there are who remain silent, or belittle the problem, or who even perpetuate the problem.

  2. Feminism? Equal rights? Fair treatment? We, the people, are light years from any form of equality. Take it from a woman who was sexually assaulted in a public space (a train) without the slightest provocation and never reported that fact because her own family made it sound not worth all the trouble. Take it from a woman whose niece was gang-raped just because she went to a prom with the wrong ‘nice’ guy, she wore a nice, red dress, and then she allowed the brother of that wrong ‘nice’ guy to give her a lift and the fact that she accepted that lift was for these two tantamount to her saying ‘yes’ to everything else. Take it from a woman who was fired because a) she was single and childless so what’s the deal? b) she had one suicide attempt under her belt. Just saying.

    • Thank you so much for this comment and for sharing your and your niece’s stories, that heartbreak and horror. I am enraged every time some possibly well-meaning (but mostly just criminally clueless) man asserts that we’ve achieved equality, that there is no wage gap, that, if anything, this world skews towards women’s rights over men’s (usually folks who take this line are having issues with paternal rights in family court). The frustration and rage occurs when I point out my personal experiences: sexual assault and rape (two different occasions); sexual harassment in the workplace; over two decades of street harassment; a never-ending stream of casual misogyny, including conversations with these men who never seem to get it and who, if I express the slightest bit of emotion during the conversation, shut me down by saying I might not be able to be rational about the issue, since I’m so biased by my personal experiences. So then I’m left with rage. But I’m encouraged by the current conversation, because I’m naive enough to hope that more than a million women’s experiences cannot be so easily dismissed.

      • Thank you for your kind reply and understanding. I suppose we can change things but it is not easy – it will take time and effort, a lot of it, perhaps also some generations to do so. It is not easy to eliminate the sexist way of thinking.

  3. Yes, let’s keep this conversation going. Even when the events of the past weekend fade from our ADD public memory, let’s keep talking about the underling issues. It is ludicrous to dismiss the shared experience of millions of women, not just in the US, but globally. I, for one, am sick of it. We need to keep calling men out on their bullshit, and we need to get the true good guys who love women to call their fellow men out as well. I really hope that we keep it going and we don’t let this momentum fizzle out.

    • Calling men out on their bullshit? Not a problem I’ve got plenty of experience.

      Situation no.1 at a bank, my previous workplace.
      The operation room manager, a man, says publicly to his underlings, mostly women, (me among them)
      that there is nothing wrong with a fair amount of flirting while talking to male customers face to face or on the phone; it makes them (the customers) more willing to accept bank’s terms and overlook some catches e.g. in a loan agreement. When I observe, among the sea of uneasiness around, that he practically encourages a form of prostitution he smiles with superiority and asks me whether I am having my period because my reaction is clearly wrong, inane and generally too emotional.

      Situation no.2 at the same bank
      Two male senior clerks are enjoying their coffee break while observing the operation room. If a female customer is chatting longer with a female consultant they say disparagingly that these women are certainly gossiping about unimportant matters, like romance life of their friends or the newest fashion, making others wait in a queue witout any good reason. When a male customer does the same, they say nothing or assume he must be a businessman and has something important to take care of.

      No fair treatment, right?

    • I agree that a huge help would be for the feminist men to call out their friends on the bullshit. I for one, as a woman, would fall into the category of ‘too scared’ to call a guy out on this if I’m outnumbered or outmuscled. I’ve heard of far too many times where in a social situation some guy makes a rape joke, and someone calls him out on it. The response is “It’s okay, Mary doesn’t mind, do you Mary?” putting the spotlight on the token woman or women in the group. I for one wouldn’t want to cause a scene, for fear of being called nagging, whiney, or oversensitive. Because all of those labels invalidates any opinion I may have in the eyes of a group. Now, if someone could turn the focus around and say “No, it’s not cool regardless of who hears it.” that would create a safer environment for more people to speak their mind.

      And as I write this, I am acutely aware of and hate how weak I feel in those situations.

  4. This is exactly the kind of behavior that needs to be called out. This should not be seen as acceptable behavior in the workplace or anywhere else. I am really sorry that you find yourself in these situations because, no, it’s not fair treatment and should not be tolerated.

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