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.
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.