Yes, Sexism Exists, and No, Women Aren’t Above Reproach

This will be a quick one, folks.

Yes, sexism exists. Yes, it can been seen at practically every level of society, and leads to things like the undervaluing of women’s opinions, the undervaluing of work accomplished by women, and a variety of other institutional and personal injustices.

And no, it does not mean that every interaction between a man and a woman is automatically sexist.

We need to fight sexism. We need to point it out and call it out when we see it, we need to work to correct it whenever we have the power, and we need to complain to those with the power to correct it whenever we don’t have that power.

We also need to recognize that women—just like men—can do bad things, perform poorly on a job, fail to contribute effectively to a relationship, be bad parents, etc. The point of feminism is that women are as fully human beings as men are, and that means (in part) they are subject to the same foibles and failures that men are.

In anticipation of the reactions from the social justice community, I am NOT saying men should go around pointing out women’s faults, or that anyone should go around pointing out anyone else’s faults. But there are many types of relationships, both personal and professional, where it is someone’s duty and/or right to discuss another person’s shortcomings. And when it so happens that a man is in a position to critique a woman, the interaction is not automatically sexist.

People of all sexes and genders should treat other people with respect, especially when they are handing out criticism. Men certainly can be sexist when critiquing women, as can women to men (and men to men and women to women, when it comes down to it), but there is a growing position amongst the Internet’s social justice feminists that men, due to their automatically sexist views of women, should refrain from anything but praise in any situation (and even that praise can be sexist, so maybe it’s best to just shut up altogether).

A man who complains about his wife is an asshole. A woman who complains about her husband is commended for her patience in putting up with such an asshole. Either way, the guy’s the asshole and the woman is the victim of a misogynistic system.

A male boss who critiques a female employee’s job performance is as likely to be accused of sexism as he is to be taken at face value, regardless of the female employee’s performance. Again, she is simply the victim of the patriarchy, no matter how badly she screwed up.

This is a bullshit way to see things. It makes women into perpetual victims, excuses subpar performance, and makes men the scapegoats for any unhappiness or lack of advancement/achievement for women.

There are sexist men who disparagingly judge their wives based on misogynistic standards, and pointing that out is great. There are sexist bosses who unfairly judge female job performance and create a host of other issues for female employees, and they should be sued until they change their ways or change positions. But these husbands and bosses are not ubiquitous features of all marriages and businesses, and the assumption to the contrary does everyone a disservice.

Recognizing where sexism exists is important. Recognizing where sexism is absent is equally important. Sometimes criticism, even of a woman and even by a man, is justified, Sometimes people are assholes without sexism entering into it, too (that is, a criticism can be disrespectful and unwarranted and still not be sexist). Be on guard, but be objective, too.

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Opinions are Objectifications…If You’re a Man

Have something positive to say about what a woman’s wearing? You’re objectifying her as a physical/sexual object. Your thoughts are a little more critical? You’re “slut shaming” or “body shaming.”

If you’re a man, you simply should not have an opinion on what any woman wears. Period.

Now, I’m not saying that the objectification/sexualization of women and their apparel isn’t a major problem in our society. It is. And most of the time, comments about what anyone is wearing or how they look, whether positive or negative, are probably inappropriate and unnecessary.

But as much as there’s a double standard when it comes to judging women based on what they wear, there’s a double standard when it comes to judging men based on the thoughts they have.

Seeing—and Judging—Aren’t the Same as Harassing

Let me be perfectly clear: I am not defending any man’s (or woman’s) “right” to tell other people how they should dress, what they should look like, how they should express themselves, how outward they should be in their shows of sexuality or even when clothing becomes overtly sexual. People should be able to dress how they want to dress, be happy with the body they want (whether that means actively trying to change their bodies in healthy ways or being happy just as they are), and be able to walk down the street without hearing anybody else judge them.

That is the ideal, and it is something every decent person in any society should be striving toward.

At the same time, we are human beings. All of us, no matter whether you identify as a man, a woman, both, or neither. Most of us have certain physical qualities we are attracted to, and other qualities we are not attracted to. This typically includes body type and modes of dress. There are many men who like larger and curvier women, and many men who do not. There are women who like hairy men and women who can’t stand them. There are people of all sexes and genders who like seeing a lot of skin, and people of all sexes and genders who are attracted to people who dress more “modestly” (for lack of a better term).

Likewise, we are all part of a culture. Our culture has a huge influence on each of our individual, personal attractions and turn-offs, but more importantly it sets down certain standards of appearance as “normal” and others as “abnormal” or “counter-culture.” In a free and progressive society such as ours, everyone should be free to wear something that is considered “abnormal” or “counter-culture” without fear of harassment and without reprisals when it comes to civil rights, but no one has the right to be found “attractive,” “beautiful,” or even “appropriate” in any style of dress they choose to wear.

You might wear a leather teddy and top hat for a nice Sunday brunch and be a perfectly lovely person, but you should be neither surprised nor upset when other people stare at the cultural statement you’re making (and you are making one, whether or not you meant to). Wear the same outfit to a job interview at a national bank, and there should be no surprise (and no discrimination suit) when you aren’t hired.

Yet men—specifically heterosexual men—are told constantly that it is not OK for them to find a certain body type attractive and another type unattractive, or a certain style of dress appropriate and another inappropriate. If you are more attracted to curvy women then you are to skinny women, or vice versa, you are misogynistically judgmental, and if you express this preference to anyone more “enlightened” than you are you’re body-shaming, as well. If you find a certain style of dress turns you on or matches your expectations for how someone should dress in a given situation while others don’t, you are again an asshole, and if you express this opinion you pretty much deserve to be castrated.

Hypocrite Much?

Imagine telling a gay man that they were “body shaming” some guys by stating an avid sexual preference for another body type. Imagine telling a heterosexual woman that she shouldn’t care about things like body hair, or baldness, or height, all of which are physical qualities many women see as deal-breakers when it comes to selecting a romantic partner.

Crazy, right? People are attracted to the people they are attracted to, plain and simple, and if you tried to tell a woman that she was being misandrystically judgmental for expressing her preference you would either be laughed at or, more likely, labeled a “neckbeard” or other stereotype of uninformed patriarchy-perpetuating asshole.

So why is it OK to tell men that they need to get over body type and style of dress? When we’re speaking purely in terms of aesthetic appreciation and/or sexual attraction, welcome to humanity, where to see is to make certain judgements. Culturally influenced or not, every person judges every other person when they see them, and men seeing women is not in a special class.

Does this excuse men treating women differently in professional settings based on body type? Absolutely not. Should the way Hillary Clinton looks be a subject of conversation amongst “serious journalists”? Absolutely not. Is there a huge imbalance in the way men and women are acted towards based on how they look and what they choose to wear? Absolutely yes.

So let’s fight the real problem: the fact that women are treated differently based on how they look in situations that have nothing to do with physical appearance. Telling men what they should or shouldn’t be attracted to, or that they aren’t allowed to have the same types of opinions on women’s clothing and appearance that women have towards men (and that women have towards women, often to an even higher degree), is ridiculous.

And men (and women), in general, keep your opinions about someone’s physical appearance to yourself. Unless you’re in a situation where it actually matters, you know the person, and know how to give constructive feedback, keep both positive and negative comments to yourself. Chances are the other person doesn’t want to hear them.

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Dreadlocks, Disses, and other Distractions of the Social Justice Movement

I recently lost a friend over a fight about dreadlocks. It wasn’t a question of fashion taste—I don’t have dreadlocks nor did I have a problem with hers—but rather the fact that I was “at least slightly racist” because I think it’s OK for white people to have dreadlocks if they want them and she thinks it isn’t. And because she’s black, she gets to make that decision.

Her reasoning is that dreadlocks originated on slave ships as a result of the inhuman and filthy conditions captured Africans were subjected to on the journey over the Atlantic. Chaining people so close to each other that they didn’t have room to turn over, conditions worse than those afforded to livestock making the same journey, led to the rampant spread of diseases, many deaths, almost unimaginably horrible psychological trauma as a result of being trapped in your own waste and that of your companions and being chained for days or weeks to the rotting corpses of your family.

It also led to the dirt-and-grease-encrusted matted hair that we now call dreadlocks. This hairstyle was re-appropriated, so the story goes, first by slaves in the Caribbean/West Indies and then by other black slaves, former slaves, descendants of slaves, and by blacks generally as a remembrance of slavery and a means of taking ownership of their heritage. The spirit of this appropriation is akin to the long-standing tradition in the LGBT community of turning negative slurs into positive affirmations of identity, most notably with the terms “gay” and “queer,” both of which started as insults by outsiders and are now used to self-identify by members of the community.

Now, there is some debate as to whether or not this history of dreadlocks is entirely accurate; unquestionably, dreadlocks appeared in numerous cultures from around the globe thousands of years before the Atlantic slave trade of the 16th-19th centuries, and can still be seen in many cultures essentially untouched by the United States slave trade. But giving my friend the benefit of the doubt in terms of how dreadlocks came to prominence in our own contemporary culture, I still had some significant problems with her position.

First and foremost, equality means equality. In an ideal world, if one group has access to something than all groups should have access to it. There is no mode of expression, style of appearance, hygiene method, etc., that should be seen as morally/ethically correct for one group and otherwise for another group.

We don’t live in an ideal world, I will more than readily admit, and there are instances and situations where enhanced access for marginalized groups can do more to restore equality than mandating equal access. Hairstyle isn’t one of them. A white person wearing dreadlocks does absolutely nothing to promote or perpetuate racism, no matter what their reason for wearing dreadlocks is. Frankly, a black person wearing dreadlocks doesn’t do anything to promote and end to racism, either.

Dreadlocks, like any other involved in semi-standout hairstyle, are a highly personal statement no matter who is wearing them, and getting mad at someone for wearing a symbol with personal meaning is silly. And saying that people of a certain color shouldn’t be “allowed” to use a certain personal symbol in a way that has personal significance to them is, well…racist.

Turn On, Tune In, Cop Out

That isn’t even my big problem with my friend’s stand against dreadlocks on white people, though, nor the reason that she told me to unfriend her before she got around to just unfriending me, instead (passive-aggressiveness in a social justice warrior—unheard of, I know). Though I think she is “at least slightly racist” for her attitude towards white people and how they should be “disallowed” from expressing themselves through the hairstyle of their choice, I think her attitude and the passion behind it are indicative of far larger problems in the online “social justice” movement.

Dreadlocks were simply the latest item in a long and growing list of all-but-inconsequential issues that got my friend’s ire raised on Facebook and Tumblr. Perceived racism in a local bar’s joke about the end of the world as supposedly predicted by the Mayans, the looks she got (or thinks she got) wearing her go-go pants to do her grocery shopping, and privileged straight white men expressing an opinion on pretty much anything—there were the things she directed her activism toward

Strangely absent from the instances of injustice she brought to the attention of her social media followers were such things as the immense disparity in income and wealth between the white and black populations of the United States (or the related disparity in incarceration rates, educational achievement, entrepreneurship, etc.), the dearth of openly homosexual/bisexual/transgendered people in positions of governmental and/or economic/corporate power, the fact that people in many countries are still put to death for engaging in consensual sex with the partner(s) of their choice, and so on.

The real issues of social justice, which are legion, don’t seem to be on her radar at all. If it makes for an easy text-on-picture item to share, or can be boiled down to a two-sentence stance that draws a line of moral black and white (no pun intended) where even a question leads to automatic condemnation, she’s on board; if it requires a bit of research, some real critical thinking, or even worse real action, it’s not worth raising a fuss about.

In a city or country where the proportion of black business owners and black college students is far lower than the proportion of black people in the population as a whole, finding and fighting the root of these problems is way more important than railing against white people wearing dreadlocks, no matter what you think about white people or dreadlocks themselves. The social media form of social justice is training people to turn on, tune in, and cop out when it comes to real activism. You “like” someone’s angry and misinformed status, and your job is done.

What makes this even worse in the case of my friend is that I don’t doubt her sincerity or her capabilities for an instant. She is very active in the various minority communities with which she identifies, including running workshops for teenagers and trying to educate the public on racial and LGBT issues. She does put her beliefs into actions, in other words, but they are still the actions that are easy to take—actions that bring her into confrontation with other people’s ideas about expression and identity instead of the real and practiced prejudice that still exists in institutions throughout the country.

Misguided though I think her stance on dreadlocks is, I would care less about her position if it didn’t come at the expense of highlighting and fighting the real problems of racism that still exist. If she didn’t just focus on the easy, buzz-worthy topics and tried tackling some of the harder things, too. If social justice warriors won’t so distracted by superficial and imagined insults, they might become actually useful in effecting change.

If they’re having any current effect at all, it’s helping to perpetuate the status quo by ensuring the discussion never gets anywhere meaningful.

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Having a Penis Does Not Make Me a Part of Rape Culture`

I’m not going to debate whether or not a “rape culture” exists—I don’t think the term is well-defined enough to have that debate, and leaving the term’s subjectivity aside the subjectivity of the evidence makes any debate all but impossible. For the purposes of this post, I will concede that “rape culture” exists insofar as there are rapists and rape victims in our culture, and that their existence permeates many aspects of social life for both men and women.

An article from a penis apologist recently made the social media rounds telling all men that they were a part of rape culture just for being a man. Some men rape women, went this author’s logic, therefore all women are scared of being raped by all men, therefore all men perpetuate rape culture. Breaking this down even more simply, his argument is that because men scare women by their very presence, men are creating rape culture.

If men can scare women merely by their presence, then the reverse corollary is also true: women can be scared by men simply by their presence. Stated this way, women perpetuate rape culture just by being scared of being raped.

So in essence, women are also perpetrators of rape culture. Everyone who participates in any interaction that results in a fear of rape, even if that interaction is as simple as occupying the same parking lot one evening, is contributing to rape culture.

In short, everyone who is part of a culture where fears of rape exist is a part of “rape culture.” In shorter, a culture where rape exists is a rape culture.

If that was actually the point this author was trying to make, that’d be fine. It’s circular reasoning that doesn’t really lead to any substantive new insights or means of addressing or changing rape culture, but at least it’s logically defensible.

The problem is, that isn’t his point at all. His point is that all men are guilty of perpetuating rape culture because some men rape women. He says it point-blank: you are a part of rape culture “because you are a man.” He leaves the reader in suspense as to whether or not women who rape other women or women who rape men (and yes, there are women who do these things) are a part of rape culture. He seems to imply, though he never outright states, that women generally are not a part of rape culture.

But if you have a penis (he does seem to identify maleness with having traditionally male genitalia, though this is not explicitly address in his piece), you are a part of rape culture whether or not you’ve ever raped, assaulted, or harassed someone. Whether you are gay, straight, bisexual, or asexual, if you are a man then you scare women and you are part of rape culture.

He even cites facts and figures that would seem to discount his theory, but they don’t dissuade him from his man shaming. He notes that 75% of women who are raped by men knew the men who raped them before the incident. Meaning that fear of the strange man in the parking lot is largely unfounded—not that people shouldn’t be wary in situations when they might be vulnerable, but that the fear of rape by strange men he claims is so pervasive isn’t an accurate reflection of the real risk of rape.

He acknowledges that the vast majority of men do not and would not rape other women (or other men), and says we should be angry at the men who do rape because they give all men a bad name (I think there are better reasons to be mad at men who rape women; he might, too, but he doesn’t say so), and then goes on to say it makes perfect sense for women to be scared of every man they encounter. I agree that women should be vigilant, as should all people in situations where they might be victimized, but I also wonder how much of rape culture is the culture of fear created by the media—including social media—rather than a legitimate concern for safety.

I am not a rapist. I have never attempted to touch someone sexually without permission; I have never even cat-called to a woman across the street. I think that type of behavior is disrespectful and disgusting. If I am a part of rape culture, it is because I am a part of a culture that has becomes obsessed with the fear of rape, whether that fear is justified or not. It isn’t because I have a penis.

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If You Support Legalizing Pot, You’re a Racist

In favor of legalizing weed? Then you hate black people, according to the typical social media spin being put on a recent discussion presented by the Drug Policy Alliance..

The DPA interviewed Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, about, not surprisingly, mass incarceration, drug laws, and their tie to race. Alexander spoke with typical insight and intelligence, delving into depth and great detail about these topics.

Then social media got ahold of it.

Now, we’re well aware that social media doesn’t handle nuance well. Neither does most of the adolescent-to-twenty-something social justice brigade. But the torturing of Alexander’s well-researched and well-expressed opinion to a picture and 50 words of text (five times more than usual! yay!) and an inflammatory headline (yeah, we learned that lesson, too) is beyond the pale. To the folks at Upworthy, though, it’s just business as usual:

This is the takeaway most people are getting from an hour-long discussion about race, drugs, and prison, and there are more than a few problems with it.

It Completely Mischaracterizes Alexander

First of all, this statement taken out of context completely undermines and mischaracterizes the point Alexander was trying to make. It gives the impression that she is somehow against the legalization of marijuana and that she sees a racial—and racist—agenda at work in the legalization movement, or at the very least that the legalization movement should be put on hold while racial disparities are worked out.

Her actual sentiment is almost entirely opposite. She, quite rightly, sees a racial and racist agenda at work in the “war on drugs,” which includes disproportionate sentencing for drugs done and sold primarily by African-Americans (crack vs. cocaine is the most relevant modern example, though pot was vilified and criminalized in the wake of the Harlem Renaissance, when African-Americans made up the majority of weed enthusiasts). She laments the many African-Americans, especially men, who have been imprisoned for marijuana-related charges, and points out the significant problems this mass incarceration has caused for African-American families and culture.

And because of this abundant imprisonment and the problems it causes, Alexander is completely in favor of legalizing/decriminalizing marijuana:

Michelle Alexander isn’t a petulant social justice warrior with an “if we can’t have it, neither can you” attitude. She isn’t childishly stamping her foot because white men are poised to profit from activities African-Americans have long been imprisoned for. She’s pointing out the historical hypocrisy, not standing against the policy. And misrepresenting her stance makes it easy to ignore the real problems at the root of her complaint…

It Sidesteps the Pressing Issue of African-American Entrepreneurship

Though Alexander doesn’t address entrepreneurship in the African-American community directly, the social-media shared quote—especially when placed in the larger context of Alexander’s discussion and scholarship—points out the unfairness of the war on drugs towards the African-American community even after marijuana sales are legalized.

With African-Americans imprisoned at significantly higher rates than other demographics, there are fewer opportunities for African-American entrepreneurship and business leadership. It’s true that owners of marijuana-selling establishments, medical and recreational, are overwhelmingly white, but business ownership across all industries is overwhelmingly white. Alexander isn’t complaining that white people are legally making money selling pot, she’s pointing out that African-Americans aren’t.

There’s a big difference there, and one that the social justice warriors of the social media world seem completely oblivious to.

Preventing white business owners from legally selling pot does nothing to help the African-American community in terms of imprisonment or entrepreneurship/business ownership. Quite the opposite, in fact. Legalizing or decriminalizing the sale of marijuana will lead to lower incarceration rates in the African-American community, leading to more opportunities for cohesive and optimally functioning African-American families and culture, including a more equitable share in the business community and overall economy.

The problem is, of course, complex, and simply legalizing marijuana isn’t going to suddenly create complete equality, but again, Alexander is very clearly not arguing against legalization or against white people owning legal marijuana businesses. She is pointing out the historical problems that African-Americans have historically faced in relation to marijuana, and pointing out that the current legalization movement is failing to fully address these issues.

It Ignores the Real Issue at the Heart of Her Argument

The quote culled by the Upworthy crew places the emphasis on white profits rather than African-American incarceration. As you might have been able to guess from the title of Alexander’s book, her focus runs in the opposite direction. She is far more concerned with the fact that African-Americans have long been and continue to be incarcerated for minor drug charges, including marijuana-related offenses, than she is with anything going on in the white business community.

This is the crux of the problem with this quote and with much of the social justice warriorship that goes on online. Soundbites are sexy, but real scholarship and real action take real effort. Instead of self-righteously clicking “share,” more people ought to try a little more critical thinking. The world would be a better place for everyone.

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