[Trigger warning for misogyny; sexual objectification; dehumanization.]
Approximately five weeks after Elevatorgate, i.e. the latest round of "Where All the Atheist Ladies At?", I click through to Pharyngula at FTB to see that PZ Myers, who was rightly up in arms about the sexism directed at a woman on his team, has posted a piece about Rep. Michele Bachmann which includes a sexually suggestive picture of her from the Iowa State Fair about to eat a corndog and calls her a reptile.
That's the whole post. Rep. Michele Bachmann is a reptile, who may or may not be able to "disarticulate her mandibles at will" in order to get her mouth around a wiener. And the entire thing is set up from the main page so that the rank misogyny and dehumanization is a punchline:
You have to "Read More" to reveal the hilarity of why PZ thinks "there's good reason to be only cautiously speculative when it comes to the capacity of a reptile's jaws."
This is not how feminism works. This is how sexism works.
The sexual objectification of a woman in order to demean her is indefensibly misogynist, and it doesn't matter whether that women is likable, or kind, or herself willing to engage in sexism. If one is to be a feminist, or an ally to feminists, and if one is interested in human rights and social justice, then sexist and dehumanizing rhetoric and imagery is off the table.
And if one is authentically interested in making women feel welcome at your table, then one must stop forcing them to engage in the Terrible Bargain.
[My mistrust is] born of the multitude of mundane betrayals that mark my every relationship with a man—the casual rape joke, the use of a female slur, the careless demonization of the feminine in everyday conversation, the accusations of overreaction, the eyerolling and exasperated sighs in response to polite requests to please not use misogynist epithets in my presence or to please use non-gendered language ("humankind").PZ Myers is a smart guy, and he is capable of understanding that if he wants women to trust him and his space and the community of which he is a prominent part, then he can't continually expect them to overlook (and endorse) casual misogyny being wielded against other women.
There are the insidious assumptions guiding our interactions—the supposition that I will regard being exceptionalized as a compliment ("you're not like those other women"), and the presumption that I am an ally against certain kinds of women. Surely, we're all in agreement that Britney Spears is a dirty slut who deserves nothing but a steady stream of misogynist vitriol whenever her name is mentioned, right? Always the subtle pressure to abandon my principles to trash this woman or that woman, as if I'll never twig to the reality that there's always a justification for unleashing the misogyny, for hating a woman in ways reserved only for women. I am exhorted to join in the cruel revelry, and when I refuse, suddenly the target is on my back. And so it goes.
...I am expected to nod in agreement, and I am nudged and admonished to agree. I am expected to say these things are not true of me, but are true of women (am I seceding from the union?); I am expected to put my stamp of token approval on the stereotypes. Yes, it's true. Between you and me, it's all true. That's what is wanted from me. Abdication of my principles and pride, in service to a patriarchal system that will only use my collusion to further subjugate me. This is a thing that is asked of me by men who purport to care for me.
...Not every man does all of these things, or even most of them, and certainly not all the time. But it only takes one, randomly and occasionally, exploding in a shower of cartoon stars like an unexpected punch in the nose, to send me staggering sideways, wondering what just happened.
As long as there are "allowable exceptions" against whom misogyny and dehumanization can be wielded, any women knows, from a lifetime of experience, that the target can easily end up on her own back, if one day her alliance to the in-group who defines the boundaries of acceptable misogyny is suddenly deemed insufficient.
That's not a fair thing to do to women. And as long as that insecurity is there, that knowledge that one day it could be me, many women will respond to that injustice by simply not associating with any group or person who perpetuates it.
The only way to make those women feel welcome is to have a zero tolerance policy on misogyny.
I expect more. And I challenge PZ Myers to expect more of himself.
[We defend Michele Bachmann against misogynist smears not because we endorse her or her politics, but because that's how feminism works.]