Allies, In Theory

[Content note: fat hatred; anti-survivor speech and behavior; misogynistic names, jokes, and labels; rape; rape culture; tone policing.]

Over the last month or so, I’ve seen a lot of men proclaim their hatred for sexism and misogyny. And that’s nice.

It should make for a lot of allies. In theory.

In practice, some allegedly anti-sexist men seem to be having some trouble with this.

In theory, body shaming is wrong. And yet, when this young woman or that young woman report their experiences being publicly shamed by misogynist dress codes, they do not deserve our support. Because, in this case, it wasn’t sexism! It was just about the rules. And it’s totally not shaming when teen girls to have to publicly pose in order for officials to make a determination about the length of their shorts. Or skirt. Or wev.

(In theory, too, it’s wrong to assume that women are prone to lying. Yet, in this case, the girls are definitely not justified in their protests because … well, there just has to be “more to it than that.” There just has to.)

In theory, everyone is against fat shaming. But in the case of this celebrity or that celebrity, it’s okay, because she is totally “putting herself out there,” and anyway, people just like what they like and what are you trying to do, force them to have sex with fat women? But it’s really ALL ABOUT health and think about the children! We can’t have kids thinking you can be happy, successful, AND fat, can we?

In theory, women deserve an equal voice in politics. But don’t they have that already? Just because Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin are routinely called some variation on bitch or bimbo, that’s not sexism because they’re conservatives and they deserve it, and anyway, it definitely won’t discourage any other women from running for office, and, oh my god how can anyone defend THEM?

(And in theory, nobody opposes Hillary Clinton for president because she’s a woman! It’s just that she’s old, and her voice is annoying, and everyone’s tired of her pantsuits, and she can be both over-emotional and totally frigid, and also she’s responsible for her husband’s bad behaviors. None of that is sexist, is it?)

In theory, it’s really terrible that women are barred from driving in Saudia Arabia. But it’s definitely okay to make jokes about how bad women are at driving, hardee harr har, while having that discussion, because of course misogynistic jokes don’t reinforce stereotypes that make it harder for women to drive, and geez, why are feminists so humorless?

In theory, rape survivors are experts on their own experiences, and also everybody knows rape is terrible. But, there’s just got to more to this case or that case or ad infinitum cases because…. well, what was a teenager doing out so late anyway? And she was drinking. And it wasn’t forcible, was it? And he was lonely and sad. And she was flirtatious. And sometimes you have to lock up survivors, but it’s for their own good. And those boys have their whole lives ahead of them! Why ruin it? I mean, can’t feminists have a little sympathy for the team?

And in theory, of course survivors' safety is a top priority! It’s not like you’re doing any harm by pointing all this out, it’s just being fair, because what about the menz reputation? Because it will definitely be ruined forever and ever and ever by a rape accusation!(And when survivors point out the larger rape culture that facilitates this bullshit, it needs explaining that, no this joke or that joke was actually anti-rape, don’t ya GET IT? And those guys are liberal, how could they be perpetuating rape culture? Stop being so emotional! Survivors are just so sensitive!)

In theory, you are on board with feminism! But why can’t feminists be nicer about all this? No-one is going to learn anything unless women suppress emotion, speak in a neutral voice using “clean” language, and dispense education on demand like a Feminist101 Robot Model #22B, amirite? That's not tone policing , but if women keep talking so mean, men aren’t going to want to help.

My point is this:

If you find yourself frequently arguing that women are wrong about the specific examples of systemic oppression they experience, then you are not doing ally work. If you claim to be against sexism, but the only real examples of it you can think of are all from the past, or maybe in other countries, then you are not actually against sexism.

In fact, you are 100% okay with oppression. And you, yes you, are actively increasing women's oppression by insisting we’re crazy, paranoid, or oversensitive. (And no, it does not matter if you did not use those precise words.) You can claim that OF COURSE you're against sexism all day, as if women are stupid to question your credentials, but that doesn't make it true.

If you want to be anti-sexist, stop talking and start listening, really listening, to women. It’s an act so simple, yet it’s a powerful way to practice the ongoing process of ally work. There are men out there who do this. Follow their example.

If you can’t listen, then stop claiming to be anti-sexism. Because if you’re only against misogyny in theory, but you never manage to see it in practice, then you’re fooling yourself. Make no mistake, though: you're not fooling me.

[My thanks to Shaker SonomaLass, who helped me tease this out in conversation.]

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