I’m Sexist, and So Are You
Disclaimer: I talk mostly about misogyny because that’s the system of oppression I know the most about (as I am a white cis woman).
This is dedicated to all of the people who have, and continue to call me out on my shit.
Everyone is sexist.
Everyone. Me, your mom, and bell fucking hooks herself have all said, done and thought vicious sexist vitriol at one time or another.
The clearest example from my past is when I would (and, to be honest, still do) look at women who dress in stereotypically “slutty” ways, and think all kinds of horrendous things.
Some of the condescending, paternalistic variety, like Oh my god, I feel so bad for her. She doesn’t need to dress like that to be loved. Respect yourself girl!, perhaps with a touch of the you’re-doing-it-wrong classist femininity-policing male-gaze-centric bullshit, like Does she know how bad she looks? That’s so not sexy. Guys aren’t even into that, and if they are, they’re gross. All the way to downright slut-shamey sex-negativity, along the lines of Holy shit, what a skank. Who’s she trying so hard to fuck?
I’m not proud of this, nor of the many other times I’ve been a complete sexist moron. I now see (some of) the thick layers of not only sexism, but also sex-negativity, classism, transphobia and racism (many of the people I’ve thought these kinds of things about were trans, homeless, and/or low-income women of colour) inherent in my own thoughts.
Yes, I, as a fairly internet-famous, self-proclaimed intersectional feminist, with a history of butting heads with men who felt threatened by being told they’re privileged, am sometimes a sexist moron. I still judge women way more harshly than men in almost every respect. I expect them to deftly navigate the narrow crevasse down the middle of the Madonna-Whore dichotomy. I expect them to be sex-positive and GGG, but not slutty or overtly sexual. They need to pay attention to their appearance, but not too much, because then they’d be vapid and not worth my time. They have to be at least as good as men in male-dominated fields for me to even consider them capable.
On the other hand, men can look pretty much however they want (with a few basics, like adequate personal hygiene, basic command of language, etc…) and I’ll judge them based almost entirely on what they say and do instead of discrediting what comes out of their mouth based on how close their hemline is to their ass.
Sidenote: This is why Affirmative Action is a thing — not because we need to fill some “diversity quota” or whatever, but a hackneyed way to try and counteract the invisible biases against transfolk, people of colour, and women. If we didn’t do SOMETHING, literally all positions of power would be filled with moneyed straight white middle-aged cis men from “old stock” families, instead of just most of them.
In short, I have a lot of internalized misogyny, and so do you! The big, bad, scary label of SEXIST applies to me. But that is not the only thing that I am — the big, scary label of FEMINIST also applies to me, because I’m actively trying to become aware of and dismantle systems of oppression, like the ones I gave examples of above.
This is not to say that it doesn’t sting when I get called out. The reaction in my heart is to protect my ego from the accusations by any means necessary: tone policing, backtracking, playing the victim, excusing myself from being the Bad Guy by waving my own oppression and pain around, etc.
It takes me putting on my Big Girl Pants to accept that I’m not perfect, that in all likelihood, the person making the accusations is right, and that listening to and digesting what they have to say is the only way for me not to be a shitbag.
But therein lies my point: Just because I said or did something sexist/ableist/queerphobic/transphobic/classist/etc. doesn’t mean I’m a villain. I know I’m not a bad person, I just fucked up. Good and bad ideas can exist simultaneously in the same human.
I know a lot of men who have really huge emotional reactions to getting called out on sexist behavior (and similarly, a lot of white people who just can’t handle the idea that they’re being racist). After all, they’re trying really fucking hard! They love and respect women! They know in their heart of hearts that they’re the good guys, fighting the good fight!
Yes, they probably are good people, and they’re also sexist, because everyone is.
We all, every single one of us, no matter how progressive our parents were, grew up in a world that teaches us in big and obvious ways, and numerous tiny, imperceptible ways that women are inferior. It’s getting better, but it’s still pretty shit out there.
I know how bad it feels to be called out, despite your best intentions. I’d argue that it’s actually worse for me than a lot of men, because feminism is an integral part of my identity. I have literally been held up on mainstream news channels in multiple countries as the face of feminist youth. It feels totally incongruent that I should ever make a wrong step — but boy do I ever. Admitting it is the first step to being less of a shitbag.
So, next time someone tells you you’re being sexist/ableist/queerphobic/transphobic/classist/etc., please do the following:
- Realize that this isn’t a critique of you, but a critique of your actions or words.
- Realize that they’re telling you because they actually think rather highly of you! If they thought you were a hopelessly bigoted asshat, they wouldn’t have bothered. It takes guts and a lot of energy to call someone out on their shit, they wouldn’t have wasted that on you if they thought that you had no chance of benefiting from it.
- Wuh-oh. You feel attacked and want to run away or yell back. That’s okay! It’s okay to feel however you’re feeling — angry, protective of your ego, dumb, vulnerable… Whatever emotions you have, sit with them, but don’t act on them. Realize that you’re just scared of being The Bad Guy. You’re not! You’re just learning, and that can be tough and scary.
- If you feel overwhelmed by what they’re saying, record their thoughts for reference at a time when you can devote time and space to honest-self reflection. Introspection is hard. Give yourself permission to feel all kinds of ways about it.
- If you can muster it in the moment (or not! send them a message later), thank them for telling you. They’ve enabled you to become a better human.
Congratulations! You’re slightly less shitty than you were before! Keep on keepin’ on.