#NotAllMen, #YesAllWomen, and systemic sexism

So, there’s a lot of discussion around systemic cultural misogyny on the ‘Net these days, in the aftermath of the UCSB shooting. It’s good that we’re talking out loud about these things. It’s frustrating when the ignorant, even the well-intentioned, derail these conversations. It’s hard to see beyond one’s own experience… which is why listening to these conversations is so important. We need to have the wisdom to know when the conversation isn’t, and shouldn’t be, about ‘me.’ These conversations are big, and difficult, and one conversation cannot possibly encompass everything that’s wrong with everything ever, which is why focus (and not diverting away from that focus) is necessary.

The trouble is, a lot of people are completely unaware that they do this. Not long ago I was following a conversation on Facebook, spurred in response to a Slate article about the “not all men” phenomenon. This discussion only got four comments in before someone hauled out “I think this is a heterosexual male thing.” Meaning, of course, that as a gay man he was “not like that.” Even pointing out to him what he’d just done, in a conversation about derailing conversations with “not all men,” was lost on him. He is an ally, you see. He can relate to what women experience, since he’s had the same experiences himself. He was utterly unaware that he had just diverted the conversation to being about him, and it was no longer a conversation about women’s experiences of having their conversations derailed by men who were too defensive to genuinely listen and let them speak. It got very meta.

I have no doubt that he is genuinely sympathetic… and that’s the point. Good intentions or not, he fell into the very same trap that we were discussing.

And, to be honest, current media is a part of it, a big part of how it becomes systemic and normalized to the point of blithe unawareness. When the stories you see on the TV or big screen are about men, when women are portrayed as accessories to that man instead of independent human beings in their own right (Tomorrow People I’m looking at you), it affects how everyone (yes, even women, gay men, children, tribbles…) perceives reality — the unconscious assumption that media reflects the real world, when it sadly doesn’t, by and large.

There is an awful lot to unpack about the UCSB shooting. This barely scratches the surface. The cultural attitude of not seeing women as free agents, perfectly capable of and having the right to make their own decisions about what they do and do not want, is pervasive. And it is so “normal,” so much a part of daily life, that many people don’t even notice it unless something spectacularly tragic happens. Here’s a guy who somehow never learned that no one owes him sex. Nor did he ever figure out that his adversarial approach to dating/sex/women might actually be his obstacle, not his ladder over it. Even worse, then the internet exploded with opinions that agreed with him, that asserted that women’s sexual choices should be reduced to “consent to sex or die,” that “Game” (aka pick-up artistry, aka treating women like objects/conquests/shit) saves lives. Things people were saying without any sense of irony or sarcasm at all.

How did we get here? How do we get out of here?

It seems like small steps, but perhaps we can start by listening, not interrupting, and being aware of our reactions to what we hear. Not just in terms of sexism, either — there are many more “isms” to tackle, and each of those conversations need, and have a right to, focus without derailment too.

I’m not so naive to believe that one organization telling stories, by itself, is going to shatter these systemic “isms” and rebuild a better world from the ground up. But we do model what we see, especially when what we see is pretty much everywhere. If stories about women making tough decisions and having full, complex lives become as normal as seeing those stories about men, then perhaps people will be in a better state of mind to see that this is true of real women, too.

What have your experiences been with this conversation?

About Kat

Artist, actor, photographer, singer. Seeker of truth & beauty. Bringer of light to the shadows. Co-founder and instigator of Burning Brigid Media.

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