Sexism is as sexism does

Another wonderful misconception about sexism is that not intending to perpetrate it allows you to wash your hands on the matter. This misconception isn’t limited to sexism- there are similar attitudes about racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and so on for all of the various -isms and -phobias. Apologies from politicians for being caught dipping into the cookie gar of misogyny tend to go along the lines of “but that’s totally not what I intended to say!”

Firstly, you need to recognise that reading is not just about reading the author’s intent. I know this is how it works when you’re the boss, and you’re not expected to have the time to write clearly for others, but where we talk to and write to our equals, we have to accept that words are open to many interpretations and every one we leave open in our work in valid until we correct it. When you say something you didn’t intend, you have still said it until those words are corrected. An admission of guilt is not enough to address the real issue- it just stigmatises the words you used, which is only sometimes helpful. If you really mean your apology, go back and say what you meant to without offending people, like it should have been said, just to show you can do it. That’s what we do in the world of writers and speakers who are expected to be accountable.

The important thing to remember is that being feminist/antiracist/queer-friendly/trans-friendly/name your cause, is about your openness to the fact that being true to yourself is beautiful, that being open to difference is good, and your acknowledgement and activism for the cause. It’s about awareness of how society might turn who you are to your (dis)advantage, even if you happened to win the lottery and be born into a relatively privileged life. It’s about following up intent with dialogue. It’s about listening to the disempowered. It’s about accepting the fundamental truth that we’re not just born into equal opportunity, but that sometimes that opportunity is squandered or oppressed after we’re born.

When someone calls you on sexism, or another similar allegation, they probably don’t care about you being politically correct. They care more about everything I listed in the last paragraph. And if you can correct yourself and show that you’ve recognised those things as virtues to uphold and believe, then you’ll have a defense a lot more solid than your intent.

Back soon

Hey truckers and guests- I’ve unwisely crawled out of bed for an hour or so and thought I’d update you. I’m currently suffering stomach pains and am totally tired and won’t even be able to spare a couple hours for feminism, especially seeing as sitting up is hurting my back something tragic and I’ve already commented on blogs waaaay longer than I meant to. I’ll probably have something to post by monday.

When I’m feeling better I’ll make it up to everyone with both some more of the simple posts that are to-the-point and address common misconceptions, and the huge long essay that are apparently incredibly popular. I’m glad so many people enjoyed the stuff on consent.

All discrimination was not created equal

An interesting talking point that’s floating on the internet right now is that making general statements about rich white men is discrimination and shouldn’t be supported. Obviously this is someone’s first barbeque.

While I certainly agree that these sorts of characterisations are mild discrimination, I actually don’t agree that discrimination is always a terrible thing no matter who it faces. To be sure, I feel discrimination is always a last resort, because of itself it sucks, but there’s a very big difference between the disadvantaged facing discrimination that keeps them down, and the heavily advantaged getting the occasional taste of being the Other when they wander into less “mainstream” territory.

We should also note that it’s largely misbehaviour that is being made fun of, and not men. There is a certain insinuation that rich people are all immoral in this type of social commentary, which I do take issue with, but you’ll note that it’s pretty restricted to “big business” especially in the example I gave, where there is a lot less colateral damage. I have yet to meet a rich person I could call immoral, however some certainly don’t pay enough attention to their own backyards, morally speaking. However, there are certainly big businesses that I can easily identify as being immoral.

Part of the reason I feel that we should continue to have social commentary like this is that I feel we can keep it in check when it goes too far- which we’ve certainly had to do in the past for minorities. The other reason is that it takes real, righteous anger to elicit social change- the groups who want change are never a powerful, self-aware majority. (otherwise why would they need to agitate for it?) They need to gather allies, guilt their opponents, and dictate the moral agenda. Even then it’s unlikely that change will be significant or fast. The politcal machine is more like a freight train than an aircraft- it has a lot of policies to carry, and so it takes some time to accelerate out of the station.

While I certainly wish we didn’t need angry women/Maori/queers/disabled/whatever to make social progress, people who stand in the way are legitimate targets, even on unrelated matters. Politics is not a nice environment, and given that those of us agitating for change have been demonised our fair share, it screams of inconsistency to turn around from gentle acceptance of discrimination to condemnation as soon as it starts affecting your own demographic.

When we see a bit more universal commitment to equal rights and nondiscrimination, maybe we can revisit this topic. But not until then.

Advanced Consent (2), and some libertarian philosophy

Firstly- a quick apology for not being able to get this up sooner. We’ve had some wiring problems with the electricity that have stopped me from internetting until today.

Last time I covered why sex is risky and complicated, why there are excellent reasons to justify men saying no, and why arousal isn’t the same as enthusiasm/consent. Remembering from my simpler post that consent is about active participation or communication, let’s head forward into discussing the nature of consent in relationships and the gatekeeper model of marriage, incidental consent within relationships and saying no with a small justification or without one altogether, and consent between same-sex partners.

Let’s start with the gatekeeper model of marriage. It starts by being a little sexist against men, and then gets a lot more sexist against women. The core assumption here is that women are gatekeepers of sex- that is, they decide when sex happens and when it doesn’t. The implication here of course is that men want sex all the time and we’re available to be used as such, but such is the result of such a simplistic theory. It then moves on to imply that marriage is an institution that exists to legitimise sex between the husband and wife, and that it entails the idea of implicit consent. This in turn informs attitudes about rape in marriage- people who buy into this gatekeeper model feel it’s impossible, because by being married a woman has somehow consented to sex whenever and wherever. That’s a pretty powerful assumption. Continue reading

Plugging into feminists dicussing men

Samhita over at Feministing continues to be awesome, plugging an interesting video by Jay Smooth on the subject of homosexuality and hip-hop.

My favourite bit was the conclusion:

Because when we find ourselves believing that killing a man makes us more of a man, but loving a man makes us less of a man, it’s probably time to re-examine our criteria for manhood.

I totally suggest you check out Jay’s site, as it has a few more gender politics gems in it. Yes, I did just link to something twice in one post about link-whoring. Seeing a hiphop fan talking about manhood myths is that cool.

Sexism is something you do

Oh right, I have a blog. I suppose I should post on it before midnight today. Whoops.

While I’m quite happy that Hillary Clinton is a candidate for the democratic nomination,1 I’m also upset that people are bagging her with sexist insults at mach 2. The constant calling out of such examples of sexism currently has Melissa (from over at Shakesville) at the 94th installment of her Hillary Clinton Sexism Watch series, and that may go up by the time this post gets out of my draft queue. (update: it reached 100 as of Friday 2008-5-23.)

One thing that this barrage of feminist-antifeminist dialogue has brought up is a huge public misconception: That sexist is something you are. If that were true, this blog would probably never exist, I’d probably be a Young Nat, and Barack Obama would be significantly less awesome. Moreso than other forms of discrimination, misogyny and sexism are deceptive and invisible, especially to men. This leads to many men offending women by doing stupid things like equating one woman who performs badly with all women, (apparently if your girlfriend sucked at maths, so does every other woman in the history of the human race) or by considering them invisible, (“Hey guys!”) or by demeaning female sexuality, or by implying that men who are feminine are inferior, or by perpetuating one of the other hegemonistic norms that pervade our society. Continue reading

Advanced Consent (1)

Seeing as I’m having a bit of writer’s block on the issue of gender essentialism at the moment, I thought I’d depart from my plan and do some advanced work on other types of consent, (ie. male and gay/lesbian consent) as was suggested in an earlier comment, because hey, it couldn’t hurt to sneak in one or two posts with advanced concepts about non-urgent concerns during my “warm-up period”. I have to confess I’m in a bit of a dilemma: I want to do more equal coverage of men’s issues, but they make the news even less than women’s issues, (and I’m not a good researcher) and they rely on an understanding of the basic concepts such as owning opinions, gendered thought, social constructivism, convergence, “overflow”, and a bunch of other pretty words.

So, Moz rightly criticises me for being simplistic and focusing on straight female consent because of this. Seeing I have no doubt you are all intelligent human beings, let’s dive a little deeper. Be warned though: IF complicated words and concepts make your eyes glaze over, this one is going to put you to sleep. 🙂 Continue reading

Sexual Choices (and the introduction of tooltips)

Before I start this very late friday/saturday post, I’m quickly going to share two new features I’m going to add at least to all upcoming posts- I’m going to add tooltips every time I introduce a piece of jargon to that post, allowing you to better understand what I’m saying in my essay posts just by hovering your mouse over a piece of jargon, without you reading every previous post, or me cross-linking my own posts or linking wikipedia extraneously to explain jargon. This becomes more and more necessary as I move into cool advanced topics like sexual agency, homosexuality, polygamy, relationship assumptions, youth sexualisation, and all that cool stuff. I’m also adding a glossary to collect these terms in, with attribution where I can figure it out. Anyway, on with the show. (and yes, the necessity of these new features is partly why it’s so late)

Sexual liberation as a concept/philosophy, or the belief in sexual freedom, is based on the foundation that sex acts should be founded and evaluated on mutual and equal consent, and the right to sexual agency of the partners involved. Sexual liberation as a concept grew out of sexual liberation as an event1– that is, the widespread availability of effective birth control. Continue reading

Why rules are awesome and exceptions suck

Deborah over at The Hand Mirror has an excellent post from a while back on how a tiny exception in Act’s proposed tax cuts devalues women’s labour, by hitting part-timers (who are disproportionately female) with extra tax. This hits on a vein that’s essential to my feelings about not only feminist thought, but also queer rights, race relations, disability issues, and even economic productivity/fairness, so I’d like to expand on Deborah’s objection to an exception that hurts women more than men.

This is a great example of why in all types of complex systems- from Human Rights laws to the tax code to social progression- ideas that can be elegantly expressed as rules that have no exceptions make the best guidelines to live by. (I should point out that adding just a few “inclusions” to a restrictive rule is effectively the same thing as making a more inclusive rule with lots of exceptions, it just cuts down on admin costs a little more.1) Continue reading

In which consent is clarified

I mentioned earlier when I covered social attitudes to rape that meaningful consent has to be “explicit and free”. Many a man interested in exploring the murky deeps of gender politics from a male perspective dives into the issue of consent in straight sex, which I find almost painfully simple, and comes out with some sort of slippery slope argument attempting to deconstruct the basis of consent because they don’t really want to understand it, because that would mean serious evaluation of the concept from a female perspective, which like, defeats the whole point of my college newspaper article, man.

What makes consent explicit? Well, essentially it’s saying that she has to be clear in her desire to go ahead. There should be no doubt. If she says “mmmm, okay” and doesn’t start jumping on you, then she hasn’t given explicit consent. She’s probably just engrossed in Scientific American Mind, that glossy magazine she’s reading, and hasn’t heard you. If she says nothing and sits still, not engaging at all in whatever you’re trying to do to initiate sex, then she’s not consented. If she says “no” clearly, but continues to do something that really gets you going, she’s still not consented, and under certain circumstances you may be authorised to complain about teasing. If she does some stupid hollywood stunt where she says “no…” softly and then starts with the passionate kissing, she’s probably a fan of chick flicks and/or romance novels. If that scares you, I recommend you get to know a nice girl-racer instead. Continue reading