You may have some sexist baggage if…

So, one of the complaints I often get when I inform people they’re being sexist is that they can’t tell why. (Which betrays male privilege, because it implies that you haven’t bothered trying to learn)

Please note that these items may make you sexist. Some of these will not always be sexist. Some of these will always be sexist, but can be made worse or better depending on the context. Some of the sexism is stuff society just takes for granted, and people will try to fob off with “but nobody really cares about that.” Yes, they do. They just don’t always tell you they care, or they aren’t around because you behave that way.

Please also note that some of these overlap insensitivity to racism, homophobia, gender variance, etc… That’s just because you can’t seperate out all of the -isms very easily. 🙂

  • You say anything about a woman that you would be embarrassed or reluctant to say about a man- or vice-versa.
  • You seriously believe you’re “gender-blind”, or that “gender doesn’t matter”.
  • You have to back up a statement with “…and I’d still say that if she was a man” or a similar tag line. If it sounds sexist without the tag line, it’s still sexist with it.
  • You imply that just because a woman is being emotional, she is having her period. Or the other way around. Bonus demerit points if you don’t even know the woman in question.
  • You imply that because a woman is being emotional, she is also being irrational.
  • You imply that because a man is being calm, that he’s being rational.
  • You imply that when woman complain they are “whining” or “nagging”, especially if the complaint is about something that’s not acceptable in the first place.
  • You imply that when a man complains he is offering legitimate criticism, even if he clearly has no justification.
  • You call a woman a “bitch”, a “slut”, a “whore”, a “cunt”, a “tart”, a “trollop”, or one of the many other nasty words aimed explicitly at making women seem disgusting.
  • You imply that you can ignore a woman because she has sexual habits you disapprove of.
  • You imply that women having sexual habits at all is morally damaging.
  • You imply that unwanted sexual attention or harassment is okay because it is intended as a compliment. (Or you actually DO harass someone)
  • You imply that women dressed “provocatively” are “asking for it”, regardless of what the “it” you’re referring to actually is.
  • You imply that you can always approach women in public purely because you find them attractive.
  • You imply that objectifying men is an acceptable turnaround to objectifying women.
  • You imply that faking rape is any more likely than faking victimhood of any other crime, subject to the same penalties for allegations that can be proven blatantly false.
  • You complain about false rape convictions when discussing rape despite rape being estimated at having a 6% conviction rate.
  • You use terminology from consensual sex to describe rape.
  • You use rape as a joke.
  • You avoid using the word “rape”.
  • You avoid using the word “abuse”.
  • You imply that men-only or women-only environments are okay, rather than using the more inclusive idea of “safe spaces”.
  • You imply that there are not already “male spaces” in society.
  • You attack the idea of “female spaces”.
  • You imply that “female spaces” aren’t welcoming to men.
  • You imply that it’s not okay for men to be emotional or supportive.
  • You imply that it’s not okay (or not possible) for women to be tough or strong.
  • You assume that men make better leaders.
  • You call men “girls” as an insult.
  • You treat men interested in girly things differently from “tomboys”.
  • You imply that men who are similar to women are gay.
  • You use male-exclusive terms to address a mixed group- eg. “guys”, “men” instead of “people”, etc…
  • You use gender-specific terms when there is no need to- eg. “actress”, “fireman”.
  • You assume gender-neutral terms apply to men.
  • You expect names that could be either male or female to apply to men. (Alex, Toni/Tony, Jamie, etc…)
  • You let someone else say something sexist without challenging it.
  • You let someone ignore a colleague/a friend/your partner because she’s a woman.
  • All of the musicians/scientists/sportspeople/leaders/other role models you look up to are male.
  • All of your friends that weren’t introduced to you by someone else are male.
  • You use “he” when “you” or “they” would be more appropriate.
  • You assume a Dr. with an ambiguous name is a man.
  • You assume people with unfamiliar/non-english names are men.
  • You assume women should change their name at marriage.

This is merely a checklist of things to watch out for, and not an exhaustive list, but it covers some of the most stupid mistakes. I’ve done several of these at some point in my life, and I’m looking out for them. My brother tears through this list all the time, even though he respects women. Imagine how many people do when they don’t have an idea of what might be sexist? Imagine how many people tear through when they are deliberately sexist?

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In which I reconstruct sexuality

So, one of the really interesting works on sexuality (and more notably bisexuality) is the Kinsey Scale. While being an excellent example of forward-thinking classification that came about from excellent research into homo- and bisexuality in both men and women. However, it’s old- it was first published in 1948, and it doesn’t really delve deep into the issues surrounding sexuality.

The Klein Grid expands upon the the Kinsey scale and gives a much broader background. It recognises a large number of things which are important to sexuality, including drawing distinctions between (sexual-) orientation and lifestyle, action and ideation, recognising the impact of emotional attraction as well as physical attraction, the realisation of changing conceptions of sexuality and actions reflecting those conceptions causing him to question people seperately about their past, present, and the ideal future they would like. He also raised the idea of socialisation being as relevant to sexuality as gender is.

In some ways the Klein Grid is excellent, perhaps even too comprehensive- there are seven variables, which each belong to one of two sets of seven answers along the Kinsey scale, and each variable needs an answer for not only the past and the present, but also the ideal future. But I also find Klein’s variables inadequate- for instance, asexuality is completely undefinable on the Klein Grid.

What are the key things we can learn from Klein’s conception of sexuality?  Well, for a start, I would probably rework his variables into something new:

  • Reaction: Are you more likely to react sexually to women or men?
  • Ideation: Are you more likely to fantasise about men or women?
  • Action: Are you more likely to form relationships with or have sex with women or men?
  • Socialisation: Are you more likely to socialise with men or women?
  • Gender identification: Do you see yourself as a woman or a man?
  • Approach: Are you more interested in companionship or sex?
  • Sexual drive: How compelled to have sex, or interested in sex, are you in general?

I personally think that changes in the answers to these questions generally reflect self-attitude or self-discovery rather than fluid sexuality, but perhaps that’s an ideological blindspot of my own. The research on the subject does seem to give credence to the idea that sexuality is something that’s “set”, however1– what it’s set by is an interesting question. The Klein Grid is great for biographical purposes, but in terms of trying to classify sexuality, I think it complicates things needlessly.

I personally think sexual drive is also incredibly important to any discussion of continuous sexuality- people with extremely high sexual drives behave very differently to people with low sexual drives, and of course, there are those with little to no interest in sex. Discussion of sexual drive is largely missing from analysis of sexuality, although it’s been a practical concern to people on the front line of counselling or advice since those professions were first formed.

1And that perceived change in sexuality is actually self-discovery.

Weekenders 4 & Open Thread

Here’s another batch to keep you sorted:

  • A very different type of emissions trading scheme is proposed.
  • The five geek social fallacies are interesting reading. Shorter geek social fallacies: It’s okay to be mean to people who act like jerks, and not everyone has to like each other.
  • Shakesville has a wonderful guest post on what domestic violence is really like, and why victims don’t realise they’re victims as fast as the rest of us do.
  • The Feministing community is awesome. Ann has highlighted a piece about how many stores and abortion clinics obstruct teenagers from using birth control, pregnancy tests, and getting abortions, even though there aren’t any laws allowing them to do so.
  • The F-Word have a great article on attempts to close a loophole allowing lap dancing clubs to be zoned as if they were cafés or bars, and how their calls for his support are embarrassing Boris Johnson, the mayor of London.

Excuses aren’t apologies, and no men are monsters

I briefly covered Veitch’s apology in my criticism of the Herald, but I wanted to come back in more detail here and mention what really bothered me about the way he issued it. Veitch as a presenter ought to know about the power of words, and his apology was not the words of a man who has faced up to what he has done. They were the words of a man who has tortured himself about it and never properly closed off the matter.

While he obviously wants to move on from the incident and seems to have resolved to not do anything similar again, (as much as it is possible to do so) he is still excusing his own behaviour1, even though he clearly knows it was wrong because he said just one sentence beforehand that his behaviour was “inexcusable”.

Veitch also talks as if his ex-partner was hardly even present at the time. There is little mention of the impact on her, it’s well buried into his statement, and he does not discuss the extent or facts of his violence.2

Many have questioned whether Veitch should be employed in broadcasting at all. I think that the apology is good evidence that he’s just not ready for a high-profile career yet, and has work to do with his demons. While I firmly believe that men who have been violent in the past and regret it deserve a chance to build a good life for themselves, just like all people who commit crimes or make poor choices in life, I think that the best way for them to do that is by working to mitigate the effects of domestic violence or even trying to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Women’s Refuge seems to agree.

I sincerely hope Veitch will use this as an opportunity to really face up to what he did, not just avoid it the way he has for the last few years. I hope he’ll remind men that violence harms the perpetrator, not just the victim, and that’s why self-control is so important. And I hope he’ll let men know that even men who dislike violence in general can still lash out at people they care about. We all have a darker side to us that we have to control. Every man has within him the potential to be an abuser, a rapist, a repressive and controlling partner. Or we have the potential to teach others the self-control, sympathy, empathy, care, and understanding they need to avoid those mistakes. Veitch’s statement made it clear that he lost control because he didn’t didn’t know how to deal with extreme feelings without lashing out. Many men don’t, and that’s a problem we as a society need to put urgent work into.

I’ve touched on this before- but one of the good things to come about from this story will be increased awareness that men who abuse women are about as “normal” as you can get. Veitch might have been a high flier, but he clearly had no psychological imbalance, doesn’t seem to have any exceptional anger problems- all he had to compel him to this course of action was the male privilege of being bigger and stronger, and of not being constantly pressured to control your urges to physically harm in the same way women are. And sadly, that is enough.

1Being stressed, exhausted, and perhaps upset or emotionally tired after a breakup is no excuse for the level of abuse that Veitch has been accused of. It certainly explains something about the nature of what made him do what he did, but it’s nowhere near an excuse.
2Probably for legal reasons.

Disempowering the victim

Rosemary McLeod has a largely wonderful article about chequebook justice. It’s nice to see her say within this article that she is willing to accept that a woman would not want to go up against international rugby players during a rape trial, and is the closest thing I’ve seen to reason on this whole debate thus far.

But her qualified objection that she thinks it’s unfair to deny the rugby players their chance to a fair trial is ludicrous and soured the rest of the article for me. The important thing to remember is that no trial on this matter would be fair. Despite being big fans of huge drinkups, controlling their tempers incredibly poorly, and being celebrities in an enormous position of power over their fans, can anyone name me one rugby player that has been successfully convicted of rape in New Zealand? Especially a rugby player at international level who has the support of their teammates and sports organisations? I’ll be interested to hear if so.

The fact of the matter is that sports are about the only area in New Zealand where the male gender card trumps all. In such an environment, a teenager accusing a wealthy individual with the support of wealthy organisations to a trial heavily effected by the price of your lawyer and the view that sportsmen can do no harm is most definitely not a fair trial. No trial at all is much better than that, especially given some of the tactics that have pervaded the media: such as anonymous “witnesses”, slut-shaming, and the equally ludicrous claim that this was some sort of sabotage cooked up by NZ rugby to discredit the english team.

The Herald continues the disempowerment of victims with another mixed-bag story. While I am really, really pleased to see that not even a news source with such a blatant conservative bias as the Herald can no longer ignore or excuse domestic violence after our heated §59 debate, this article is still noticeably a Herald story with all of the implicit sexism and insensitivity to the victim this implies. Like most of the stories I’ve seen about the abuse of Kristin Dunne-Powell, the story focuses far too much on what’s going to happen to Veitch, and only spares a paragraph for what his victim suffered. It focuses on how the police could lay charges, despite the fact that the victim seems to have no desire for her day in court. It does get credit for coming out relatively strongly against him though, and for stating that hush-money is not uncommon in these cases. Why is it that the Herald can sometimes manage to come so close to balanced coverage only to fall juuust short?

Defending Marriage Equality: “It’s About Children”

While civil unions are an almost marriage-like compromise, they are not marriage, and one of the key ways in which Destiny Church has been somewhat placated is that civil unions do not give gay couples the same adoption rights as straight couples. (there are a few legal loopholes and runarounds that can be tried, however, in cases where one of the gay partners is the parent of the child, however some of these are the type of thing you only want to try for one child, thus making the whole “having a family” side of things even harder)

One of the more insidious arguments against marriage equality, that’s implicitly fueled by this omission, is that marriage is about having children, which makes marriage special and unique to straight couples. Because gay and lesbian couples can’t have children on their own, people looking to attack marriage equality love to trot out the argument that people defending marriage equality are “redefining marriage” to not be about children as a strawman.

If that were true, however, detractors against gay marriage should be fighting just as hard to ban marriage between infertile men and women, and have such existing marriages annulled. This has broad and rather undesirable consequences- essentially all straight marriage would end when women started menopause, and/or when the kids moved out. It means marriage devalues chaste partnership between people of child-bearing age, which is actually something social conservatives like to argue for.1

Now, what if our friends who dislike marriage equality so much point out that while infertile couples may not be able to have children, we should presume any straight couple can when we let them marry? I say their proclamation that marriage is about having children allows for an even stronger argument that rules out that defense: that we should ban and annul any marriage in which the partners were not actively seeking to conceive or already raising children. If marriage were really just about having children, then there would be no problem at all in doing this.

Taken to this ridiculous extreme, we see that even if marriage really is about children, it has every reason to include couples that cannot or will not naturally conceive who are willing to take the alternatives – such as insemination, fertility treatments, and adoption.

Another thing people seem to forget is that formal, ceremonial marriage is actually a relatively new development,2 and thus ought to be considered as open to further change and reconception. Back in the old days, marriage was essentially just telling the community your intention to start an official relationship with someone, and in some cases marriage was considered officially binding as soon as the couple said to each other they were married. As a lot of arguments against marriage equality are arguments from tradition, you would think its detractors would actually know something about the history of marriage.

So, what I want to know is: are anti-gay activists willing to pay the price of their arguments being taken to their logical and consistent conclusion? Do we have to enshrine every idea that’s a few hundred years old as inescapable tradition? Should we discriminate against the infertile? Or should we accept that marriage as an institution isn’t set in stone, and is open to egalitarian reform?

1As long as it’s not due to any undue pressure, two people who love each other deciding not to have sex is perfectly fine by me.
2Marriage as a state-recognised contract performed as a ceremony in a church is about 250 years old. By comparison, some of the “recent” language changes people like to complain about are at least 400 years old, democracy is about 200 years old, and the idea of capitalism is about 270 years old. Marriage is as exciting and new as anything else in our society, and if it deserves to be a cornerstone of society, then that is because of its merits, not its traditions.

Third Trimester (aka. really controversial) Abortions

Bitch Ph.D.’s (another excellent Shakesville contributor) blog has some statistics about Third Trimester Abortions in the USA- basically that they’re extremely rare.

Interestingly, the Abortion debate in the USA has taken a turn to mimic our own scuffle recently, with Barack Obama claiming he doesn’t think mental distress is a valid reason to allow abortions in the third trimester.

This comment is generally a sexist anti-abortion dogwhistle- it implies that because apparently because it can be faked, real, genuine mental illness doesn’t exist among women wanting third trimester abortions, especially in stressful events like an unwanted pregnancy. While perhaps that is justification to actually, I don’t know, look for symptoms of mental illness first, I don’t think it’s justification for ruling out mental health as a reason for a third-trimester abortion. We don’t have the right to force the mother to accept the mental health consequences of carrying the baby to term, or giving it up for adoption.

She also links to a pro-life doctor citing some really persuasive reasons for allowing third trimester abortions, including explaining that “pediatric reasons” don’t always just apply to the fetus. Worth checking out.