Recognizing that you were raised in a sexist culture and probably hold sexist attitudes does not make you an asshole, but refusing to acknowledge it does,” says David Combs of the D.C. punk band ‘The Mark Levine Ensemble’. He’s a member of an endangered species: men who believe that the need for feminism still exists. And yet, the majority of women in the world would find it hard to exist without feminism, as this writer explains.
A lot of men tell me that feminism isn’t necessary anymore. They say that sexism has ended. Well, I feel better already. If a man said it, it must be true.
A man who has never experienced walking and talking, or thinking and feeling (let alone menstruating, lovemaking and birthing) as a female. A man who has never been trampled by an endless succession of dudes barreling down the sidewalk, all expecting the chicks in their path to defer to their greater presence, and get the Hell out of the way. A man who has never been elbowed aside without a second glance – not because he was a threat, but because he was too negligible to even register. A man like all the men who I see causing sexism, engaging in it every day.
Why should the fact that someone is a man affect my ability to trust their view on sexism? You may as well ask why a black man goes out of his way to avoid a white cop. Some might believe it’s paranoia. I believe it’s a healthy sense of self-preservation.
If sexism is such a passé issue, then why do I feel I’ve spent my whole life paying for my alleged freedom to walk the streets, take employment, vote, participate and be “equal” to men? I’ve paid for it with endless tests of my patience, endless invasions of my privacy, endless apologies before stating my mind, and endless self-criticism afterward. Endless hours spent making myself look pretty enough that my presumption of my own equality would be forgiven – by men, mostly, but also by other women. As a female, my equality almost always feels presumed. It almost never feels deserved. Even when I’ve done better, lasted longer, worked harder and been nicer, I have to tiptoe around some man. It might not be you, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen.
I’ve paid for this presumed equality with my health and my sanity, with my social exclusion and endless character assassinations. But the ways in which I’ve been made to pay are almost irrelevant. What truly rankles is that I’ve been made to pay at all.
Paying for freedom: isn’t that just like fucking for virginity?
Unfortunately, men seem to have a monopoly everywhere, even places where gays have rights and blacks have rights. That is why the stupidest, most knee-jerk dismissal of feminism can carry weight, and even the most eloquent, well-researched evidence presented by a feminist can be erased by a well-timed, ‘Is it that time of the month again, love?’. Because men still hold the vast majority of the land, the wealth, the media, the government, the law and the education system, and so their petty prejudices define us. Men are holding the microphones, aiming the cameras, calling the shots and drafting the laws. They don’t just shape the public perception, they ARE the public perception. We are the defendant, the irregularity in their equation. They are the jury, the status quo, the voice of reason itself. The reason why sexism rarely makes it onto the system’s agenda is because sexism just sort of is the system. It defines the agenda.
I used to be that person barreling down the street, expecting people to get out of my way. Shorter people, mainly; not because I hated them but because I didn’t see them. They literally just fell outside of my field of perception. But every now and then one would get fed up of being crashed into by tall, gamboling person and jab me with an elbow. I’d ask myself, “Shit, what’s his/her problem? It was an accident.” But eventually, I started looking down more often, because I actually cared what these people thought of me.
That’s the perfect metaphor for sexism, I think. Men are used to being able to sail along at a certain height and velocity. They’re used to having more ‘stature’ than women… because that stature is built into the system for them. They may even believe that the streets are devoid of people who aren’t as tall and fast than as they are. They may have never taken the time to look down. And yet, fifty percent of the population is down there, beneath their field of vision, getting trampled and elbowed out of the way. We eventually get angry, and have to remind them we exist with a hard jab. Their first reaction may be annoyance or anger, but eventually, I figure they’ll have to start looking down when they walk.
The ones that care will, anyway.
Women’s lesser stature in society isn’t a result of our lesser height or speed; it’s a result of the lesser expectations, and the lesser examples being set for us. “Don’t raise your voice. Being demanding is unattractive. The other person’s feelings matter, let them have their way.” Etc. That lesser sense of entitlement has been enforced by years of being encouraged, reproached and threatened to expect less than men do. Years of being laughed at and shamed whenever we made a scene, broke a sweat, got caught up in the heat of the action or argument, the way that men do every day. The female deficiency isn’t really a deficiency at all; it’s a reflex learned by fear.
Even the male advantage is just another kind of deficiency; a different reflex learned by a different kind of fear. It’s just that their fear is paraded as an advantage. The example set for men is all about being the brashest, the hardest, the fastest to crush a challenger. Attack first and ask questions later. Be an asshole and you’ll get ahead. While the fear may be equal in each gender, the rewards aren’t. That is the proof that sexism still exists. Because, at least a man can get ahead.
In the non-stop argument between the scared, selfless female half of the world and the scared, aggressive male half, I feel myself being squashed into a frailer, more fractured shape day by day. Without feminism to champion my value as a person, the defensive, aggressive males would simply trample me unchallenged. Reduce me to a graceful, pretty mask lying in the dust.
Saying, “If a man said it, it must be true.”