This is part two of a rant about sexism and misogyny, and how we might go about reducing it. Again, this is long and a bit rambling. Sorry.
In part one I looked at how misogyny was picked up as a major factor in the recent California attacks, and how abuse faced by women is very real, and very scary.
Now, how to make things better? Many people, particularly women, are extraordinarily angry – these crimes committed in the name of misogyny have opened a floodgate of pent-up fury, for understandable reasons.
But I believe anger is not always the best response – or at least, the response which will engender the most change. I think I can hear many people’s blood pre-emptively boiling at this suggestion, but please stay with me for a few paragraphs.
Part of the problem is there are effectively two broad groups here, with a very fuzzy line between them. There are the hard-core, misogynistic Men’s Rights Activists and their ilk, and then there are what we might call the “default sexists” – men whose knee-jerk response is to dismiss or belittle the female position, or shrug off other men’s bad behaviour.
For our default sexists, I think anger may actually be a useful response. Imagine someone who has been unconsciously, systemically conditioned to accept a sexist worldview and has never stopped to question it. An angry reaction to poor behaviour might be the best way to shock them out of their unconscious acceptance, and at least prompt them to question why they think the way they think.
So fine, get angry at those guys – make it hard for them to stay in their happy little patriarchal bubbles. This is what happened with the student I mentioned in part one – her teacher stood and argued with security until they agreed to do something and called the police.
And then there are the MRAs.
These are people who HAVE thought about their position vis a vis women – at least on a superficial level. They are usually very clear, in their own minds, why they are suffering at the hands of feminists and feminism in general, and sometimes equally clear on what they need to do to rectify the situation.
For these guys, I would strongly suggest anger is not the solution.
I am not, for one moment, defending the MRA worldview. I believe it is wrong, and based on a set of faulty suppositions – first among them, that men are not in a position of dominance in the world. As this is demonstrably not true, we could surmise that the supposition is based purely on the poor individual life experiences – especially vis a vis women – of Activists.
At the heart of the MRA philosophy, then, is a lack of empathy – they are unable to put themselves in the position of, say, a woman who deals with sexist abuse every day, who is afraid to walk home at night, who worries every time a man approaches her in a bar. Or a woman who can never get a promotion, while her less-qualified male colleagues go soaring past her.
So if that’s their starting point, what effect will a mass campaign of shaming and rejection have on them? I would suggest it’s unlikely to be positive – I would suggest it is likely to reinforce their feelings of oppression and isolation, and see them turn inwards to their existing communities of like-minded MRA buddies.
Shame can sometimes work as a tool to bring people into line – but it only works by relying on people’s innate desire to be accepted. As MRAs already feel like they are a persecuted minority, that isn’t going to work – and instead, all the many, many negative effects of shaming people will come into play.
What is the alternative, then? Empathy.
We need to try and understand where MRAs and other misogynists are coming from – not agree with their position, just understand it. And then, from a position of trust, we can have a conversation about how they feel, and why, and what could change.
Is this going to be easy? No. Is it going to be impossible for some people to swallow their anger, and start a dialogue? Yes. As Laurie Penny in the New Statesman writes:
“… as a compassionate person I am sick of being told to empathise with the perpetrators of violence any time I try to talk about the victims and survivors. That’s what women are supposed to do. We’re supposed to be infinitely compassionate. We’re supposed to feel sorry for these poor, confused, vengeful individuals. Sometimes we’re allowed to talk about our fear, as long as we don’t get angry. Most of all, we mustn’t get angry.”
Laurie Penny has had rape threats. Laurie Penny has put up with this abuse. And Laurie Penny is justifiably sick of this shit. So, no, I am not suggesting that Laurie Penny – or any woman who has been on the receiving end of this bollocks – has to empathise with her attackers.
In fact, in a deeply ironic twist, this is really a conversation men need to have amongst ourselves, without women. Given these people’s feelings towards females, they’re not going to react positively to overtures from women – and triggering new waves of abuse is not going to help anyone.
First of all, let’s tackle “not all men” – an understandable response from guys who see themselves as blameless in this ongoing attack on women. So, no, not all men are violent, misogynist arseholes – but not all men are doing something about it, either.
Now here’s a funny thing: when someone makes a sexist joke or comment, non-sexist men can ignore it and not become sexist – but sexist men become more sexist. As there’s no push-back, the sexist feels that the comment is reasonable, reinforcing his mindset.
If you really are one of the good guys, your silence is not just passive – it is actively enabling sexist and misogynistic behaviour.
So let’s change this “not all men are doing something about it” – yes, ALL men need to do something about it.
Below are my thoughts on how we might do this. Feel free to disagree – I’m not a psychologist in any way, shape or form.
The first step is to look at your own life, your own behaviour. No-one is perfect – I am certainly not. When I think back to some of the things I’ve said and done in my life, I feel ashamed. Look at your behaviour, and work out how to change it.
The second step is not to remain silent. If you see someone making sexist remarks, call it out – gently at first, more firmly later if needed. But don’t just let it slide. At the very least, express your disapproval.
The third step is to talk about these issues with people who retain sexist or misogynist mindsets. Ask them why they think what they think – maybe that a woman is not suitable for a particular job role, or a bit of sexist humour is alright really. Explain the effects of this type of behaviour – especially on women and other men. Get them to think again.
Then there are the hard-core cases. Some people won’t think again. Some people are so ingrained in hatred of women that there’s nothing to be done to change their minds. How do we deal with them?
First, don’t get mad at them. Really. See above. But keep talking – keep pushing back, calling out the bullshit. Note that empathy doesn’t mean sympathy. And don’t exclude – the last thing these guys need is to be further isolated, only able to turn to online forums filled with like-minded misogynists.
Next, I think we can take comfort in the fact that, at least online, MRAs are almost exclusively men in their late teens or early 20s. So these are people at the start of their adult lives, with little life experience – they still think they know everything, have all the answers.
I think many MRAs will in time come to reconsider their views on their own, as they go through life and see how things work – or don’t work – in the real world. As they hear more from female family members or friends. As they see for themselves how easy men have it in comparison to women.
I dunno. Let’s see.
(That survey also reveals they are 98% white – this is not a surprise to me, but I think that’s a whole other discussion on white privilege, which I am not in any way qualified to have right now. Maybe another time.)
Finally, we accept that these people exist. Like racists, or homophobes, or conspiracy theorists, or Scientologists, there will always be a small core of people who hold irrational or unacceptable views. That’s it.
Honestly, though, I suspect a lot of the current MRAs and hard-core misogynists are stuck that way – products of decades, centuries of societal pressures which have elevated the position of the cisgendered heterosexual (and, yes, white) male above everyone else.
So the best thing we can do is to change the way society behaves – by doing all the stuff above, calling out the bullshit, examining our own lives, and so on.
“Feminists” have generally been assumed to be women – the male feminist is a contradiction in terms to many people, for no very good reason.
But if we want to change things, men need to become feminists. And why would we not want to change things? Why would we want to exclude 51% of our societies from joining in? That’s a really shit thing to do.
Predictably, #YesAllMen has started popping up on Twitter, full of men pushing back against #YesAllWomen.
Perhaps we can make a start at taking it back.