You know, I loathe the stereotype of the academic/journalistic ivory tower full of people who have never had a real job in their lives and sit around thinking that thinking about things is a real occupation that comes with a paycheck and should be considered on par, in terms of stress, with a tour in Afghanistan. I tend to think those people don’t actually exist, that they’re just there in the imagination to make conservative politicians feel good when they cut teacher salaries.
Then every once in a while somebody comes along who is so totally solipsistic and oblivious to anything that could possibly by termed, even in derogatory fashion, to be any kind of “real world” that I have to wonder exactly what kind of smoking goes on in the smoking rooms of whatever institution gave this person her goddamn degree:
I believe that three things are true:
- It is quite possible to vehemently disagree with a woman for reasons that have nothing to do with her gender.
- Subtle sexism is nonetheless quite widespread.1
- Therefore, it is generally helpful to discuss sexist patterns in human behavior. However, unless the offense is really quite blatant, it is generally unhelpful in the extreme to accuse specific people, or actions, of being sexist. I mean, if someone says something like “I just don’t think women should have opinions on politics because they’re too stupid and overemotional to think clearly about anything,” then go to town. Otherwise, discretion is the better part of valor.
When you talk about generalities, you’re having a conversation. When you talk about specific people, you’re making an accusation. And that makes it very hard to have a rational discussion.
And a rational discussion is the most important thing here. Not being treated fairly, or decently, or even legally. A rational discussion is the key. Nobody raises their voices. Nobody gets upset. Nobody feels accused of anything accusable. We’re all civil and respectful and OH MY FUCKING GOD I CANNOT.
When you’re talking about a specific person who stares down your blouse every day in meetings, who shakes his finger in your face when he’s arguing with you, who tells your boss you’re just a bitch he can’t deal with, yes, you’re making an accusation against a specific person. Because that specific person is damaging your goddamn calm, preventing you from getting work done, and generally behaving inappropriately.
So sorry if that harshes the hypothetical seminar on sexism we should ideally have over fucking tea, but most incidences of shitty workplace and/or publicly sexist behavior are about specific people, behaving in specific ways, that piss a second specific person off. Thus the discomfort of an accusation, in an effort to solve the problem at hand.
Women don’t just call out sexism because sexism is bad in the abstract. They call out sexism because sexism does something to them.
In our society, accusing a specific person of sexism is now a very, very powerful weapon. And there is no such thing as a “conversation” at gunpoint. You can have a conversation or you can have a forced confession. You cannot have both.
Yes. Accusing someone of sexism is such a powerful weapon that all women who level such accusations are automatically made queen. They’re never told they’re lying or “remembering it wrong.” They never suffer any kind of retaliation or pushback, they never get told to sit down and shut up, to suck it up, to get over it. They never get labeled problem employees. They never get fired. They never get attacked, verbally or physically.
Actual conversations mean that the person you’re conversing with may have some other reaction than “You’re right, I agree, this is wrong.” But the power of an accusation of sexism, particularly when a woman is accusing a man, is such that it’s very hard to have anything approaching an actual discussion. His side is already scripted, and his lines consist of craven apology.
Actually, in my experience, his lines usually consist of telling me why I’m full of shit, or too “emotional,” or that my valid employment issue is a “personal problem” that I just need to deal with in order to not rock the boat. His lines usually consist of diminishing, jokingly OF COURSE, the idea that he may have interfered with my ability to do my job. His lines are scripted, all right, only the script is less “craven apology” and more “reasons you barely exist in the world.”
Comments are full of praise for the dispassionate way things can be handled when you act like they don’t matter to anybody at all:
Good article. This is where this conversation is headed. Mature, sober, fair. Contrasts with the craziness that has overtaken this conversation over the past few years. The center may not hold on this one, but at least someone is trying hard to set rational terms for dialogue.
Yes. Rational terms for dialogue. Between two robots who are sincerely interested in finding the most beautifully diagrammable way of asking a dude not to be such a goddamn choad to you all the time. Possibly once the robots are done with this, and the ensuing construction of said sentence, they could make up some signs and post them here and there, to remind people what the rules for civilized behavior is. Then again, that might be interpreted as an accusation.
Perhaps we’d better just think on this some more.