Leftist commentary from a mouthy bitch
I read PZ Meyers’ blog Pharyngula, largely because while I don’t have a science degree, I am a science nerd who thinks biology is neat, even if I don’t necessarily want to get it on my hands. I usually don’t bother with the comment threads, because as a skeptical, agnostic pagan, I find the absolutism of some of his regulars a little cranky making. But it’s their house, so I don’t poke them about it. However, after an incident of sexism at the American Atheists’ Southeast Regional Atheist Meet (SERAM), PZ created a couple of threads for discussion. In the first post, he specifically requested that men “shut up and listen” to women.
I think all of us who identify as women know how that went.
The threads turned into thousand comment monsters, full of men telling women that they’re just hysterical, over-sensitive, petty, childish, irrational, man-hating, (blah, blah, dogwhistle, blah) and women fighting back, and getting increasingly cranky as they did so.
This is the thing that drives me nuts about having these discussions on the internet. You post about Feminism, rape, abortion, or any issue relevant to women. The post generates HUGE comment threads, frequently populated by men telling you how you’re wrong and have no idea what life is like for women (even though you are one), but they do because they have a friend/sister/girlfriend. That you’re over-reacting, if all you little gals would just calm down and talk sweet-like maybe they’d throw you a bone (some of them mean this in all it’s innuendo-ish glory, some are blind to the pun).
The women nearly always start out patiently and calmly explaining why they’re upset, but round about comment 400, they start to lose their tempers as guy after guy jumps in and can’t be assed to read the rest of the thread, and so echoes the same nonsense almost every guy ahead of him has already said, all of which have already been answered by the women. AND each time one of the new guys brings up the debunked bullshit arguments again, or asks just why we have to be bothered by X, the guys they’ve already “discussed” this with chime in anew, or demand to know why the women are being “so mean to this poor guy who’s just asking a question.”
It’s maddening, really.
The downside is that some guys catch shrapnel they may not fully deserve. But then again, if they’d read the entire comment thread, their questions would already have been answered. So maybe they do kind of deserve it.
In addition to the well-meaning but clueless, and the tone arguments, you also get the outright combative. These guys are usually Mens Rights Advocates (MRAs), Nice Guy ™s, or other bottom feeders. They will tell you that all statistics but theirs are outright lies, including and especially anything from the Department of Justice regarding rape, domestic violence or who is usually responsible for kidnappings by non-custodial parents. I used to try to engage these guys, but it’s pretty useless. Their minds are made up, but good, and you can’t confuse them with the facts. Usually, if they’re respectful in their first approach, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, but I’ve gotten real short tempered with the “Nuh-uh!” method of debate. Any derailing tactics are named and furnished with a link to Derailing for Dummies.
This is the thing guys, and I’m not trying to be mean or to assume you’re stupid. I’m assuming that you’re not women, and so don’t notice a lot of the things we have to put up with. And that’s the key: YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO EXIST IN THIS WORLD AS A WOMAN. Just as I don’t know what it’s like to be a dude.
When we tell you what bugs us, we’re not being over-sensitive or “hysterical.” As my husband found out after becoming more aware of misogyny in society, we don’t have to “look” for things to get pissed off about, they’re everywhere. After he started paying attention, he would bring my attention to things I was blowing off because they were relatively innocuous, or just so ubiquitous that they didn’t even register anymore.
The incident that touched off the brouhaha at SERAM involved one of my pet peeves: people who use “women” and “females” interchangeably.
Why is this a peeve? Because, and I’m being generous, about 90% of people who use “females” instead of “women” are being condescending jerks, regardless of gender. The use of “females” generally denotes someone who feels superior to the “females” they’re discussing, whether it’s a conscious word choice or not. And yes, in the resulting kerfuffle over at Pharyngula, and the Blag Hag comment threads, you had several women trying to prove how “not hysterical” they were by saying that the use of “females” didn’t bother them.
Here’s an equivalent example I’d like to put forward. I call my male spouse my husband. I know all about the etymology of the word, and why some people don’t like it, but for myself I don’t care. That said, if someone tells me, “I prefer to call my male spouse my spouse or partner,” then I call their male spouse their partner or spouse. Why? Because they’ve indicated that’s the term they prefer, and deliberately not using it makes me a jerk. Am I going to slip up occasionally? Yeah, and usually people are pretty forgiving. Sometimes they’re not. And sometimes their forgiveness levels have precious little to do with me. If they’re consistently unforgiving about it, I may rethink whether we really are compatible as friends, but for the most part I’ve never had to.
Yes, there are uncompromising jerks on both sides of the debate, but honestly they’re a minority. A really fucking vocal minority, but a minority all the same. Most people are pretty reasonable regarding language and adapting to what’s acceptable.
The other thing that was brought up as a problem by female atheists, and a non-problem by the guys who don’t get it, is being constantly hit on while at atheist events.
I’ve done an entire series of posts here about how “Unwanted Attention is the Crux of Creep.” It’s the whole idea that your rights end where mine begin, and mine include the right to be left alone. If I’m on the bus, reading or playing with my phone and wearing headphones, odds are good I’m not inviting interaction. If I’m involved in a project at work or while sitting in a coffee shop typing frantically on my computer, I’m not inviting interaction. If I’m in a panel at a convention, paying rapt attention to the panelists, I’m not inviting interaction.
And when there are opportunities for interaction, say in the bar, restaurant or hallway, if you approach a women and she brushes you off, then leave her alone. Persistence is annoying, not adorable. Yes, Hollywood has LIED to you. If she’s been polite, or even if she hasn’t, don’t be a loud asshole about it. If she wasn’t rude to you, she doesn’t deserve it. If she was rude to you, then be the better person. I also include this because a lot of dudes think a woman turning them down, regardless of how politely she does it, is default rude. And, well, I hate to admit it, there are guys who will not take “no” for answer unless shouted at peak volume and accompanied by profanity and questions about their legitimacy.
The thing is, while PZ sometimes rubs me the wrong way, at least he gets it regarding gender. Women are neither the enemy, nor an alien species. However, we do have a different experience of the world. We get sexually harassed walking down the street, trying to take the bus, going to work, going to the grocery store. When do polite inquiry or attempts at interaction cross the line to harassment? After we say, “No, thanks” or “I’m flattered, but no,” or even if we just turn away from you without a word. Once a woman indicates she isn’t interested, back off.
This link is the follow up to the original guest post at Blag Hag. And regardless of the positive communication between the guest posters and the people (or some of the people involved in the panel), there are plenty of people calling for a “better apology” for daring to call out sexist behavior. There are plenty of people who feel that any criticism of a group you belong to is “counter-productive” and that belonging means you should, apparently, participate in blind obedience or dedication. Which is kind of disturbing coming from atheists of all people.