I’ve written this post partly as a response to the recent behaviour of Rupert Read, the philosopher and Green MP who decided to be a half-hearted feminist for a bit then backed out once he realised that – surprise, surprise – feminists get loads of shit and said shit is, like, dead upsetting and stuff. It’s set me thinking on just how beneficial unacknowledged misogyny is to both men and women, and how so many people like to think they’re against the sexism but don’t link this to what would actually happen to them if they made a stand against the status quo. This is because people don’t really think about sexism very much, not even philosophers, but well, there you go. These are my thoughts on it and I don’t care whether you like them or not
Here are some things which will not happen if you speak out on behalf of women as a class: you will not get loads of people listening to your carefully worded, nuanced thoughts and saying “hmm, interesting, let me think about this some more”; you will not get people who disagree with you saying “sure, I think that’s one angle, but perhaps we could discuss it a little more?”; you will not get hordes of women eager to express their support and gratitude in public; you will not find people making connections between the problems you’ve highlighted and the surface-level examples of sexism they’ve noticed elsewhere.
If you expected any of these things to happen, then really you shouldn’t have spoken out in the first place. This is because such things would only happen if the class-based discrimination you are describing didn’t actually exist. If you have failed to consider this rather obvious point, assuming instead that since we’re all “basically in support of equality” it would therefore be fine for you to broadcast your important and valuable thoughts with impunity, then you still don’t get what “being oppressed as a class” actually means.
People don’t want to hear about how women think and feel. They don’t want to picture women as people whom others might actually have to negotiate with. They want “equality” insofar as they want the erasure of all measurable signs of women’s oppression (because let’s face it, these get a bit embarrassing). They do not, however, want this to come at the expense of being allowed to see women as whatever they want them to be at any given moment. We just don’t have space to accommodate the humanity of women as well as that of men. Sisterhood might be powerful, equality might be a fun badge to wear, but casual, unacknowledged misogyny is a hell of a lot more practical.
If anyone were to ask me which, feminism or misogyny, would be the most practical choice, I’d answer in a heartbeat: misogyny, stupid. Of course it bloody is, and that would hold true whether the person asking was male or female. It’s a total no-brainer, especially if you’re female. This isn’t a criticism of most men and women; it’s just the truth. Being a feminist – believing that women matter and trying to persuade others of this fact – does not have the magic effect of suddenly making women matter. Indeed, you will find in the short term that pointing this out really pisses people off. Plus the progress for which you’re fighting is so slow, due to woman hatred being so intractable, it’s not as though you, personally, are going to reap many benefits from making a stand. If anything, you’ll find the whole thing terribly depressing and enraging. Each time you witness some change, you will be confronted by another example of just how little women and girls are valued, and just how unwilling nice, liberal people are to put this in any structural context. You will, intermittently, wish you could go through some Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind process that would enable you to go back to not caring at all, or at least to thinking sexism was just some accidental absence of equality rather than something with an actual purpose (“if we just keep reminding people, they’ll get it in the end!”). Basically, being a feminist can be a total pain in the arse.
Being a lady misogynist, on the other hand, is fun, fun, fun. Well, okay, not that, but it does do much towards mitigating the direct effects of sexism on you. By this I don’t just mean externally (as in “everyone loves a cool girl”) but internally, too. You’ll feel less shit once you’ve persuaded yourself that: a) there’s no link between your sexed body and the discrimination you experience; b) most people who say they believe in equality have a clue what the actual impact of this would be, and c) when men don’t treat you like a human being, it’s probably your fault. This gives you the illusion of control, if nothing else.
Liberal men, meanwhile, might assume that their position of privilege allows them to take a more honest look at sexism and make noble statements as and when they see Wrong Being Done. This is bullshit. What the example of Rupert Read shows is men like the idea of being pro-feminist far, far more than the practical consequences. Whereas the practical consequences are more extreme for women, the likes of Read don’t seem to expect any consequences at all. They live in a bubble of male privilege, believing that if one says something reasonable, plenty of other people will see it as such. Alas, when you’ve thrown your lot in with the People Who Can Never Be Reasonable, you’ll get a tiny taste of what they experience every single day and your poor male brain won’t be able to cope. Feminism can be a fun philosophical exercise, but actually supporting it in a meaningful way? That would cost you. It would be inconvenient. You’d get associated with all those uppity, non-compliant women who don’t see their lives as a philosophical enquiry for males to engage in time and again. You might get called names and shit, and have to deal with damage to your reputation. Fuck that for a lark.
And so my basic point is this: men and women, if you are going to dabble in a bit of feminism, don’t be the kind of idiot who thinks “women not being seen as human” can ever be decoupled from “shitty attitudes towards people who see women as human”. Don’t think you’re special and that your super-special, extra-clever thoughts on the subject will win over the masses who regularly tell women who say the same (often far more eloquently than you) to fuck off and die. Don’t be the kind of unthinking tosser who decides “if loads of people think I’m wrong in objecting to the global oppression of women (which just so happens to be supported by loads of people), then shit, I must be wrong.” Basically, don’t bother. If you think you can mix theoretical feminism while pragmatically reaping the benefits of misogyny, you need to go back to basics. Read, listen to women, think, work out how much you actually owe. Take as long as you like providing that in the meantime you just shut up. And once you’ve made your mind up, don’t expect any thanks. You’ve already taken too long.