I have not written a word in months, and barely read any blogs at all. Even so the sorry outlines of ElevatorGate seeped into my consciousness. If you don't know what I'm referring to, consider yourself lucky; if you need to find out, read Jennifer Ouellette's recent excellent post which talks about it in a broader context. I love everything about Jennifer's post and especially love her call to action at the end...and yet...I'm left brooding on part of it. This part:
She was careful to say that she has not encountered blatant sexism of the most egregious sort, although she has endured unwelcome awkward flirting: a wink and a hand on the knee, lame attempts at playing “footsie” with her under the table during meetings, and of course, tacky double entendres. Even then, she cut the guys a lot of slack; it’s just social awkwardness, she rationalized, not a malicious attempt to make her feel uncomfortable — and yet, she does feel uncomfortable.
Ouellette is writing about a young woman who reports that she feels "constantly objectified" while working at CERN. Ouellette goes on to provide a very good discussion of the concept of a "chilly climate" and how it negatively affects women in science. Yet I would argue that feeling "constantly objectified", having unwanted hands touching your body, goes something beyond a chilly climate and moves us into the territory of hostile work/learning environment.
What does constitute blatant sexism of the most egregious sort, if it does not include feeling constantly objectified, having men touch you when you don't want them to, and being treated like a sex object in professional settings?
Do we have to get raped to call it blatant sexism of the most egregious sort, and anything short of that is just a chilly climate?
Can we agree that rape is something beyond sexism - it is sexual assault, a crime - and that blatant sexism might include a whole host of things that fall short of rape but that are worse than a chilly climate?
Being subjected to unwanted touching means that your colleagues look at you primarily as a sexual object and moreover, a sexual object who is free game for their advances. They need not ask beforehand, they need not establish consent - just reach out and touch someone! If you like what you see, grab it and go. After all, if you are rebuked, it can be written off as due to your social awkwardness. Surely at no time in your twenty, thirty, forty years or more on this planet did you have the opportunity to learn any of the norms of human mating behavior, let alone how one conducts one's self in a professional setting. You certainly have had NO opportunity to learn to think of women as human beings, that's for sure!!!
Ouellette includes in her post a link to this comic by Gabby Schulz, which is linked through the phrase "mirrored every internet comment thread". Gabby's comic is titled "How every single discussion about sexism and woman-type stuff on the internet (and in real life) has ever happened and ever will happen, always, forever, until the earth finally falls into the sun. (Or until the patriarchy is dismantled.)" But her whole blog post is titled "In which we betray our gender". It may be worth thinking about why she gave it that title.
Here's the thing. No matter what you say, no matter how nicely you say it, the d00ds are going to go batshit insane whenever you dare to suggest that sexism is afoot, and/or that one of their d00dly brethren has behaved poorly. People who have some power and some relatively comfortable positions need to stop making excuses for the d00ds. No, they aren't just socially awkward - they are fucking sexist assholes steeped in privilege who think they own any woman's body they see. Ouellette gets this when she quotes the Social Network line that took my breath away when I saw the movie: “You’re going to go through life thinking girls don’t like you cuz you’re a nerd, when really it’s because you’re an asshole.”
But then...it makes me gnash my teeth in despair that in the middle of her excellent post, Ouellette has to stop and write this:
Let me be clear: I like men, and enjoy their company.
Because OMG, their wittle feewings might be hurt if they weren't absolutely sure and reassured all the time that every woman on the planet likes them! All of them! All men! Even the assholes! We can't just talk about endemic sexism and horrible incidents of harassment, no, we have to also say, "but hey, you guys, you know, it's cool, because I like guys, and I like to fuck them and all, so don't worry, whatevs." In which we betray our gender. Because if you don't betray your gender that way, you are a man-hating feminazi. And no woman wants to be that, nosiree! Why, the very woman who is the subject of all that constant objectification at CERN, who is discussed at the start of Ouellette's post, declares
I did not expect that CERN would start me on the road to being a cynical feminist, a type of person I previously dismissed, but which I now understand.
Oh dear. So, becoming aware of the fact that you are being constantly objectified and being subjected to unwanted touching, and not taken seriously as a professional, and making the mildest of complaints about this situation, is equivalent to being a "cynical feminist"? It's not, like, standing up for yourself? Demanding decent treatment? Just, you know, being a regular feminist? Which is a good thing?
Well, so let me be clear: I like men who deserve to be liked. Men who are worthy of my respect. Men who treat women with respect, as autonomous human beings. Men who are not groping gaping assholes. Men who can behave like professionals in the workplace and educational settings. Men who don't assume that because someone has tits and a pussy, she must be there to provide visual and other pleasures, not for any other reason. Men who understand that it is necessary to establish consent before engaging in any kind of sexual behavior. Men who understand women in the workplace are there to work. Men who will call out other men on bad behavior. Men who don't need their little egos stroked every five seconds. Men who aren't so terrified by women who challenge sexist behaviors that they feel a compulsion to vilify them. Men who don't abuse little kids, rape women, coerce their sexual partners, or bully, beat, or emotionally abuse women. Men who resist the urge to mansplain.
I don't care who you are - the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a tenured professor, some fancy-ass physicist at CERN, the Pope, or my own brother - if you can't meet these MINIMAL expectations of decent human behavior, why the hell are you walking around calling yourself a man in the first place? What you really are, is a man who hates women.