I’ll get back to my blogging about my surgery recovery probably tomorrow, for those here for that. Also, I will give a disclaimer that, like my post coming out about being an atheist, this one’s gonna be long.
For years on the internet, there’s been the trope of the “nice guy”, and I even came upon this wonderful definition of Nice Guy Syndrome on Urban Dictionary:
Clearly, this was good fodder to make fun of other guys, you know, those guys who clearly are Nice Guys (capital letter), totally and in all ways unlike me. And like all great revisionist history, it lives on the very mantra that ‘if you repeat it enough, it must be true.’
I have, by my own admission, always been nice to women. Always. I’ve prided myself on writing strong female characters (back in my playwriting days). I was “a catch” in the dating pool. I stood up against sexism when I could. But never was *I* a Nice Guy.
And, like all great revisionist history, it lives on the very mantra that ‘if you repeat it enough, it must be true.’
Recently, I’ve been doing a strange thing and delving into my past – not into my memory banks, but into actual evidence of my past. Specifically I had watched an awful lot of my old stand-up routines that I had laying around, and I started rereading blogs from 2006-2007, the era just before meeting Ashley. And I was pretty startled by what I saw.
- “I really like brunettes. As in REALLY like them. I noticed this when I combed through my MySpace, and changed my top 12 people to girl friends I thought had hot pics. They were ALL brunettes, and one redhead just got knocked off the list. Blondes, prove me wrong!” – 9/24/06
- “I’ve found that if you tell people you collect something, people will buy it for you. I have bought exactly zero of my monkeys, and only one of my spatulas. And now that I write a fake wine column, I have been getting wine as a gift more frequently. This is interesting. I would like to publicly announce that I starting a big-boobed, fun, undiscriminating woman collection. So there ya go.” 1/2/07
- “They’re insidious, they’re perfidious, outside cute but inside hideous. Inconsistent, often distant, persistently sense-resistant.” – lyrics to my song “Women Are Insane” (written 2005)
- “I’m still single. And I don’t know why, I try pick-up lines. I mean, I try the standard ones. I’ll say, ‘Did it hurt?’ And she’ll ask, ‘Did what hurt?’ And I’ll say ‘THIS’ (mimes hitting her)” – joke from my stand-up
- And most abhorrently, this blog post about my Halloween costume in 2006.
A costume which, I should add, received not one word of condemnation from anyone at the time, male or female.
I could, if this was a blog post defending myself, get into the whole “is it okay for comedians to cross taboo lines for the sake of a joke” argument. I could argue that I was just appealing to the lowest common denominator (at least in terms of my stand-up) and trying to appeal to others who could relate, regardless of whether I truly believed these things or not. But this is (hopefully) not one of those blogs.
I remember distinctly getting into a conversation in around 2010 with a brilliant friend of Ashley’s and mine, Susie, after playing for her “Women are Insane”. She wasn’t appalled, but made no bones that she thought the song, while featuring clever wordplay, was a) not funny and b) she didn’t care for it. I argued HARD and reiterated how I don’t “actually believe these things”, but I was just doing it for the sake of a funny song.
Looking back over my body of work, however, I was pretty bitter towards women. That’s an understatement. I was angry at women. I was, without any qualifying language, a Nice Guy. Sure, I wasn’t a Nice Guy who, when I didn’t receive a response from a woman I messaged on OkCupid, would message her back calling her a slut or a bitch. I never did that. But that made me no less a Nice Guy, as much as I managed to convince myself otherwise.
Really, as I look back on it today, it was all deflection. In high school, and certainly more so in college, you only had to look as far as how I dressed to see that I wanted to deflect the reasons why I was “always single”. Sure I never actually approached a girl I fancied and even instigated the most basic of conversation with her. Sure I would avoid going into situations where I might meet females with like interests as me, and would instead go to a loud bar, drink quietly, and leave disappointed. Sure I would drink at social events (at least after 2000), thus presenting possibly the worst image of me that I could to anyone knew who might be there. But it wasn’t those things (and others) that kept me single, it was CLEARLY that women couldn’t handle a man who chose to dress in a unique way! That MUST be it! Man, I remember defending myself over and over again in college that I dressed that way because “it’s comfortable” and “it shows off my individuality” and all sorts of other horseshit lines.
No, it was so that, in my Nice Guy brain, girls had a REASON to reject me out of hand, so I never had to feel the sharp sting of rejection naturally.
I would heavily lace my stand-up sets with jokes about being single, about it must having to do with my “European teeth” and my “Middle-Earth complexion”. Self-deprecation was simply another deflective tool that allowed me to put the onus of my singledom back on women (it’s THEIR fault they couldn’t look past my physical shortcomings, NOT MINE!)
There’s been 3 different moments of change that have molded me to where I am today – which I want to stress is probably still not as far along as I need to be. I call myself a ‘feminist’ but I’m probably at best only an aide to the cause.
#1. The realization that sexism isn’t always overt.
This began at my old company. I had landed one of my best friends, an extremely qualified and capable woman, a job with my company within two weeks of me working there. She was clearly given tasks of importance, and paid commensurately (probably even more than me, though there were other factors at play). So most MRAs (the so-called “Men’s Rights Activists”) would probably say that she was all good and there were no problems based ONLY on those two facts.
That’s when I started seeing the everyday sexism and misogyny at play. On emails that related to policy and things that all the longtime employees should have had say in (she and I were both considered upper middle management, I suppose), it was addressed only to men, myself included. She would be left out, even if it was something that applied to her department(s) more so than mine. I started replying to them and CCing her “You forgot to add [co-worker’s name]”, trying to bring it to their attention that maybe it was an oversight. Once is as oversight; repeatedly is deliberate sexual exclusion.
It wasn’t just policy emails. She would often make very sensible, cost-cutting, or time-saving suggestions to the company that would be either ignored or outright rejected. Then, with only a little time having passed, I would suggest the same thing – unaltered – and it would be, at worst, listened to, and at best, adopted. Again, this happened with regularity.
She would be interrupted mid-sentence at times when she was making a point, and people would often tell her that she needs to “speak up and be heard” more. Dress codes seemed to apply more to her than to me. I was given infinitely more flexibility with times it was okay to work from home; when she worked from home it was often met with sarcastic side-of-the-mouth comments or begrudging acceptance.
Any one of these things on their own can be dismissed as someone having a bad day or an oversensitive imagination, but when you start to add them up, it paints a very clear picture. This was eye-opening for me. I had been pretty adamant that I was never sexist, but that was, looking back, using one very particular and not-at-all complete definition of the term sexism. Sure I never hit a woman, or demanded I get paid more than someone comparable, or told her to “get in the kitchen and make me some waffles” or – wait, no I did the latter, because “it was funny, right?” The point is, sexism isn’t just in-your-face sexual harassment/rape, or outright telling a woman she shouldn’t make as much money because women can’t do the things men can do. It’s not like you need to be an 80’s movie bad guy to be sexist – it can be and is far more subtle than that.
2. Meeting Ash.
She’s always had a strong and closely-held belief system, but I think we’d both admit that when we first started dating, she probably would not have defined herself as a feminist, at least not to the extent she is now. However, as she has grown as a person and made choices that have impacted both our lives, it’s given me the opportunity to grow with her.
For years, I would tell her that I preferred her hair long, because that’s what I always liked. And she acquiesced despite the fact that she would probably shave it off completely if it were socially acceptable at her place of work. But there came a time when she realized “this is MY body that I keep for myself.” It’s not that she actively wanted to do something I disliked, but I see/touch her hair far less than she does.
So she cut it short a few times. At first, I had to “grow to like it”. Then later she decided she would stop shaving her legs. Again, I had my preferences, and as much as I probably imagined I was fully supportive at the time and said nothing, I’m sure I made under my breath criticisms. Because I was still growing.
Then she stopped shaving her armpits. And that’s when it finally occurred to me – it’s her body. I can have any preference I want, and I can even voice my preferences (when prompted), but that’s where it ends. She is in NO way obligated to live her life by anyone’s standards, preferences, or beliefs but her own, as long as those choices don’t negatively impact others. By this time (a few years ago), I no longer found myself having to “come to accept” these decisions, I fully supported her making any choices with her body.
We both started gaining weight, and at first I started saying “we should really go to the gym” which sadly turned into “you should do sit-ups”, said, of course, in the MOST supportive tone I could muster. And for most of the time, specifically with her, she was happy with her body, extra pounds and all. And that realization again hit me. If she’s happy, still healthy, still athletic, then more power to her. Only recently has she started to become unhappy with parts of her body, and only at those times do I offer ACTUAL constructive things (“why don’t we set specific days where we can do yoga?” or “okay, Thursdays and Sundays will be your days to go to the gym, I’ll watch the boys”). In my revisionist history, I always did that. In actuality, it’s been far more recent than I’d like to admit.
Further, in knowing her, it’s given me access to various groups and online communities that I never would have thought to join before, namely a couple different feminist FB groups and the like. It’s given me firsthand looks at thread after thread after thread of women sharing personal stories that back up what I’d been discovering – that despite all the talk of “equality” that men seem to tout, we’re not even close to where we need to be.
3. “Not every man sexually harasses. Every woman has been sexually harassed by a man.”
This is the big one. I wish I could remember where I first heard this, but I first heard it probably around when the first catcalling video became a viral sensation. Around this time also appeared the “Not all men!” counterargument, which is the “All lives matter” equivalent to gender inequality. It’s also, going back to the beginning, the Nice Guy argument. ‘Since *I* don’t do those things, they must not be happening.’ This oddly sounds like the Snowball-in-Congress argument for why Climate Change isn’t real. I’m straying.
Men (MRAs in particular) want to dismiss women’s claims of harassment, misogyny, even rape, as anecdotal evidence. And when statistics and scientific research are introduced that back up that research, men will go out of their way to grasp at straws to counter these, often times with their own ‘research’ that fails to actually use citations to any studies and/or without any scientific basis. It becomes more important to them to attempt to disprove what is being said rather than listen to the overall message and emotions being relayed.
And that’s the heart of the matter, isn’t it? Women aren’t being heard. When a man responds to “women want to be treated equally as men in all facets of life” and he responds with “does that mean it’s okay if I hit them?” they’re not listening for one minute to what’s being said. They are merely deflecting the entire conversation with a strawman argument instead of actually hearing that the woman is expressing how they have been mistreated in some fashion. And that particular example I gave is pretty overt, but there are much more subtle ones as well.
I recently was engaged in a long conversation on Facebook based on a post my wife put on my wall. It was about a cool garage-door screen door insert that can come down when the main door is up, allowing a kind of lanai-garage deal. It was a cool idea. Two of the first three comments were unsolicited messages by friends of mine – both men – who said why it wouldn’t work, either in general or for Ashley specifically. The next comment was by a woman calling out these guys for mansplaining all over the thread because Ash is a woman.
A year ago or more, I would have bristled at the tone that the women eventually took on in this conversation, because it was clear to EVERYONE involved that the two men were not deliberately telling Ashley what she could and couldn’t do BECAUSE she was a woman. Nobody accused them of that. But the men still could not understand why the women seemed to take issue with this.
As the conversation progressed, the men clearly became more dismissive of the women’s complaints, claiming that they were hypersensitive. And let me be clear, I don’t consider EITHER of these men to be misogynists, per se. Again, at least not in the most overt definitions. So I eventually chimed in, hoping to play the outside-observer and be a man’s voice to help relate the issue to the other men. The following are what what I typed and one friend’s response.
It got more heated and, ultimately, it appears both men unsubscribed to the conversation because they felt attacked. I mentioned before that in the past I’d seen my wife in conversations with friends of mine (and others) where I felt she and other women were overly harsh to men who were, by all tokens, pretty good guys. I’d not ONCE seen them take this aggressive tactic to MRAs who actually deserve it, but they were very vehement to the on-the-fencers. That used to bother me, but it no longer does, and here’s why:
There is an amazing video I saw recently (dealing with race) about the difference between non-racists and anti-racists. I think that applies very directly to sexism. My two male friends are certainly non-sexists – they’re both married to strong women and treat them as equals as far as I have seen. But that isn’t to say these men are anti-sexists. In dismissing the women’s opinions and feelings as being hypersensitive and taking it personally, they became non-misogynists. It’s the very reason that Black Lives Matter hasn’t targeted Trump or Cruz in their demonstrations, instead going after Bernie Sanders, someone who aligned with their beliefs probably better than anyone. It made me mad at first, until I saw that he immediately took what they said to heart – he LISTENED – and immediately reacted appropriately. The Civil Rights movement of the 60s saw no traction when they went toe-to-toe with those that villified them most; they saw drastic improvement when they went after the impartial white majority, even the sympathetic white majority (who weren’t actively doing anything to further the cause). THAT’S why my “good guy” friends – the ones who probably agreed on a basic level with much of what true feminists have to say – were targeted as harshly as they were. True change doesn’t seem to happen when you sit around quietly hoping it will.
Because my two friends left the above conversation early, I wasn’t able to type my response, which would have been:
“Yes, [person], you DO need to consider their gender when you choose your words, and not because you need to treat them a hand-holdey way due to their gender. There needs to be an acknowledgment that, as women, they’ve spent their entire lives being shown near-constant oppression, both in the blatant manner of which you’re washing your hands, and in far more subtle manners like what you’ve demonstrated in this conversation so far (initially giving unsolicited opinions about how their desires won’t work or are wrong for them, and later dismissing their opinions about this).
You say that you’d speak the same way to a man, and I believe you 100%, but if you go to that man’s FB page and look at his feed, you might see one or two sentences in the imperative tense (do this, don’t do that). On a woman’s page, you’ll see men all over it giving orders, and many of them in a pejorative fashion. While that is something you should consider as a personality trait you might want to work on in general – in your words, being “a condescending jerk” to both genders – you should definitely give extra thought when acting towards/speaking to women.”
It extends further. In a recent IRL conversation with one of my most progressive
friends, he seemed shocked about Gamergate – not that it exists or the severity with which it exists, but that something like that COULD even exist. I don’t even necessarily fault him for it – he (like me) is the beneficiary of great [white] male privilege. If you don’t actively look for these things, it’s easy to assume they just aren’t there. When me, a cis white guy friend of mine, and our wives all chimed in with specific examples illustrating the abomination that is Gamergate, he was aghast but to his credit he just listened (after a few initial dismissals and meager Devil’s-advocate explanations).
I’ve seen it firsthand: I’ve seen an anonymous stranger (responding to a not-particularly incendiary comment made by Ash) hope that her children drown. I’ve seen threats made online to stalk/hurt/rape/skullfuck/kill women more than I should have (which is zero – zero is the number of times I should ever have seen something like that). I’ve yet to read one comment of a woman threatening to do any of these to a man. And even if someone wants to show me an isolated piece of anecdotal evidence of a woman threatening a man in such a fashion, or a man threatening another man in such a fashion, it wouldn’t matter – it doesn’t negate the abundance and severity of the the threats women receive on a daily basis.
In doing some soul-searching, I answered my own question that I posed in that 2007 OkCupid journal entry where I asked, “Are women not responding to my messages because they are on high alert – there are plenty of crazies on the internet – or am I just goofy-looking?”
The answer is that they don’t owe me a damn thing if they don’t want to. I put my lure out there and didn’t get any hits. Boo for me. We weren’t compatible, or I wasn’t interesting enough, or my message got lost in the mire of messages from other Nice Guys who were calling their targets useless cunts for ignoring their self-aggrandizing message. It doesn’t matter. The women didn’t respond. And that’s fine.
It’s taken me probably 15 years or more to stop blaming women and start looking internally at what I was doing, how I was behaving, and how I *actually* treated and thought of women, not just how I framed that I did. I could perhaps contend that I was never a sexist/misogynist, but I was, at best, a non-sexist/misogynist. I certainly fed on and spewed out the same lame stereotypes that have been hampering women’s grown for
years decades basically ever. I’ve only recently become an anti-sexist/misogynist. I would like to think I’m a feminist, but really, that title is earned after not just a few months/years of recognizing one’s past failures.
I don’t actively have friends who are outright sexist/misogynist, but jeebus knows I know very few men who are actively anti-sexist/misogynist. And really, that’s what this is all about – that’s why my feminist friends pounce on the non-sexists instead of the MRAs. And that’s why I (and others), as cis white men who experience just about every privilege out there, need to start being more than voyeurs and start becoming actively engaged. It’s more than not being a Nice Guy. It’s more than “don’t harass women, don’t catcall women, don’t rape women”. Those are important, but they only address the obvious parts of sexism.
- LISTEN to women. You may have 100 reasons why their complaint is, in your mind, invalid. But just listen to what they’re saying, to the emotion behind the circumstance. Save your negation for when you’re specifically asked for your opinion. In a workplace environment, the best ideas come from ALL sources, not just the people in positions of power.
- Get rid of tired stereotypes that you’re using just for laughs. If you’re a professional comedian who makes a living that way, let’s have that discussion. But if you’re going to defer to “women are insane” or “a woman’s place is in the kitchen”, or “barefoot and pregnant” in the sake of humor, rest assured that the jokes aren’t funny and that you’re doing an entire gender no service by perpetuating antiquated tropes.
- Call out bullshit. This goes for both genders. I’ve seen some inexplicable slandering of women and their experiences by other women. And by call out bullshit, I don’t mean “trust every woman implicitly no matter what she says/alleges strictly because she’s a woman”, but when you see a woman make a point and she is countered with total strawmen arguments and diversionary tactics, call. it. out. I don’t care if those men setting up the strawman arguments are close friends of yours – silence keeps the status quo, and the status quo is NOT equality.
- Do your research. Make sure your articles about any topic (gender pay inequality, sexual assault, Gamergate) offer links to actual studies and surveys. That way, when the counterargument meme gets sent to you, and it is clearly from a Republican think-tank that has no actual links to back up its points (or, as in this graph, no actual Y axis), you are able to accurately refute your research. Don’t think this is just a right wing slag – I’ve seen more than my fare share of Dems linking articles that are baseless in fact. And if you do choose to argue a feminist about woman’s issues, do enough research to know that your points are not from an admitted MRA source, but from independent sources.
I hadn’t meant this to be a rallying cry – it was supposed to just be about my journey from someone who thought he was a feminist to someone who’s now much closer to actually being one. I wish it didn’t take me this long to get where I am today, but I encourage anyone else who describes themselves as feminists but asks why he should be allowed to hit women “if all things are equal” to stop using the word ‘feminist’ to describe yourself. You’re lying to us, and you’re lying to yourself. In the words of that video I linked earlier:
We need to stop being “non-” and start being “anti-”.