I was in semi-wakefulness for most of my childhood and some of my adolescence. Vaguely aware that something was bothering me but lacking the understanding of what it was or the words to express the bother. Certain terms and behaviors triggered strong dissonance, but as an adolescent I was unable to articulate why.
I’d hear the word ‘slut’ or ‘girls can’t *insert random activity/ability/skill/function*’ or see gender-unequal systems (for example the school I went to had a desultory attitude toward girls sport) and feel annoyed. This was exacerbated by my observation that no one else appeared disturbed by those words, behaviors.
I gradually woke up; a conscious process of self-education, navigating gender politics, socio-cultural mores and religion. Now, more awake than I have ever been, I sometimes fall into the classic echo-chamber trap. Just because me and mine are awake, doesn’t mean everyone is.
I am not talking about sleep, obviously. I am talking about wakening to the patriarchal hold that can go so deep you don’t feel or see the hold. The hold becomes the ‘normal’. When you can feel it and see it, only then can you see what ‘normal’ should look like. And a lot of people, regardless of gender, still don’t. Still don’t feel it, see it or seem to want to wake up to it.
I had a conversation with an early-30’s Pakistani male yesterday (let’s call him Man-Child, for convenience). I know him, he wasn’t just some random male I accosted and forced into conversation, I promise. In that conversation Man-Child began to describe why he feels so strongly about his current girlfriend. In his words “she’s a really GOOD girl, man. I mean, good. No messing around and shit. I mean she drinks, but that’s ok. See, man, other girls here; wow! I mean, one girl I was into tried taking me into a bathroom to *insert vague allusion to some sexual act * at a party. I mean, a party where her brother was! That shit cray-cray, man! Girls doing that stuff? So I know; I’ve got to keep this girl, this Good Girl.”
Let’s just pause and deconstruct this little speech.
First, the galling use of the word ‘good’; the binary into which women fall by dint of their sexuality and how they express it. ‘Good’ girls don’t a) have sexual intimacy outside the bounds of a defined relationship, b) don’t drink to excess, so they don’t risk becoming dis-inhibited and possibly expressing their sexuality outside prescribed bounds. ‘Cray-Cray shit’, on the other end of the ‘good-bad’ binary, are those who express their sexuality outside the confines of prescribed bounds (like a defined relationship). So, by associating sex and morality and by extension, sex and character, people like Man-Child continue to control and manage women’s sexuality and reinforce the social stigma against women with a sex-drive.
Another thing from Man-Child’s monologue was the take-home message: this girls sexuality was so controlled and circumscribed that she had to hide in toilets and was unable to take a man to a safe and comfortable environment to have sex. Lo and behold! A self-fulfilling cycle of social control has now been created: take them home->get judged and probably risk approbation from parents/older male siblings->so hide that ‘cray cray’ and take them to toilets in clubs so no-one finds out-> overlook the propensity for men to judge and stigmatize women and then talk about that judgement with other men who will do the same thing->get stigmatized and hide that sexuality even further.
The most frustrating was that Man-Child has, himself, had one-night stands, come home from clubs drunk and high. He has done all that because his freedom to consume dis-inhibiting substances and express his sexuality remains ungoverned. And he did not once try and equalize the actions: not once reflect relative to his own behavior. It wasn’t even a consideration. He just judged relative to gender- specific social standards.
Men like Man-Child, like the men who use the word ‘bitch’ “for emphasis” – What exactly are you trying to emphasize? Men who don’t even consider judging a person: their judgement is conditionally gender-specific; different scales for women.
And when their misogyny is pointed out, these men state one of the top defenses of the un-awake:
- Claiming that you over-attribute to gender
- Claiming you have lost your sense of humor
- Claiming you are over-sensitive
- Claiming their intent (whatever it was) is what is relevant and a legitimate reason not to change, regardless of the impact their actions/words have had
- Claiming you always have your activist ‘hat’ on and instead should ‘just be you’
My caring for your want to keep sleeping has come to an end. Whether you want to stay asleep for the safety of the known (the known status quo of gender roles and treatment), the comfort of the familiar (no need to be conscious or think, if I stick with what always has been) or because any change makes you feel dissonance (If I change, it means I’m either inconsistent or disloyal; either way, it’s uncomfortable), I care less than a little. Sensitivity to gently guide you to wakefulness is actually hurting me; I have to keep backtracking and Feminism 101-ing you. Nope; that’s what Google is for.
Wake up. Misogyny is still around and going nowhere till you feel it, see it and name it. And you need to be awake to do that.
So, to help you out and shake you into the first stages of wakefulness, a little deconstruction of your five favorite defenses:
- Claiming that you over-attribute to gender: Over-attribution, if I think in mathematical terms, can logically only happen after absolute equality has been achieved. And no where in the world is near that. So, no. I can’t be over-attributing.
- Claiming you have lost your sense of humor: Because I no longer find jokes aimed at me, jokes which function to keep me down, funny? That’s not a loss of humor, that’s a gain in intelligence. Try harder if you really want to make me laugh.
- Claiming you are over-sensitive: You cannot call a people that have been categorically subjugated, treated as spoils of war, property and chattel for longer than not, over-sensitive. They are only sensitive, vigilant to the very near past and what it took to get from there to here and still be nowhere near the finish line.
- Claiming their intent (whatever it was) is what is relevant and a legitimate reason not to change, regardless of the impact their actions/words have: Yes, I will judge your words by my perception. If your intent was good/harmless/positive and you care enough about my opinion to defend your intent, educate yourself before you open your mouth. I’m not saying you don’t have a right to express your opinion. But if that opinion is prejudiced, I will express mine.
- Claiming you always have your activist ‘hat’ on and instead should ‘just be you’: A hat? Defending just over 50% of the human race against a lifetime of subjugation is not an accessory. It is me. And me doesn’t come off.