You have got to read this. No, really. And then you need to email it around, bookmark it, print it out and leave it on people’s chairs. While the author is an aethist and is discussing the issue from within the activist atheist community, it applies with absolutely equal force to Paganistan, both Pagan blogistan and the embodied Pagan community.
I love, especially, two of the author’s points. First:
When women explain to you — in a calm, nuanced, proportionate way — that there are some contexts in which your advances are less likely to be well-received than others, and you respond by sticking your fingers in your ears and screaming about ball-busting, man-hating feminists who are hell-bent on eradicating all flirting and sex and eroding your First Amendment right to proposition any woman at any time and place? When you resist hearing that hitting on a woman who’s alone in an elevator in a strange city at four o’clock in the morning is not likely to be well-received, that it’s likely to be perceived as a potential threat, and that you are likely to be perceived as an insensitive clod at best if you do it? When we explain ten times, a hundred times, a thousand times, that elevators are well-documented as a common place for women to get raped and that it’s therefore not an appropriate place to make sexual advances — and you still reply, “But I don’t understand what the problem is with elevators”?
I have to assume that getting laid is not the point.
I have to assume that the point is something entirely different. I have to assume that you will do anything to resist hearing that women experience male advances in a very different context from the way men experience female advances. I have to assume that you have an active resistance to understanding that women’s experiences are different from men’s: that (among other things) women routinely get our professional/ intellectual/ artistic accomplishments dismissed in favor of a focus on our sexual attractiveness, and that women have to be seriously cautious about physical and sexual violence from men. When you are so vehemently unwilling to see some of the ways that privilege works in your favor, I have to assume that maintaining privilege is the point.
Even if it reduces your chances of getting laid.
I know there are women in the atheist movement who are reluctant to point out examples of sexism. I know there are women who have raised this issue in the past and got a faceful of backlash for it, and now… well, they don’t regret it exactly, but they’re wary as hell about doing it again. And I know that a lot of us — women and men — are exhausted by this issue, and passionately wish it would just go away.
In fact, when I’m in a cynical, pessimistic mood, I often think that this exhaustion is part of the point. The really grossly sexist men — not the genuinely well-meaning men who don’t yet get this stuff and are struggling with it, but the seriously hostile, hateful, deeply entrenched in their misogyny men — are trying to get us so sick of the backlash, and so daunted by the prospect of having to deal with it one more freaking time, that we don’t ever want to bring it up again. They are trying to wear us down.
Once upon a time, in a baby-blue blogiverse, far, far away, one of the men used (and not for the first time) the term “pussy” to refer disparagingly to another man. Several of the women suggested that this was inappropriate. First, it disparaged a lovely part of women’s bodies and, perhaps even worse, it turned being a woman into an insult. The man fought back, and fought back, and fought back, and fought back (and, truth be told, is still, covertly and in a pretend “ha, ha, I’m making a joke about myself so you shouldn’t really complain and if you do, you’re taking things too personally and acting like a “queen bee” on the blog, and why ARE feminists so humorless?” kind of way, fighting for his privilege). No matter how many people (both women and men) explained to him why the term was inappropriate and hurtful, he continued, for months, to fight back. No matter how many people suggested that he’d never fight for the privilege of insulting white people by telling them not to “act so black,” or for the privilege of insulting European-Americans by calling them “Indian Givers,” he continued to fight back. And at some point, the only conclusion that anyone could reach is that he would absolutely fight forever to defend the male privilege of using womanhood as an insult. Male privilege, and his ability to wield it, mattered a hell of a lot more to him than almost anything else. And that’s one of the points that I think Greta Christina makes, brilliantly.
Here’s the thing. When you’re the colonizer, when you’re the person acting from a position of privilege, by definition you’re not going to see right away what’s wrong with what you did. Presumably, at least before being told, you wouldn’t have acted that way if you’d understood that it was hurtful, perpetuated sexism, endorsed homophobia, was racist, etc. And when you’re first called on it, your initial reaction, unless you’ve trained yourself, will be to be defensive, to insist that you didn’t “mean anything by it,” to claim that it’s “just an expression,” or “just a joke.” And those of us who are colonized, we get that. And so, when we can, we will speak up and tell you that what you said or did is wrong and we’ll tell you why. And then, you need to get that. And when you absolutely go out of your way and make yourself ridiculous not to get that, well, it’s pretty clear to us where your loyalties lie, what your priorities are, how much your privilege matters to you.
I’ve been there. Here’s (just one) example: For a long time, I used the expression “free, white, and twenty-one” in what I considered an ironic sense and thought that I was just being witty. You know: “Well, if you want to buy that dress, you should buy it. After all, you’re ‘free, white, and 21,'” or “If you want to order the appetizer, go ahead and order it. You’re ‘free, white, and 21.'” After all, no one could possibly imagine that I was a racist and certainly my tone of voice made clear that I was being ironic, and . . . . And then an African American friend of mine told me that it hurt her whenever I said that in her company. And my first, internal reaction was, “Oh, don’t be so sensitive. You know me. You know that I’m on your side. It’s just a witticism; in fact, I use it ironically.” But, because, as a woman and a Pagan, I have some experience being colonized, I decided to stop, meditate about what she’d said, and consider whether it was worth it to me to hurt my friend in order to keep being witty. And while I’ll never completely get the way that my friend gets what’s wrong with what I was doing, I decided that it wasn’t worth it to me to hurt her (or others, or to perpetuate a hurtful expression) in order to continue to wield my privilege as a white person. I’m (in my own mind) a pretty witty broad. I can find other ways to express myself and, as Sara Teasdale said, “buy it and never count the cost.” And I’m willing to empathize from my own experience and understand that I may not be capable of understanding, but I am capable of controlling what I say and do, when my privilege is brought to my attention. And, Goddess knows, there are still jillions of ways in which I act and speak from my own privilege and don’t even notice it.
I take Greta Christina’s second point, as well. In the incident that I described above, long after everyone else on the blog (weeks and weeks and months and months) was ready to just let the incident drop, the man defending male privilege followed a number of the outspoken women from thread to thread, topic to topic, hounding them about their having dared to call him out. Again, at some point, the only conclusion one could reach was that he was setting examples, making it clear to other women that there was a cost for daring to call out sexism, that if they did so, they could expect to be hounded forever. It’s the way the colonizers act when the colonized dare to speak up. And it has a clear objective: to shut down any criticism of the colonizers. It didn’t work over at the baby blue blog and, as Greta Christian notes:
So to those of you who are trying to shut us up: Knock it off. You’re making it worse. If you really are well-meaning and are genuinely trying to stop atheism from getting broken by huge fights… it’s not working. The more you try to shut us up, the more thousand-plus comment threads you’re going to get. So please don’t throw gasoline on the flames. Please help us move this thing forward.
And to those of you who are bringing this up:
Keep up the good work. Thanks.
Really, you need to click the link, head over to her blog, read the whole thing, email it around, post it on your facebook page, mail it to your crazy brother-in-law, read it and look in the mirror.
/hat tip to my beloved friend V.
Picture found here.