Ladies! Do you have problems dealing sometimes? Specifically, do you have problems dealing with THE SEXISM?
Yeah, you do. Because it’s cool; because it’s sooooooo much more sophisticated than that “feminism” thing (remember: sexism ended in the ’70s! We are beyond it! And we can prove that by being SEXIST again); because a substantial amount of the population doesn’t recognize its own sexism or else doesn’t care. Oh, and also because standing up to this population can be scary and gross at times. THE ENEMY IS WITHIN.
For the sake of reference, let’s call this population “douches!” And in this edition of SEXIST BEATDOWN, the delightful Amanda Hess of The Sexist and I shall discuss both the trials and joys of douche management. With delightful examples from Rebecca Solnit and Deborah Solomon, douche managers extraordinaire!
ILLUSTRATION: First you’re calling people out on their sexism. Then you’re forgetting to put Lysol up your vagina. It’s a slippery slope, people!
SADY:: why, good day, madam! allow me to EXPLAIN why we should talk about dudes who EXPLAIN things to the ladies. and other assorted douches!
SADY:: i have indeed read the article you recommend. which is delightful! and i have been thinking about douches all week long. seems to me they are a reoccuring problem in human life! specifically, douches of the SEXIST variety.
AMANDA: yes. first i’d like to say that we are all, at one point or another, douches. some douches, however, endure, and withstand the test of time.
SADY:: right. it’s when “douche” stops being an accidental, occasional thing and becomes a lifestyle that you really have to think about strategies.
AMANDA: for example: the douchey guy who was explaining to Rebecca Solnit about this book that she wrote and he didn’t read that he thought she didn’t understand. i, too, have thought i understood things that i didn’t understand. i was once a tween! but when you grow out of your tweens and begin lecturing historians about nonfiction books they’ve recently published, perhaps it’s time to consider WHY you think you know the things that you don’t know.
SADY:: right: or (same article!) the douche-by-default who told this DELIGHTFUL story about how a neighbor’s wife had run out of the house and started screaming that her husband was trying to kill her. ha! ha! a merry jest! unless, you know, her husband was trying to kill her. a possibility Mr. DBD apparently didn’t consider. it’s people assuming that they have the right to define what matters and what doesn’t, and defining that 100% in their favor at all times, that i think makes a true douche.
AMANDA: one of the things that Solnit talks about is how strong gender roles play into her reactions to these affronts to her intelligence. she’s really, really polite! (and then, of course, balls up her outrage into a really awesome LAT opinion piece, but she’s polite to their faces) EVEN when, as she says, it’s completely obvious to everyone that these Men Who Explain Things are shitting their douche all over the place.
SADY:: right. and i think that’s the issue. one of the things a Sexist Douche capitalizes on is that ladies are socialized, more or less from birth, not to express anger or outrage publicly. not to be confrontational AT ALL, in fact. and the double-bind there is that, if you don’t express anger or outrage, people get away with walking all over you, and they can say that you “deserved” it. but if you DO, you’re not acting like a REAL WOMAN, and you are therefore absurd! fodder for a delightful joke yourself!
AMANDA: yeah, and even I—and I do not give a shit about censoring myself when I write a piece—I experience this pretty frequently in person. I’ve attributed it to shyness, but I think there’s a gendering in the form of deference that it can take. case in point: a male friend was telling me a story about how he was at a bar, and this college student aged women was sitting alone at the bar. and an older drunk guy was sitting next to her, and he was grossly flirting with her, and the college aged woman was humoring him - politely laughing at his jokes, etc. and my friend relayed the story back to me, saying that he thought the woman’s behavior was ‘disgusting,’ and he didn’t understand why she would flirt with the guy.
SADY:: uh, yeah. because it’s not like ladies routinely do that to NOT be called a bitch!
AMANDA: yeah! and the guy is drunk, and you don’t want trouble, and you just want to drink your beer.
SADY:: right. and i think some guys, not having done that, don’t realize how shitty and scary it can get. like, once i was walking down the block past a cafe with an open-air porch. and two guys make some loud comment about how my tits are SPECTACULAR and do i want to sit with them? and i say “fuck off,” as you do. and these guys GOT IN THEIR VAN AND FOLLOWED ME AND SCREAMED AT ME FOR LIKE FIVE BLOCKS.
AMANDA: i mean, why were you being such a bitch? I think that Men who Explain Things are kind of like Drunk Guy At Bar or Drunk Guys Who Like Boobs, that you either have to say, ‘fuck off, dude’ and risk their wrath, or just ignore it and nod along. because—in this article!—even when you try to politely correct them, because you are a polite woman who happens to know something, they won’t even listen and/or believe you. and it is a pain! as someone who has basically grown up with the internet, everyone can call everyone else on their shit pretty easily, and i know i’ve been called out as much as i’ve called other people out. but it’s been surprising to me how many people have just not even listened to me over the course of time. just physically not even listened! people who are not Drunk Explainy Guy, but rather My Friends
SADY:: right. and, i mean, i think it’s a form of asserting authority. if you Explain Things, you’re attempting to create an environment in which you are the expert and the lady you’re talking to is dumber than you. but if somebody challenges you, and you react with either belligerence or out-of-hand dismissal, you are still asserting authority. i seriously wonder if guys realize what a sexist power play this is. creating an environment in which you are the authority and objecting to you or calling you out on your shit is either unsafe or looked-down-upon or both. i mean, i am typically fairly confrontational one-on-one. like, confrontational sometimes in unsafe ways that have resulted in me being followed down the block or punched in the face or whatever. but i often, when there are people around, find myself being kind of disappointingly meek and subtle and caring more about whether i seem like a “good sport” than whether i’m articulating my point as fully as possible.
AMANDA: totally. can i tell a college story?
SADY:: oh yes!
AMANDA: SO IN COLLEGE, I think everyone has a little bit of Explain Things in them. you’re in college and you know everything, whatever. and in my college, in my group of friends, the positions of authority were (a) people who were funny, and (b) people who could buy beer. and so the jokes could get kind of competitive in conversation, and there were so many times that my boyfriend, who was also funny, would STEAL MY JOKES.
AMANDA: and not like, i would tell him a joke one day and he would use it the next day, among friends. i would make a comment, and he would repeat the comment—not necessarily louder, but from him—and then people would laugh! oh my god! it was torture! and a friend of mine, who was also dating a guy in the same circle of friends, recently reported the exact same thing. I know people could hear me, because he STOLE MY JOKES, but for some reason they weren’t funny until he said them
SADY:: AHHHH! This happens ALL THE TIME! I too have experienced the hell of Point/Joke-Repeating Torture!
SADY:: for me, it’s not often jokes so much as serious points. like, people like my jokes just fine. but in, like, work meetings, or classes, or serious discussions, i’ll say something (or another woman will say something, or a person of color will say something: it works along MORE THAN ONE AXIS, i tell you) and it won’t even be heard. or people will just kind of be like, oh! Whatever! The lady said something! ON TO SERIOUS BUSINESS. and then a dude will say the VERY SAME THING and people will engage.
AMANDA: the worst thing about this is that, uh, it comes off looking like a bit of a conspiracy theory. like, I KNOW I SAID IT. but nobody else seems to recall it in the same way, and the LA Times piece talks about that too - competing memories of the same event, where two people remember different things being said and happening (mostly: the douche remembers the lady being crazy and/or irrelevant), and only one of those memories is valued. it’s enough to drive someone crazy, but i do think that all of these things have really significantly affected my personality. like, i feel like i’ve definitely become a lot more confident in my ideas and my positions, and better at articulating them, since i started writing about lady stuff. but it’s likely that i’ve become shyer in person—just because after i’ve put myself out there i know how absolutely intense and insane the reeactions from strangers can be. the’yre scary, and it’s a lot easier to ignore them if they’re online
SADY:: oh, yeah. can i tell you the best/worst side effect of lady blogging for me?
SADY:: first, most of the people in my life read the ladyblog and have said kind things about it. so i am like, WELL! should i choose to weigh in on LADYBUSINESS, surely my opinion will be valued!
AMANDA: oh no…
SADY:: but then, since i have ALSO received so much feedback to the effect that i am an insane delusional preachy humorless feminazi, i also start worrying that everyone else thinks THAT of me, too.
AMANDA: yeah. YES. i TOO HAVE EXPERIENCED THIS. and honestly, part of it is a reflection of the fact that i just want to live my life like anyone and not bring my work home with me that if a dude i know makes a comment, i don’t necessarily step up to the bat. i choose my battles. but some people i think are afraid that i’m going to be a “bitch” to them!
SADY:: right! and the constant awareness of what people might think of you if they are huge sexists can actually make you the most incoherent person alive! “ha ha, well, I’M LAUGHING AT YOUR JOKE, but it’s really not funny, and I’M NOT INSANE, but i think that’s fucked up, BUT I WANT TO BE NICE ABOUT IT, but you are being an asshole!” this constant dance between feeling obliged to speak up and trying to do the insane performing-monkey Look You Can’t Stereotype Me Dance.
AMANDA: exactly. can we end by talking about someone who has managed to make a career out of conquering douchebags, Deborah Solomon?
SADY:: i believe we should do so!
AMANDA: i’m sure tons of people have called deborah solomon a bitch, but it doesn’t matter. at all.
SADY:: people are AAAAAAAANGRY about that NYT interview, dude! i have seen a LOT of reaction to the effect of “how dare she” and “she came off SO MUCH WORSE than he did” and etc. etc. etc.
AMANDA: that was the greatest interview of all time! i want to make one point about it: after she hammers him over the rape jokes and the racist jokes, she totally razzes him on technical aspects. so any reader who was like, ‘she’s some crazy feminazi’ gets very confused at that point … like, ‘she’s some crazy feminazi who … has a deep understanding of the work of a colorist?’
SADY:: yeah. that was what i loved: the whole “but i am a douche in the name of art” defense was completely shut down by her very specific criticism of the art itself. like, “actually, no, you are not a crazy diamond who must therefore shine on. you’re a hack, and your material stinks.”
AMANDA: also, ‘are you straight?’ that question was just a bonus, i felt like. i can’t really justify exactly why that question was asked.
SADY:: yeah. some people thought it was mean-spirited, in that there’s been speculation about his sexuality before from (shall we say) Less Than Enlightened sources! BUT, it got him talking about the women in his life and why he apparently doesn’t have any. and the “why is that” follow-up just blew my mind.
AMANDA: to me, i thought it showed that she was completely in control of the interviewsomehow, she had just really accurately judged him, and she was going to ask all the questions necessary to reveal him to the world.
SADY:: yeah. it’s the control radiating throughout the interview that i really loved. there was no “let’s play nice” in it. she was not only a character in the interview, she was the chief character. she got him in the room, she sat him down, and she put him in a position to defend himself on specific terms rather than push it off on how Bitches Just Don’t Understand. which: maybe Bitches don’t! But when one of the Bitches is sitting across from you, recording your words for the NYT, you best have a good answer planned, dude.