Caveat: I am aware that this post is self-important and melodramatic. The personal is political, and politics have real personal consequences for people.
I’ve been MIA for the last little while because grad school is exhausting, and because I was in remission, briefly, from my debilitating political hypervigilance (a result of Primary PTSD from 2008). But oh boy, things are spinning up again and as such I get to start getting harassed on my two favorite topics: political hypocrisy and feminism.
After alienating probably a third of my close friends by not supporting Obama and calling out misogyny and double standards, I’m starting to recover from the last presidential primary. I’m not really ready for the next one, but here it comes again, and I stand to get swept up in it regardless. The Facebook wars are already starting.
Friends who want to tell me that feminism is petty tribalism, and that instead we should just focus on justice in the broader sense and not emphasize our differences, but our similarities, as though that approach has ever in the history of humanity made a difference for anyone but a bunch of self-congratulatory white dudes, and that this isn’t a covert paving over of identity politics as illegitimate whining by the myopic minorities.
I was recently told by a dear friend (and really, the guy is very legitimately feminist) that he likes Hillary better when she’s not running for anything. Even taken at face-value, that one stinks. And for good reason. It’s a statement so entirely saturated in the repugnant media treatment of female politicians, vilifying them as castrating hawkish bitches or discrediting them as moronic bimbos any time they want something more than to be the ladies’ auxiliary to the Big Boys Club, that it carries the same misogynistic stench.
I don’t accuse my friends of hatefulness. I know them well enough to understand that their motives are good and that their brains and hearts are engaged. At worst I accuse them of being insufficiently critical consumers of the desperately skewed memes perpetrated by a corporate media (with trickle-down effects into the so-called independent internet news sites and blogs) that is solidly in the tank for whomever their corporate masters point to.
I’ve also been drawn into a conversation about how Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann are unmitigated evil. Which, coming from the hardest core of the hardcore liberals I know, would likely not bug me much, except for the covert sexism in the conversation. See, when people bring out the vitriol about Palin (or Bachmann, although I know more about Palin, and so feel more comfortable discussing her), it usually takes one of three approaches.
There’s the rarely seen, but beyond reproach: “I hate her policies. Having done extensive research into her legislative background from a balanced set of media sources, I can safely say that I despise her fiscal conservatism and her use of jingoistic rhetoric.” There’s the common and obviously reprehensible “She’s a fat whore-bitch cunt. I’d like to stuff her mouth with my cock so she can’t say such stupid shit…” or whatever disgusting misogynist bullshit the fourteen year old trolls are ladling out today, while masturbating furiously with their non-dominant hand.
And then there’s my absolute least favorite, callow piece of subterranean misogyny: “I totally hate Palin. She’s an evil conservative, and as the leader of those tea-party crazies, she’s a major threat. I don’t understand how someone that stupid has gotten so much attention. I’m not against women in politics, but she’s fucking scary.” Parse it carefully. No “bitch”, no “whore”, no reference to her kids. Nope. The sexism is pretty insidious.
These conversations almost always occur in a way that puts Palin in a vacuum. Why is she scary? Because she holds conservative values! Because she’s associated with Republicans, who we all know are on the other side from us, and are therefore stupid! But look carefully. How often do these conversations mention Palin’s male peers who are often far MORE conservative than she is? How often do these comments get bookended with denigrating comments about Romney or Huckabee or Pawlenty? Nope. It’s always Palin and Bachmann.
Is this because women should know better than to hold divergent political views, and these two should fall the hell in line? Is it that women are supposed to be naturally Liberal, given their uterus-driven propensities towards nurturance and thus big government? Is it that women are just held to different standards across the board? That women don’t get compared to their male peers because their accomplishments and flaws must always be qualified on account of their gender? Is it that our culture’s treatment of women just makes it easier to criticize females, regardless of whether the criticism is merited, regardless of whether we can back up our perspectives with evidence, regardless of whether we want to use blatantly sexist slurs or consider ourselves above it?
I guess it depends somewhat on the person. Most of my friends are too smart for most of that stuff. But I’d guess that that last part plays in to some degree in all of the conversations that follow that script. It doesn’t matter why it happens so much as it matters That it happens, though. Memes are like that, they’re viral. The more they’re voiced, the more they self-replicate. Letting people make those statements unquestioned is not only condoning that misogyny and ignorance, it is perpetuating it. Sometimes giving voice to these objections costs us dearly, and let me tell you I am Not going to enjoy this.
But this is what I have to look forward to for the next two years. I’ve seen video footage of cadaver dissections. I’ve seen animals slaughtered. I’ve been to a peep show that had semen spattered on the floor so thickly that I almost slipped in it. I recently spent an hour trying to talk a suicidal woman into going to an emergency room. I have heard first hand accounts of atrocities. None of those things have made me nearly so ill as the idea that my friends might come to be infected with the same zealotry and misogyny that took so many before them in 2008. So staying quiet is not an option. It is up to those of us who know better to yell as loud as we can that this shit is not okay, no matter what it costs us.