“Is this drink too girly for me?”
I was confronted with this exasperating remark one night at an East Village sushi bar; the drink in question being a sake concoction pictured with a flamboyant slice of lime garnishing its elegant glassware. The asker of the question was one of the most avowedly feminist guys I know.
Despite his feminist cred (mainly stemming from his telling people he’s a feminist, his condemnation of rape, and his sharing of feminist blog posts on Facebook), I had heard this guy make similarly chauvinistic queries/ remarks before (he doesn’t drink diet soda “because he’s a man”), and so I should have known to wait to deliver a lecture on culture’s devaluation of the feminine until such time as I could accompany my talk with a Powerpoint presentation.
But I didn’t. As I told him what was what, I saw a look come over his face—one that I’ve seen on other guys’ faces in similar situations, one that said “I don’t need to listen to this. I’m already a feminist. I tell people I am all the time.” When I was done, he said “ok,” and ordered the drink, giving me a look as he did that suggested he expected me to dig into my purse and pull out a medal.
Mentally plotting out the slides for that Powerpoint, I pondered how it could be that the most outspokenly politically correct men so often exhibit some of the sloppiest examples of what we in the biz call “everyday sexism.” That’s everything from the seemingly-courteous, such as opening the door for a woman (this means you assume she’s weaker than you and is thus implicitly disrespectful to her) right through to the downright obnoxious, such as mansplaining, slut/fat/any kind of shaming along those lines, and gaslighting.
These kinds of incidents are like the analog in feminism to people who are casually racist but excuse themselves by saying they have black friends or “don’t see race,” which to them should prove they’re not racist and, in their minds, apparently make them immune to ever being racist ever. It’s not coming from an active desire to do harm, it just shows a lazy attitude, because it means that, however implicitly, the person in question thinks claiming the label and liking the right Facebook pages is enough to be a good ally.
I propose that if you really want to be a feminist ally, or any other kind of ally for that matter, stop critiquing Rush Limbaugh and other similarly easy targets and start critiquing yourself. Because it’s one thing to say you’re a feminist, but another to say you’re a sexist. It’s another to admit that you interrupt women disproportionately more often than men, that you would hire a man over an equivalent woman, that feminism has something to teach you and is not merely a label you can adopt to feel like a good person.
Because being a privileged ally to any kind of social justice movement is basically all about realizing that, a lot of the time and in a lot of ways, you’re not a good person; that your modes of thinking are as standard-issue as an un-jailbroken iPhone. That what’s social justice is about. It’s not about claiming the title of feminist, it’s about admitting to the moments when you act less-than feminist, so you can be more mindful of them.
And by the way? I’m a sexist. And a racist. And class-ist, transphobic, able-ist—every prejudice you can think of is the default setting of my brain. But I’m working on it.