So, Michael Gove compares the risk and sentence-babbling stress of live interviews to entering a room with Harvey Weinstein and “hoping you leave with your dignity intact”. The world is infuriated and he apologises. Meanwhile, Ellen DeGeneres tweets a happy birthday message to Katy Perry which references “bringing out the big balloons”, beneath a picture of Ellen staring, eyes comically popping, at her open cleavage. The world is (apparently) not as outraged. What’s the big idea? Well, the way different demographics are stratified in society which forces them into overarching sociological power dynamics, I guess.
We can all see that the principal difference between the two people in question above is sex; one is a man and one is a woman. This had led many to crying that “if Ellen were a man this would be an OUTRAGE!”. But to not grasp why, nestled in the fact of their sex alone, is something which permits one to make such jokes and not the other is honestly to miss the entire concept of sexism and all the principles flowing within it which we are fighting.
The most basic possible tenet of sexism is that men and women have different experiences of the world. On the basis of their sex, and often that alone, men and women are treated differently by people. Men experience privilege in the forms of respect, pay, safety, spare time, entitlement. Women encounter objectification, violence, powerlessness, poverty and mountains of domestic and emotional work along with being ignored at the end of the day. In a gender neutral context, the basic psychological principle that the types of experiences we grow up through in our formative years onwards, mould us into certain types of people with predispositions for certain roles, is readily accepted. People get traumatised by catastrophic events. People form healthier relationships later in life if they had healthy relationships when they were young. People in the West have more individualistic mindsets and people in the East have more collective mindsets.
If more men would put together these two basic principles and accept the notion of sex-specific socialisation, the fight for women’s rights might not be quite as gruelling as it’s currently proving to be.
The upshot of sewing together these two very sturdy self-evident truths is that instances of the very same behaviour in men and women can come from completely different places, mean completely different things and ultimately merit completely different interpretations. The overarching power of sexism and misogyny weighs heavy across all cross-sex relations, it’s bigger than any of us and it means that the feel of our words are often chosen for us.
Let’s look at another current example; A female 27-year old model has come under attack for making the comment about a 14 year-old male actor to “hit her up in 4 years time”. From grabs of tweets, it’s clear that a lot of the outrage hinged on HOW NOT OKAY it would be if a bloke had said this to a young actress. But an acknowledgement of society’s patriarchal structure would make clear not only that men make creepy comments about much younger actresses constantly, but also that this has meant that it’s a culture when men do it. The “any red blooded male would think these things” defence proves it. Hollywood has a paedophile culture perpetrated by men. The media as a whole sexualises young underage girls. This is an entire society is set up such that men can make exactly the same comments and go on to become president. These are the overarching sociological power-dynamics I’m talking about, and the existence of these is exactly why men can’t make flippant comments about sexual harrassment against women. Women, such as this model, are not reinforcing a sexist power structure when they make these comments. The comments are not being said in a society which forces little boys to be vulnerable to them. Context can mean that the same actions on the surface, can have completely different moral standings because surrounding environments exist, contexts exist and sexism, EXISTS. It’s just a matter of accepting and absorbing the complexity of human expressions and interactions.
Those of us that crawl out the other end of womanhood (not all of us make it) have formed some coping mechanisms. Eventually, the effort of being a nice lady and biting our tongues is too much, and is overtaken by the confidence to snap back, having some self-esteem and crack some jokes about it all. I will never care about a group of giggly women flirting with a male waiter, and I sometimes suspect that an eager comment on a man’s appearances in a situation where it’s completely gratuitous to do so is one of the few things that might wake them up to how unwelcome it is. And sometimes, I enjoy doing that, because we are tired of the work we do. We are tired of seeing the showbiz world whizz on with scores of creeps and rapists in their midsts, to ruckus applause and lavish pay cheques. We are tired of smiling extra wide at our bosses and needing our hair to be extra perfect for interviews to go well. We are tired of having to look out for our sisters in the ever prying eyes of men.
Of all the things for men to conclude from stepping back to survey the ongoing battle of sexism, to notice that – hey… the guys are missing out on something… it’s… it’s being able to make jokes and women’s boobies and assault!