Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Talking it without walking it

I've been thinking more about Melissa's post, and, because I am an absolutely obsessive problem solver, how best to explain (some parts of) the experience to men who talk the (misogynist) talk but don't walk the walk. They say misogynist stuff because that's what people say, but deep down, they really aren't misogynist.

That'd be my other half - he very definitely holds no misogynist views*, but I don't doubt he sometimes says some of the stuff Melissa refers to. He read it, and took it pretty personally (as I anticipated), but we managed to have a useful discussion anyway. (As it happens, he is more prone to racist and ablist talk, which he is trying to rectify - long standing habits are hard to break but he's working on it and he'll get there.)

As a result of that discussion and others, I figure I need a good strategy for telling men (and women, actually) why those remarks are a problem, even though they see them as meaningless. I have a great family anecdote that explains this particular problem as I see it:

The elder siblings in part of my extended family all told the youngest brother that he should never get married - all the usual crap: it's the end of your life, no freedom, whatever. Said youngest brother steadfastly avoided getting married, even to a wonderful woman he had been with for some time. The elder siblings started wondering why on earth he hadn't married this woman. They all knew they weren't serious about never getting married (most of them were happily married), unfortunately he didn't.

He is now married to a wonderful woman, and it is anybody's guess whether the siblings' comments actually had any effect on him or not, but the point stands. Repeating culturally accepted bullshit can do damage even when you think it's obvious that you don't mean it.

So my question is to the blokes who read this: what's the best way to explain this to other guys in general conversation? I feel like I need a lighthearted, probably sarcastic, fairly non-confrontational way of saying "I know you're not stupid enough to believe that, but how do you know everyone listening isn't?" or something like that. After all, my anecdote above is going to somewhat disrupt the flow of conversation.

Apart from empty female stereotypes, there's also the "You're not like other chicks" comment. I'm tempted to say "Have you ever met anyone who was like all the other chicks?". I understand why women balk at this, it leads to the obvious thought "So your default view of women is what exactly, that I am so lucky to be judged different from?" So, you blokes, is that what you mean when you say this? If so, quit it, it isn't flattering. If not, what do you really mean? Do you mean "You are not like all the other people I've considered dating"? or "You are not like most of the other people I've met"? Or something else again? What's a good response when someone says it? (On the understanding that ignoring it is something I'm going to try not to do.) Is "Oh goody, I get to be a freak or one of those awful girl things - careful your sexism is showing" (said in good humour) too confrontational? I'm looking for something I can say in most circumstances that doesn't let it pass, but doesn't look for a response either - I just want to inspire thought not create a defensive response.

I would really like to hear from men on this. Can you see what I'm saying? Can you think of good ways to make the point without demonising guys who are, after all, just doing what everyone else does and have probably never even considered that there might be unintended consequences? Surely you blokes can help a little? Would any of you ever consider responding to other guys saying this stuff? Would women around you doing it help, or make it harder?

A couple of notes: This is not me telling other people how to handle or respond to this stuff, this is just me thinking out loud and looking for input for something I can do to not let the stuff pass. To set the example for my kids that it's not ok.

Also, this only addresses the guys who say it and don't mean it. I am lucky enough that they represent most of the guys that I interact with anyway, but clearly light hearted remarks are not going to make the slightest difference to people who believe the misogynist line. I'm not up to thinking about trying to solve that problem today.

*There are some contentious points about pink bicycles for boys, but it has as much to do with protecting his sons from misogyny as perpetuating it, and since I have trouble walking that line too, I can hardly condemn him for it.

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