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Feminism Friday – “Feminists Look for Stuff to Get Mad About”

originally posted on Shakesville by Melissa McEwan | Monday, February 25, 2008 as Feminism 101: “Feminists Look for Stuff to Get Mad About”


[This is a new series in which I’ll be addressing misconceptions or answering questions about feminism and/or feminists. There are certainly old posts that would naturally fall into a Feminism 101 series, like Rape is Not a Compliment, Animal House, or On “Bitch” and Other Misogynist Language (reposted here on FF101 last week ~tigtog), but, increasingly, it’s apparent we need a collection of posts on critical theories and prejudices, to which we can point here and elsewhere to succinctly deal with recurring themes, so here we go. If you have a topic you’d like to see covered in this series, email me.

Note that I won’t tread on Jeff’s territory in defining key terms with his “Explainer” series: MRAs, Gender Feminists and Equity Feminists, and Nice GuysTM. If you need something defined, email him.]

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“Feminists Look for Stuff to Get Mad About”

Of all the condescending, dismissive, and factually incorrect accusations used by concern trolls (or hostile trolls) to attempt to silence, shame, or in some other way discourage feminists from addressing sexism in all its manifestations, perhaps none is quite so stupid as the charge that feminists are “looking” for things about which to be offended—as if feminism is a product that will go out of production if there aren’t enough buyers and sales are waning because sexism is, like, so over, dude.

This notion is ridiculous for a couple of reasons. For a start, misogyny is so pervasive that no one has to look for it. That said reality is even remotely in doubt is laughable, given that any YouTube comments section on any video featuring a woman will be rife with misogynist swill.

I use YouTube as an example very deliberately, because I want to point out, before moving on, how feminist allies can inadvertently bolster the case of silencers who charge that feminists look for things about which to be offended. Each time I mention YouTube threads, commenters inevitably say either “YouTube commenters are the lowest common denominator” and/or “Just don’t read those threads.” I’m not sure everyone who says those things has really considered the implications, so let’s deal with that first.

The assertion that YouTube threads aren’t a legitimate source because they’re ostensibly populated by juvenile delinquents or society’s dregs isn’t actually a sound argument. The same stuff—if more accurately spelled and with fewer Random Capitalizations—can be found in the comments threads of most major progressive political blogs, especially in response to posts about conservative women. (You want to know if there’s misogyny among progressive blog readers? Post something about Ann Coulter.) Thanks to blogospheric demographics surveys, we know the average blog user is older, better educated, and wealthier than the average person in the general populace; this is not an issue of maturity or intelligence or class. Treating sexism as though it is indigenous to any singular demographic, or unique combination of traits—or, the flipside of that equation, regarding any demographic as wholly devoid of entrenched misogyny—is both foolhardy and inaccurate. And, more to the point, irrelevant: There are millions of YouTube users and an alarmingly high rate of misogynistic comments. The quality of who is making those comments isn’t of much interest to women who must nonetheless suffer their undeniable quantity. Which brings us to…

Telling women that they should merely abstain from reading and/or participating in YouTube threads—or other places online and offline plagued by unfettered misogyny—is akin to telling women their choices are to tolerate sexual harassment in order to participate in it, or segregate themselves and necessarily limit their opportunities in the public sphere. In addition to unfairly punishing women, that’s also a tacit endorsement of openly expressed misogyny. No matter how authentic the genuine feelings of concern that may motivate such a recommendation, when someone advises a woman to disengage herself from a public space in which misogyny is rampant, one also necessarily, if unintentionally, communicates the message that her contributions to that space are not valuable enough to fight to protect. By slow increments, every unmonitored space thusly becomes uninhabitable by any woman not willing to suffer—and indulge—misogynist bullies.

[Note: I recognize this experience can be true for GBTQ men, men of color, disabled men, etc., too, depending on the forum.]

So, back to the ubiquity of misogyny. If the nearest comments thread calling Ann Coulter a tranny or Hillary Clinton a “hoe” doesn’t convince you, perhaps a 7-part series on the media’s insistence on trivializing women’s lives by categorizing as “Odd News” stories about women that aren’t “odd” in any way aside from the fact that there’s a women at their centers will, or a 12-part series on the impossible beauty standards to which women are held will, or a 15-part series on consumable disembodied female bodies will, or a 19-part series on rape jokes will, or a 20-part series on objectionable advertising, most of which focuses on sexism, will, or a 62-part series (make that 63) on sexism being used against Hillary (NB. since February this series has now well over 90 entries ~tigtog) will—to any one of which I could add a new entry every single day, had I the time, energy, and inclination.

The truth is, if I actually spent my days actively paying attention to every example of misogyny around me, I would be a profoundly unhappy woman. Not bitchy or grumpy or short-tempered, but paralyzingly depressed. Women have to train themselves to avoid consciously reacting to every bit of misogynistic detritus permeating the culture through which we all move, lest they go quite insane. I write about the things I can’t not write about. If I wrote about all the examples of sexism I see every day, I’d never sleep.

Tangentially, the idea that addressing “the little things,” like being told to smile or misogynistic t-shirts, somehow demeans feminism or distracts from “real” or “serious” sexism is utterly, completely, devilishly wrong.

Feminism seeks to address all manner of issues, big and small. That women can (and do) utilize the tenets of feminism in every aspect of their lives does not undermine the history of the feminist movement, but instead does it a great honor. Feminism was never meant to be restricted to suffrage and equal pay, held in reserve like a finite quantity that could run out if it’s used for “the little things.” Feminism is a renewable resource.

The idea that feminism should be kept under glass, broken only in case of a “real” and “serious” emergency, is predicated on the erroneous assumption that “the little things” happen in a void, as do, presumably, the “real” and “serious” things, when, in reality, they are interwoven strands of the same rope. And as soon as one begins to judge the worthiness of feminists’ attention on a sliding scale, even generally-regarded “serious issues” like equal pay are dwarfed by global concerns like sex trafficking or government-sanctioned use of rape as a tool of war. It doesn’t have to be one or the other—feminists can multi-task.

And, in a very real way, ignoring “the little things” in favor of “the big stuff” makes the big stuff that much harder to eradicate, because it is the pervasive, ubiquitous, inescapable little things that create the foundation of a sexist culture on which the big stuff is dependent for its survival. It’s the little things, the constant drumbeat of inequality and objectification, that inure us to increasingly horrible acts and attitudes toward women.

Irrespective of intent, the recommendation to “ignore the little stuff,” so often intertwined with accusations of looking for things about which to get offended, is not just ill-advised, but counter to the ultimate goal of full equality. It’s like a knife in my gut when I see feminists accusing other feminists of “hurting the cause” by focusing on “the little stuff,” because that’s It—that’s the stuff, that’s the fertile soil in which everything else takes root and from whence everything else springs, that’s the way that the fundamental idea that women are not equal to men is conveyed over and over and over again.

Which, quite frankly, means that if even we had to look for it, we’d be right to do so.

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7 comments on “Feminism Friday – “Feminists Look for Stuff to Get Mad About”

  1. Wow. There’s complementing our society on coming as far as we have with regard to equal rights, and then there’s being blind how far we still have to go. Feminists are sometimes accused of being the inverse: blind to progress, seeing only inequality.

    The fact is, there are both good and bad things about our society, and Feminists are well aware of those things equally, But which gets more publicity (especially among anti-feminists): good news or bad news?

    No matter how optimistic a person is, there is no one who is perfect. People who blow those imperfections out of proportion are just as guilty of “looking for stuff to get mad about” as the people they are accusing.

  2. This was a great blog…with great links as well. I didn’t read many parts of the series, but I intend to after I finish posting my response.

    What you say is sooooo true…it IS the little things. The problem is that most women don’t see that. They think the “little things” are necessary to make men feel like men, or they are fulfilling their divine role to “submit to their husbands”. Honestly, I had to get off of myspace and google a feminist blogspot to find this place…to get away from women who just don’t get that its the little things and ignoring the little things that can land us right back where we were, when our place was in the home (seperate but equal), and men made household desicions without their wives’ input (because they were the head of the household).

    that’s the fertile soil in which everything else takes root and from whence everything else springs, that’s the way that the fundamental idea that women are not equal to men is conveyed over and over and over again.

    Well said, and exactly right!

  3. I can not tell you how much reading this let me feel that I am not alone. In commenting to other sites with opinions that I have, I have been called a man hater, a feminist b****, a prude, and been told I have a sexually repressed mind. I have endured rude angry sexually explicit comments, and what suprised me is that the opinions came from men and women. I am one that does need to overlook some of the small things I see everyday or I will go insane, but right now at this stage in my life I do not think I am ready to do that, and because of this I am told to shut up, and I am ignored. I can not begin to put into words how mad this makes me. I have made the connection of sexism and racism many times, and the fact that even men can suffer from sexism (jobs like interior designer….) and I get eyes rolled at me. I think I am going insane because I am starting to question if I am just a b****. That makes me even more made because I know that I am not, it is just the majority opinion because I speak my mind.

  4. Heather – you said, “I can not tell you how much reading this let me feel that I am not alone.” – I feel completely the same way when I visit great feminist sites like this, which have wonderful intelligent women writing things that ring very true to me.

    I feel completely alone in being a Feminist outside of online blogs (apart from my mother, somewhat). My brothers and my dad don’t think any part of society today is “unequal for women” at all. It makes me mad, they just laugh at me and think I must “hate men” or something. I hope to marry a “feminist” guy one day, who can see society in a similar way to me!

  5. This doesn’t answer it for me.

    I think Melissa’s right that there’s certainly no shortage of misogyny in the world. However, the claim being addressed, as I understand it, is “in a world of beer ads, sportswriters, and conservatives, why are you complaining about this calculus textbook?” Saying “well, beer ads and sportswriters shouldn’t be sexist” is true, but doesn’t really answer the question.

    I’m not saying to ignore the little things. I just wonder if there’s a need to focus on the nothings — or at least, when writing for a general audience address reasonable alternate interpretations beyond “some people think it’s fine, but they’re simply wrong.”

  6. I recently came across this post at Sociological Images which I thought relevant here:

    http://contexts.org/socimages/2009/07/20/white-washing-black-art-forms-and-do-we-at-socimages-like-anything/

    Granted feminsts aren’t looking for stuff to get mad about, but isn’t it possible that feminists do sometimes put people into double-bind situations, where whatever they say will be taken as sexist?
    I often find that when gender-y topics come up, many well-meaning non-feminist folks (men and women) seem afraid to say anything at all, for fear that whatever they say will be taken as grounds for offense.

  7. @ Heather

    I hope you get to read this I feel absolutely the same way as you do,I fear Im gonna become insane because of my rage with sexism in day to day life in movies ,music videos,adverts…….fucking everywhere.Just like you I also find myself comparing sexism with racism I very often think about how people will receive our way of today in 100 or 200 years that the women of then will be shocked of what we had to endure nowadays…..I would of liked to be born in the future where hopefully there will be real equality.

    I can understand you feel alone with your feelins but your not,and because of women like us hopefully our daughters and granddaughters will have a better life.I allready started, my past 2 relationships I fully dominated and ´converted´ semi sexist men into equal thinking people.Sure it would be just easier to close our eyes and just take everything but since I stopped doing that I am 24 now and I stopped at the age of 17 I feel alot better and am happier also my relationships are 99 percent they way I want them to be with some mental investment at the beginning of them though.

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