I seem to have made a serious mistake.
Apparently this is what feminism is. And I’ve been doing it wrong all this time.
I’ve been calling myself a feminist for years, but apparently the philosophy I was expressing my support for wasn’t feminism at all.
I’m not sure what it is called, the thing I’ve been aspiring to and championing in my own small way. But it’s that other thing, which is sort of like feminism, but which isn’t patronising and illiberal bullshit.
As perhaps is evident, I’m being more than a little glib here. This sort of nonsense being pushed as modern feminism makes me understand what Elly has been complaining about all this time.
Even in a country like the UK, where explicitly demeaning women as inferior to men is socially acceptable almost nowhere, it’s true that there are serious issues of bias and prejudice that need addressing. There are attitudes and assumptions engrained in our culture which are not conducive towards equality, and which need to be addressed.
But Bidisha sees sexism like Americans see Jesus in bits of toast.
She describes a pyramid of misogyny, in which the various ways for men to verbally abuse women are layered according to severity. In the very top layer – among those at the absolute pinnacle of degradation possible between the sexes – is the word “cougar”.
If you’re not familiar with the term, this refers to a woman aged upwards of around 35 or 40 who seeks sexual involvement with younger men.
Down at the lower end of the pyramid, less severe but still branded as “Just Plain Sexist”, are things such as “commenting on a woman’s appearance”.
That’s when you use words to address a woman and describe some physical aspect that you notice about her. Examples may include “Your hair looks nice” or “That top looks great on you”, and other such phrases known to send women into paroxysms of fury and rage at being so objectified.
Yep. That’s the bottom – but still sexist – section of the pyramid of misogyny.
As an aside, there are places in the world where women aren’t allowed to go outside without being escorted by a man. That’s not on the pyramid.
Heresy Corner has plenty to say on the subject of Bidisha’s sense of proportion. I have two observations which I think I find even more glaring.
The first is that she apparently fails to make any distinction between inadvertently perpetuating damaging stereotypes about women, and actually hating them.
This is genuinely troubling. She cites plenty of examples of men using unflattering terms to treat women in a dismissive and contemptuous way, but apparently fails to see that the underlying attitude is the real problem here. Sure, sometimes dismissing women as simply being “hysterical” or “man-hating” can be a sexist way of avoiding a complex issue. But sometimes the feeling and intent behind such words – and certainly behind “commenting on their appearance” – isn’t anything like hatred.
The extent to which she misses this point if typified in the suggestion – delivered with no discernible irony – that 90% of the planet’s human population be slaughtered, leaving only the “non-woman-haters” who have never dared utter any such unforgivable slurs as mentioned above.
The second observation is that it’s unclear to me just what Bidisha is trying to achieve.
The problem, it’s made very clear, is men. Men and almost everything that men do. And yet I really don’t believe that an article which nags and lectures and scolds on such a scale as this will possibly persuade men to change their behaviours in ways the author would find more acceptable.
I can’t imagine many men reading this and thinking “She’s right, I won’t ever judge anyone female to be aggressive ever again,” or “Gosh, have I been grossly offending women by complimenting them on their appearance all this time? I shall stop at once and endeavour to maintain a respectful silence in all future cross-gender communications.” Which seems to be what she wants.
I can, however, imagine a lot of men reading this and thinking “Oh, pipe down, you humourless cow.”
Which is a shame, because I’m not thrilled about men being encouraged or inspired to think about women in those terms.
Even when they have a point.