Language creates reality; silence is complicity
Individual heterosexual women came to the movement from relationships where men were cruel, unkind, violent, unfaithful. Many of these men were radical thinkers who participated in movements for social justice, speaking out on behalf of the workers, the poor, speaking out on behalf of racial justice. However when it came to the issue of gender they were as sexist as their conservative cohorts.
What’s the worst possible thing you can call a woman? Don’t hold back, now.
You’re probably thinking of words like slut, whore, bitch, cunt (I told you not to hold back!), skank.
Okay, now, what are the worst things you can call a guy? Fag, girl, bitch, pussy. I’ve even heard the term “mangina.”
Notice anything? The worst thing you can call a girl is a girl. The worst thing you can call a guy is a girl. Being a woman is the ultimate insult. Now tell me that’s not royally fucked up.
Jessica Valenti, Full Frontal Feminism
Let’s get this out of the way. No, it’s not all men. If the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn’t, don’t put it on. And you can quote me on it.
I’ve been a social justice warrior since I was tiny and I’m deeply fortunate for the series of events that yanked me out of my fledgling racism and bigotry and showed it as the monstrousness it was and is. But while on a gut level I knew, I had never seen myself as someone in need of social justice too.
But I was. And I am.
Recently I called out a man, a friend I truly cherish, on social media for using my body part as an insult. He’s not the first I’ve had to stand up to and he reacted just like the other ones. The whole business of pussies as weak is erroneous anyway. Pussies give birth. Pussies are tough and endure pain beyond description despite their capacity to give and receive pleasure. Pussies are strong. But any time someone wants to describe what’s weak, what’s worthless, what’s cowardly – it’s a female body part they’ll use to describe it. Again.
In fact, if you want to set most men off, it’s about as easy as it gets. Call them a woman. Or worse yet, an old woman. Then stand back and watch them blow. They absolutely lose it. It’s the worst insult they can imagine. Call them a prick, an asshole, a bastard – they’ll often just smirk and own that with pride. But to be categorized as female? We might as well have castrated them right then and there.
I’ve said this about a bazillion times – language is powerful and it creates reality. Language that uses me or my body parts as a definition of worthlessness, weakness and cowardice forms a world where the semantics of my oppression cement it into hard reality. It creates a world where I can be casually disrespected. Where I can be underpaid, underemployed. Where if a man decides to beat me senseless, I will get no help. If I get raped, I will be asked what I did or what I was wearing because I had to have been just asking for it. If it was to get as far as a trial, my sexual “purity” would be closely examined but never, ever the rapist’s.
But there’s more, because this doesn’t just start when men are grown. It goes way back to where our lives are just starting. It’s middle schools where girls have to walk the gauntlet of jeering boys shouting taunting demands for blow jobs. Where girls are forced to cover their bodies so boys won’t be distracted rather than boys being taught to respect girls as people first. Did you know that girls start scanning their surroundings for safety starting at age 12? That they start making themselves small for the approval of boys and that they soon see their only worth as their appearance? That by early teens, their self esteem is already tanking while boys’ is growing?
Imagine for a moment navigating in a world where you are nothing by design.
People of color already know this all too well. Women of color carry a double burden as unconscionable as it is, honestly, stupid. Why do we devalue anyone based on physical characteristics like skin color or gender or orientation or origin or anything else? But reality is that all women carry this burden, despite its sliding scale based on skin color.
But there’s more. There’s always more.
What staggers me is how poorly men handle being called out on it. And it’s pretty universal – even from men I see as progressive. Oh, they’ll call me on my bullshit – as they should. My male friends of color had better call me on any racist crap I might spew – it’s a lifelong process and I don’t assume I’m finished rooting it out no matter how much work I’ve done. But let me civilly explain the harm they do by using my gender and body parts as insults and they bridle. My friend trounced me for being a white person hijacking his point about white supremacy, despite several Black female friends backing me up. He proceeded to block them and who knows, perhaps he’s blocked me too by now. I wasn’t talking about any color of women. I was talking about all women – even those poor, sad white conservative women who refuse to see they’re on the wrong side of this struggle. I acknowledged there, as I did here, that women of color bear an immensely disproportionate burden compared to me – Jewish or no, I’m about as white as white gets.
Still, I live with the consequences of this world created by misogynistic verbiage. My first #MeToo moment came at age 4, the next at 9, the date rape at 15 that I never reported, the gang rape in the fraternity at 16 that I didn’t report either. I already knew it would be considered my fault. My daughter and I starved as I worked as a clerical despite a college degree because boobs and a bachelor’s would get you a typing test. Getting shut out in tech meetings after I finally made it as a computer programmer because not only was I a woman, I had the audacity to be fat and therefore insufficiently decorative to be of any value. And on and on and on.
Here’s a secret, men, that a lot of you don’t know. More women have a lot less respect for you than you think. At least not men as a herd and after that, it’s case by case. Why?
You use us as insults but can’t take being compared to us in any way.
You can’t handle honesty – we have to speak to you very carefully at all times, although you generally don’t return the favor.
But mostly, you expect us to introspect, to root out our bigotries and isms but you won’t do that for us. In fact, you get insulted if we dare speak up.
Well, where I come from, silence is complicity. If I don’t say anything when you are verbally throwing our entire gender under the bus, then I am supporting it. Just like I would if I witnessed hate of any form and said nothing.
We stand up for you. Why is it so hard to stand up for us?