I just saw an unfortunate exchange on twitter. I don't play online games, but I follow lots of nerds and some of them are gamers. I've seen various blog and twitter posts about how sexist many gaming communities are, and when a woman complains the standard "positive" reactions (from the majority of men/boys) tend to be:
1) ignore it, boys will be boys.
2) if you don't like it, leave.
3) if you don't want to be hassled, never do anything that could possibly give a hint that you are a woman.
Then there is further contention about whether these responses are in themselves hostile to women.
In the particular case last night, race got brought into the conversation too (the person who brought it up apologized today).
Speaking as a white man who pretty much loathes both sexism and racism, I have to say that the rhetorical move to compare different kinds of bias almost never works well. But it struck me that there is one interesting difference between sexism and racism: it is still socially acceptable to joke about gender stereotypes in ways that are now thoroughly unacceptable with regard to race.
That is, even people who call themselves feminist (or, for the younger set, would call themselves feminist if the very word hadn't been poisoned by the sexists) can say disparaging things about "barefoot and pregnant", kitchen work, makeup, bubbleheadedness, sexual desirability, and so on, including casual use of a wide range of slurs (I'll only mention "bitch"); whereas jokes about racial stereotypes are out of bounds among the civilized, at least in public.
Here I want to make disclaimers. I am not saying that women have it harder than Blacks or Jews or Puerto Ricans or what have you. Racism is alive and ill in the US, and I don't mean to condone it, and I don't want to bring back the days when such jokes were acceptable. Rather, only on the day when it would make as much sense for such a joke as it would be for a York/Lancaster to make a disparaging comment in jest about red/white roses respectively; that is, it would sound only archaic and quaint, and would not reflect any difference in jobs or wages, life quality, treatment by police or neighbors, prices paid in stores or banks, and so on.
I suppose there is a big obvious difference between race and gender: it's easy to avoid, or never be exposed personally, to someone of another race, but except for a small number of monks and nuns or the like, the genders are going to mix one way or another. I don't know what that means, but it probably means something.
I think I have a point, and I think this is it. The language we use matters. It's not just a question of whether it's offensive (another common exchange: "I'm offended." "No, you're not."); it's offensive because it's damaging in a way that's extralinguistic. So if a woman complains about treatment she sees as sexist, you (whether you're a man or a woman) might want to listen to the person. What may sound purely linguistic may well reflect a real problem, like social exclusion, loss of privilege, or lack of opportunity.
This all sounds kind of stuffy and pompous. Is it possible to avoid all trigger words?
Tags: gender, ill-advised political trolling, intarweb, philosophy, race
Current Location: my own world
Current Mood: anxious