The other day I was watching the rugby league with my boyfriend at home. As with all matches, the players began running onto the field, but this time, the camera zoomed in on white ribbons printed onto their shorts. I was visibly annoyed.
My partner looked at me and immediately sensed my disdain.
‘I know Pras. But Isn’t it better than if they weren’t wearing anything at all?’
I turned and simply replied, ‘No.’
My subsequent internal monologue went a little like this:
‘These guys get to parade a ribbon handed to them, be revered by the public as nice guys, think no further on the issue and continue being exalted as men who love and respect women. Some of these men are the same men who have faced criminal charges of violence against women, sexual assault and are still back on this field playing sport. Are you joking?’ (1).
The Tigers went on to lose that match which only added to my devastation.
You see, I feel that there have become these short hand methods with which men are able to easily display some degree of ‘wokeness’ to sexism, violence against women, misogyny and ‘golden tickets’ to being labelled ‘good guys’. The mere action in this instance, of wearing a pair of shorts handed to them for the occasion, one means for men to align themselves with the cause, and come off as ‘caring’ men (or so we are meant to believe).
What a bunch of ‘good blokes’, you hear the commentators echoe.
My hand, is knotted in a fist.
Our society has a toxic masculinity culture. Chivalry, as a common example, is still readily seen as a benchmark measure of a man’s ‘goodness’. I for one couldn’t give a shit if someone opened the door for me, or pulled out my chair for me to sit, or paid for dinner. We think its sweet and testament to a guy’s ‘niceness’ if they get ancy when someone talks shit about their mum, or beats up a bunch of guys for staring too long at their girlfriend, or uses the ‘well I’ve never beat up a woman’ as some primitive badge of pride and marker of exemplary character.
But equality is so much more than this.
And the reason I am here writing this today is because it is this exact conversation that I have always struggled having with men in my life. And that is, that is takes more than not being bad, in order to be really, a ‘good guy’ and a true confederate, an ally to females.
I think an easy place to start is looking into the well known phenomena of boys chat ‘banter’. Where sexist jokes and female pornography, for some, form the very fabric and DNA of conversation.
I was sitting across the table from one of my best girlfriends being shown the boy’s chat by one of the lads in our group of friends a couple of months ago. I looked over and vividly remember her furrowed brows and pursed lips, the confusion on her face evident.
‘So wait, you think it’s hilarious to objectify women in a group chat with your boys like this? You don’t think this is disrespectful to women?’.
Her tone was rightly terse, calling out the disgusting amount of exhaustive content that subjugated women as comedic fodder.
This guy looked back flabbergasted and lost for words, ‘I don’t know what to say..’.
His hesitation quickly filled in by the firm voice of another who chimed in defensively:
‘What do you mean? We aren’t disrespectful to women? That doesn’t make us disrespectful to women’.
Ignoring the complete arrogance on the part of this guy listening to talk of misogyny and sexism to make it about his own feelings, I could not think of a more textbook real life example of when conversation is raised, calling out sexism even in its slightest forms, and the perennial existance of this subset of men offended by how ‘untrue’ and ‘unfair’ such statements are (1). We have all seen these guys on facebook threads and scoffed.
My friend did not bother responding. She and I glanced at each other, shook our heads, and continued to silence our disdain for the group’s misogynistic banter in some average Sangiovese.
As women, we feel this undue pressure to come across agreeable, friendly and loving of everyone as fuck because this feeds into a very basic gender expectation of women as ‘nurturers’. People really struggle when women deviate from such gender expectations of our nature, and to cope call us aggressive, or bitches, and other negative things. The same characteristics that in men we positively coin ‘assertiveness’
And I am no exception to such. I have even found myself trying to justify and understand some of the ‘humour’, in order to reduce conflict with partners over the years (even when this has involved my own semi naked photos being sent around the boys chat).
You see I wanted to avoid conflict too, I wanted to come off less like the irate, angry, problem finding ‘can’t take a fucking joke’ girlfriend. Because of course, your disapproval and voicing concern meant you were unable to see the light heartedness in things, to ‘take a joke’, and couldn’t possible represent shedding light on some serious misogyny, or even exposing sexual harrassment. Apparently I ‘completely missed’ the point/joke.
And so we enter into the all too familiar territory of ‘boys will be boys’ rhetoric and us, as women needing to fit into the ‘cool girl IDGAF what they do persona’ or else be dubbed a ‘bitch’ and ‘difficult’. The hope and even expectation, is that we leave the boys to go unchecked, to do as they please, this is a quality of a good, agreeable girlfriend.
Whereby the men are allowed to self-discern whether or not things go too far, and whether or not they are or aren’t disrespectful to women, from their own subjective point of view.
The issue becomes more than simply ‘boys being boys’ sharing misogynistic content when such attitudes and behaviours transpose across into real life, out from this cyber space and into the real world, affecting, degrading and hurting real women.
I have seen, heard, been subject to men verbally abusing and degrading women, sexually harassing them, bullying women, and negging them. It is absolutely disgusting.
But they have never beat a woman. So that’s meant to be a-ok.
There is this illusion that the bad guys, the sexists, the misogynists are the ones going around beating up women or screaming out degrading comments. This is such an oversight and oversimplification. It is as though we are waiting for men to indeed scream out loud, act out their sexist and misogynistic ways in a rampage, in order to feel warranted and comfortable in calling it out.
But often these behaviours are there in the little everyday comments and remarks and behaviours that we as a society have normalised, so ingrained, that most of us do not even recognise it anymore. The same kind of men who would however, pull my chair out for me to sit, and buy my drinks. It is these apparently ‘chivalrous’ men that have yelled at, sexually harassed, or bullied women that I love and adore.
Perhaps the hardest thing to do is to actually act up and speak up against such sexism as a man, when its source is coming from within your own ‘friendship’ circle.
I read this incredible article where the author discusses having dated many men who understood that sexism is real, and prevalent. But when it came down to it, these men she knew refrained from having these conversations with the men in their lives who engaged in such sexist and offensive behaviours.
‘Awareness for the sake of awareness means nothing if you are unwilling to call out people in your lives that are sexist and mysoginistic.’ She writes.
It’s tough, I am not denying it. It’s hard to encourage talking about an issue that seemingly has no reward attached, no incentive and everything to lose. Where a man calling out sexism and misogyny faces the awful threat of social exclusion and shit for ‘dogging the boys’. What ever happened to ‘bros before hoes’, right?
Everyone is so uncomfortable when such chats cause waves. No-one enjoys a tumultuous boat ride and the subsequent nausea, and we would much prefer to sail on smooth and tepid waters in the sunshine. But at what expense do we do this?
I remember having drinks on a Friday night, and somehow conversation led to calling out the sexist and misogynistic behaviour of a male friend we all knew. Another male friend in the room responded by attempting to shut down the apparent ‘negative talk’, because it was making him so uncomfortable, and to move on, under the pretence of ‘not talking ill about others’, because clearly he had not come over to talk about sexual harassment, that wasn’t ‘fun’, you know? Blissful ignorance is a thing.
This is part of the issue though, everyone gets so uncomfortable and writhes around when behaviours they’ve chosen to ignore for so long are brought to the forefront and exposed for what they are. Someone calls out misogyny for example, we feel uncomfortable, so we try to reassure ourselves that we’re not directly responsible for it in order to feel better.
We are all guilty of doing this at some stage in our lives. I know I am. We even sometimes sit back and nostalgically make reference to that one time our friend was ‘good ‘ in 1997 because they did XYZ for us. We use this reminiscing on the past good as a weak link justifying friendship now, and the myriad of wrongs this person is responsible for in the present moment.
It is not enough to be the friend in the group who is not actively doing the wrong thing. Or to simply hold the sentiment that sexism is wrong.
‘Passivity is still complicity’
The very fact men are able to exert a ‘conscious neutrality’ without any punitive strike against their character, and have the luxury of remaining impartial, and still be coined a ‘good guy’, is problematic. It is so easy to be a good guy, too easy in fact.
If this article makes you uncomfortable, so it should. Because misogyny and sexism make me fucking uncomfortable.
How can we be proactive in changing things, together?
1) Fight Like A Girl – Clementine Ford
2) Mel magazine – How to call your friends out on their sexist bullshit