On Sexism and Gender Bias

This isn’t a blog about writing and it’s not fiction. This is a blog about gender politics and I am implicitly allowed to write my thoughts about it here because I want to and because I have toxic male privilege and I’m protected.

That I am implicitly allowed to write my thoughts about sexism and post it on the internet and not really fear significant reprisal for it is the definition of toxic male privilege. Honestly, as a middle class heterosexual white male I’m pretty sure I’m implicitly allowed to write my thoughts about anything I want and if anyone objects to it I can get righteously angry about being excluded. I probably won’t get rape threats emailed to me. I probably won’t get harassed on Twitter. Even if I do, I don’t imagine I’ll find them very intimidating. I’m a middle class heterosexual white male – there’s a pretty big infrastructure of support for me to lean on if anything gets scary and even if that infrastructure fails me, I’m a big guy and no one really threatens me. It’s not that I’m a bad ass pugilist that can drop kick my way out of any confrontation – it’s that I’m physically tall and physically big enough that usually no one confronts me. I walk around bad neighborhoods at night and I scare other people without meaning to. I can write whatever I want and no one can say anything about it. Superman is cooler than Batman because Batman is dumb and traditional masculinity is a systemic virus that needs to be confronted.

It’s not bold for me to point out toxic male privilege because I have toxic male privilege and I’m protected. But I’m not done pointing out what I want to point out and I get to go on as long as I want, so sit tight, dear reader, because I’m backing up the knowledge truck.

I don’t think most people see a woman and immediately think misogynistic crazy things anymore. Sure, there’s a vocal subsection of trilby-wearing M’lady “nice guys” with creepy Asian culture fetishes and YouTube channels about why the new Ghostbusters movie is a pogrom against men, but most men and women are less overt about the bias. Then again, I’m a middle class heterosexual white male and if men are immediately thinking crazy misogynistic thoughts about women still they aren’t telling me about it because I have toxic male privilege and I’m protected. Anyway, what I think is far more insidious than the cretinous knuckle-draggers that see a woman and think “LADY MENSTRUATION FEMINAZI BAD”, is the way that traditional masculinity has so dominated our culture that even feminism needs to be more masculine to be taken seriously.

Somehow as a society we’ve determined that these traits are the traits of a a straight-shooting go-getter that’s probably honest and competent : boldness, brashness, loudness, anger, aggression. These are, not coincidentally, traits often associated with masculinity. These are also the traits on clear display with some of our current US presidential candidates. The opposite traits are traits generally associated with a docile 1950s housewife: demureness, politeness, quiet, gentleness, willingness to compromise. These are also the traits we consider signs of weakness and of someone that’s easily manipulated even if we don’t consciously admit it. We’ve been programmed to believe that someone yelling his opinion with conviction without reading from a teleprompter is genuine and someone cautiously exploring nuance and allowing for compromise is wishy-washy. A funny grammatical note here – I had to use his as a pronoun in that last sentence because male gendered pronouns are the standard and when you use a “hers” in place of a “his” it’s a political statement. I also used his because let’s be honest, that first example is almost certainly a dude or maybe just a man-hating lesbian that really needs to lighten up. The second example should probably shout some more or just let her husband shout for her so she doesn’t seem shrill. If I seem glibly angry and cynical here it’s because I am and I get to be because I have toxic male privilege and I’m protected.

Here’s the takeaway, folks – masculine behavior is so much the implicit norm that just by consciously or unconsciously supporting these behaviors and discouraging their counterpoints we are perpetuating toxic male privilege. We are perpetuating sexism. If I have a conversation with another man and he doesn’t get angry and isn’t bold enough and if I tell him that he’s weak I’m being a fucking sexist even if there isn’t a woman within 100 miles. It’s not that masculinity is bad or that these traits are bad it’s about balance and it’s about accepting that traditionally masculine traits and traditionally feminine traits are not inherently better or worse than each other. Men, especially online where toxic masculinity is endemic, should endeavor to be more demure, more polite, more willing to compromise and women should feel empowered to be more bold, to be express anger in whatever way they want without fearing reprisal. When a  man shuts up and listens, it’s sexist to dismiss him as “stupid SJW” and when a woman stands tall and speaks her mind it’s sexist to tell her #NotAllMen because sexism is both about literal gender identity and the gender identity that’s coupled with gendered traits.

I don’t think we need to eliminate either set of gendered traits but we need to equalize them and create space for men and women to be both when appropriate without the toxic masculine infrastructure smacking down anyone that steps out of line. We need to celebrate traditionally feminine behaviors much more and we need to maybe reconsider our Pavlovian response to demagogues and straight-talking macho bullies. Anger should not be conflated with sincerity and loudness should not be mistaken for righteousness any more than politeness should be conflated with docility or willingness to compromise dismissed as spinelessness.

As a writer and a former editor, the saddest and most predictable thing I encounter when I talk to other writers is that women are all too often too self-deprecating, shy, and insecure and men are all too often cocksure and overconfident and neither have any honest correlation to the work. I take it for granted that I write well. I’ve always been told I write well. I work hard at it and I’m a middle class heterosexual white male so I’m implicitly going to be given the benefit of the doubt from a lot of readers. Just like how when I was in college and raised my hand during writing workshops I was absolutely confident that my contributions were going to be essential to everyone else. Just like how I get to write this blog and have confidence that it’s pretty smart and I might get some high fives. I might even get the link retweeted and go viral and that’s not scary – it’s awesome because nothing bad can really happen to me on the internet. That confidence and validation is sexist. I have the direct and undeniable benefit of toxic masculinity both because of my biology and because I, like a lot of men, really embody those traditional masculine traits we were shown in comic books and Arnold Schwarzenegger action movies at formative ages while the girls were being told not to interrupt and to not dress too slutty or drink too much at parties.

I think the internet makes it worse and I think it’s because this technology really favors men. Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and the comments sections of everything reward controversy, brevity, and volume. While not implicitly made for men these online socially spaces definitely favor boldness, brashness, loudness, anger, and aggression over demureness, politeness, quiet, gentleness, and willingness to compromise. It’s built into the algorithm. Facebook hides long posts because if you’re not LOUD and BRASH in your opening couple lines, who cares? There are tools to engage in longer form discourse that embody some of those counter traits for sure – Tumblr and personal blogs like this – but these spaces are kept effectively separate and to get people outside of these communities they must go through Dudetown. It’s not that Twitter and Facebook and Reddit need to shut it all down and remake themselves more aligned to these traditionally feminine traits, it’s that we need to recognize the impact of gender bias implicit in these tools and try to be better people when using them.

In a just world, I should be shouted at by men and women for my presumptuousness, for having the arrogance to interject my point of view about sexism from my lofty man throne while women are being harassed for reporting news, or criticizing video games, or drawing comic books wrong, or wearing the wrong clothes. And I certainly shouldn’t be gloating about my inherent masculine power while women are still being sexually assaulted behind dumpsters by promising young athletes that used to eat so much more steak before being caught digitally raping unconscious women. But arrogance and presumption are traditionally masculine traits and I’m pretty confident no one is going to be call me out on it – and if they do, just one last reminder, I have toxic male privilege and I’m protected.

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