I read another blog post yesterday that got me thinking. It’s an incredibly well written article about the way women are treated in public, particularly here in my home town of Tacoma. I know most of you don’t click any of the links I put in my articles, and that’s fine. For the most part, I put them there as a source for various claims I make. But this post will be a bit different, so I encourage you to read this article by a woman who calls herself PKS, otherwise you won’t have the full context for what I’m about to say.
Done? Good, now we can continue.
I love my town. Tacoma is, in my opinion, the greatest city in the country, and I expect to live out my entire life here. I’m not, however, enamored with some of the things that happen here, and that article is a good example of that. I hate being embarrassed by my town. The crazy thing about that is that since I’m not a woman and never have to deal with that kind of bullshit, I wasn’t even aware of how common it is. I had to ask my wife if she gets catcalled when she’s out and about; she said she does… all the time.
The main point PKS is trying to make is that it’s not enough to shake our heads quietly when we see this kind of behavior; that if we don’t speak up, we’re tacitly supporting it. And she’s right. As she said it,
“Women shouldn’t always have to be the ones pointing this shit out. People of color shouldn’t always have to be the ones pointing out racism. LGBTQ people shouldn’t always have to be the ones pointing out heteronormativity and homo- and queerphobia. Working class people shouldn’t always have to be the ones pointing out classism. People with disabilities shouldn’t always have to be the ones pointing out ableism. You get where I am going here?”
That’s the very nature of privilege. The fact that I don’t have to deal with verbal abuse like this makes it so easy for me to not notice it. But just because I’m not the victim of injustice in this case doesn’t mean I should stand silently by and allow it to happen.
That’s what most troubles me about her article. PKS strikes far too accurately at me when she observed,
“…I remember the men who were standing just a few feet away, clearly on a smoke break and within earshot. They didn’t say anything, just looked down and away, undoubtedly uncertain how to respond.”
I know myself and have to be honest with myself enough to say that is probably exactly how I would react. I have trouble with confrontation, and this is the exact type of situation I would shy away from. I would fail PKS, as I’ve failed others by silently accepting other’s hateful statements.
And it’s not just out on the street, but everywhere. On my own Facebook feed, I regularly see sexist, racist, homophobic, and generally hateful comments and jokes. There’s a lot of it out there. My wife and I both say that some of the people I hang out with are awful people, but great friends. They’re the type of people who be there at a moment’s notice if I need help, but they’re also the type of people who will regularly post sexist, racist, and homophobic jokes and memes. Hell, I’ve even made some of those same jokes myself before.
Every time I see one now, though, I stop and think, “I need to speak up here. I need to let this person know how unacceptable that comment is.” But I stop myself. I come up with excuses not to speak out. I convince myself that it’s not worth the trouble to start a fight. I have the conversation in my head where they tell me to settle down, to learn how to take a joke. In my head, they start thinking of me as one of those guys who can’t turn off, who has no sense of humor. And so I stay silent. And though I hate myself for it, my actions tell me that keeping my friends is apparently more important to me than standing up for what I believe is right.
I should be clear here, I do think these jokes are wrong. I stopped finding them funny a long time ago. I remember the first time I heard a joke about women making sandwiches, and I laughed. I laughed because the thought of such regressive and sexist attitudes in today’s more enlightened and accepting culture is so jarringly incongruous. I laughed because it’s absurd that anyone would still think that women belonged in such subordinate roles in the household. I defended my friends who made those jokes. I said, “It’s not a sexist joke, it’s a joke about sexism.” But after awhile those defenses started to ring hollow. After seeing the same tired and offensive stereotype repeated time and time again, it got harder to defend my own friends.
Then someone I know, without any sense of irony, posted this defense of sandwich jokes:
I couldn’t deny it any longer. I had to to admit to myself that my friends are actually sexist. I’m still friends with them, but my perception had to change. And every time one of them posted about someone being stuck in the friend zone, or a meme about how fat and ugly someone is, I stayed silent. I think that’s probably the worst part. In accepting that my friends are terrible people, I gave up on fighting them, because why should I?
I also feel like a hypocrite. I started this blog to call out religious privilege. I get so frustrated when the more liberal, non-hateful Christians I know try to dismiss my objections. They’ll tell me, “That’s just the crazies; you have to ignore them.” or “Most of us aren’t terrible, why do you have to attack all of us.” I want to scream that if you’re against people using religion to be hateful, then do something about it. Don’t shake your head and agree that those people are terrible. Make them stop!
But here I am, doing the exact same thing. I’m that guy that would come up to PKS after the fact at tell her how shitty it was that she got catcalled instead of standing up and speaking out.
So where do I go from here? I almost feel like I’m putting myself into a corner. If I’m to be internally consistent, I have to speak out against my friends, or stop being friends with them. But I know the next time I see a sexist joke, I’m going to feel the internal pressure to let it go. Hell, I’m already questioning myself as to whether or not I should even post this. PKS said it wouldn’t be easy, and she’s right.
I can’t promise that I’ll stand up to every injustice I see, but PKS is right. I can do better.