J’accuse? On women who “collaborate” with the patriarchy

Being highly aware of sexism can be a tough gig. I sometimes wish I could turn off that nerve-jangle I get whenever someone says “he throws like a girl” or “don’t be such a pussy” or “she looks like a whore”. It’s tiring to go through every day constantly weighing up how we want to react. More specifically, for women who wish to actively resist the patriarchy, making everyday decisions becomes complicated: do I shave my body hair or not? Do I wear makeup to cover my pimple? If I want to wear socially-coded “sexy” clothes, am I actually subconsciously wishing to gain heteromale approval? Once you’re aware of sexism, you can’t easily switch that awareness off.

It can become very tempting, as a result, for feminist women to resent other women who seem oblivious to these concerns. It is dangerously easy to feel that women who happily wax all their body hair off and diet themselves into the smallest size in the shop and pout at us from the cover of Sports Illustrated and flip their hair in L’Oreal advertisements are our enemies. If we aren’t careful, we start to think of them as collaborators. But it is absolutely crucial that we resist this temptation.

Too often, hyperfemme women are unfairly accused of collaborating with the patriarchy. Yes, it’s true that the more people adhere to social gender norms, the harder it is to destroy these norms. There is no denying that some women are doing it explicitly to get heteromale attention, thereby buying into social power structures – and reinforcing them. But a lot of women just genuinely like presenting in a socially-coded feminine way. And if that is so, then presenting in that way is not collaboration at all. It is ridiculous to demand that women curtail their self-expression to further the feminist cause, when the aims of feminism include making it safe and acceptable for women to express themselves however they like.

Worse, a lot of the denigration of hyperfemininity is actually sexist. We associate lipstick and pink with women (this century, anyway) and then associate women with “weak” or “inferior”; when feminism tells us to destroy that second link, we just leap to “lipstick and pink must be inferior”. A lot of social opposition to traits or clothing or activities that are socially-coded-feminine is actually unexamined misogyny.

So hyperfemme women are not “collaborators”. But there are women explicitly propping up sexist social structures. First, women who overtly push androcentrism as their chosen replacement for “traditional” sexism are actually reinforcing sexism. Androcentrism is the glorification of socially-coded male attributes, which is the thing that causes women to say “I can’t be friends with other women, they’re all backstabbing, catty bitches”. Or “Women are so boring, they’re obsessed with shoes and lipstick! I like to play Halo and watch football!” Or “Why do women care about their appearances? They’re so shallow! I get on so much better with men, because they care about real issues.” Or “Why do you have a problem with women being seen as sex objects? You sound like you just need a good fuck.” (Thanks, Olivia Munn). These ideas do prop up sexist social norms. They buy into ideas that socially-coded male things are great and socially-coded female things are pathetic.

Of course, this is not the only way for women to collaborate with the patriarchy. There is good old fashioned sexism being espoused by plenty of women. Sexist views do not magically become feminist when espoused by women. Women who say that we all need to return to traditional gender roles, and get women back to the kitchen, are being sexist. Women who slutshame are being sexist. Women who say that women should never appear in public with pubic hair, or leg hair, or armpit hair, or fat bodies, or masculine features are sexist. Women who insist that women should never go out in public without makeup? Sexist. The minute you start policing other women’s behaviour to enforce sexist social norms, you cross a line – then you really are a collaborator, no matter your gender. Women who endorse genderised tropes as mandatory behaviour are engaging in social control for the patriarchy. They are policing other women’s behaviour to ensure those women toe the line.

They are also policing themselves. So even though we recognise that sexist and androcentrist women can and sometimes do collaborate with patriarchy, we shouldn’t condemn individual women for their actions. To the extent that we can accurately identify genuine cases of collaboration, which is difficult, we should see it for what it really is for those individuals: a survival response in a sexist society. That doesn’t make the behaviour any less problematic. That doesn’t mean it’s a good outcome. But it does mean that the individual is not the core problem. She is stuck in a system that makes certain demands on her, and this is how she’s going to play it.

That sucks, but clearly on some level that’s what she feels she has to do. It’s not anyone’s place to tell individual women how to respond to their situations. Of course we can call out hurtful and policing behaviour when we encounter it. Indeed, if we are able to do so, we must do that. But we must also criticise social norms that demand these behaviours from women, and in so doing, we shouldn’t let individual women become collateral damage. Our sexist opponents hate the idea of allowing women to make their own decisions, free from social norms, free from community pressure, free from judgement. We need to be absolutely sure that we never collaborate with them on that.

Fauxgress Watch: @InjusticeFacts

After the various Twitter accounts all claiming to “respect” women, the worst Twitter accounts are by far the ones vomiting wildly inaccurate and unresearched bullshit onto the internet, claiming to support social progress and justice through misinformation.

I can’t even begin to describe the utter crap InjusticeFacts tweets about. On top of spewing flat-out bullshit, it’s also misogynistfatphobic, sex worker shaming, offensively Western-centric, and that’s not even getting into the complex discussions about the causes of homelessness or how (and whether) to dispense foreign aid and charity to developing countries. Condense issues that people in the field have written long research papers and theses about into 140 characters? CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!

And who is the person behind the account; who is this collector and collator of “facts”? Why it’s you, of course! Well, not you, but any ignorant douchewad or conspiracy theorist or privileged fuckface who has an email address! Citations? Research? Evidence? Nonsense! Just write your “fact” in this WordPress moderated comment!

Y’all, I could get better and more accurate information on 4Chan.

But it’s not really InjusticeFacts that I’m angry at. I can find extreme amounts of bullshit on the internet in under 5 seconds if I wanted to look. Oh no, it’s the 67,000+ 81,000+ followers who retweet this shit.

I’m not saying that everything InjusticeFacts tweets is wrong, and probably some socially minded people submitted real statistics at one time. Some of their statistics on racial profiling by the criminal justice system even looks correct! What I am saying that a Twitter account that relies on practically anonymous submissions isn’t exactly the epitome of a reliable source. I did make up a submission that “80% of Americans cannot afford to buy milk” (I made that up on the spot by the way and it sadly goes unpublished thus far) in an attempt to prove they’ll publish anything, but turns out I really didn’t have to:

When Rupert Murdoch was a boy, he spied on his own mother by leaving recording devices in her room, today, he spies on everyone.

While in college Rupert Murdoch was a communist, then he developed a spying fetish and started a media empire to satisfy his fetish.

To be fair, Rupert and I aren’t best buds so I can’t be 100% sure the above tweets aren’t true. And yet I do question why these “facts” were never reported anywhere else, even on Wikileaks (who obviously stand for Truth and Freedom and are Completely Transparent All The Time).

The point I am make is that when a source of information is so consistently wrong in it’s statistical data or factual analysis, you should discount that source altogether. Clearly there is a credibility issue! Clearly when someone has expressed 100 illogical and wrong statements, then supported your opinion in 1 statement you haven’t verified, that should be treated with a horrified “Get the fuck off my side!” rather than a congratulatory “Even X believes this!” Because the supporting statement is probably wrong too.

I want people to support the social justice cause, but I don’t want them to support the cause on the basis of misinformation, especially misinformation that’s aimed at making clueless privileged people feel guilty. There’s plenty of actual facts clueless privileged people could feel guilty about, and then they wouldn’t be basing their opinions on misinformation that’s probably more likely to harm marginalised communities than help. Retweeting InjusticeFacts is a “activism” in the same way that “raising awareness” is activism (pat yourself on the back for attending a concert, you’ve done your part now!). Except it’s even worse because you’re raising awareness based what’s likely to be completely falsified data. Actual injustices in the world is not enough, you have to make shit up!

Every time I see someone retweet InjusticeFacts seriously on Twitter, I am instinctively repelled by anything they have to say afterwards. If you are so uncritical as to believe InjusticeFacts, then I don’t know how much of your opinion relies on COMPLETE FABRICATIONS. If your opinion is based on real evidence, then go find a study or a paper and link me to it. Hey, even an eloquently argued blog post would do! I am open to discussion, I just don’t think it’s likely that the USA has imprisoned the most people in all of history.

Don’t even get me started on holier-than-thou, privileged, back-patting accounts like ActivismTips and _Capitalism_ who rely purely on emotionally charged language to oversimplify complex matters, and seem to revel in their own ignorance.

None of you are helping, SO GET THE FUCK OFF MY SIDE.

Musings on the judgements teachers make about their female students (and a sneaky Taylor Swift reference)

I am a teacher. Which to me seems a faintly ridiculous statement to make because it conjures up someone with far greater knowledge and teacherly-attitude than I could ever hope to have. The other day a student asked how to spell liquorice, and I couldn’t remember. Would that happen to a Real Teacher? (My investigations suggest you can spell it two ways).

That caveat aside I am, for all intents and purposes, a teacher. Just like the ones that you used to have, who would say things like “students if you’re not quiet now we can do this at lunchtime” (sometimes I say this!). One of the discoveries of being on the other side of the staffroom door is that teachers are, despite teacherly-attitude to the contrary, exactly like everyone else. This means that we don’t really want to stay in at lunchtime in order to instill some discipline in our uncaring students. Sadly it also means that teachers are beset with the usual prejudices. Just as within the rest of the world in our schools young women are repeatedly judged by their looks.

This week I was waiting for a student to join one of my classes. Every time I talked to another staff member about her they said some variety of the following “You’ll love her, she works so hard. Also she is very pretty.” Sometimes the fact that she was pretty came first! This made me feel increasingly uncomfortable. Her prettiness is clearly unimportant in her academic abilities but still it was remarked upon. It seemed the other teachers were unable to stop themselves from mentioning it.

In the above example the other teachers seemed to be suggesting that this student was worthy of greater attention from her teachers because of how she looked. Attention is a keyword when talking about beautyism in the classroom because a whole lot of teaching is based on getting and keeping the attention of your students. Furthermore, being the idealistic teacher that I am, I believe students who get more of my attention are more likely to succeed at school.

It is wrong that we grant greater attention to female students who are good looking. However, pretty girls who distract male students attention in class are also quickly judged unworthy of teacher attention. As with everywhere, it is desirable to be “pretty” but only if you’re pretty in certain ways.

Attention seeking behaviours of boys are deemed cheeky. Boys who act the class clown are maybe reprimanded and sometimes punished with detention, but invariably teachers will make an ongoing effort to get them engaged in class work. If you are a pretty girl who distracts the attention of the male students in your class, in my experience you are not so lucky. Teachers in the staffroom will talk about the length of your skirt and the colour of your makeup, they will even explicitly call you out for being a slut. And guess what? They won’t help you catch up in class.

Disclaimer, disclaimer: Of course, the plural of anecdote is not data. These are just my (limited) experiences of teaching and talking to other teachers. In fact, on the macro level the data is against me, everything I have seen in the last twenty years of education research suggests that girls out-perform boys in almost all subject areas. Furthermore, maybe I am putting too much stock in the importance of having the attention of a teacher. There are also issues around class that intersect with gender in this area (there is at least another blogpost in that, probably a book).

However, my experience has been that school systems often work to reinforce and perpetuate the societal norm that women and girls should be judged on their looks, and that there success is dependent upon them. It is so easy to fall into the trap of reinforcing this. Difficult teenage girls are fairly terrifying. Plus, they can totally remind you of when you were in high school when you were the one with the sneakers and she is clearly the kind of girl that had the high heels and the shorts skirts. So, one promise I’m going to make as a young teacher is not to reinforce this idea, not to support the pretty girl just because she is pretty and not to stop helping the difficult girl. If anything we should all be working not to confirm the ridiculous distinctions made by Taylor Swift songs, surely?