Caveat: I hesitate to open this line of argument, because I’m sure there will be a fella or two who, after the Hoyden/LP Coultergeist misogyny threads last week, might think that this is aimed squarely at them. Please be assured that this issue truly is much bigger than a coupla fellas on a coupla Oz progblogs.
The canonical example of the male mugging victim rarely, if ever, being second-guessed as to “what he could have done differently” (when such second-guessing is the universal experience of the female rape victim) is merely one of the starker expressions of acculturated, reflexive sexism. (Reflexive sexism being unexamined attitudes rather than overt and deliberate misogyny, which is more easily understood and properly refrained from by all decent people.)
Another classic example of the overt reflexive double standard would be the gym teacher who made a teenage girl leave a weightlifting class because all the other students were male and he said she had to leave in case she might be assaulted by the boys: unthinkingly punishing the woman for male lack of self-control, either actual or hypothetical.
Then there’s a perennial favourite: the scowling men who puff themselves up to emphasise their height and weight advantage and then bark “Smile!” at women who are, through minding their own business, being insufficiently mindful of the submission display these men need to get through the day.
Such men would generally deny that they are being domineering sexists (e.g. I just like it when women smile at me! What’s wrong with being more friendly?), despite the overt bullying nature of the reflexive behaviour.
But there is a more insidious reflexive sexism, which poisons relationships between men and women, because it flies under most people’s radar entirely. What I want to speak of is the special brand of reflexive sexism that I will call occulted sexism: hidden under either a layer of good intentions or a layer of dissembling; depending upon the person involved. (I use occulted here in the same way that astronomers use it.)
The sexism of low self-expectations, one might say. Where men who’ve had their consciousness raised regarding overt expressions of misogyny, and even who’ve had their eyes opened to certain reflexive double-standard attitudes, still haven’t entirely got “it”. The ones who want a cookie, a pat on the head, a bit of acknowledgement please for the amazing achievement of acting like a decent human being when around women.
Yes, the NiceGuys(TM) who want their gold stars.
Many blogular pixels have been expended upon the NiceGuys(TM). I’m not going to talk about the perpetual adolescent NiceGuy(TM) who thinks women are hypocrites for wanting to sleep with “jerks” instead of his niceynice self. That’s been done plenty, and I have nothing to add. I want to talk about the older NiceGuy(TM) who does in fact have relationships with women, relationships that last for some time. Yet in the end these relationships either fall apart or fester in mutual resentment.
Why? Mainly because these older NiceGuys(TM) keep on whining about not getting their gold stars for being NiceGuys(TM) when they treat us women no differently than they treat the males with whom they interact, or when they step up to do a fair share of domestic work (that they never thank the women around them for when the women do the work).
Suck it up, fellas.
If you don’t make a big fuss of thanks and congratulations when the women around you do a domestic task, don’t be offended if no woman gives you a gold star for the domestic task you’ve just completed.
If you don’t make a big song and dance when men at work listen to your good ideas, discuss them respectfully and maybe implement a few, then don’t expect your female colleagues to stop and specially thank you with a gold star if you listen to their good ideas etc.
Think about it.
You don’t get a gold star for not daydreaming at the office.
You don’t get a gold star for not cheating on the exam.
You don’t get a gold star for removing the private details of a male lawyer from your website when you’ve refused to remove pictures and private details of female law students who’ve objected to your website.
You don’t get a gold star for not embezzling from the company.
You don’t get a gold star for not speeding or not drink-driving.
You don’t get a gold star for not murdering.
That’s because there are certain standards that society expects decent human beings to adhere to as a matter of course, because they are ethically sound. Treating women like full human beings who deserve egalitarian interactions is a basic ethical standard, not some noble sacrifice that deserves recognition and praise. It’s basic decency, not a martyrdom.
Corollaries: generally, if you keep on expecting gold stars for stepping up to the plate of egalitarianism and common decency, you will be resented. This resentment will manifest in interactions and environments that are less pleasant for all concerned – i.e. including you – than they would be if you would just let go of the gold star mentality.
Now, there may be some fellas, and some fellas’ partners, out there who think I’m being unduly harsh, even though I’m not necessarily talking about them. Certainly I don’t think all men who state a goal of being non-sexist want their quota of gold stars every single day.
But it surely wouldn’t hurt most men to just have a quiet look inside yourself at how many gold stars you’ve expected lately, eh? Or for most women to take a quiet look at how many gold stars they’ve been expected to bestow.
Treating people decently shouldn’t need reinforcing with gold stars, or if it does the flow should go more than just one way. If a gold star discrepancy is poisoning your relationships, how can you do better?
Crossposted at Larvatus Prodeo