No, I Don’t Need to Smile More

Anything done via technology is easier. Generally, anyway. Your taxes can be done in a matter of 30 minutes with the right software. You can order a new dress for a wedding without having to get out of bed. You can explore an entire dating pool without setting foot in a bar. Heck, you can order Dominos now with two clicks of a button. You can also call a stranger struggling with weight gain and self-esteem issues fat, bully a frienemy in a 140-character tweet, and spread rumors via your blog faster than you can get through the Starbuck’s morning drive through line. Technology isn’t 100 percent to blame for any of those interactions taking place, (yes, unfortunately people were bullied and harassed before Facebook existed and there was time you’d have to go to a restaurant if you wanted to place a pizza order to go) and there’s debate whether technology has caused a significant increase in harassment; however, we cannot deny that technology has brought us face to face with more stories, evidence, and experiences of such harassment than ever before. Maybe ignorance is bliss, but ignorance isn’t a magic wand that makes any of these stories disappear from existence.

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When did Feminist become a dirty word?

A friend shared an article on Facebook about the Woke Misogynist and it hit me particularly hard. Not only because of the conversations that ensued in the comments, but also because of personal experience. There’s a particularly poignant sentence in the article that says, “This pattern was hypocritical in a grander sense, in that someone purporting to be for human rights shouldn’t go around abusing or dismissing women.” I would define myself as a generally level-headed person. I’m shy, quiet (opinionated yes), but it takes quite a bit for me to express outrage via social media. A male left a comment on the shared post questioning whether males would consider themselves feminists at all. Debating via Facebook comments rarely leads to productive discourse, but alas, I commented anyway. Feminism to me is about equal rights, not female-exclusivity or female-dominance. As a woman in a STEM career, I have a more first-hand experience than most being subject to blatant and easily-dismissed sexism. There are several career fields that are this way, but I think for those who aren’t in these situations as often it can be hard for them to pinpoint or speak out about sexism and describe themselves as feminists. “Of course, men can be feminists and I hope that they are.”, was partially what I commented.  Joseph Gordan-Levitt does a brilliant job of laying out how men can and should be feminists and what role they can play. My fellow commenter however, not so much. His response troubled me, “Among my peers no one states they are feminists. I know plenty of men that support the women in their lives etc. …I would hope my actions would speak for me.” Beyond missing the point of the article, his first sentence was alarming as well as confusing to me. Was he saying that, “Hey, I never claimed to be a feminist so that frees me of treating women with the respect they deserve in my daily interactions.”? As if distancing oneself from the word absolves them of all responsibility to treat women as equals, with dignity and respect. If I asked this man, or another male that may share his opinion, face-to-face, I’m sure they would say, “Oh no! That’s not the point I was trying to make.” Too often though that’s the problem; when men, or women, are asked point blank “Do you support females having equal rights as males?” they would say “Of course I do!”. What matters however, as he points out, is our actions and behavior.

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I could go on and on listing experiences where male classmates accused our physics professors of giving me good grades or preferential treatment due to my gender, bosses calling me cold, domineering and aloof because I may not always smile at them in the hallway or have the bubbly, perma-happy personality that people expect to accompany my long, blonde locks, comments from male coworkers about my acne, my weight, my clothes, negative performance reviews in the workplace dominated about conversations regarding my personality not being more “chipper and friendly” rather than on the content I’d created, and on and on. Yes, unfortunately in a city as “woke” as Austin blatant sexism is rampant in the tech sphere. This is not a sob story listing the tales of sexism I’ve experienced though; there are numerous women out there like me who share these stories and these struggles. I could write volumes regarding toxic “tech bro” culture, but what I’d like to focus on applies to more of us than just the STEM crowd. From the church community I participate in to the cycling community and beyond, woke misogyny abounds.

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It’s #GirlBoss, not bossy

Between the prevalence of prejudice in every corner of our society and the tendency for dating to bring out gender roles, it’s hard not to come by any stereotypes, disrespect, or patronizing treatment of women in any community we participate in. However, there is a lesser known cousin to blatant sexism in a form that I’ve come to learn in recent months that a scary percentage of my female friends in city like Austin have experienced; subtle misogyny. Yes, misogynists are becoming subtler in a way, hiding their sexism behind intellectual or spiritual beliefs, scientific justifications, social activism, or even showering praise for women on their social media pages. (Cue all the latest batch of SNL skits about sexism.) It comes to feel as if some of these men won’t even admit to themselves what they are doing. Men wearing a “The Future is Female” shirt then turning around and calling a girl overly-sensitive for calling them out on sexist language or behavior. Maybe the one Lena Dunham interview they watched or the Gender Studies undergrad class they took didn’t explain this, but feminism isn’t a title you earn once in your life and can tote out like a diploma when you need to, but never have to use ever again. It’s something we need to demonstrate in every interaction we have with a woman. One article I read on such says: “It’s an ongoing process of learning about the different ways sexism articulates itself in our daily interactions with one another.”

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Much like the “I can’t be racist; I have black friend.” argument doesn’t carry much weight and is usually met with an eye roll or some serious side eye, the “I’m a feminist, so my treatment of you, as a woman, has nothing to do with being female.” will get you no where fast.

What troubles me more than anything is society’s willingness to accept these men into our lives. Hey, if they have large enough social media following, they’re good at covering up their history of this behavior, and I guess they’ve never literally sexually abused someone it’s ok, right? It’s easy for us today to call out the Bill O’Reillys and Donald Trumps of the world. To look at them with true distant and disgust and be willing to express these feelings loudly via our social media pages. If we hold people like Billy Bush to a standard where association with these men is unacceptable, why don’t we do this in our own immediate social circles? The morality of treating women with respect is not a sliding scale and sorry, no one gets a gold star for being a decent human being. It is a baffling movement, one towards praising men for being simply a “nice guy”. Being friends with a woman isn’t a courtesy, and not sexually assaulting her isn’t a valiant feat. An Onion article posted last year had a headline “Perfect Gentleman Does Not Assault Drunk Woman.” While full of laughs, it’s all too real. Don’t think that this is a valid issue? I urge you to run a simple Google search and read the vast number of stories shared by women across the US who share these same experiences.

“Boys will be Boys, amirite?…”

Identifying a woke misogynist is hard, and dating one is even harder. In our daily lives, we women can be outspoken, ambitious, driven, hey-we-won’t-stand-for-that women, yet throw a Tinder match on the table and things begin to blur. Gender roles, stereotypes, and those pesky rules we learned for dating as girls (Wait for the man to text or call you first after the date…never say “I love you” first…don’t appear too eager or too aggressive…don’t let him see you without make-up until you’re in a monogamous relationship…) make it hard for us to truly see and call out this behavior in our crushes, our dates, our boyfriends, or sometimes even our husbands. These woke misogynistic men can play the ever maddening Let’s Talk it Out game with reasons and explanations for their behavior, they’re manipulative in their actions and speech, they’re often suave and good at saying all the right things, and are skilled at making a woman feel like she is the crazy one for ever questioning his intentions or actions. And yes, there are the societally “accepted” players who are shady, who lie about their intentions while dating, have mastered the art of catching a woman then releasing her as soon as she is interested, purposefully manipulate women into uncomfortable situations, and/or will date other women behind her back while never touting feminist rhetoric; these people are just real….jerks. (PG word substitution in case my mother is reading…hi Mom.) Men, as a class, are culpable for misogyny, and male allies are no different and no less capable of demeaning women through their words, actions, and complicit silence.

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You mad bro?

I should caveat and say that no one person is perfect. We’re never going to be perfect feminists. We’re never going to be perfectly fair, accommodating, understanding, and unbiased in our actions with respect to every person’s religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. despite our best efforts to do so. There’s no 10 Commandments of Feminism to get you into the Feminist club or a pledge to recite to make sure we treat each other with respect and dignity. Even feminist women mess it up. (I don’t know how many times I’ve used the phrase or some variation of “I throw like a girl”.) Think to yourself though, if some calls you out for sexist behavior what is your immediate reaction? Is it defensive? “Oh god no, I love and support women! You’re misinterpreting my actions!”. “This has nothing to do with gender, but with you just being sensitive.” “I’m a woman, how could I possibly be sexist?!” Shifting your reaction from one of defense to understanding is the first step. Simply saying “You’re wrong.” or “My bad, I’m sorry.” isn’t enough. Instead, we need to try to listen to the person who says we have been sexist and think about it. There will be some of you that read this and think I’m being a bitter, overly-sensitive, demanding, emotional, etc woman. Maybe I sort of am, but maybe I’m not. And if I’m not, maybe you’re just not ready to listen. But each of us has experienced some sort of bias or prejudice in our lives that we wish the person on giving end of these actions or speech could understand from our point of view.

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These are my thoughts and opinions, based on my experiences. I could be right, I could be wrong, but there’s definitely more to discuss. I have no answer to solving how to deal with misogynists/sexism, woke misogynists, and/or the people who turn a blind eye to them.

I want to ask each of you who have made it this far into my post a few questions, and I truly hope you’ll share your thoughts with me either in the comments of this post or privately (sarah.dieken@gmail.com):

  1. What do you do when you experience or interact with a woke misogynist?

  2. Do you have a friend or friends who behave sexist, interact with women showing a clear lack of respect, or treat/date women without respect, but hide behind their own woke misogynist mask? If yes, do you point it out to them or encourage them to change?

  3. How do you lift up & support the women in your lives?

  4. If you are a female: What actions or behavior do you find encouraging and supporting from the male community around you? What do you find discouraging?

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