Toxic Patriarchy (Part II)

Last week, in part I of Toxic Patriarchy, I discussed the importance of de-centering maleness, holding space for multiple narratives, and becoming comfortable with discomfort in the struggle for gender equality. Here I pick up where I left off.


Avoid straw man arguments like PC

Straw man arguments are when you distort someone’s argument into something they never said, and then argue with the distortion while avoiding the original argument.

Arguably the ultimate straw man argument is political correctness (PC). The idea of PC takes legitimate arguments for equality and efforts to reduce harm and distorts them into arguments of free speech and over-sensitivity. Amanda Taub describes PC in a VOX article The truth about “political correctness” is that it doesn’t actually exist: “Political correctness is often used by those in a position of privilege to silence debates raised by marginalized people—to say that their concerns don’t deserve to be voiced, much less addressed. ‘Politically correct’ is a term we use to dismiss ideas that make us uncomfortable.”

Most people aren’t aware that the PC movement was actually started by a conservative coalition in the 1990s to demonize people working on social justice issues by falsely relating them to things like fascists trying to repress free speech, out-of-touch elitists, and overly sensitive “snowflakes” that ruin everything. Most Americans had never heard of political correctness before the 90s. Political correctness was a product of conservative donors like the Koch, Olin, and Scaife families funding think tanks, authors, media, etc., to find ways to split the academic liberals from the working-class liberals. They created this idea of Political Correctness, which was formally only used in ironic ways to demonize diversity and social justice efforts. Thousands of articles were produced over a few years with titles like,

“The Rising Hegemony of the Politically Correct”

“THOUGHT POLICE”

“New Enlightenment—or the New McCarthyism?”

“The New Fascists”

“A New Intolerance”

Majority of these articles recycled the same exaggerated or out-of-context stories of real and fake campus controversies from a few elite colleges, helping to portray PC as a type of fascism.

Moria Weigal wrote in the Guardian Article, Political correctness: how the right invented a phantom enemy: “If you search ProQuest, a digital database of U.S. magazines and newspapers, you find that the phrase ‘politically correct’ rarely appeared before 1990. That year, it turned up more than 700 times. In 1991, there are more than 2,500 instances. In 1992, it appeared more than 2,800 times. Like Indiana Jones movies, these pieces called up enemies from a melange of old wars: they compared the ‘thought police’ spreading terror on university campuses to fascists, Stalinists, McCarthyites, ‘Hitler Youth,’ Christian fundamentalists, Maoists and Marxists.”

In 1991 President George H.W. Bush gave a speech identifying PC as a major through to the U.S.: “Ironically, on the 200th anniversary of our Bill of Rights, we find free speech under assault throughout the United States. The notion of political correctness has ignited controversy across the land. … In their own Orwellian way, crusades that demand correct behavior crush diversity in the name of diversity.”

Since Bush’s speech conservatives have actively been using the PC boogeyman to demonize social justice efforts while avoiding any serious conversations about their own perpetuation of social injustice. Many would say Trump has perfected this straw man argument. During the first debate of the Republican primaries, Fox News host Megyn Kelly challenged Trump on his sexism:

“You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals.’ … You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees.”

Trump’s answered, “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,” and the audience blew up in applause.

Nobody ever describes themselves as ‘politically correct.’ The phrase is only used as an accusation. … ‘Political correctness’ became a term used to drum into the public imagination the idea that there was a deep divide between the ‘ordinary people’ and the ‘liberal elite,’ who sought to control the speech and thoughts of regular folk. Opposition to PC also became a way to rebrand racism in ways that were politically acceptable in the post-civil-rights era.

Moira Weigel, The Guardian

Not to downplay the fact that people calling out sexism, racism, etc., don’t always use the best forms of communication and tact, especially on the wonderfully toxic world of social media. But instead of dismissing their efforts as “out of control PC,” ask them to try “calling in” people next time. “Calling in” is a more sensitive and tactful way of confronting an issue or behavior from a place of compassion while avoiding shaming.

Understand intersectionality

Oxford Dictionary defines intersectionality as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage; a theoretical approach based on such a premise.”

When fighting to dismantle patriarchy, it is imperative to understand how intersectionality affects patriarchy, such as the difference between feminism, which strives for equality for everyone, and white feminism, which focuses on the struggles of white women while ignoring people of color and transgender people.

It’s important to understand how oppression often not only gets worse as layers of oppressed identities (class, gender, disabilities, etc.) are added, but intentions and approaches can change as well. For example, the liberation of women from male dominance of their choices is often not about achieving one specific choice but the ability for women to choose in general, whether they are choosing their fashion of choice or choosing to be closer to their religion.

Stop saying ‘reverse sexism’

To be clear, prejudice and discrimination can happen to anyone—including men. And men can also be victims of sexism and patriarchy, especially when there are other oppressive intersectional layers involved, such as class, sexuality, race, etc.

What makes sexism so much more detrimental to women, rather than men, is that our society is structured as a patriarchy. Our institutions put more value on a man’s word than that of a woman when it comes to sexual assault and discrimination. Our job markets believe more in the value of men than women and reward that belief with a gender pay gap and 95 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions.  This is also true even with our political leadership. Despite women making up the majority population in the U.S., they hold less than one quarter of our political offices.

When a woman experiences sexism, it’s not just about being offended. It’s about reinforcing political, economic, and social domination over that woman. Men cannot claim this.

According to Prerna Singh of Feminisim in India, Women simply cannot be sexist towards men. Their assumptions or prejudices about men do not give them a higher social position and nor is it based on years of oppression.”

And just like false reverse racism claims, false reverse sexism claims attempt to deny these patriarchal realities—often as backlash from a privileged population against efforts to achieve equality.

It’s okay to stand up for yourself, but it’s not okay to attack or co-opt efforts to dismantle patriarchy as your defense.

Don’t just be non-sexist, be anti-sexist

Angela Davis once said, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.”  This couldn’t be more true with patriarchy as well. In a patriarchal society, its not enough for men to just avoid toxic masculinity. Men need to be actively dismantling patriarchy in their workplaces, schools, churches, families, and language. Below are a few ideas:

  • Support or introduce policies at work that systemically protect or benefit women and LGBTQ populations such as equal pay audits and anti-discrimination training
  • Call out or call in sexist internalizations like microaggressions. Psychologist Derald W. Sue defines microaggressions as “the everyday slights, indignities, put downs and insults that people of color, women, LGBT populations or those who are marginalized experience in their day-to-day interactions with people.” Microaggressions can be intentional or unintentional, and when directed toward women can range from sexist language, mansplaining, tone-policing, slut-shaming, victim-blaming, objectification, etc.
  • Confront the sexism in other men in your family, your friend circles, on your street, etc. As awkward or  hard as it seems, the very roots of sexism ensure that men listen better to other men
  • Take an anti-harassment bystander intervention training to learn how to correctly intervene in more intense situations
  • Find ways professionally and personally to leverage your privilege to promote people without privilege. Make sure you do it in a selfless way that doesn’t promote yourself too.
  • Read, follow, and financially support feminist and LGBTQ activists and organizations dismantling patriarchy
  • Teach your sons to confront not just toxic masculinity but patriarchy as a whole

***

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