Thursday, February 21, 2008

Boys, boys, boys

This thread on Feministe about ways to deal with lingering sexism in otherwise rational men is absolutely fantastic any woman who sleeps with, works with, or even occasionally talks with men. My advice, gleaned from trial and (lots and lots of) error with my generally fantastic but occasionally jaw-droppingly outrageous boyfriend, is below.

1. Nobody (especially men) wants to lose an argument, admit they're wrong, or change their mind. But learning something new, discovering a different perspective, or having a great insight are all things everyone likes to do. I tend to want to go in to a discussion guns blazing and call him out on his shit, but this tends to make my boyfriend, at least, more likely to defend his position. Anything that can avoid framing what we're doing as arguing makes him more receptive to what I'm saying. Especially jokes. Jokes are fantastic because he can "jokingly" acknowledge a mistake without it becoming a big deal.

2. Once you've started your not-argument, listen to how he responds. And take what he says seriously. A lot of the really sexist bullshit men spew is coming from real fears and anxieties, albeit ones that are often stroked by the media and society all out of proportion. (For instance, I know men who are legitimately afraid that they'll be falsely accused of sexual harassment or rape, and have their lives ruined by the accusation.) Suggest ways that these anxieties can be addressed without trivializing women's needs and women's experiences.

3. Patriarchy hurts men too. I've made lots of progress with my boyfriend by pointing out things like poor paternity leave policies, or male-on-male bullying and how they're part of the patriarchy as well.

4. Patriarchy hurts men part II. I recognize that some of the sexist crap my boyfriend spews is the male equivalent of lipstick - what he does to get along in a patriarchal society (like sexist remarks with his buddies) and tend to be inclined to either let that pass, or call him on it privately. His anxieties about his masculinity and his place in the patriarchal hierarchy are real and have real consequences, and suck in their own way as much as ones about femininity.

5. Always remember that while he may occasionally say sexist things, he's not a sexist person. The line "That sounds really sexist, but I don't think you meant it that way. Can you explain further?" helps to start a discussion, not an argument (see point 1).



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