Sexist is Something You Do, Not Necessarily Who You Are

Chances are, you’re going to do something sexist. We’re living in cultures drowning in sexism. We’ve been raised with it; we’re swimming in it; like air, we’re so immersed in it we’re often barely aware of it. Makes it rather inevitable we’ll do or say something more or less sexist.

Yes, I said “we.” I’m not exempt. I say or think or do something sexist at least once a day, and that’s just the stuff I’m aware of. Constant battle, this, overcoming sexism.

Does this make me a sexist? Not especially.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it, that you must remember when you’re being called out on something you’ve said or done, some act or omission on your part. We’re imperfect human beings swimming in a sea of sexism, and we’re going to fuck up. Inevitably.

But fucking up doesn’t make someone a sexist. Just makes you a person who did a sexist thing. What makes you something else is what happens next.

Do you apologize and make a course correction? Reassess certain of your assumptions? Continue working against sexism and misogyny rather than, oh, say, running off in a snit to join up with certain of the community who revel in gendered slurs? Then it’s quite doubtful you actually are an actual sexist.

We all slip up sometimes. Image courtesy I Can Has Cheezburger.
We all slip up sometimes. Image courtesy I Can Has Cheezburger.

If, on the other hand, you howl in protest and scream about vicious witch hunts and insist the things you did or said aren’t a problem, then you begin to be a bit questionable. And if you really believe you’re not sexist because science proves the sexes are totes different, and besides, you can do whatever you like because reasons, then there’s an excellent chance you’ve crossed the line somewhere and become a really-real sexist. (In which case, do come see me when you’ve had an epiphany and wish to shed your sexist prat nature. I’ll be glad to help. Until that happy day, kindly fuck off.)

Most of us aren’t complete prats. So, chances are good you’re not a really-real sexist, but have merely screwed up. No need to feel like you’re the scum of the earth, because you’re not. No need to get ultra-defensive and proclaim you’re not a sexist from every rooftop, because it’s probably already clear you’re not, and even if it isn’t, it will be once you’ve issued a thoughtful response. You’ve been chastised, not convicted and sentenced. Your life is not in ruins, your reputation is not in tatters; you have not been branded with a scarlet S and banished to dwell forever among the dregs of society.

You’re just in the midst of a learning experience. You can make it out intact, tactfully, and with your non-sexist creds fully established.

Sexist is Something You Do, Not Necessarily Who You Are

6 thoughts on “Sexist is Something You Do, Not Necessarily Who You Are

  1. rq

    Very nicely. A very nice reminder.
    Getting defensive is ok, as long as you don’t get stuck being defensive – so stuck, that your brain stops working and you can’t let go of that position you’ve been maintaining. It’s not easy swallowing one’s pride sometimes.
    But it must be done.

    Also, *hugs* (very big ones) for previous post. Access here is still a bit intermittent and also I don’t have much else to say except Forward! Upward! and that sort of trite optimistic uplifting crap. Heh. I hope the drugs keep being amazing, and your energy and motivation and productivity remain at high levels. ♥

  2. 3

    “If, on the other hand, you howl in protest and scream about vicious witch hunts and insist the things you did or said aren’t a problem, then you begin to be a bit questionable.”

    Actually, I remember seeing an article somewhere that said that people will change their behavior even when they howl, protest, and scream otherwise. Calling people out is effective even when they act stubborn. Obviously they might not necessarily do that, but sometimes people need time to change.

  3. 4

    This is a very important distinction for both the person making the accusation of sexism and the person being accused of it. It’s why, I think, guilt is a useful emotion and shame isn’t. Guilt is a “that thing you did” emotion– you recognize that you did something wrong, feel remorse, apologize, decide to do better. Shame is a “who you are” emotion, and that suggests that change is impossible. After all, you can’t just become another person– you’re kind of stuck with yourself.

    When you accuse someone of sexism is best to focus on the “what you did,” not only because it’s (hopefully) more accurate (and because telling someone who is not sexist that they did/said something sexist is more likely to actually work– to create feelings of regret– than telling someone who is sexist and proud of it), but because it forestalls that person turning it into a “who I am” thing by going on and on about how if you really knew me you’d know I’m not sexist at all, all my friends know it, they could tell you, blah blah blah. People who are not dedicated bigots can act in bigoted ways, and they do– all the bloody time. We need to be able to articulate that. It’s better when we do.

  4. 6

    At first I thought this made sense. If you don’t mean to offend and care how the people around you feel about themselves, then you’re probably willing to apologize for even a perceived slight. It doesn’t matter if it’s race, religion, sexual orientation, sex, political affiliation, nationality, disability, or socioeconomic status. But then I looked to see who was writing this supposed wisdom. Pfft. Geologist.

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