It’s Saturday evening. I’m lounging on the sofa with my feet up. I just spent an afternoon exploring parks and forests around Olympia, and I’m beat.
My lovely hosts are in the kitchen, chatting with their housemate and her boyfriend about the latest election news. I’m half listening in between idly mucking about on Facebook and Neko Atsume. This is a Bernie house. My hosts’ housemate is always delighted to hear how much I know about the US primaries. Me? I’m torn between interest in what’s happening and a deep sense of annoyance that I have to care so much about what Americans do. I wish the US was as passing an interest as any other moderately-large country in another continent. It’s not. I have to care. And that’s not these peoples fault, so I listen and work to understand their perspectives. I even find myself agreeing with many of the things they’re saying.
Before long, the conversation turns to Hillary Clinton. They don’t name her. First she’s “her”. Then someone refers to her as “that woman”.
Housemate’s boyfriend snickers and says “that man in a dress, you mean”.
I say nothing.
I can’t quite remember what the others said or did. My own mind started racing with all the things that I could say. But I said nothing. Don’t make it weird, Aoife. If I was someone else I’d tell me not to worry about that. I wasn’t making it weird. He had already made it weird. Staying silent doesn’t mean that it’s all fine. It just means that nobody knows exactly how uncomfortable everyone else is.
Here’s what I wish that I’d said.
weaponising bigotry is not progressive
Criticise Hillary Clinton all you like. Rant all day long about her political history. Take her policies apart. Question her integrity if you like. Dig up dirt on her. Publicise any mistake she’s made in her career. Shout every questionable act of hers from the rooftops. Please. Do that. She’s trying to become one of the most powerful people on the planet. Pick apart everything she’s ever done and if you find her wanting, tell everyone. As engaged voters, tis a isn’t just acceptable. It’s your job.
But remember this: if you claim to be progressive, don’t use bigotry against people.
I’ll bet that Housemate’s Boyfriend doesn’t see himself as sexist, homophobic or transmisogynistic. At least three fifths of the people in the room that day are queers of some variety. He was the only man in the house. And he lives in Olympia! Close your eyes, throw a stone and you’ll hit a queer couple walking their perfectly-coiffured dogs to the farmer’s market.
(I kid you not: I wrote those words sitting in the grass in front of my friends’ house. Finished the sentence, looked up at the road and two women walked around the corner with their gorgeous black labrador, waving a cheery hello as they passed by me.)
Housemate’s Boyfriend sees himself as progressive, but he’s happy to weaponise transmisogyny and gender policing against people he dislikes. He does that while sitting in a room with four other people, none of whom are men, at least one of whom isn’t cis, and at least three of whom are queer. He doesn’t think twice about it. Because he’s not A Misogynist or A Transmisogynist. That self-perception is a powerful way to justify doing misogynist things.
Here’s what it means when you call a woman you don’t like “that man in a dress”:
- It’s okay to police people’s genders as long as we dislike them.
- There is a right and a wrong way to be a woman.
- There is something wrong with being a man in a dress. We shouldn’t take men seriously if they wear dresses. Undue femininity is degrading.
- If you are a woman, performing femininity incorrectly is hilarious and grounds for mocking.
- The worst thing we can say about a cis woman is that she reminds us of a trans woman.
- Cis women we don’t like aren’t women. Trans women never are.
- All women should know this: as long as you behave, we’ll treat you with respect. But the second you step out of line? Your gender will be used against you. You will be too masculine or feminine. Your body, face, dress sense and mannerisms will be picked apart. And, somehow or other, they will be found wanting.
None of these things are acceptable. When you say that Clinton is ‘a man in a dress’, you’re not just insulting her. You’re degrading me, and throwing all the women (cis and trans), all the queers, and all the femme men under the bus just so you can get one cheap shot against someone. If you dislike her so much, surely you could think of a better way to put her down. By using her gender against her you don’t just miss an opportunity to make a valid point- you also make it easier for people to dismiss your objections to her as nothing more than misogyny.
If you weaponise bigotry against people? When push comes to shove, your so-called progressiveness goes as far as your face and no further. You may say you want to create a better world, but you’re not modelling one.
I wish I’d said those things. I didn’t.
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