I Was a Passive Sexist

March 11, 2015

I have always considered myself open-minded, tolerant and steadfast in a societal vision ideally free of prejudice and discrimination.

I’ve oftentimes been the friend to get into heated arguments in classrooms, bars, restaurants, and sporting events, when coming into contact with misguided people. One of my greatest pet peeves is the way in which ignorant people use extremists and stereotypes to justify prejudices and discrimination, qualify such contrasting views as some sort of moral stalemate.

With that being said: I have become very disappointed in myself for falling into the, “Hey, I don’t do that” blamelessness reflex when considering feminist outcries to sexism. What a truly humbling realization: I certainly have been a passive sexist.

As a multiethnic, working class artist, I had experienced or witnessed so much oppression and discrimination across different social circles, but I unwittingly hid behind and clung to the one privilege: my gender, that I did not earn, rather than using that privilege to further help rectify the injustice and inequity.

The seeds of this realization had been planted by my 12th grade AP English teacher, Mrs. Paulinski, when she responded to a student asking “Is there a male equivalent to a feminist?” with, “Well, there are chauvinist pigs.”

The realization developed further over my 20’s, in college and as I participated more in the punk music scene. Ideas of passive sexism were further illuminated, and I discussed issues of gender roles, unequal pay, sexism in the media, and general marginalization of women. The most crystalizing moment of this realization has, perhaps poetically, come in analysis of the heated arguments I have gotten in the past few months regarding police brutality and systematic prejudice against minorities in general.

I have come to find those that responded to feminist discussion with a goal of personal blamelessness (“well I don’t/have never...”) nearly as aggravating as categorical victim-blaming, blind faith in the legal system, and cherry-picked extremism examples as a means to dismiss or sidestep the issues altogether.

I recognized that the blameless privileged in this matter shared qualities with those of the “NotAllMen” rhetoric defending against generalizations as a response to feminist outcries of sexist, misogynistic attitudes and actions perpetrated by men.

I also saw another similarity as the cherry-picked extremism of reducing the BlackLivesMatter movement to rioting and violence, to the deflection of feminist discussion to focus on misandry and sensationalizing “Tumblr feminists.” With these similarities and comparisons in mind, I came to see the ways I had unwittingly but shamefully fallen into a mindset of passive sexism.

How could this be? How could I unknowingly been in line with such self-serving deflections “well I’ve never treated a woman like...” or “How is it my fault that...”? I struggle to think of a time in my adult life when I have felt more retrospectively foolish than times I so carelessly and thoughtlessly have tried to sidestep general sexism discussions with friends – platonic, romantic, and everything in between the spectrum -- because I viewed an epidemic societal issue through such a small self-centered scope.

And this is usually through discomfort; with association for aspects of society like sexism and misogyny that I felt myself neither personally guilty of nor perpetrating.

I was shocked at not just with how selfish I was to view matters of sexism solely in terms of how it related to me, but in how easy it became to fall into that kind of logic.

Such a selfish approach offers nothing more than an undeserved self-pat on the back for being a decent human being in conduct – though in a selective, half-assed one, drowsy in compassion.

I wonder how many people I may have fallen out of favor with over the years for such laziness. It would surely be deserved and fitting.

Beyond the “Not All Men” rhetoric, I have also played into the dismissal of feminism as if the extremists, sensationalists, and misandry should be considered in evaluating the focus and purpose of the movement as a whole.

I struggle with the notion that too often in discussions of sexism and feminism, I would agree with the theories of “keyboard warriors” or “Tumblr feminists” -- bloggers and social media users who make militant, absolutist arguments, typically considered self-serving, ill informed, and self-righteous; as detractors for the overall movement and discussion at hand. And again, perhaps out of some subconscious desire for personal disassociation from fear of being a pariah, I was willing to let very a serious discussions become sidetracked or diluted by the harping of unflattering stereotypes.

While it is true that the accessibility to commentary does mean that people can make half-baked messages, the merit of conversations regarding flaws, disrespect, and double standards of women must not be dismissed.

I now feel that the only productive use of conversation time on any sort of extremism is better-spent making distinctions from the movements, which they warp, rather than as reasons to dismiss or qualify a movement.

Furthermore, dismissing dialogue regarding societal issues and human rights merely because they were posted on a digital platform is forsaking substantial messages about the oppressed in society for a contextually irrelevant reason.
When thinking of my casual ignorance in regards to feminism/sexism, just as awful as it is to have so passively overlooked such a serious issue at large, I realize a cruel personal irony in all of it.

I was raised to focus on love and morality in a working-class home by my mother, looked after by aunts and grandmothers while my mom would work two jobs to stay in a good neighborhood – and at the same time, ensure that my neurotic, distanced, depressed self feel humanized, from my friendships and relationships with women from the horrible mustard yellow hallways of high school to the horrifying boundlessness of my 20’s.

Perhaps my tendency for blamelessness and deflection came from a reflexive shame imagining those injustices, mistreatment, and disrespect done to these aforementioned loved ones. Ultimately, however, my naiveté and deflections only served to preserve societal inadequacies, further allowing for such conditions to occur.

by Desmond Zantua @whendogsdream

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