Friday, October 29, 2010

In Which We Try to Aid Our Species.

I always feel a bit weird commenting about sexism.

I mean, I am male, cisgendered, only sexually attracted to women so far, and 10 out of 10 people would identify me as ethnically "white".

What could I possibly say about institutional discrimination, when it never directly touches or affects me?

So a fellow named Gabby Schultz crafted a funny comic about a recent debacle.

It intrigued me, so I thought I'd say some things about sexism, for the same reasons that anyone says anything ever on any blog. I want to create something, something to engage people's minds and create debate to engage my own.

Now, Gabby didn't link to the original issue. He wanted to avoid inflaming the specific debate again, and distracting from his comics message about sexism.
But I reference back to the original situation, and my blog has never been read by anyone I don't know personally, so I'm linking to a place that's collected the original comment by Kate Beaton.
Heh. I don't find it quite so inimitably polite as Gabby portrays it.

I had an insight as I wrote this post. At first, I didn't see the problem with the very initial exchange. Generified: an artist puts up a piece of work, and someone compliments them on it by saying they find the artist's talent attractive in a romantic/sexual way.

They're taking the subject away from the artists talent, really, and making it about their suitability to be their mate.

Is this sexist? I mean, I see the same attitude from women often enough. (Not that women engaging in a sexist behavior makes it non-sexist....)

But as much as I'd like to, I can't pretend that a societal distinction between women and men, and their respective capabilities and life goals doesn't exist. A comment like this, made to a woman, in the context of our society, can't help but be perceived as degrading. As if, as Kate Beaton said, the woman were just partaking in this quaint hobby to engage sexual attention.

Even if it weren't sexist, the reply from "A. Dude" definitely was. I'm not even going to get into it right now (though I do wonder how much of his posturing was inspired by personal hurt feelings).
If someone tells you that something you have said to them has made them uncomfortable, you apologize, say sorry for the misunderstanding, and promise to attempt to be more considerate of their feelings in the future. This is the basics of politeness.

And all of this is distracting from the rest of Kate Beaton's point, which was that women creators and professionals do often have to deal with their capabilities and talents being sexualized and diminished, even by people who are oblivious to what they're doing.
The literal comment, "OMG I love you and want to have your babies," from anyone to anyone, is just popular hyperbole. But when women on professional forums get treated like they're there to troll for dates, you have a problem.

So this kind of stole the spotlight from my original opinion of the comic. Personal growth through blogging, who knew?

As to the comic itself, I must admit to some remaining ambivalence.
He has a very important point (which he helpfully elucidates in his final panel): "The system makes us slaves." That is, there are cycles of behavior in our society that reinforce themselves, and from which we can not break out without awareness.

But on the other hand, just reading the comic, it feels so devisive.
Sure, it's true, you can look at the Pew Research polls. Identifying as white, male, and heterosexual has a decent amount of correlation with having sexist attitudes.
But does harping on this really help, rather than divide?
In a piece of what is essentially entertainment, doesn't this focus lead people to want to make judgements of individuals based on their group membership?
Prejudice can really only retard useful action, and starting out with statements like, "People — straight, male people, in particular — sure can have some strange misconceptions about how the world spins," seems like it's going to raise more hackles than bridge gaps of ignorance.