t’s easy for me to believe that feminism is winning, that the majority of people today believe in gender equality and are generally sound individuals. Then I go to work and meet the reality.
In my free time, I – like most people – like to surround myself with other humans who share the same basic interests and opinions. In my case, this means I hang out with cool, queer-friendly feminists pretty much exclusively. I can go to a Pro-Choice protest or a Trans* Rights rally and be pretty much assured before I get there that I am going to run into the same people at both.
I’ve built a bubble around myself of like-minded people, sharing the same ideas of feminism and equality with varying degrees of radicalization. And its rad as heck. The only downside is, like all bubbles, it’s very easy to pop. At home, it’s easy for me to believe that feminism is winning, that the majority of people today believe in gender equality and are generally sound individuals. It’s easy for me to think that in 2013, we are moving forward, and any backlash we receive is merely the death throes of an out of touch minority. I can stand back and laugh at the idea that anyone would think that the Christianity still holds any sway over South Africans in general, because from my little bubble that’s what the world looks like. Ladies and gentlemen, my bubble is stupid.
The real world is a terrible place, you guys. I recently started a job where I would say 80% of my colleagues are Straight White Men. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m totally against judging people based solely on their gender and/or sexuality. Some of my best friends are straight white men, heck, I even live with one. I’m talking about Straight White Men, with capitals. The kind of guys who like LADbible and other such pages on Facebook, for the “banter”. Men who would define themselves as heterosexual with vigor, and would consider it the utmost insult to be accused of being anything else.
At work, I’ve overheard some of the most repugnant, backwards, sexist/racist/homophobic comments you can imagine, all met not with shock or anger, but barely reacted to. I’ve heard them say that all women are bad drivers, all travellers were criminals, all Nigerians are angry, and no one aside from me bats an eyelid. I patiently, calmly and rationally explained to a colleague why it was offensive to me that he uses the phrase “that’s gay” when something bad happens, only to have him say it to me the very next day again. When I called him on it, he laughed at me. Just plain laughed. These people don’t care that as straight white men, they have the world handed to them. They don’t see the benefit of women as anything besides something to put their dick in. And it absolutely sickens me.
When I encounter these opinions online, I am liable to hold it up and say “look, how ridiculous! Somebody still thinks like this! What a hate filled buffoon!” It’s a lot harder to do that in real life, when you are surrounded not by allies, but other people of the same or similar mindset. I wouldn’t say that most of my colleagues think this way, but I would say that most of them do not know how to stand against it. It’s a bizarre privilege we Queers have, that we have been taught how to be angry and take a stand. If you are a straight man, and all your friends are Straight White Men, what possible frame of reference could you have for standing up to bigotry? Instead of learning to fight, they have learned to ignore.
The upshot of all of this is that I, and I presume hundreds of other feminists, are caught in a terrible catch-22, whereby standing up for what you know to be right will ostracize you from your colleagues, and not saying anything will make you feel like a hypocrite. It’s a very tough line to walk, and I honestly can’t blame any women for keeping their heads down and not calling people out on this shit. It isn’t easy to be that guy; I don’t care what anybody says.
What I can’t abide are people who know better not standing beside those who are brave enough to speak out. When you say nothing, you become a part of the problem. You make it harder for the next person to speak out, because they don’t think they have support. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it is your responsibility. The more you say “I’m with you” to the person standing up, the more uncomfortable you make it for the next dirtbag who wants to say something terrible. And the best part is it’s contagious. If you make it allowable to stand up for these things, the next time it happens, someone else might jump in.
Heck, even if they don’t, at least the person doing the actual confrontation doesn’t feel so alone. It doesn’t have to be a big declaration; it doesn’t have to be dramatic. It can be as understated as a “hey, I agree with you dude”. Never underestimate the power of being an ally. Without them, you’ll lose every time.