Complaining About Sexism Makes You A "Ranty-Pants"S

Well, not really, but Janice Turner of the Times of London is asking readers to submit examples of sexism. She says that women are encouraged to ignore such examples — or risk looking like "a strident old ranty-pants."

Turner writes that complaints of misogyny can always be "shrug[ged] off with the age-old refrain: the trouble with you birds, is, you can't take a joke." She writes about a recent Spectator column on the fuckability of Labour MP Harriet Harman (pictured), and a run-in where she passed up the chance to express her indignation:

I spotted the Spectator editor at the time, Matthew D'Ancona - who I know a little socially - at a film screening. I sat throughout the movie planning what I would say: how disappointed I was that such a celebratedly clever and cultured man could print such garbage. But in the end I just left. It was easier to say nothing than to risk weary accusations of being a strident old ranty-pants, him laughing behind his hands later. Yet it is such silence that granted him permission to publish.

I know the feeling. It's a lot more fun to be the person uttering snide jabs (i.e. "So - Harriet Harman, then. Would you? I mean after a few beers obviously, not while you were sober.") than the one getting mad about them, and the allegation of humorlessness is a pretty hard one to defend against. Saying, "I do too have a sense of humor, just not about this" is pretty unfunny, and in my experience tends to prove my opponent's point. Making feminism even harder to sell is the fact that it often attacks things that men are supposed to find hot — the pursuit of ever-younger partners, for instance, or surgically enhanced breasts, or mainstream pornography. I've had more than one depressing conversation with a man in which it's clear that he thinks I'm "against" anything sexy. I turn into the fun police, and whatever I'm supposedly forbidding becomes taboo — and thus even more exciting.

In elementary school, I learned that the best way to deal with someone who's bothering you is to ignore them. And indeed, some feminist-baiters, especially on the vast fringes of the Internet, are best left alone. But as Turner points out, silence is also implicit permission. And since many of the engines of misogyny aren't individual people who depend on reactions for their continued existence, but big corporations with a stake in female insecurity, this is a big problem.

In an earlier column, Turner decries the pressure on young girls to be "skinny, [with] full breasts, long hair, full lips and an utterly hair-free body," a pressure that she says "comes direct from the porn industry." But, she says, "if old-school feminists protest against this pornification, we are accused of being anti-sex, not groovy enough to enter that 24/7 pleasuredome of modern youth culture." The interesting thing about this "pleasuredome," though, is how unsexy it actually is. You don't have to be anti-sex, or even anti-porn, to chafe at a dominant aesthetic that just happens to play right into the pocketbooks of the beauty and anti-aging industries. Our cultural preference for skinny, nubile women is at least as much about money as it is about male desire — and it's about the least taboo thing I can imagine.

Rebelling against a system that actually tells men what to like — as well as, of course, telling women how to be — actually seems kind of sexy. And refusing to do what you're told — in this case, to quietly accept sexism so as not to seem "strident" — can be exciting. So rather than reading Turner's new column — which this week includes some pretty grotesque sexual harassment involving a pen — as the blotter of the fun police, I'm going to think of it as a dispatch from the fun radicals, a textual Molotov tossed into the edifice of institutionalized misogyny. And I'm going to enjoy it.

It's Time To Challenge Casual Sexism [TimesOnline]
When Feminism Went Nuts [TimesOnline]
‘Babe' Watch: Sexism In Daily Life [TimesOnline]
Harriet Harman Is Either Thick Or Criminally Disingenuous [Spectator]