When it comes to being a woman on the internet, there are enough frustrating roadblocks every day to make your brain liquefy and dribble out your ear all gross (more frustrating roadblocks than there are fireplaces at Rosings Park, AMIRITE). But possibly the most frustrating of all are the gnashing hordes constantly demanding that you educate them, educate them, educate them. Oh, you write about sexism on the internet? Well, before we get into all that boring nuance and subtle gender dynamics that feminist scholars have been demarcating for years, can you just back up 17,000 steps and prove to me that inequality exists?
Sorry, friend—for the record, forever, FUCK NO AND FUCK OFF.
Frank Bruni's op-ed on Monday, titled "Sexism's Puzzling Stamina," was painful in its simplicity. It's comforting to hear gender inequality stated so plainly—accepted so calmly and wholly—by someone outside of the feminist blogosphere. The fact is, our culture is still dealing with the same basic shit that was outraging kitchen-table progressives 20 years ago. We confuse comfort for freedom and then lambast women for complaining. We blame victims and apologize for predators. We dictate, to exacting standards, how women's bodies should look and move. We see nothing wrong with asking a female professional how her kids handle her frequent business trips, and whether or not she's considered staying home. We do not ask the same of men.
While racism and homophobia are treated, in mainstream discourse, like abominations (however meekly we might combat them and however aggressively they go to ground), sexism is still something of a grey area. Here's Bruni:
I keep flashing back more than two decades, to 1991. That was the year of the Tailhook incident, in which some 100 Navy and Marine aviators were accused of sexually assaulting scores of women. It was the year of Susan Faludi’s runaway best seller, “Backlash,” on the “war against American women,” as the subtitle said. It was when the issue of sexual harassment took center stage in Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings.
All in all it was a festival of teachable moments, raising our consciousness into the stratosphere. So where are we, fully 22 years later?
We’re listening to Saxby Chambliss, a senator from Georgia, attribute sexual abuse in the military to the ineluctable “hormone level” of virile young men in proximity to nubile young women.
Our racial bigotry has often been tied to the ignorance abetted by unfamiliarity, our homophobia to a failure to realize how many gay people we know and respect.
Well, women are in the next cubicle, across the dinner table, on the other side of the bed.
And on top of all of that—all the cumulative blows and fears, tiny and massive, that women are expected to absorb every day—you're asking me to educate you? You want ME to Google things for you? I don't even know you. I'm not your secretary and I'm not your mom and I don't have some special Powder Fresh library card that gets me into the restricted section where they hide all the truth about whether or not I deserve to talk at the board meeting.
If you're confused about how airplanes stay up, you don't fucking e-mail Richard Branson. And if you did, and you didn't hear back, you wouldn't assume that he isn't really committed to making airplanes stay up—or that airplanes aren't really in the sky. You'd assume that he's FUCKING BUSY.
Say a man worked really hard to establish a smart, nuanced blog about the nature of black holes. If you noticed someone constantly hounding that dude to prove that space exists, would you take that person seriously as a part of the discourse? Would you accuse the black-hole blogger of "stifling the conversation" if he refused to engage with every single dodo?
Say I throw a weekly dinner party and I'm trying to decide whether to buy wine or beer for my guests. And say I ask you, "Hey, do you think I should get wine or beer for the party?" and say you ignore my question entirely and respond, "Hey, do you think I should take a shit on the floor?" And say, also, that this conversation plays out exactly like this every single week? And then you do take a shit on the floor? And I have to clean it up?
Would you REALLY be surprised if I stopped wanting to engage with you? Would you be mad if I didn't answer your stupid question about the shitty floor?
Now imagine there are fucking thousands of you. That's what being a woman on the internet is like.
It's not black people's responsibility to be your personal racism tutor, and it's not women's responsibility to take your moist little hand and give you a guided tour through the oppressive, old-timey limitations that circumscribe our lives. It is not my responsibility to vet every single one of your stupid rape jokes, and it is not Anita Sarkeesian's responsibility to prove to you that gaming culture has a misogyny problem while she's busy processing a bajillion "make me a sandwich, cunt"s from little baby gamer boys. We've been running backup for you long enough. Fucking do your own shit.
Maybe I shouldn't be so hostile. If you've been on the receiving end of a "hush, the grown-ups are talking" or a crying cat gif, and that was painful for you, my bad. After all you're just asking, and wasn't I just saying that I'm committed to discourse and critical thinking? Yes. I am. But here's the thing: you're not. This isn't a new derailing tactic—it's ancient. One million people have written about it before me. But if my Twitter feed is any indication, plenty of people haven't read up on their own bad behavior (weird) and need a goddamn refresher. So here's the late, great Derailing for Dummies on the subject. (Sometimes I just read Derailing for Dummies over and over again instead of therapy.)
By insisting you can only learn if they right then and there sacrifice further hours of time going over the same ground they have so often in the past, you may also make them give up and go away altogether, enabling you to win by default.
But further, you give the impression that you really want to learn, but they’re holding you back! That’s right, using this tactic you can suggest that full understanding is what you crave – you want to be a better, more connected and compassionate person – but it’s not your fault! Nobody ever gave you the education! And now that someone is here who is so obviously qualified, they’re denying you your Privilege® given right to have everything you want handed to you on a platter!
Look. It's not that hard. You don't have to be perfect. Just be grateful for what you have and take a second and listen. Instead of trying to pretend you've never had anything (for a primer on how you can have nothing but still have a whole lot, watch this), just take a second and listen to other people. Be grateful, pay attention, and then react. You don't even have to be proactive if you don't want to. But don't ask me to do your homework for you, because that shit is insulting.