Monthly Archives: November 2014
Dr. Matt Taylor, great scientist and all around decent human being, apologised for inadvertently offending women by wearing an inappropriate shirt for a press conference. In a perfect world, that would be the end of the story, but we don’t live in that world. Now the anti-feminists and “men’s rights” activists have their knickers all in a twist about the ‘attacks’ on Dr. Taylor.
I read tweets criticizing the shirt. Tweets by women tended to be civilized and didn’t judge Dr. Taylor as a person, just the choice of shirt. Another article asked why nobody who worked with Dr. Taylor noticed that maybe that shirt wasn’t the best choice for international press exposure. So where did these charges of horrible abuse come from? The first nasty tweet I found was by a man who said “Only a douchbag would wear this shirt.” See the pattern here?
Here’s a quote from Boris Johnson;
I watched that clip of Dr Taylor’s apology – at the moment of his supreme professional triumph – and I felt the red mist come down. It was like something from the show trials of Stalin, or from the sobbing testimony of the enemies of Kim Il-sung, before they were taken away and shot.
Really? Do you really think Dr. Taylor’s situation could be equated with someone about be murdered? The only people told they deserved to die for expressing opinions on this issue in the Twitterverse were WOMEN. See the pattern here? Boris Johnson, blinded by privilege, and all those clever memes about how unfortunate that a person is judged by what he wore, miss the point by a light-year. This is what systemic sexism looks like.
ANATOMY OF A SHIRT-STORM:
Scientist makes poor fashion choice AND makes some sexist comments during a press conference.
Reasonable women: “That shirt would make me feel uncomfortable in a shared workplace.”
‘Professional’ Feminists (also reasonable): “Yes, the Scientist should have worn a different shirt. BTW, why didn’t anyone else who works there notice that shirt was inappropriate for an international press conference?”
Knee-jerk people who don’t share that workplace or know Dr. Taylor personally: “Only a total douchebag would wear a shirt like that, idiot, you clearly hate all women, blah, blah, blah.”
Misogynists and others blinded by privilege: “Its just a shirt. Get over it.”
Scientist: Sorry, I won’t do that again. *sniff, sob* (because he is emotional. because he didn’t ever intend to hurt anyone’s feelings or make them feel unwelcome, and it just never occurred to him that his words or that shirt would cause offense because years of conditioning and male privilege made him blind to the possibility that objectifying half of humanity would make professional colleagues belonging to that other half feel uneasy.)
Women who pointed out the poor fashion choice: “Thank you, I really appreciate that.” (now have huge respect for scientist)
Feminists; … (Moving on, but also have huge respect for scientist who learned and shared.)
Knee jerks and Misogynists: “Hey bitches, how dare you viciously attack that poor man. You forced him to demonstrate emotion in public, thereby humiliating him, because real men don’t do that. What a horrible thing to do, you’re just as bad as a dictator who killed millions of his own people! You feminists should all just die. now.”
Rest of the small-minded world: “Fight! Fight! Fight!”
Sane people: “What the serious f*ck is wrong with you people?”
ps: Dear media who pumped this story through their conflictinator for maximum drama and thereby profit: you deserve a figurative kick in the goolies because you suck at your job.
pps; December 7, 2014. At this point it looks like the gamer-gate contingent of 12-year old trolls are the loudest voices in the online #shirtstorm conversation, as most intelligent people have moved on to more important things. Systemic sexism is still an issue in workplaces, schools, churches and the media. Rape culture is a bigger issue than ever. The whole sordid mess is like a pimple about to pop and I can see the connections between sexism and racism, which has also reached a head in the wake of decisions not to indict cops who kill unarmed blacks. The struggle for justice for women will join and fortify the struggles for justice for blacks, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, the homeless, low-wage workers, indigenous communities and people who live in ‘sacrifice zones’ bearing the brunt of environmental destruction. We are all connected and I continue to believe we can solve all the problems that threaten our biosphere.
Gomeshigate Triggers Memories
Not all the memories triggered by Gomeshigate are awful. I’ve never met Jian Gomeshi, or listened to his show. I feel badly for the legion of sexual assault survivors who have had traumatic memories triggered by the current media circus. In my past I’ve been subjected to relatively “minor” sexual assaults a half a dozen times, including being fondled by a dentist when I was twelve. I didn’t tell my mother because it was so subtle I wasn’t sure what had happened. When I was clueless and 17 a guy in his twenties grabbed me and aggressively French-kissed me without seeking consent. When I finally extricated myself from his bruising grasp I was so offended I would have kicked him in the nuts if he wasn’t sitting down. Instead, I grabbed the nearest stick and walloped his kneecaps. Justice was served.
The Gomeshi stories (sigh) have a whiff of familiarity about them. A man abusing the power that comes with his position. Women choosing to remain silent about it, yet whispering among themselves. In my early 30’s I worked for an engineering firm. One day, over lunch, some female co-workers dropped a hint that my boss was a creep. When I expressed surprise they asked me if he had ever tried anything. I told them no. They were surprised. I said maybe he correctly suspected that if he crossed that line I’d deck him. I was glad to be warned what to watch for, though.
I asked my co-workers to tell me what had happened to them. The whole department had gone to a restaurant where alcohol was served at the annual Christmas lunch. One of the secretaries was ‘hugged’ by one of her superiors as they were all leaving to head back to the office. He managed to slip her the tongue and fondled her breast right there in the restaurant. Too stunned to do anything, and really needing her paycheck, she didn’t complain to HR. Sadly this wasn’t the only incident.
Another woman told me the same man had recently cornered her in an elevator and, as she put it, ‘stuck his tongue down my throat.’ She never made waves because she knew she wouldn’t be believed. She was an outgoing, vivacious woman who didn’t mind a little harmless flirting. She felt that if she embarrassed this man by calling him on his inappropriate behaviour, she’d be accused of instigating and pay for it professionally.
I was so troubled by this abusive behaviour I composed an educational document. It detailed what sort of behaviour (groping) should be avoided and also mentioned that sticking your tongue down co-workers’ throats was definitely a bad idea. I discussed it with the sexual assault victims to make sure they were OK with my doing this. I posted “Office Etiquette for Dummies” in the lunch room. The next day, all hell broke loose.
When the male engineers read this notice that had mysteriously appeared on the bulletin board, they freaked, even though it included the clear ‘not all men’ disclaimers and caveats that fairness demanded. Before the end of the day the dragon lady who was responsible for HR had honed in on a likely suspect. Apparently recycling and garbage bins were searched for drafts. I was called into her office and asked if I was responsible. I said yes, expecting to have an interesting conversation about what had happened. Instead, she said “You’re fired.” I packed up my gear and went home.
The next day I typed up a seven-page letter to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, and copied the president of the company, as well as the president of the multi-national company of which this firm was a subsidiary. By the time my case had been assigned to someone at the tribunal, the firm wanted to settle. I insisted that the company agree to educate their staff about sexual harassment in the workplace, got a small severance cheque and found a job in a less sexist industry. Last I heard, the engineer had been assigned to a job site in eastern Russia, where female workers were probably less fussy about their rights.
That all happened in the 90’s. I thought that professional, Canadian men had evolved to the point where that kind of crap didn’t happen. I was wrong. Engineering was still a boys’ club. The reason we still haven’t put all this kind of crap in the past is that the legal profession was then – and probably still is – another boys’ club. It’s not that they all hate women, but I think it’s fair to say that in workplaces governed by clubby groups of men, an androcentric perspective often prevails. Androcentrism is visible to women who are awake to it, but many would prefer to ignore it because acknowledging a problem you are powerless to solve is frustrating.
A pervasive androcentric atmosphere may be completely invisible to men because of the goldfish problem. An old goldfish swimming past two young goldfish says “How’s the water?” A young goldfish turns to his friend and says “What’s water?” They’re so immersed in it they’ve simply never noticed it. This is what is meant by the phrase ‘check your privilege.’ See the water, Mr. Goldfish. Learn some new vocabulary, like “micro-aggression.”
Now that find myself single at 50 I find there is nothing any man has that I want. As an introvert, I like my alone time too much to give up another minute entertaining a partner. The realization that I don’t ever have to risk my well-being in a relationship again has been a wonderfully liberating experience. Perhaps it also frees me to speak truths more sociable women may not feel comfortable sharing. There are still plenty of men who have a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies and/or women’s attention. They need to learn that we owe them nothing. Not a word, not a glance, not even a thought. If the intense and very useful conversations swirling around Gomeshigate teach this lesson to more men and women, perhaps the cloud of scandal has a silver-ish lining.
I’m sure Gomeshi will be getting plenty of advice, if not from the PR firm that dumped him, then at least from a lawyer. I hope he feels compelled to speak the truth, the whole truth, not just to his lawyer and the police but also a psychiatrist who specializes in paraphilia. Maybe this is ridiculously optimistic, but instead of playing PR games perhaps he will apologize to any and all women he has harmed, make amends, learn, grow and come out of the other side of this a better and wiser person.
Addendum. A friend asked me if I could explain why a woman would go on a second date with a man who abused them on the first one. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility. The cult of celebrity is powerful and is designed to make the rest of us feel small and unimportant. When you consider the kinds of images in the media – Rhianna’s BDSM music video for example – it normalizes things that I was never exposed to at a young and vulnerable age. I like the characters in Criminal Minds but eventually I got really annoyed at the level of sexual horror inflicted on female victims. When you see shit like that all the time, it becomes less shocking, less ‘unthinkable’. Despicable behaviour is becoming normalized through constant depictions in video games, literature, film and television.
My perplexed friend wanted to know: if a woman knew he was a creep and went out with him again, how can she accuse him of a crime? Some women just aren’t street-smart, but their lack of knowledge and experience doesn’t mean we should throw them under the bus. Is there anyone on this planet who doesn’t know a woman who gave the benefit of the doubt to a man who didn’t deserve it? Some women put themselves in harm’s way through their own willful blindness, but ignoring huge red flags is not a crime. Here’s the thing: If a woman permits herself to be alone with a man who previously abused her, that cannot be interpreted as blanket consent for him to abuse her further. The man doesn’t get a free pass to hit someone just because he got away with it the first time. If a woman who ‘let him get away with it’ once goes out with Gomeshi a second time, he still commits a criminal offense by hitting her. Period.