Tag Archives: Sexism

On Rose McGowan, gay male misogyny, and why intersectionality matters

Photo credit: Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Photo credit: Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Intersectionality. Louise Mensch thinks it’s bullshit. Caroline Criado-Perez thinks it’s bullying. Rose McGowan thinks it’s, well, we don’t know what Rose McGowan thinks it is. But her recent comments about gay men being “more sexist” than straight men, which she subsequently apologized for, demonstrate that she may not be an intersectional feminist herself.

I don’t disagree with Rose McGowan that a lot of gay men are misogynists. That’s a given, because a lot of men are misogynists. When I was 18, I briefly dated a man who referred to one of his close female friends as “Gash.” Reducing a woman to her genitalia is objectifying and demeaning, regardless of a man’s sexual orientation.

Back in January, Jezebel ran a lengthy piece by Rohin Guha, an out gay man, about just this topic, addressing the “myth of the fag hag” (itself a disgustingly sexist term) and the misogyny permeating gay clubs and the gay community:

It’s a dirty secret of a subculture of the gay male world about women: That they’re essentially unwelcome, unless they come to us as a Real Housewife, a pop diva, or an Tony award winner–or an unassuming fag hag. To anyone just coming out of the closet and hoping to get his bearings in the gay male community, the attitude towards women is simple: They are just objects whose function is to serve gay men. Maybe it happens when gay men get too comfortable in newly-discovered safe spaces–where they get to call the shots as their proudly out new selves. Or maybe it happens through cultural conditioning. Whatever the cause is, it becomes clear: If there isn’t any kind of transactional exchange happening, then women lose their value in gay male subcultures.

Rohin, like Rose, is talking about “gay male privilege,” but this is only part of the story, and misses the intersectional reality here, a point that Noah Baron cogently made in a rebuttal at the Huffington Post. There is no such thing as “gay male privilege.” There is male privilege, which gay men have. There is cis privilege, which cis folks have. There is white privilege, which white people have. A gay man can have, and should be expected to check, any and all of these privileges. But there is no “gay male privilege.” Being a member of the LGBT community means you are a member of the oppressed class, and by default lack privilege-in this case, “straight privilege.”

This is where intersectionality comes in. If Rose or Rohin were to speak of the male privilege which gay men possess and which many are oblivious to yet benefit from, while also acknowledging their simultaneous oppression, I wouldn’t be writing this. But neither does. Rose starts off by straightsplaining queer activism (around the Beverly Hills Hotel, specifically, and Sultan of Brunei’s brutal anti-gay policies more broadly), lecturing the gay community on why our response to our oppression is the incorrect response. Only after this does she begin lamenting the lack of gay male allies in the fight for equal pay and women’s liberation.

Rohin also addresses pay inequality. “So long as [gay men] know how to play our cards in the corporate world, we can potentially enjoy a higher salary than our female counterparts…” he writes, continuing with how, so long as we have a “poker face,” gay men can avoid sexual assault. “It isn’t perfect,” he says rather blithely, “but privilege is privilege.”

Indeed. But for the millions of Americans who live in states where they can be sacked or refused a job for being gay, this isn’t a privilege, it’s an oppression. For the millions of gay people, including in places like New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, who have to assess their new workplace and think twice about putting up a picture of their families, this is not a privilege. We live in a white heteropatriarchy, which values heterosexuality and reviles homosexuality. Yes, my male privilege makes me less likely to face street harassment, assault, or gender-based discrimination. But you best believe I wouldn’t dare hold my boyfriend’s hand back home in Kentucky. You best believe I was a dirty little secret for years because my ex worried what coming out would do to his career. You best believe I still have to assess every situation, corporate or otherwise, to figure out whether it’s safe to come out.

Addressing men as a class, which includes gay men, and addressing the misogyny of gay men is not homophobic, and it needs to be done more often. Explaining how male privilege benefits all men is important. I’m glad that people are thinking and talking about these things, because the gay community has gotten a pass for too long. But there’s a way to do it that doesn’t dismiss the very real oppression that gay men face every day.

And that was my major problem with Rose’s comments, and it’s been something I’ve stewed over since Rohin’s piece went live last winter. Rose didn’t approach gay men as men, she approached them as gay; as such, it read as a member of the privileged (straight) class attacking members of the oppressed (gay) class. Similarly, Rohin is incredibly dismissive of “gay culture,” completely ignoring the sacrosanct nature of gay spaces (like gay bars, for example) to so many gay men, for many of whom it is the only escape from pervasive heteronormativity.

Should more gay men step up in the feminist fight? Absolutely. Should more gay men have our male (and white, and class, and cis, and able) privilege checked? Definitely. Should more gay men examine the ways in which we objectify and degrade women, invading their spaces and bodily autonomy? Yes.

But this isn’t because we’re gay. It’s because we’re men.

Comparing oppressions is tacky, but understanding the basic tenants of intersectional feminism is necessary. We are all differently yet simultaneously privileged and oppressed, and it’s important to recognise the differences, both in ourselves and in others. Neither Rose McGowan nor Rohin Guha did this, and it was to the detriment of their otherwise cogent point. Tackling sexism in all its pernicious forms, in every place, is imperative, but attacking an oppressed class is a lousy way to do it.

Advertisements

Skylar’s Naughty and Nice List 2013

naughty and nice

It’s Christmas Eve, which means Santa’s making his rounds. While I expect coal-and hopefully some condoms-in my stocking, not all of us have been quite so naughty this year. With that, I revive a holiday tradition, and give you my naughty and nice list for 2013!

naughty

5. Katie Hopkins

Whether calling X Factor winner Sam Bailey “a fat mum in a tracksuit,” expressing her belief that Scots will do “anything to avoid working until retirement,” or slagging off ginger children as “harder to love,” this may well be Katie Hopkins’ naughtiest year yet-and that’s saying something. Despite a litany of inane ramblings throughout 2013, it was her controversial classist statement that she wouldn’t let her children play with other kids called “Chardonnay” or “Tyler” because their names imply a working class background which propelled her from annoying gadfly to unbearable git. Maybe I’m just taking this personally, as I am a chubby gay ginger called Skylar, but seriously, I need her to sod off in 2014. As that’s unlikely to happen-she’s tipped to enter the Big Brother house next month-I think I’ll just get a tattoo to spite her. Maybe one of Russell Brand.

4. Russell Brand

Just kidding, that man’s a dick. I mean, I know you did a lot of drugs Russell, but Ozzy Osbourne is more coherent and decipherable. This year’s verbal masturbation champion, Russell Brand has suggested a revolution of…? He’s rambled on and on about the need to have a banker-bashing orgy and the needlessness of voting, but here we are at Christmas Eve and I’m still waiting for his point. His talk is pretty and makes you feel good, but much like the Justin Bieber blow-up doll, there just isn’t much depth.

3. Justin Bieber

Speaking of the Biebs, much like his inflatable doppelgänger, he needs to take a seat. Seriously boy, what have we done to you? The first time I ever heard of Justin Bieber he was 3 years old talking to Chelsea Handler. That’s where it began. Nothing good can come from talking to Chelsea Handler. And then we let Usher raise him, and look what happens. From pissing in a bucket while sneaking out of a restaurant to visiting Brazilian brothels to playing naked guitar for his gran, it’s been a bit of a year for Justin. His worst act, though, was by far stepping on the Blackhawk head. Unless you’re a Chicagoan, you won’t get this; if you are a Chicagoan, don’t let the reminder ruin your Christmas. This boy needs to check it before he wrecks it.

2. Robin Thicke

Another man who needs to check something-his privilege-is Robin Thicke, the End Violence Against Women’s coalition Sexist of the Year. The only acceptable “blurred lines” are the ones the cops will likely make me walk tonight after my eighth eggnog. I just can’t.

1. That guy who kissed me by the Serpentine under a pale moon

😉

nice

5. Tom Daley

He’s Britain’s sweetheart, isn’t he? I mean seriously, how can you not just want to give this kid a pat on the back (or the bum)? Sure, he didn’t cure cancer-another LGBT kid did that-but in coming out, Tom not only gave hope to countless kids around the world, but blazed the trail for other high profile LGBT athletes to follow. Make all the jokes you want about diving being the second gayest sport in the summer Olympics (after gymnastics, duh), but sport is rife with homophobia, and Tom’s decision was makes him one brave little toaster.

4. Kellee Terrell

Journalist. Activist. Filmmaker. Kellee is a jill-of-all-trades, and has done so much in the past 12 months to further causes of social justice. Her short film, Goodnight My Love, takes a nuanced look at the last few minutes of a black lesbian couple in a zombie apocalypse, which in itself is awesome enough to land her on this list. But beyond this, her outspoken advocacy for HIV awareness has helped further break the stigma of the disease, and her unwavering support as an LGBT ally has helped shed light on the plight of queer people of colour. Kellee is the only person on either list who I can also claim as a personal friend, having met her at an Oscar viewing party last winter, and her wisdom, guidance and encouragement have been instrumental in my return to writing. I can’t thank her enough.

3. Jennifer Lawrence

God I just love this woman. She’s a feminist. She’s from Kentucky. I mean we’re practically besties right there. But seriously, Jennifer Lawrence has been eschewing conventional stardom for something with substance, taking on Joan Rivers and Kelly Osbourne for tearing into women’s appearances and telling the Guardian it should be illegal to call someone fat on tv. She’ll say what she wants, do what she wants, eat what she wants, and no shits are given. I fucking love her.

2.The British Twittersphere

You lot. Nothing sums up my experience on Twitter better than the time Louise Mensch and Laurie Penny teamed up to take down transphobic tweets. My followers aren’t many, but they’re proper quality, and my return to commentating on British life and politics has been met with a warm welcome home. Despite being an American and living in Chicago, y’all have welcomed my input and opinions as valid and, in some cases, worthy, never dismissing me or critiquing my imperial American privilege. I’m well aware that a foreigner constantly commenting on your politics can seem condescending and presumptive, but you have willingly engaged me and encouraged me. As one follower said, and I’m paraphrasing, “you know so much about what’s going on I forget you’re not here!” It’s tweets like this that make getting up at 3:00 AM to catch the British morning news cycle worth it. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

1. Caroline Criado-Perez

Whilst my followers are cracking, the same can’t be said for all the Twittersphere. For her resilience and sheer tenacity, Caroline Criado-Perez is the nicest of the nice this year. When the Bank of England decided women weren’t worth £5, Caroline led the campaign to keep a woman on banknotes-and to officially recognise the contributions of women throughout British history. Owen Jones has called her “a brilliant fighter,” which might well be the understatement of 2013. Caroline has put up with threats of rape and violence all year, but her voice is louder and clearer than ever before. When Caitlin Moran organised a “twitter silence” to protest, she acknowledged the show of solidarity but said that she would not be silenced by anyone. A true role model to all of us campaigning for social justice, Caroline has inspired me beyond most anybody this year.

I hope you made Santa’s nice list, and that all your Christmas wishes come true. To all of my readers, both here and at The Columnist, I wish you nothing but joy this Yuletide season. Thank you for making my return so rewarding. See you in 2014!

#NNSexism: Newsnight illustrates the rise, Twitter the need, of digital feminism

Last night, Fi Glover had an excellent piece on BBC’s Newsnight about digital feminism and the future of women’s liberation in the 21st century. She profiled Laura Bates’ “Everyday Sexism Project”, the media’s fascination with and objectification of breasts, including Amanda Palmer’s Glastonbury nip slip, as well as the objectification of black women’s bodies. The prevailing theme was that technology and social media is changing the face of feminism, promoting the democratisation of the women’s movement.

So perhaps it was inevitable that a story about feminists online would prompt a storm of controversy on the Twittersphere. Using the hashtag #NNSexism, the Twitterati engaged the masses in their own experiences with everyday sexism while a debate erupted over the role of feminism and, indeed, women themselves. One of the biggest debates I had was the tiresome, redundant, 20th century debate over the difference between sex and gender, as illustrated below:

Now, for those of you who aren’t aware, the difference between sex and gender is quite simple. Sex (male/female) is physiological. It has to do with your reproductive organs, your hormones, and your pelvic bone. Gender (man/woman), on the contrary, is a social construct. It’s the set of characteristics we are assigned, even before birth, based on our sex. Think of it as blue for boys, pink for girls. Dolls for Linda, trucks for Liam. It’s not a radical notion; it’s been debated pretty heavily for the past sixty years, certainly since the advent of the third wave feminism in the United States.

My position sparked a lot of vitriol, mostly from conservative (small c) men. Some of it was quite nasty:

Others took to calling out the “sexism” of the Newsnight piece:

What was most poignant, though, were the women (and some men, like myself) using the hashtag as a sounding board for their own experiences with everyday sexism:

What was most disappointing was the number of men trying to trivialise or completely write off sexism and misogyny:

To say there is no evidence of real sexism is laughable. It certainly shows, at the very least, that one hasn’t been paying much attention to, well, anything. Just this month we’ve had Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis speak out on the fear many women have of being “found out” or labeled a “fraud”, the United Nations showing just what the internet thinks of women (and it isn’t pretty), and The Great British Bakeoff finalist Ruby Tandoh defending herself against allegations that she flirted herself to the top. I mean, cos, you know, pretty women can’t bake well. Only male chefs and your nan.

Or they attempted to turn the conversation away from women and onto their own perceived grievances:

Which Laurie Penny succinctly put down to actual, perhaps stealthy, misogyny:

And of which I stand guilty:

I’ll be honest, it hadn’t occurred to me that by sharing my own experience I was steering the conversation away from sexism against women (which is 99% of sexism, after all). In fact, I thought Laurie Penny was calling me specifically out when she tweeted that, and it made me reevaluate my personal approach to the hashtag. After all, regardless of whether or not I identify as a feminist, gay men are still capable of sexism, and we have a notorious entitlement to womanhood and women’s bodies.

In the end I forgave myself. My feminist credentials are fairly well known, and while it was perhaps rude to change the subject in the middle of a conversation, it wasn’t entirely off-topic. In fact, I challenged Laurie on this point (and got no response, I should mention-though I do hope she’d agree):

For as the men who couldn’t grasp the difference between sex and gender prove, we (as a society) can’t even seem to get the vocabulary, let alone the conversation, right. So the men who actually acknowledge not only the merits of feminism but the hindrance patriarchy places on their own existence ought to be not only allowed but encouraged to freely contribute. At the very least we’re acknowledging sexism is real and tangible, which is more than can be said for a great lot of us.

That’s not to give us a pass, though. Patriarchy manifests itself in all sorts of ways, and the internet has proven that even those of us with the best intentions can sometimes stand accused, and even slightly guilty of, inadvertent sexism. In the end, Newsnight did a commendable job of highlighting the rise of digital feminism, but Twitter itself illustrated the dire need for it. Social media makes it possible, in real time, to illustrate tangible examples of blatant and even unintentional sexism and misogyny, and the Twittersphere was not lacking either yesterday. The rise of sites like EverydayFeminism and Jezebel give voice to women (and men) who may otherwise lack one, and perhaps it’s only a matter of time until we have a Feminist Spring.

Until then, let’s all brainstorm it a catchy hashtag.