Yesterday, the number one trending topic on Twitter was #LiesToldByFemales.
Aside from the probably-obvious blood pressure spike I got from just seeing it there hour after hour, it brought up something else. I was asked, “If it was Lies Told By Males, would you be as upset?”
The entire basis of that question is kind of insidious. I explained why to the asker, and he seemed to understand. But it merits some discussion.
First of all, it’s a strawman. The trending topic wasn’t male-oriented. It was directed at females. That’s the issue, not the “what if” card that got played.
Second, yeah, I’d be upset. As upset? Perhaps not, but there are reasons why.
Why Was it This Way?
Well, a topic disparaging women got to number one trending status because there already exists a framework for it. There is a systematic and institutionalized structure of sexism in the world we live in. Period. I don’t usually invoke the p-words here (in this case, patriarchy), but that’s what it is. We live in a patriarchal society where women are valued more for our bodies (assuming those bodies are perceived as pleasing) than what’s in our minds. We live in a patriarchal society where Hillary Clinton’s age is called into question when her political aspirations are discussed…when male senators and statespeople aren’t so much as blinked at when they’re in their sixties and seventies. Hell, have you heard of Senator Byrd? He served until he was 92. We live in a patriarchal society where women’s bodies are on the legislation tables, where women make less money for the same work, and where less than 20% of our lawmakers are female. (And where those who are seem to get more commentary on their looks and age than what they actually have to say.)
Pebbles in a Basket
One pebble by itself isn’t a particularly heavy object. If you’re carrying a basket, it might rattle around a bit, but it won’t affect your ability to carry it. But when someone tosses another pebble in…and another…and another…and another….eventually you’ll feel the weight. Eventually, each click of a pebble hitting the other pebbles will make you cringe a little. And down the road, it’ll become too heavy to carry.
That’s what sexism is like. It’s not as simple as saying, “Oh, this one thing happened.” No, that one thing that happened is just the most recent pebble in my basket, and my back is already straining to carry it around. The solution isn’t to throw all the pebbles back at the people who tossed them in the basket in the first place — the solution is to get people to stop throwing the fucking pebbles.
The same analogy can be taken a different way: one pebble chucked at your head doesn’t hurt that much. It might smart a wee bit, but it’s not going to cause any lasting damage. But when they start hitting you one after another from a lot of different angles, yeah, it hurts. It hurts like hell. It also makes it so when someone reaches in their pocket, you might flinch because you’re afraid they’ll emerge with a pebble in their hand.
The Wrong of It
Some people apparently responded to the hashtag by flipping it on men and tweeting their own things. But this really doesn’t do anything to address the underlying issues here. In talking to a friend, I made another analogy (I’m just full of them today). Say you’ve got the Broncos and the Seahawks on the field after the Super Bowl. (Seahawks won, in case you missed it.) For whatever reason, someone decides to start kicking people in the shins. It starts with people kicking the Broncos in the shins until someone’s like, “You know, let’s just kick everyone!” So they start kicking the Seahawks in the shins. (Play along. In this scenario, everyone just sort of deals with it, like playing quarters and letting someone bloody your knuckles because GAME!)
The Seahawks already won the big game. They’ve got the trophies to prove it. They’re the champions, so they’re not hugely fussed about getting kicked in the shins. They’re basking in the glow glinting off the new championship shinies on their hands. The Broncos, on the other hand, just lost. Badly. And now they’re getting kicked. It doesn’t really matter that someone’s kicking the Seahawks too; they’re still getting kicked when all the power clearly belongs to the Seahawks, who get to go out and celebrate after the kick-fest.
My friend and I decided that even if the insults flying around seem to be equal, they’re still not equal. For instance, if you tweeted “women are lying sluts” under the hashtag and then tweeted “men are untrustworthy cheaters,” both of those statements end up more weighted against women. Because even in the second one, women are the butt of it; they’re the ones getting cheated on as if they’re disposable. This isn’t to say the second one isn’t insulting toward men — it obviously is — but that even when insults are flung equally, both sides get hurt, and women tend to bear the brunt of it.
There’s no quick fix to any of this. A lot of the time it feels like you’re slogging uphill whilst people chuck pebbles at you.
I have to hope that we’ll get there.