Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

I Was A Teenage Sexist Chicken

This post is not about Sexism or Feminism, it is about my experience in talking about them. I have had several conversations lately about how people engage in debate over sex / gender / body (SGB) identity issues. I am launching a blog that supports dialogue on those issues and in the communities that they create. As I frame the terms of the conversations and the goals of the site, I have begun to articulate my view on the structure of dialogue itself.

Simply put, I have been thinking about how we treat each other inside a conversation about SGB issues and identity. I noticed some patterns of how we seem argue with each other inside these conversations. This post is not about something specific to SGB issues, advocates themselves or the conversations. This is about how we speak to each other about those issues. SGB issue conversations are not somehow different from other conversations. I simply care about them more. This applies to Racism, Classism, TG discrimination or any other conversation regarding society and individuals.

(Cross-posted at The National Gadfly)

I will mostly use 1st person in this post, not because I think I'm 'right' or 'better' or anything.  It is just that I think that by making statements using the 3rd person (we/they/you), it is not as honest or intimate and is often a distraction.  As a reader, you may be left wondering who the subject is, whether to defend your own views and how I can claim to know other peoples thoughts & motives.  My writing tends to be more effective when I am describing my personal experience.

Guys hang back (and it's not just guys)

I was chatting with friend about how Feminism & Sexism are addressed on some blogs.  She noted her experience that “men hang back” to see how the women are going to respond and later come in on the 'safe' side with a hearty “yeah, what she said!” It's not universal across blogs, but it brings up an interesting point: chickening out.

Why would men hide out?  Maybe they have been lambasted and they are 'gun-shy'  Certainly, I have been told a) I am sexist b) go do homework c) come back with approved answers.  Sometimes in harsh terms, peppered with “@$$hole” or “troll”.  I may have fully deserved that response or not.  But, the idea that I would 'hide out' because some woman treated me harshly is in itself a responsibility dodge. 

Hiding is a choice – my choice. Period.  The only person that makes me hide or stop hiding, is me.

There is responsibility and there are consequences.  In blogs and live conversations.  I have a very clear example of this in my personal life.  I had a girlfriend and she became pregnant.  We sat on the bed and she asked me what I wanted to do.  I told her that I would do whatever she wanted to do.  Right there – I chickened out.

What I did there was to lay it all on her.  When we broke up, she said to me that the relationship died on that day in that conversation.  She knew I was afraid and didn't want a child.  She wanted my honesty and my intimacy.  I gave her neither.  It hurt our relationship.  I withheld my voice, my experience and how I felt.

It's like that on blogs and in face-to-face conversations.   The problem with hanging back or hiding out, is that real communication struggles to exist without all parties involved in the conversation.  Everybody in the conversation loses out when someone hides out.

It's not just men and it's not just Sexism or Feminism.  How many people walk away from or hide out instead of speaking their mind and making a difference?  How many of us hold our voice still when we  are afraid?  How many women identify themselves as Feminists but do not find agreement from Feminist books, blogs or speakers?  I have met some.  Are they the only ones?  If there are more, where do they go and how do they contribute to the cause?  Where are their voices heard?  I don't know.

Where else do people hide out?  Work?  Family?  We all probably do it in our lives to some degree.  Nobody alive today, invented it.  We can all quit at any time.  We can even relapse and quit again.  Speaking up is not without benefit.  In my life there is no greater feeling than feeling of being in a conversation with someone where both people feel heard by each other.

There are no correct answers

The academic hierarchy model of argument is wonderful in science – but psychology, sexism and discrimination are not hard science.  It is a limiting mistake to language them in such terms.  I mean that by treating subjective opinion as if it were objective fact is a disservice to the focal cause.  Not just in context but in results.  It sets up a false sense of truth and proof.

Also, an 'academic' or 'scientific' hierarchy looks to me like a lot of other paternalistic structures, perhaps even reinforcing some of the very assumptions, definitions, prejudices and messages that are being challenged in a conversation about SGB identity.

One example of my experience from Feminism conversations goes something like this:

A certain “1st Wave” theory was proven wrong in 1971 by so-and-so.  This “2nd Wave” theory was proven wrong in 1981 by so-and-so.  “3rd Wave” has theory become X, as anyone who has read so-and-so would know….and so forth.

I've done that in life.  Replaying someone else's argument from the past is a shortcut.  I was trying to 'win' the argument.  I wanted to be right.  I was not looking into my own life to see how this conversation really impacted me.  Who cares why?  I was not thinking for myself – but only of myself. That's the critical factor.  By doing so, I deprived myself of the full knowledge of my impact on others and the chance to grow up.  I lost out.  The people I was talking to lost out.  The greater conversation around sexism lost out because I was both saying nothing new and denying my own personal contribution, both past and present.

It's a classic case of 'precedence' – “if so-and-so said it, it must be true”.  History becomes canon which in turn becomes rote.  I don't want to hear what a professor or author said sometime in the past.  I want to hear how this issue has impacted the person I'm talking to – in their own life.  Have they ever said or thought anything like that?  Was it done to them?  Have I done that to them?  How did they feel?  What does the person in front of me think about all of this?  What is this person's gift of intellect, reason and vision have to offer our conversation?

So, now I have started asking people how this issue has impacted them in their life.  Have they ever thought or said anything like that?  Has it ever been said to them?  How did they feel?  Have I ever said something like that to them?

On the topic of academic debate:  I would like to see 1 million people stumbling through conversations together over the merits of Betty Friedan, Shulamith Firestone, Simone de Beauvoir, Andrea Dworkin or anyone else for that matter.  I would much rather the multitude of amateurs than a much smaller number of people that have read all the right mater
ials, learned all the correct thoughts and speak in the appropriate homages to the good topics.  I like academic and structured debates.  I simply think that they cannot contain the larger population's experience or contribution to any subject.

If I had to choose between a flawless argument that is given by one really smart person or 10 million amateur, untrained opinions, I would take the latter for a greater impact on improving society's performance on the issue.  The larger group represents more individual contribution to the discourse, which I think is the only valuable currency in these debates.  Dogma fails where cognition succeeds. If we recorded 15 million conversations about Betty Friedan and each person spoke on the subject matter in terms of their own experience, honestly; then every one of those conversations would be relevant and contain something new.

Don't get me wrong, structured debate has a place and a real value.  I honestly love participating in them.  I like discussing the history of Feminist Theory.  It's informative. I even like talking to people much smarter than myself.  However, the broad and sweeping change in society will occur in the bazaar and not in the cathedral.

It's OK to fall down

My life got better in these conversations when I realized that I was going to make mistakes.  Lots of them.  (Actually, I made all the mistakes then figured out what had happened.) Once I accepted that, it all got better.  I don't want to make mistakes, but I do make them.  We all do.  There is a difference between knowing that I may offend someone and striving to do so.  I am going to get flamed or yelled at or disagreed with.  I used to believe that I had to defend my position in arguments, to save face, etc.  That's not how it turned out to be.  These conversations are a dance in some ways.  I know that the desired result is equality and respect for all.  That serves as the tempo to the dance.  The words and opinions of those I speak with and myself – are the notes and the melody.

I just remind myself that there is a difference between myself and Rush Limbaugh but that does not excuse me from responsibility. I am admitting my fallibility – not giving myself license to offend.

So, what is my point?  Why say all this?  Because I wanted to encourage others to step forward into the mistakes and successes of these conversations.  I used my own mistakes as references and examples for someone else to look at their own experience and bring it to the conversation on SGB issues, or race, or class.  The water is choppy sometimes and you will spill.  So long as you care and respect, you will be fine.  People will insult you and me and each other.  It goes with the territory and I can't begin to judge their motives.  If I'm lucky, if you're lucky maybe those people will contribute to our lives in some meaningful way.

So, come in in from the shadows.  If you have gone away, please come back.  It's OK.  We need you.  I need you.


P.S. Thank you VaginaDrum, Clarisse and Michelle Marshall for allowing me to crystallize my thoughts lately on this issue and the upcoming site.


  1. louisprandtl

    Most of what you wrote here had great significance in my own life.  Interestingly I found the two masterpieces of Susan Faludi’s “Backlash, The Undeclared War against American Women”, and  “Stiffed, The Betrayal of American Men” to be very insightful for me in the 90s and 00s…

  2. Hollede

    Mine is almost asleep. I read through your piece twice and found that I wanted to say a million different things, but can barely put a sentence together.

    I will say this. In yet another area, I find remarkable similarities on issues with you. Who in the heck are you anyway?;~D

    I look forward to my third read and a more cogent mind after I wake up…

  3. at that other place.  great work gadfly.  

    “dr. p with a side of mojo.  great point in that people tend to shy away from topic that do not feel comfortable in.  that said, im not convinced that this is a bad thing.

    ignorance of history and context when discussing an issue is v. important on teh blogs because the culture of the internet has not always been one of kindness and sincerity.

    but kudos to you in having both and bringing up highly important points.”

  4. And you pinpoint something I have discerned over discussions of sexism on teh blogs in the last year: American men fear to go there. For an example of this, look at the first few comments in this very lively open thread on Sexism and the Media from the early days of the Moose.

    Discussions of sexism, like issues of race or sexual orientation, tend to rapidly become parades of victimhood, which completely stifles the conversation, and makes it a card game trumping each other with personal identities. Men back off (obviously because of their lack of a vagina) while the remaining women tend to slug it out on who has suffered most, and therefore has more credibility.

    This escalating dialogue of personal harm stymies all rational debate. I’m not saying that there aren’t victims, but victimhood is a scar, not an argument.

    For me, though, I have no fear debating this subject. Maybe it’s my nationality. Maybe it’s my family, dominated by strong women, and my work (which is similar), or perhaps I’m just insensitive. But I have noticed the reticence of men in this debate, and perhaps it’s a mixture of guilt and fear, but it distorts the debate.

    My kids have a great take on this. In their teens, and having attended a very racially diverse co-ed High School, they’re very aware of racism – in all its aspects. Not just white against Asian or Black, but Black against White, Asian against Black…. they are told to abhor racism, in all its forms.

    Can we one day discuss sexism this way? I know thousands of years of patriarchy give feminists the upper hand in this argument, but men are oppressed by patriarchy too, and I  often discuss with my kids examples of ‘sexism against men’. It’s actually visible for them in nannying, early teaching, and babysitting. My son can’t for the life of him get a cushy baby sitting job, while my daughter has countless offers. Female sexism, towards each other, towards men, is not often discussed but it should be, just Asian racism towards Blacks, or Blacks towards Whites, should be part of the conversation as well.

    Just my initial thoughts on a provocative and timely diary.  

  5. Jjc2008

    I am sure I could write much on this subject.

    Sometimes I feel like a person caught in the Twilight zone….a product of a society that made no sense to me in terms of my place in it.  Yet, I was fortunate to have a father who valued me as an intellectual person with no limits.  He told me in so many way that I could do anything.  But the world told me, I was only allowed to do certain things.

    I don’t think of myself as a victim.

    I do think I have been frustrated by gender issues from childhood.  I did not like dolls. I liked trains.  My father loved that I liked trains, sports, chemistry, science, math.  My mother fretted and feared that my dislike of girl things would be problematic. Seriously, she made sure I got a doll every Christmas until I was about 10.  Never played with one of them, never got why they were “toys.”  

    But by 13, I was understanding I was misfit, a “tomboy”. Still am.  I am a single heterosexual woman who did not/does not care for many  stereotypical “feminine” things.  But I like some.  Frilly turns me off yet I loved make up, off beat sexy clothing.

    I like to do things for myself…..prided myself in using power tools, but I still get angry and stunned when a few of the men in my life (mostly a few spouses of female friends) refuse to help me with a heavy suitcase, or open a door for me because “she’s one of those feminist, let her do it herself.”  I don’t get it.  Why is it offensive to some men when I try to be self sufficient on some things?  I never resented a man opening a door, helping me do things. I resented being told, at times, I was incapable of some things because of gender.

    I used to think I wanted children. I am teacher that loved kids but my desire to parent was very minimal. And honestly, while I think my parents were two really good loving people,and my dad was a great father, overall I never saw marriage as a good deal for a woman.  Seemed to me early on, SHE got to work, cook, clean, do laundry, take care of it all, and all he did was work then come home and relax. I realize that that model has changed for some…it’s a good thing.  But still..I am a product of my times…

    It just never seemed like a good deal to me.  And I made a choice. I don’t regret it.

    My two best friends from high school all made different choices.  One married, had the whole family, kids….etc.  One really wanted kids, did not want marriage…so she adopted two children (outside the US) as a single woman. I chose to live my life without a partner or children.  We are all three basically contented, as happy as most, and going forward.  

    I do not think there is one way to live one’s life but I do believe single females are still stigmatized as the “unloveable old maid.”  Single men still get the benefit of the “playboy, Bond, persona.”  

    When I was younger, I was more outspoken on some things, but regretfully remained silent on others things.  Like many women, when I found myself being sexually embarrassed by comments of a male boss, my gut reaction was to go home and wonder what I did to provoke it.  I have always been an outgoing, friendly person.  Some men (and women) have labeled it flirtatious, when I was younger (now, one of the gifts of being older is that friendliness is seen as just that…not as me trying to steal someone’s man, or coming on).

    I think you have hit on to something. Silence among and between us perhaps has burdened all of us.  

  6. Michelle

    So much to say…no idea where to start…

    However, the broad and sweeping change in society will occur in the bazaar and not in the cathedral.

    The issues of feminism, sexism, gender, and sexuality are central and basic to human existence.  While feminist theory is interesting, it has limited usefulness once a society and culture evolve.  Where women’s issues were in the 70s is NOT where they are now.  That being the case, I continue to advocate for a reframing of the feminist debate.

    I have said before that the current discussion surrounding feminism is inherently flawed because, as you said gadfly, “history becomes canon which in turn becomes rote.”  We need to recognize the terms of the debate for what they are, determine what the ultimate goals of the debate truly are, and reframe the debate purposefully and carefully.

    If I may also be so bold, the recent primary wars seemed to define as the penultimate goal of the feminist movement the nomination (and probable election) of a female presidential candidate.  Feminism did not fail when HRC was not selected as the Democratic candidate.  In my case, it succeeded because I looked at two candidates for neither gender nor race, and I determined that my candidate was Obama.  I see it as a success because I see the ultimate goal of feminism to be equality for women, to see beyond gender to the HUMAN behind the genitalia.  If the “winner” is a woman, fabulous, but if she does not win, it doesn’t mean that I, as a woman, lose.

    However, the mockery of feminism came in the form of Sarah Palin.  I worried at the beginning that she would set back feminism, but I honestly believe now that she has helped move the debate forward.  I would NEVER in my life vote for her because she has a vagina.  She has a palpable disdain for everything that I hold dear in my life, including my rights as a woman.  Palin is why the ultimate goal of feminism CANNOT be elevating gender beyond every other quality.

    Thanks, gadfly, for this diary and for this discussion, and I am happy to have a discussion with you on these matters anytime.  🙂  I look forward to the new blog!

  7. If you don’t feel strongly about a subject then you have to feel your way. This goes for both sexes. Look what happened to Hillary for the cookies comment. There was nothing wrong with that comment, yet she got slammed for it.

    Your experience with your girlfriend is an excellent example. A lot of people that supported feminism and choice argued that men had no say over women’s bodies. That whether a woman had an abortion was entirely her decision. Some would argue that not even a husband had a say in it. So your response to your gf was actually a very feminist answer, not a cop-out. Isn’t that how it is supposed to go? “You make the decision and I will support you either way.”

    on another note…

    There is a difference between knowing that I may offend someone and striving to do so.  I am going to get flamed or yelled at or disagreed with.  I used to believe that I had to defend my position in arguments, to save face, etc.

    This reminds me of something Benjamin Franklin wrote in his auto-biography. He said that when he was younger he would argue strongly for his point. Since he was so intelligent and quick-witted, he usually won those arguments. However, they cost him friends. One day a friend of his told him that he didn’t always have to be right. He thought about that advice and in the future started to use a more Socratic approach to arguments. It was only then that he began to have more friends and become more influential. That’s good advice for any of us.

  8. anna shane

    the relations between the sexes are fraught with nervousness, not to say anxiety, there are so many ways to feel confused or to ‘understand’ incorrectly.  has to do with fantasy, as usual, what we think our beloved is, and how we react when he or she turns out to be flawed.  It’s hard to pinpoint, for sure, parties to the ‘something happened’ don’t always themselves know the big turn off point, when it’s over and there is no going back.  

    is it romance, that we expect too much and won’t settle for a  normal relationship that has misunderstandings?   That we may need to compromise to keep this one going (as if they don’t all require compromise?)

    I sometimes think that one party to the partnership thinks he or she is keeping it going, keeping them together, and then if they stopped it’d be over. but then sometimes one stops and the other starts.  

    It’s easy to be honest in the beginning, when there seems little to lose and much harder when it’d be harder to lose.  Presenting ones best face early on may make it impossible to show real flaws later.

    At that time that might have been your best answer. I know a guy who could never make up his mind to plan a child and when his lover became pregnant he left the decision to her. She elected to terminate the pregnancy and blame him, which led to their break up.  But another man did the same, the lover had the child, and the man made a fine father.  Women who had partners who encourage pregnancies leave too, and fail to pay child support.  There is no guarantee, however much anyone would like one.

    Sometimes it’s easier to blame another than accept responsibility for a choice that is hard to make.  Of course with pregnancy it’s always up to the woman, that’s the law. So, the guy who begs his partner to have his child has no more power than one who begs his partner to terminate. That’s as it should be, it’s a woman’s body and her life that’s at stake, and she gets to decide, not all the social conventions favor men.  

    There isn’t a right answer, you might have said, let’s decide together, what are your feelings and one woman would be glad and another might be offended that the man thought he had a real vote in the matter,  You might have said you’d like her to have your child (if you did, at that point) and one woman might see that as unfair pressure and another as a promise for life and a debt that could never be repaid.  

    People can talk, but they’re not always truthful, to themselves or to others.  

    Of course you could say, before having sex let’s talk about what we’ll do with an unplanned pregnancy, but even then a girl gets to change her mind.  One I know promised termination but then had the baby and raised it on her own, without asking for help, cause, she’d promised.   A man can’t know what it’s like for a woman to find herself pregnant, but the point is that not all women are the same.  Like, The Woman does not ex-ist.    

  9. spacemanspiff

    … this great essay like my name was Sponge Bob.

    Forgive me for the slight meta ahead.

    Having the opportunity to learn from people who have lived a lot more than me is one of the main reasons I love this place. It allows me to have conversations with well intentioned Moose who really respect each other. I’ve taken a lot from this piece ( and of course the comments). Not a lot I can add in this diary and that’s the way I like it.

    Thank you Moose.

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