In the introduction to Undead Sexist Cliches I discuss some of the reasons people push back against gender equality. Along with misogyny and patriarchy, I think for many people it’s simply easier not to think about how shitty things are for many women.
As HP Lovecraft said in the opening of Call of Cthulhu, “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” His narrator correlates too much and comes to grasp the terrible truth about the existence of the Old Ones and how small and puny our world and our race are. I think something similar takes place when confronting the reality of sexism and misogyny too.
I’m not naive about how bad misogyny gets, but I was still shell-shocked when #metoo hit big and so fricking many of my female friends responded to “Have you been sexually harassed?” with “me too.” It’s hard to grasp how many women (and a few men) have to deal with that, and how little some people care.
Plus routine, petty sexism, like a professional woman being told it’s her job to make lunch for the team or to clean the restrooms. Or being denied promotions, or watching the system protect sexist asshats.
When it sinks in, it’s both infuriating and terrifying to contemplate, particularly as it’s been going on so long, and will undoubtedly continue into the future. The pushback against the progress women have made is constant and ongoing. The attitude some men have that women are primarily either a source of sex or a source of sexual frustration won’t go away any time soon.
I think for some people, that makes it easier to believe it’s all overblown. It can’t be that bad, right? Teenage girls don’t routinely get cat-called by older men, surely not. The truth is always in the middle, so obviously there’s a middle ground between the misogynists who defend sexual harassers and rapists and the feminists who say any level of sexual harassment and rape is unacceptable. The middle ground being, maybe, that rape is bad but not always. And maybe women are just unreasonable about guys flirting with them at work. Can’t we compromise?
Compromise is appealing because, as Martin Luther King said (and as I’ve quoted multiple times) lots of otherwise decent people hate tension. Challenging the system, pushing for reform, that creates tension and conflict; can’t the oppressed go a little slower, demand a little less, settle for half a loaf or no loaf until society is ready?
Hell, no. As Frederick Douglass said, power never concedes anything without a demand. As Dr. King said, what the people who hate tension imagine is peace is oppression, but with the victims staying quiet so nobody gets riled up, nobody has to hear about it on the news, nobody has to think about how bad it is or how fricking angry women (obviously this applies to any other minority group) are.
Like it or not, we have to correlate. And then we have to act.