Can Men Discuss Sexism?
“If a male is intrinsically incapable of contributing valid criticism of a feminist critique, then what is the point of a male trying to understand the critique at all?” ~ Paul Crider, in a measured response to the Sady Doyle post I tried to give a measured response to the other day.
This whole thing has been bothering me way too much, and so I should probably just listen to words of wisdom, pack up my things, and go home – but I just can’t. I’m a damn fool probably. I really want to engage people who hold views different from my own, to see why we disagree on something when we probably shouldn’t, or even when we probably should. I mean, yeah I’m a white male so there’s plenty I don’t understand about violence toward women. It’s not like I can just pick up a book and understand like magic how women perceive the portrayal of women in fantasy or any other literature. You know nothing Jon Snow. I get this. I’m going to have a limited perspective. The point is to get men to think about these things, though, so that they can be more sensitive to things like sexual violence, sexism, objectification of women, etc.
And I do think about it, quite a lot actually. I think fantasy used to be a genre largely dominated by flat characters – but the most two-dimensional, unrealistic characters were almost always the women. Modern fantasy has stepped past that. Both Martin – and to an even more extreme level, R Scott Bakker – have actually tried to tackle sexism in the worlds they create. These are feudal societies, patriarchal cultures. In Bakker’s books especially, women are truly second-class citizens. His female characters are camp-followers, whores, illiterate. There’s lots of rape, and it’s always an act of violent domination and terror, and male possession of women. It’s hard to read. Truly ugly stuff. Reading Bakker I kept realizing how good it was that we lived in a day and age where women were at least treated better than that.
Bakker and Martin, I believe, are critiquing patriarchy and sexism and rape, not glorifying it, in ways that fantasy authors have basically dropped the ball on for a long time. They’re both men, too, so they open themselves to these critiques.
Anyways, my larger point is that when you immediately begin outlining who can and cannot have a voice in the conversation in the first place, it becomes very difficult to reach agreement or even amicable disagreement. It’s unhealthy, I think, for the future of women’s rights and feminism to say that only women have a valid opinion and that nothing even sympathetic men have to offer up short of bland mimicry is worth a damn.
Here’s Sady in her comment thread:
@Trolls, people explaining why George R.R. Martin isn’t sexist. Your names, thus far, have been:
John G. [deleted for rudeness]
E.D., who runs a blog on “Gentlemen” [deleted for blog spam]
Jake [deleted for starting off with “Sady=cunt”]
I’m noticing a theme here, but what can I say? I am but a young girl who knows little of blog war. And tends to think women are in a better position to explain What Is Sexist than men are.
Look I don’t run a blog on “Gentlemen” first of all, that’s just the catchy title. And I get more traffic than Sady (typically), so I’m not trolling for links or looking to steal away readers. I’m looking to start a conversation. Hey, maybe Sady’s right and she knows what’s sexist because she’s the gatekeeper of the discourse or something, but I’m not sure. I find this pretty unsatisfying. I mean, if you can’t see how Tyrion himself was sexually assaulted by being forced by his father – his father! – to rape his wife, then you obviously have some blindspots of your own. Sexism has always been worse for women – I think Martin’s work illustrates this quite clearly – but it cuts both ways. Deciding that nobody but feminist bloggers have any right to talk about what is or isn’t sexist is silly. It’s like me deciding that nobody but True Fantasy fans can discuss what fantasy is (though yeah, the stakes are lower, I get that).
In any case. This is hopefully all I have to say about that. I realize that my first attempt to write a thousand words or so in response to Sady’s post was just me “trolling” since the mere act of disagreeing about What Is Sexist now constitutes trolling. So I’ll go gently into this good night. Sometimes, though, you have to get it off your chest before it becomes a monkey on your back.