Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The fight over isms - Updated

By Libby

Avedon sends us over to read Mad Kane this morning, who has an uncharacteristically serious post on sexism. She makes a good point that should certainly be considered when women respond to the inherent sexism that still permeates our society.
They are caught in a catch-22. If they react against these seemingly small slights, they appear to be overreacting or too sensitive. But to let them pass may signal that such comments are somehow acceptable.
It's a fine line indeed and Mad Kane provides the answer as to where to draw it, although she doesn't offer it as such. She points out the sexism in those remarks is subtle but goes on to posit that even such subtlety shouldn't be allowed to pass without protest. I adore MK and respect her opinion greatly, but I think she misses the negative consequences of making a big deal out of small and very subtle remarks. [See update]

Sure, we should continue to challenge sexisim. It still exists and in some ways it feels to me that it's gaining ground again. I think that's partly in response to what the average working Jake sees as an overreaction to every tiny slight and that's true not just for sexism, but also racism, ageism, homophobia and all the other discriminatory isms out there. It's seen as self-centered whining and unrealistic demands to be shielded from even the most minor offense. It's perceived as a quest to gain an advantage via nanny interference. It doesn't matter that they're wrong, the perception is what builds the backlash and impedes progress.

Which is not to say I don't think we should continue to point out the instances. We should. But we need to couch our complaints coolly, as MK did here. More particularly, within the context of the Democratic primaries I think both sides should step back from the ism rhetoric. This is not the forum for this fight. I continue to think any possible gains we could make in fighting discrimination will be negated by effectively delivering oppo to the GOP for the general.

Our long range goal is to get a Democrat into the White House. Whoever emerges as the victor in August, will certainly be better than the Republican and our candidate would best be delivered to the general without having been bloodied by their own side. Surely, we would be better served by attacking the GOP, rather than each other.

Update: Mad Kane checks into comments and notes that I misinterpreted her post. This I agree with completely.
In fact, here's how I end that essay: "Most women, myself included, overlook these subtle forms of sexism. I'm troubled by this, and I worry that by being silent, I'm giving up an opportunity to educate. For while some men use these tactics deliberately, others don't even know they're being offensive. Nevertheless, I usually smile discreetly and give a gracious nod. And wonder if I'm doing the right thing, or if I'm mistaking cowardice for discretion."
I wonder myself sometimes, especially as I watch the subtle sexism creep back into our discourse, whether I've become too complacent, resting on the laurels of the victories of the 60s. It's good to remember that the fight is ongoing. We've come a long way but we haven't won yet. Nonetheless, I don't think this primary race is a useful place to stage the battles.

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