Can We Talk About Sexism and Not Be Accused of Attacking Men?

There are some people who, when confronted with their racism or sexism, respond with a suggestion that their accuser hates white people or men. A classic example is how Glenn Beck talked about Obama after the president said that it was stupid for Skip Gates to be arrested in his own home.

Last week I mentioned an article by Rebecca Traister titled, “Summer of Rage,” in which she wrote this:

This too has been clear for a long time: that protecting the influence of that ruling minority — white men — has been the national priority from the country’s very founding. But these days, it’s easy to feel it in a way that underlines why we say that power is in someone’s grip…

White men are at the center, our normative citizen, despite being only around a third of the nation’s population…But it’s not just in the numbers; it’s also in the quotidian realities of living in this country. The suffocating power of our minority rule is evidenced by the fact that we’re always busy worrying about the humanity — the comfort and the dignity — of white men, at the same time discouraging disruptive challenge to their authority.

The rest of the Traister piece goes on to document how some of that is playing out in our public discourse right now with attempts to rehabilitate men who have been accused of sexual assault as well as the attacks on Rep. Maxine Waters. She also responded to the Washington Post’s suggestion that those who believe that abortion is murder should be allowed to live peaceably with their families.

What remained unimaginable to the editorial writers was the reality that those who protect abortion rights — not to mention those who simply avail themselves of reproductive health-care services — face regular death threats, are screamed at while walking into clinics; reproductive health-care workers have been among the victims of clinic shootings and bombings and, of course, abortion doctors have been assassinated.

But never mind any of that because, for Noemie Emery at the Washington Examiner, Traister’s entire article is an affirmative response to the question, “Are men beasts?” After rambling on about a lot of nonsense, Emery ends by quoting Andrew Sullivan.

“When the Democratic party and its mainstream spokespersons use the term ‘white male’ as an insult, when they describe vast swathes of white men in America as ‘problematic,’ when they call struggling, working-class white men ‘privileged,’ when they ask in their media if it’s okay just to hate men, and white men in particular, maybe white men hear it.”

And just maybe they vote against the people saying it, too.

I checked Sullivan’s article and the only link he provided of a Democrat saying those things was an article by sociology professor Suzanna Danuta Walters titled, “Why can’t we hate men?” She’s not asking for permission to hate men, she’s grappling with this reality:

Pretty much everywhere in the world, this is true: Women experience sexual violence, and the threat of that violence permeates our choices big and small. In addition, male violence is not restricted to intimate-partner attacks or sexual assault but plagues us in the form of terrorism and mass gun violence. Women are underrepresented in higher-wage jobs, local and federal government, business, educational leadership, etc.; wage inequality continues to permeate every economy and almost every industry; women continue to provide far higher rates of unpaid labor in the home (e.g., child care, elder care, care for disabled individuals, housework and food provision); women have less access to education, particularly at the higher levels; women have lower rates of property ownership.

In the midst of all that, we live with a lot of rules about who is allowed to be angry and who isn’t.

The world has little place for feminist anger. Women are supposed to support, not condemn, offer succor not dismissal. We’re supposed to feel more empathy for your fear of being called a harasser than we are for the women harassed. We are told he’s with us and #NotHim. But, truly, if he were with us, wouldn’t this all have ended a long time ago?

The professor ends by calling out men who say they’re #WithUs to step up to the plate and “play hard for Team Feminism.” Does that sound like someone who hates men, or someone who thinks it’s past time to level the playing field for women?

What’s interesting about all of this is that both Emery and Sullivan prove Traister’s point: “White men are at the center, our normative citizen.” Even when people like Traister and Walters write about the oppression of women, it is twisted into being an attack on men. That is what sexism looks like.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.