Have you ever spent an entire dinner listening to your interlocutor, a friend (that goes without saying), explain how feminist he is? How much his fellow men are not. To detail all that should be done to advance the cause of women? All that women should do too, and better? His colleagues, especially, are so timid. And he’s so brave.
It is long, very long, this thick flood of self-satisfaction. And your lips are writhing to maintain a friendly smile – more and more polite, less and less friendly – meant to express the gratitude that your self-proclaimed ally expects of you.
What strikes me in the bath of the “left” in which I bathe is the number of men now recruited to the cause of women and who say it loud and clear. The macho is the others: the beefcake of the countryside, the Muslim of the suburbs, the bourgeois of (Paris’) 16th Arrondissement, the organised masculinists. Not them. The cause is heard. What better a remedy for sexism than cultural capital. Besides, have they not read Judith Butler?
A man whose sexist behaviour I criticised (on the stage of an amphitheatre where he had invited me to talk about my research, where he immediately commented on my makeup) was content to answer: “I’m not like that. That is completely foreign to me.”
Another who asked me to write in his review years after screaming in public (insults like “you’re a priest,” “a little prosecutor”) because I had disagreed with him, did not understand that I refuse such indulgence. He retorted, ulcerated, “I am an other.”
As justification for legitimate questioning of facts, we are gratified by this type of ontological proclamation, solid as rocks. I’m not like that. And so: shut up.
In a recent gay-friendly book, I oppose the gay-friendly certainty of heterosexuals living in the Marais and (Broooklyn’s) Park Slope to another certainty, nourished by other experiences: that of gays and lesbians who still suffer from various forms of discrimination even in their immediate environment, even in their “gay neighbourhood”, even, on occasion, among their straight friends.
I only now realise that the situation is transposable to men of the left. Like some gay and lesbian neighbourhoods, feminist-friendly cultural and/or “left-wing” environments sometimes provide women with comfort and security.
We experience a certain freedom of speech, listening, and sometimes benevolence. The proclamations of equality delight us.
Vigilance is slackening … actually not quite. Because jokes, remarks, reminders to stay in line never disappear. And the denial of this reality by the men concerned is just as violent. Their feminist-friendliness does not tolerate any questioning. The reprisals are immediate.
In reality, whatever our position, and all the more obvious because our privileges are cumulative, we may betray, despite our goodwill, our ignorance and our blind spots.
These moments not very pleasant. I have never seen people less ready to face them than the “men of the left”.
From “I’m not like that,” to “it was not me” or “and you are not better”, even “it’s you who have a sexist view” (and “essentialist”, well, sure), there is very often a sharp and brutal refusal, and sometimes a disqualification in return.
But I have another hypothesis. I have the impression that, in this new world, more feminist-friendly and especially more equal, men must now work with women, talk and sometimes disagree with them, in short: deal with women who sometimes have the same stature. And that requires immense effort.
Adapted from “Left Guys” ou certitude féministe. Photograph courtesy of Jock Cohen. Published under a Creative Commons license.