Slutwalk and the Big Words: Benevolent Sexism, Privilege and Empathy

Today is Bloomington’s Slutwalk, which seems to have brought out some of the ugliest ignorance from a student “american facist” group. The Tradyouth group plans on protesting the walk. I’m not a huge fan of yelling unproductive confrontation such as that from neo-nazi-esque undergrads but at least I know how to deal with it, how to categorize it and set it aside. Tradyouth is an easy to categorize “other” that I can set on the opposite side of a binary scale from myself. For better or worse, I can block them out.

What I’m having a harder time understanding and dealing with the benevolent sexism coming from liberals on “my side” of the debate. Alright let’s be frank… I’m getting perturbed with the the liberal males on my side who have been telling me to “be careful” at the rally.

Look, I get it. Really I do. These guys aren’t trying to be sexists; they are trying to be protective and caring.  Neo-nazis are scary as shit. They are terrifying just in their sheer belief of supremacy and righteougness. They are a group you need to be “careful” around. But of course I know this. And that is why you don’t need to tell me to be careful. Because I’m an intelligent rational human being who has weighed the pros and cons of risk, and has decided this is a cause worth marching for. Telling me to be careful feels like you don’t believe in my ability to determine for myself what is risky or not; like you don’t understand my own autonomy.

But more than just feeling this benevolent sexism weight down on me like a depressing 1950s era wet blanket, I get a little pissed. Because in this “be careful” statement is also a way for these father-figure liberal males to separate themsevles from the movement. I can’t help but wonder “why won’t you be there?” If you are against the little neo-nazis, if you are for a culture free of slut-shaming, why don’t you march with us.

Yes I’m sure it relates to privilege, to not understanding why we really need to rally. Honestly there is nothing more infuriating than a man trying to tell you how you “should” feel about some from of cultural gender oppression. As if saying  “Don’t take it so seriously!” will suddenly open the eyes of a woman who really just has her panties in too big a bunch. There is a problem that we can never really understand the position of a minority group, we can never be them. But someone this also translates into not standing with them, and fighting with them. Because we don’t understand we sit on the sidelines and wag our fingers about being careful.

I say “we” because this is not a male/ female issue. I am a white, cis-gendered, middle class person. I have massive amounts of privilege. I think this often stops me of speaking up even when I see racism or other cultural forms of discrimination. It stops me from marching sometimes because I don’t know if it is my place, I don’t know were I fit in the movement, I don’t know where I should stand. It can be awkward.

My freshman year of college I lived on the multiculrual floor. One night a group of us were playing touch football and some white bros yelled the n-word at a group of men we were playing with. A fight ensued. It was dramatic and terrifying. But I remember most is afterwards the separation that came between races. I remember being offended. Why couldn’t I be part of the discussion? Why couldn’t I help?

What I didn’t understand was the need for this group of men to have their own space to process, to allow their minority identity to be front and center without having to explain to an outsider. What they needed from me was empathy, to understand what they experienced was angering, shaming, and a whole multitude of other emotions. They did not need me “to make it better” or to tell them what they should have done differently.

All they needed, all I could do, was to hear them, let them have their experience without my input. Sometimes we can be the best allies, we can validate other’s identities, just by listening without trying to solve anything. Empathy and silent listening is the cure to benevolent sexism and privilege.

some benevolent sexism from a mom

some benevolent sexism from a mom on facebook



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