On Feminism: Show Me Your “Proof”

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

sexist bingo

It’s a common scenario: you’re reading an interesting article about feminism online, and then you scroll down to read the comments. There are usually some very insightful comments. But they are overshadowed by the amount of vitriolic and smart-arse responses. You know which type I find to be one of the most frustrating? It’s this one, masked as an “innocent” question: “but show me your proof”? Someone feigning innocence will deny that rape culture, or sexism, or misogyny, or gender inequalities exist today, and ask for “objective” proof. Or they will sometimes direct you to their own statistics of more “important” problems, as if the array of data on other social problems is somehow supposed to indicate that sexism has been done away with. As Lisa Simpson would say, that’s specious reasoning: one problem does not cancel out another.

To me, this question of “show me your proof” is basically a way of saying: “your opinions and experiences don’t count unless you show me ample documentation of something that is widely known to exist”. It’s like asking for proof that the earth is round. Saying that sexism and rape culture don’t exist without such said “proof” is like suggesting that racism is a myth, homophobia is not a problem and abuse isn’t “real” without statistical data.

The point is, my opinions and experiences as a woman should count for something. Whenever I hear this question of “show me your proof” (which, I might add, I have been asked myself), I feel like responding:

You want proof? I’ll give you proof – my proof is my experiences. My proof is getting sexually harassed by a taxi driver when all I wanted was to get from point A to point B in peace. And then feeling scared to take taxis for months. That’s called rape culture: the assumption that women’s bodies are available for any man who wants them, without consent. My proof is getting asked when I’ll have children while my brother, older than me, gets asked about his career dreams and personal life goals. That’s called being reduced to the sum of my reproductive organs rather than being treated as a human being. My proof is getting called a “little girl” when I’m well past my teenage years. That’s called infantalising women. My proof is listening to a woman having to defend a valid interpretation of a novel at a conference while a man who argues the same thing a day later gets nods of approval and uncritical silence. That’s called a tacit and unspoken agreement of male superiority.

Oh, but you need more “proof”? Okay then ...

My proof is needing male friends to come to my defence in order for someone to take me seriously. My proof is said male friends being treated like brainwashed fools when they dare to champion women’s rights. My proof is going to the movies to watch women get beaten, raped and mutilated, and having it thrust upon me as “high art”. My proof is marvelling at the stupidity of a film culture that accepts such treatment of women as “art” but takes offence at women’s consensual pleasure (right on, Ryan Gosling). My proof is walking into a bookstore and encountering a “chick lit” section, while male authors are placed in general “literature” sections.

My proof is getting told by strangers that my critical writing reads “like a man’s” and thinking this is actually a compliment to me. (Because women can’t possibly write well or rationally about serious topics. Because being “like a man” is being “superior” to other women.) My proof is browsing through men’s magazines, feeling a bit sick at how women are portrayed and talked about (sorry, it’s not “empowering” or “sexy” to be treated like a piece of meat, or an object, or a throwaway sexual toy – women are people, not things). My proof is listening to a bunch of men in a pub using feminising words as “insults” to each other. (Because being like a woman is “degrading” and “insulting”.) My proof is hearing women being referred to as “minorities” in the media despite them representing half of the world’s population. My proof is listening to the other masculine half of the population being referred to as the “mainstream”, or the benchmark “default” for humanity in general.

sexist bingo

I could provide an endless list. But do I really need to? Do we really need to keep wasting our time “proving” the obvious? The problem with this question of “show me your proof” is that it ultimately places the burden on those who are marginalised and experience discrimination. It does not put the burden on those who are lucky enough by random birth not to experience such discrimination; it does not compel them or require them to step out of the assumption of their own privilege. If you want proof, open your eyes and look at the world around you. Plus, really, let’s stop playing coy, the people who ask for “proof” rarely actually want it, it’s often simply a derailing tactic.

So maybe a better response next time I get the “show me your proof” question would be to calmly suggest to the questioner that they should go ask someone else for proof that the earth is round, and enter into a hearty and pointless debate about that instead.

Image credits: Anti-Feminist Bingo I and II, which summarise a lot of the comments I’ve seen myself on feminist blogs and articles.


melancholyswan.com said...

I have a colleague who, whenever a feminist subject is raised, immediately argues that stuff happens to men too. Everything has to be universal or it's invalid. He also hates feminists (except me and other uppity women in the department...he loves us.) and believes that if you wear make up and pretty clothes, you aren't a real feminist.

Hotly Spiced said...

My comment would be, 'You write very well', not 'you write like a man'. What does that even mean??? At school I had to study two great writers. One was D H Lawrence, the other, Jane Austen. Doesn't that prove both sexes can write well?

Amelia said...

To me 'show me the proof' is akin to 'what about the men?'.

I think some men are really confused about their role in society - I mean they get bombarded from society and media that they should be the provider and the head of family and so on.

We take time and discuss issues about women's roles in society; they don't have that they have those archaic gender roles. Because discussing things would be... unmale-like.

If I met a person who would say 'show me the proof' I wouldn't bother with them for one simple reason - proof is all around us and you really have to be blind to not see it.

Inês Gonçalves said...

Yes, exactly, all of this. I've long given up trying to explain to my friends that feminism isn't just a branch off sexism, and that rape culture is actually a thing that exists.

Sarah Rooftops said...

I just like your writing, full stop.

I'm always surprised when the sex in movies thing becomes an issue. Women in "chick flicks" enjoy sex ALL THE TIME; it's in the supposedly artistic, intelligent films - the ones which you might expect to be the more forward thinking - that they are degraded. Does the "but that's what happens in real life" argument hold? It often strikes me as just an excuse.

RetreatingAndAdvancing said...

I love every of your posts. Sometimes I think I can't leave a comment because it's not as wise and long as the other ones, but I think this time it's enough to just say: You're right. And you write beautifully.

Accidentalwriter said...

perhaps it's because I've always felt more comfortable/safe socialising and relating to women...perhaps it's because I have almost exclusively worked in environments where women have made up a large portion of the workforce.....perhaps it's because I have felt devalued and ridiculed for having a 'sensitive' nature and a preparedness to express my emotions.....perhaps it's because I've had the occasional one-on-one conversations with men who have a public persona of being quite chauvinistic; and yet when provided the right environment often acknowledge the unacceptable attitudes towards women that many men (including themselves)have....perhaps it's because I had an amazing role model in my father - who always treated my mother with the greatest respect and dignity and felt blessed by the qualities her individuality brought to their relationship...perhaps it's because I have felt marginalised and misunderstood because I have challenged the perceptions of the man's role within the family context.....perhaps it's because I have lived with anxiety and depression all of my life, and society's views towards these conditions has often been less than supportive....perhaps it's because I have worked in the disability sector for most of my life and always looked at the commonalities rather than the differences first....perhaps it's because injustice saddens me more than just about anything else...perhaps these are some of the reasons why I think I can relate to your post................
'Equality is the soul of liberty; there is, in fact, no liberty without it'.
Frances Wright

rooth said...

It's always a breath of fresh air to hear your opinion and experience on these topics. Your entries makes me try to be more conscious about how I feel and act in future situations when something as you've described above does come up

naomemandeflores said...

Way to go Hila! I couldn't think of a better "proof".

Camila Faria

Victoria said...

This is why I have a job, actually. The professor I work for suggested at a faculty conference that the status of women could be a more accurate indicator of national security than many of the other measures political scientists use (GDP, etc.) They dismissed the idea, and she set out to prove them wrong. We're doing a damn good job of it, too. Though it's sad that statistics are worth more than the lived experience of actual women.

One of our most harrowing statistics: more women have died through female infanticide and sex selective abortion than all the men who've died in all the wars of the twentieth century. Combined. Now let's start talking proof ...

Chuck said...

YES. Yes yes yes. Yes. Always a comfort to see coherent blogger writing about feminism. Although I do feel riled up and mad now. So much misogynistic bullshit going down.

(D H Lawrence vs. Austen?? What? That is ridiculous. Lawrence indeed.)

((I really need some slim black work trousers and this totally isn't the right place to discuss that.)) x

Brooke W. said...

while I was reading, I was nodding at everything you wrote. Great article!

Whenever I start to talk to someone about these subjects, people say "ohh, you're a feminist" like " ohh you hate men and you think women are better in many ways = you are sexist". And I feel so frustrated, because I'm tired to explain everyone what Feminism is.

Also, there is a girl in one of my classes who is anti-feminist. And after months hearing her talk about women, I still feel very confused. I never thought such thing was possible!

MissJW said...

Thank you for writing this post. It touched on several issues I've encountered this week that have thrown me for a loop. So glad to read your perspective. Thank you.

hungryandfrozen said...

Brilliantly written, Hila, thanks for raising this. Your body of proof sounds similar to mine - likely similar for many others too.

Tempted to print out those bingo cards and carry them round with me along with a pen to cross them off as I hear them...

Emi Coco said...

This is such a lovely and inspirational post. Finally someone made a good post about feminism <3

Shall we follow each other? I'm following.


Sundari said...

Hila, I can't agree more. I also hadn't read Ryan Gosling's quote before and that is so spot on! I'm quite fortunate in that I associate myself with people who are politically correct in actions and manners towards people of other genders, races and backgrounds. My boyfriend in fact picks up on a lot more female discrimination than I do and tells me off for asking him to do 'male chores' around the house (guess it goes both ways). However it came as a rude shock to me when I discovered my fathers (bogan) family, people related to me by blood(!), can be so right wing and backwards in their thinking. Apparently they still vote for the supposed left, but for reasons that I am not aware of. Anyway I digress, I only picked up on their racist comments but I'm sure they all have some anti-feminist comments tucked away. I get so shocked everytime I come across narrow minded (read: backward) people that I often don't say anything...

pRiyA said...

Sometimes one tends to think that certain things happen only in one's own country. After reading this I realize how wrong I was. This seems to be a universal phenomenon.

I hope your blog posts come out in book form one day soon.

Tracey said...

This is a fantastic piece of writing Hila. It never fails to amaze me how the world can be so messed up, when it's supposed to be such a progressive place.

Sometimes it feels like we take one step forward and two steps back.

PS. I love that Ryan Gosling quote.

hila said...

melancholyswan: don't you love those types of arguments? I hear them all the time too. The problem is 'universal' often simply boils down to 'men', and it's not really 'universal'. Women have been excluded for so long, it seems fair to address their issues separately now and not have someone accuse you of being a 'reverse-sexist'. That's just laughable considering how women have been treated historically (and are still being treated today).

hotly spiced: I don't think women need to 'prove' anything, or have their writing (or anything else) judged by their gender. It doesn't happen to men - nobody says, 'men's literature' or 'bloke lit'. That sounds silly right? well, 'chick lit' is just as silly.

amelia: I guess that's my point - you would have to blind not to see sexism.

ines: people who say that rape culture and sexism don't exist are really just speaking from the position of their own privilege, or they're being deliberately provocative.

sarah: yeah, it often feels like an excuse to me too. they are a few art house directors that are greatly admired, but their films are just filled with this 'punishing women' crap - abuse, violence, masochism, rape, etc. Why is this 'art'? Why should I value their work when they don't value my body?

retreatingandadvancing: thank you!

accidentalwriter: thank you for leaving this comment, it truly made me feel a lot better!

rooth: well thank you for taking the time to read it!

camila: thank you :)

victoria: oh that is a harrowing statistic. I'm definitely not knocking the work you do, I admire it immensely. I just think statistical proof is co-opeted by idiots on the internet to 'disprove' the obvious. It's so sad reading some of the comments. Your job sounds very important.

chuck: I've been threatened myself via email and comments here (which I haven't published thankfully). I won't allow this space to become filled with abuse. But it's so appalling to even receive this abuse - why do these guys think they have the right to do that?

brooke: ah, so many things about the way feminism is regarded are confusing and frustrating! The idea that feminism is 'sexist' is just laughable - but it's also a sad indicator of how warped perceptions about it have become in wider culture. It's so much easier to stereotype and belittle complex issues. Sigh.

missjw: my pleasure!

hungryandfrozen: ha, I was thinking of doing the same thing with the bingo cards! It would be ample 'proof' huh?

emi: oh there are many other blogs writing great things about feminism, I'm certainly not the first.

sundari: it's so strange to be on opposite moral sides with your family - I've experienced that too. You feel conflicted loyalty.

priya: it is definitely widespread across the world, sadly.

tracey: yeah, I don't buy the 'progressive' myth - we have a long way to go!

Miss Crowland said...

Wonderful article. Thanks so much for putting it so eloquently.

hila said...

miss crowland: thank you for reading it.

vegetablej said...

I loved the Bingo cards -- almost all the arguments are unfortunately familiar; it's amazing how just putting them together creates an instant _proof_ .The universality of them speaks volumes.

When I lived in Japan I encountered the most rabid, virulent comments when I dared to post to discussion groups, from western men living there. They were all the ones on the Bingo cards but delivered with such scathing hatred and personal focus that I was hounded off them. Perhaps that's why I started a blog, in part, to get my own uncensorable voice. I'm so gad you have a similar platform here. I think I could go a long way before I read an article of such sense and relevance in the mainstream media.

A big thanks!

Hila said...

vegetablej: Thank you! I'm constantly surprised by the forms of sexism I encounter, but more importantly, by the complacency surrounding this issue. The 'proof' request just seems laughable to me - we don't need to 'prove' sexism, we need to fight it.

I'm so glad you started your blog, we all need to create discussion around this in our own way.

Sally said...

I'm bookmarking this post because it so succinctly, accurately sums up what I wish I could say during heat-of-the-moment arguments when I can't easily think of all these examples - so thanks Hila.

Anonymous said...

On the subject of anti-feminism, I hate the use of the word "rape" as a "funny" expression by both men and women. Like "that handbag is raping my eyes" or men in groups joking about (often male) rape- fucking hilarious when you're far more likely to be the perpetrator than the victim isn't it? Of course male rape exists, but it doesn't hang over men's heads like a perpetual threat and terror (except in a few specific circumstances)- men AND women need to stop trivializing it.