Tuesday, January 17, 2012
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.
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.