On American sexism of late
When Hugh Hefner died, I didn’t shed a tear. Hugh Hefner was easy to ridicule and ignore for the most part. I tried to ignore the cringe in my gut when his face appeared in magazines. Turn the page. Men who lead harems are considered powerful by some standards–those of likeminded men. But by other standards–those of many women–these men are considered if not outwardly, then inwardly inferior. They are making up for some deep, gaping inadequacy. Trump’s small hands became a symbol for this kind of inadequacy, because as the wive’s tale goes: hand size correlates. This is the standard women’s interpretation, is it not?
Now what about Harems? Or the modern American capitalist version: the Playboy mansion. Of course harems are a separate culturally specific phenomena–I’ve toured Topkapı Palace, I even live in Istanbul. But I mean the compounds of women, collected as property, that seem to symbolize women’s dependence on male taste, wealth, and status. Oftentimes the male figureheads of such compounds are double or triple the age of their women property. The age-gap gives the entire arrangement an air of uncanny pedophiliac impurity. A kind of geriatric flavor, in which the future death and linked inheritance of a wealthy individual becomes a fetishized, sexualized commodity in and of itself. The women inside such a harem compete for power linked to their sex appeal. The women inside probably feel powerful, too. Their function is to oppress other women almost as much as the men themselves, just by their sheer quantity and by the harem’s internal hierarchy.
But women in a harem don’t determine the power. They don’t own it. They just profit off of it. Some people say these women should not be blamed. We say women should not be shamed for turning into parasites of the swollen patriarchal system. Those women are needy, too, just like women who choose self-determination. Well, if not blamed, what about educated? Would these women still exist if women’s consciousness on the whole could improve a bit?
Hugh Hefner seemed to choose duplicates of the same woman-type. Hugh Hefner perpetuated the blond Barbie-like Pamela Anderson look. Women who find Hugh Hefner’s system oppressive may also have a distaste for that look, like I do. It is likewise a very racially specific look. My impulse is to defend myself against it by pointing out its flawed sense of beauty: it’s fake, it’s exaggerated, it lacks nuance, it lacks character, it lacks eccentricity, it’s narrow minded, it’s cliche, it’s formulaic, and etc. People compare women with this look to thoroughbreds, pieces of meat, isolated body parts–like a piece-of-ass, or other ways of seeing that are perhaps more familiar to wealthy people who are attuned to the monetary values and graded qualities of their possessions, like the percentages of stock indexes. People want to place beauty into statistical models, percentages, ranking systems and other capitalist ways of thinking. Beauty competitions serve the same function–women are compared, weighed, measured, eliminated, made scarce, and more or less commoditized.
What else? This Harvey Weinstein guy from Miramax is suddenly “exposed” in the media. High-profile women had been holding off for years. This is the harem of Hollywood. Women who hadn’t been a victim of his antics denied even knowing about his sexist bullying. He has been called “smart” and “manipulative” by women who apparently disapprove of him. Like a cunning fox? Don’t give him that credit. Don’t excuse him. He was a producer in a position of power who used this power to oppress women by way of a kind of sexual initiation or rite of passage. Some women refused, but they also chose avoidance until now.
Avoidance is an easy coping mechanism. It makes sense in a way. If you have enough of a foothold to stand upright in a career, independently, then you can ignore the dirty politics influencing others around you. You cry tears with the women who experienced it the worst, you feel for them, but you do not necessarily financially support or go out on a legal limb and testify on their behalf. Many women choose not to expose themselves on behalf of their suffering sisters. But real support requires this courage. Real anti-sexist support is material in the sense that it legally protects or financially benefits, or takes care of another’s basic needs, or creates systems that enable that kind of support. These forms of support can bring stability for other women and ourselves. We need to form safety nets, safe spaces, and networks.
Avoidance is a way of accepting the system of relative advantage. By this, I mean politely choosing to profit individually. It’s what I assume women of color are actually complaining about when they complain about white women. All women are struggling to “stay afloat.” When women should be building safety nets for one another, across racial lines, across age lines, across cultural lines, disability lines, across so many lines of difference, they instead play this game of avoidance and subtle one up(wo)manship. Women have the power to organize and ensure that the fall to the bottom is not so catastrophic. Women can become mentors, leaders, and organizers. One specific example is planned parenthood. Don’t let men decide its fate! I often wonder where are the women’s versions of “fraternal orders?” Where are the women who show willingness to financially and materially support one another?
Women traditionally do this in the private sphere. They rear families. They contribute all of their time and energy to the interests of others. Perhaps the idea of transposing that mindset into the public sphere seems too inhibiting. Perhaps women just want to escape the care-taking role altogether. Or perhaps their care taking role has always been independent all along, in a sense. Mothers can often singularly dominate without question. Perhaps that is what many women crave in their public lives as well. A kind of independent domination of their own sphere of influence.
In other words, it seems that women often prefer gaining entrance onto sinking patriarchal ships–to prove their equality in comparison to men. They’d rather pursue this than practice equality among one another. I often crave inter-gender equality and respect. Such equality depends on the more difficult alternative of building a ship, hiring crews, and captaining women-owned fleets. Systemic sexism would not be included in the by-laws.
So many women did not speak out about Weinstein until now. Why now? I didn’t follow this issue that closely, but let’s look at the president. This seems like a case of diverted energy. Aren’t so many women just angry about the current president? Just replay the tapes of Trump’s voice and remember what a heinous individual he is toward women. Just watch him place his hand on his daughter’s ass again. If we can’t oust the biggest sexist in power, then at least we can focus on one at the heart of the entertainment industry of Hollywood. At least we can join our Women’s March on Washington. We can get angry at his rhetoric toward women and lash out at so many other sexists because they are around us everywhere. We have a constant reminder in the white house of how much work is left to be done.
But what if Hillary had won the election? Then what would’ve happened? Let’s rewind. Obama won the election twice. This did not take away police brutality. This did not stop systemic racism. Rotating figureheads in or out of leadership roles creates symbolic, not systemic change. We should try to understand the difference, because we should place our bets on the latter. We need to take ownership, not just fill the roles of a system that has been in place for centuries.
Symbolic change is based on flimsy outward notions of identity–the same labeling and profiling mechanisms that racism depends on. Systemic change is based on seeing beyond the limited careers of charismatic individuals. What inspires me still about the authors of the U.S. constitution is their self-awareness about authoring systemic change. I don’t understand why our system doesn’t have a simple safety net to avoid politicians like Trump in the form of a minimum entrance exam regarding foreign and domestic policy. Politicians should have to pass an admissions test to enter politics. This is just one minor example of how we could strengthen the system. But we should all remember that Trump got into power due to a systemic change. Citizens United eliminated caps on private campaign funding. This is an example of how easily our democratic safety nets can be removed. Taking this into account, systemic, not symbolic progress should be the primary target for women.
I honestly haven’t done much to research my own blog topic. This one has been off the cuff. Feel free to add your thoughts or resources in the comments.