Armchair Feminism 101

(Alternatively titled “How to Avoid Sounding Like a Sexist Creep on the Internet.” but that seemed a bit long for a blog post.)

This was really not the inaugural blog post I wanted to make. I started this blog so I’d have a place to write longer, though-out posts that don’t really fit into any of my other geeky internet hang-outs.  Some stuff went down a few days ago, though, that brought up larger issues I’d like to address.

I’m not going to go too much into the issues with the actual tweets, because other people have already done that. Instead, I’m going to push aside my disappointment at someone I like and admire behaving this way and talk about how we might be able to keep stuff like this from happening.

To start with, no, it’s not inherently wrong to appreciate sexiness. It’s not even necessarily wrong to say so. What’s wrong is doing things that make it seem like you think women’s bodies are public domain. An apparently smart, well-educated man should not need to be told why making Homer Simpson drool noises at a picture of scantily-costumed ladies is gross.

It’s not that hard, guys. Show us that you respect us as people first, and you’ll most likely avoid hurting anyone. For example:

Man: Wow, I love your costume! Did you make it yourself?
Woman: Thanks! Yeah, it took me a couple of months.
(conversation ensues)
Man: You look really good, by the way.

Annnd… scene. Obviously that’s if you’re meeting someone in person, not commenting online, but you get the picture.

One of the most common complaint in situations like these – in wider circles, not just the geek subculture – is that women must enjoy the attention, or else they wouldn’t dress that way. How is this bullshit, let me count the ways. The short answer to the question “Why would women dress that way?” is: because they like to. In the cosplay realm, someone might simply want to dress like a character they admire, or they might enjoy the challenge of creating the costume. And yes, some women might like being admired. There’s nothing inherently wrong with enjoying being sexy, either. The point is, regardless of motivation, it doesn’t make it okay to leer because someone is showing some skin.

The other larger issue, which is far more troubling to me, is the issue of dismissing and silencing criticism. We live in a society where women are harassed every day for speaking their minds, especially in the wild and reckless online world, where it’s far too easy to anonymously spew hatred without consequences. Recently women have been harassed and stalked over a book-reviewing site, and a Google search for “harassment of women bloggers” yields plenty more examples and discussion.

If you’re a well-liked public figure, you have a lot of influence. In this case, that influence led to a woman being repeatedly shamed and insulted for daring to point out something problematic. This person later went on to say that she wished she hadn’t done so. That’s a pretty terrible thing to see someone think. It’s also a pretty terrible thing to make someone think. I can’t imagine someone with a young daughter wants to contribute to a world that makes women regret expressing their opinions, but that’s exactly what happened.

I know what you’re thinking – how do you expect someone to control what their followers do on Twitter? It’s true, no one expects anyone to go around removing their followers’ hands from their keyboards. But if you see someone hurling abuse in your name (or even not in your name), you can call that shit out. Repeatedly, if necessary. Don’t downplay it or ignore it – make it explicitly clear that such behavior is not okay.

I know, it sounds like a lot of work. But that’s kind of what privilege is. You can’t just take it for granted that people will know you’re not that kind of person,  you have to actively show them. Otherwise you’re going to have to live with people making assumptions about you that you don’t like, because you haven’t given them any reason not to. It’s a cliche that actions speak louder than words but they do, and they’re not saying very good things.

To everyone who didn’t participate in the piling on but wondered what all the fuss was about, I’d like to offer my personal rule of thumb for such situations: Just because you don’t personally find something offensive doesn’t mean no one else can. Everyone brings different perspectives and life experiences to the table, and yours aren’t automatically more valid than anyone else’s.

To sum up this very TL;DR post: there is a way to admire female beauty without being objectifying and icky. There’s also a way to address criticism without unleashing the hounds, even if you don’t feel the criticism is valid. This time the opposite path was chosen, and that saddens me in so many ways.