We have a pretty good idea of what sexism looks like. It is boardrooms dominated by men in suits; religious conservatives picketing abortion clinics; right-wing politicians policing women’s lives; college boys chanting rape threats.
Sexism doesn't wear ethically made hemp pants. It isn’t sitting in a gender studies lecture. It doesn’t care about preventing climate change or dismantling capitalism. It doesn’t exist in counterculture. Except that it does.
By characterising misogyny as something belonging to a distant and disliked ‘other’ we—the academics, artists, liberals, anarchists, marxists, writers, inner-city latte-sipping hipsters—end up allowing misogyny to thrive, without scrutiny in communities and cultures with an adequately enlightened facade. Sexism is not a social problem that can be isolated. Sexism is systemic. The patriarchy doesn’t dissolve because you’ve got a paperback copy of The Bell Jar in your MONA totebag.
I became painfully aware of the perplexing overlap between alternative lifestyles and misogynistic attitudes while backpacking around Europe last year. The vast majority of men that I met in hostels were travelling to escape the shallowness and routine of their corporate lives. They spoke of spiritually finding themselves, or their third eye, somewhere in Budapest.
This desire to escape society and tradition did not however extend to patriarchally defined gender roles. Women are viewed as objects of pleasure; conquests to complete each country. I could tell you about any of the many times I felt objectified by other travellers, but this story from my friend tops them all:
I met this guy, Stefan*, who was travelling for an environmental project and we instantly connected. He asked all the right questions — ‘Do you think you fully appreciate the beauty of your youth?’ — I made it clear I wasn’t interested in anything other than friendship. We kept hanging out, but he became more and more distant and aggressive; eventually telling me I was a selfish bitch, that I shouldn’t have worn a bikini around him if I wasn’t going to fuck him. He continued to hit on me, disregarding my objections, until I left that city. Even though he was a progressive dude I still wasn’t on human terms with him. I was boobs on a beach.
These leftie dudebros don’t exist exclusively in budget hostels, you can find them almost anywhere, including university corridors. As an Arts student my tutorials were overwhelmingly female, however the textbooks and positions of authority were entirely filled by men. That’s a whole other rant though. Instead, I want to draw attention to the behaviour of my male peers. The men, researching feminist theory, who fail to treat women as anything more than sexual objects. The men who dedicate themselves to activism and yet can be found at an independent student run magazine launch playing the ~hilariously witty~ ‘Hot or Not Trot’, a game that involves ranking women on a one-to-ten scale of fuckability as they cross a prestigious university campus to attend a Marxist conference. What the actual fuck. I want to laugh, except shit like this isn’t as absurd as it sounds. It happens every fucking day.
I’m sick of men getting away with sexist behaviour because they are otherwise progressive. Prefacing insulting sexist shit with ‘I know this is patriarchal and I’m being an awful masculine dude but…’ doesn’t make you a better person. Your self-awareness doesn’t save you, if anything it makes you more of an asshat. You should know better, you do know better. You could single-handedly prevent the deregulation of university fees, but it doesn’t mean you get to tell me—your friend—that I should be more fun when I politely ask you leave because I’ve got a headache and an invitation to afternoon beers doesn’t mean I owe you shit.
*Name changed to protect their identity even though I’m a firm believer in dudebros being held accountable.
Disclaimer: I don’t need to tell anyone who has known me for more than thirty seconds this, but thanks to Girls Will Be Girls, people who don’t know me at all are reading the silly things I write. I drink iced almond milk lattes and am constantly trying to convince my friends to buy bamboo underwear. My intention isn’t to malign the communities I love but in order to smash the patriarchy we need to call out misogyny wherever it manifests, not just where we expect to find it.