Facebook has this feature where you can sometimes see the posts of friends’ friends, if your friends have commented on their posts. Sometimes I wish people would increase their privacy settings so I don’t have to see this crap.
Here’s a fine example from Monday this week:
Now, I try to have a sense of humour about this stuff. Yes, I’m a feminist and I don’t apologize for that. I can take (and give) a good joke. If this was a friend of mine, I would probably leave a snarky comment and leave it at that. But I don’t know this guy personally, and there’s something more insidious going on here that is worth investigating. And it isn’t funny.
I’m not even going to get into the argument about “the best novelists.” I absolutely agree that it’s ridiculous to say the top ten novelists of all time are all women, just as it’s equally ridiculous to say the top ten novelists of all time are all men. In fact, it’s kind of ridiculous to make a list of the top ten novelists of all time in the first place, but people do love lists. (Zack, if you need a list of outstanding women novelists who can easily compete with whatever you consider canonical, I suggest you start here or here.)
What I do want to address is the trope being used here to distract from a more nefarious agenda. Specifically, the use of self-derogatory humour to mask prejudice, in this case sexism.
Zack expects his mildly derogatory comment toward his own race to atone for (or should I say “whitewash”?) the blatant sexism of the first paragraph.
I’m sick of men masking their misogyny with self-deprecation. “Look, I’m not sexist! I make fun of my own sex/race! I make fun of everybody equally!” What they don’t understand is that it’s very easy to deride from your bubble of male privilege.
SOUND THE ALARM, EVERYBODY! HUMOURLESS FEMINIST SPOTTED! SHE JUST SAID “MALE PRIVILEGE”!!
Yes, yes, we’re all sick to death of hearing it. The thing is, it’s real, and we see it every goddamned day. Imagine how sick women are of dealing with it.
Now Zack probably thinks he’s a “good guy.” I’d be willing to bet he supports gay marriage and has friends of colour and treats his girlfriend nicely. On a good day, he may even be an ally. But not Monday at 2:57 p.m.
If you can dismiss over 1,000 years of writing by one half the population because of the sex of the authors, it’s not that much of a jump to dismiss the work a group of women fighting to get the vote, or the work of women engineers, the work of the woman who served you your morning coffee, or the work of the woman raising your children.
He probably thinks this status update is hilarious. He doesn’t really think women can’t write good novels. He just needed to say something funny to crucify the woman blogger who offended him.
Humour can be an effective weapon in making fun of the ills of sexism and racism. Humour can also be used to uphold these prejudicial systems, as it was in this case.
For the most part, in Canada we no longer have policies officially excluding women from spaces that have always been open to men: jobs, public office, etc. The barriers now are in our minds, our attitudes. These are the hardest to overcome, and self-deprecation and distraction isn’t going to help.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a white middle-class woman living in Ontario. I have my own hefty bubble of privilege. Everyone faces difficulties in life; none of us thinks we had it easy. What we don’t consider is how other people, systematically, have it much, much harder than us. The most insidious thing about privilege is that it is invisible to those who have it. We could all practice a little more empathy. This is the best description of privilege I’ve ever seen.