If We’re Going to Address Sexism Honestly, We’re Going to Have to Admit Our Hypocrisy

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The recent Harvey Weinstein drama has cast the ephemeral and wandering light of social and mainstream media (all-too briefly, I’m sure) onto the topic of misogyny and sexism. A close friend of mine chimed-in on ‘the face book’ to casually call for the death of anyone who uses their “position of power to receive sex from those who are seeking advancement”, and the nearly 100 likes and comments were entirely devoid of complexity. I did not “like” or comment, knowing that I myself have used my (various) position(s) of power in similar ways. So, while I may have agreed with some of his sentiment, the issue warranted deeper thought than I thought I could express on that limited medium.

The distinctions between what Harvey Weinstein did and what I’ve done (or what my friend has himself surely done) are likely significant to him… but less so to me. On some level, I didn’t feel “worthy” of chiming-in on the topic. When I really thought about it, I also subtly resented him for speaking out himself, even though I consider the “cause” he was championing to be my own and to be worthy of championing. For fear of being a hypocrite, I said nothing.

Shortly after reading his post, I came across a powerful article from Natalie Degraffinried entitled “I Have Been Raped by Far Nicer Men Than You”. The article laments (among other things) the failure of men to come to the author’s aid when facing a wide range of disturbing, public sexual harassment scenarios. I wondered if one of the reasons these men failed to intervene in the way most of us assume “any good person” would, is related to my reaction above: because they know that in some ways, they’re guilty of perpetuating the same evils they’re being asked to condemn.

Its like a modern “judge not, lest ye be judged” or “those who live in glass houses/casting stones” bit. But clearly, those proverbs fail us in this instance. We need a more nuanced way of addressing cultural issues as ubiquitous as sexism. It seems counter-intuitive to suggest that we embrace any form of hypocrisy, but if the alternative is invalidating or rejecting the support of anyone whose hands are dirty, some acceptance of hypocrisy may be just what we need.

Go Ahead and Judge Glass Houses

I believe I exist in a culture of increasingly black-and-white moralism. I identify as a feminist who counts many forms of misogyny among the worst ills of our society. Still, I can’t deny that it would take an article much longer than this to summarize the various ways I contribute to, benefit from, play-upon, and (behind closed doors, with willing partners) even sometimes fantasize about some of the ugliest forms of sexism in our society. I exist in a community where the most popular reaction to my admission of those sides of me would be outright condemnation. Perhaps the condemnation is because others are unwilling to look in the mirror themselves, or perhaps its because they fear that normalizing or accepting any form of misogyny and sexism will cause a slippery-slope where we accept and justify far too much of it.

I’m not looking for anyone to say that some forms of misogyny (my forms) are acceptable, while other forms are not. I’m not going to defend the ways I perpetuate or benefit from sexism. It’s all wrong if it is contributing to a future that I do not want to contribute to.

But... it’s also true.

Even as I speak-out against misogyny and sexism, I can’t pretend that it’s not true that I swim in (and perpetuate) these ills. Perhaps not in ways that feel as distasteful as what Harvey Weinstein did. Certainly not in ways that seem as overt as what Natalie detailed in her article… but in ways that deserve criticism and reflection nonetheless. The goal of this form of criticism is not condemnation; not even necessarily reform. The goal is being as deliberate as possible about living in alignment with the change I want to see in the world, and without reflection and criticism, it's impossible to swim in the misogynist sea of society and not perpetuate misogyny.

I know of almost no-one (and certainly no men) in my close circles who are not guilty of some form of misogyny and sexism. I’m not asking to make that OK. I just want us to be able to admit the truth so we don’t feel like we have to pretend our own hands are clean before we can point out (or intervene in) injustices we observe in others. Yes, I should look in the mirror, but we have to look inside and outside simultaneously, because if we leave the battle to those who can do so without hypocrisy, we’re sure to lose. We have to speak up and act-out now, and if we’re going to be authentic in doing so, we have to admit and accept our hypocrisy as an entirely acceptable foundation from which to “bring down the patriarchy” (even knowing that doing so may take our own legs out from under us).

... and let yours be judged too.

More and more lately, I see things in the world that make my blood boil. I react to many of the injustices in the world with anxiety and anger in my gut, in my chest, and in my throat… and as I pay attention to those reactions, I’ve come to see that my most intense reactions often come from injustices that, in some way, hold a mirror up to aspects of myself that I don’t want to accept.

Misogyny is one of those. It makes me sick that we live in a world where girls are taught that a significant portion of their value is derived from their ability to sexually please or entice men. It makes me even sicker because I’m unwilling to accept the aspects of my psyche that perpetuate (or even get-off on) that. I am a feminist. I will stand up against injustices when I see them. But in doing so, I can’t pretend I’m not sometimes, in some ways, guilty of the same. I hope that kind of activism entails a level of humility and sympathy that can be far more powerful and effective than “throwing stones”.

I know I’m mixing metaphors, but I say “go ahead and judge the glass houses”... and let yours be judged too.

Speaking of which, please comment using the comment button (likely on the left of this screen) and keep the conversation going.