Some of you may know this about me already, but I have a habit of yelling at people on the internet. Why I continue to do this in spite of the apparent futility of smashing sphincter trolls with my hammer of reason is a post for another day, but it makes John nervous, primarily because it can take me a while to de-Hulk after reading a piece of choice stupidity and he receives the dubious honor of listening to me rant myself around to being ready to confront said troll with logic and dignity.
This morning was such a morning. I warned John as he walked down the stairs, “I’m yelling at an idiot on the internet.”
Part of John’s joking response was, “Sometimes I think you’re the man in this relationship.”
I did not say a word, but John knows me well enough to know (a) I am a vocal advocate of avoiding gender segregating language and (b) my look was not one of amusement. I wasn’t going to dignify the joke with a response either way because it wasn’t that important to me, but he immediately launched into the following defense: that comment might have no place in a public forum, but between people who know each other well enough to know that the intent was not sexist, it should be okay to use gendered language in a comic way to reference past stereotypes. He went further to say that when I chide him for a use of sexist language, it’s a breach of trust in the relationship because he feels like I don’t trust him to not be sexist, and he can’t trust me to give him the benefit of the doubt.
His argument and feelings are not invalid. John is a good guy, and taboo-breaching humor is certainly part of what defines close relationships. But there’s something frustrating behind his reasoning and baseline assumptions that I had, until this morning, been unable to communicate to him, which is that he, as a guy, does not understand what it’s like to be under the constant psychological siege that our culture imposes on women. It’s difficult to voice because it’s never one punishable breach: it’s an absolute deluge of tiny infractions. It’s the appraising look, the standing six inches too close, the snide cracks about women who are too masculine in their mannerisms, the catcall, the subtext of an ad, the thoughtless application of power in a million ways that, if you were to explain individually, would all seem inconsequential, but together act like a flight of swallows forming into a massive hand to drive women into the ground.
And people get away with these microaggressions. “What do you mean, sexist? God, you’re so sensitive.” “Grow a sense of humor, it was just a joke.” “Calm your tits.” “Stop over-reacting.” “Don’t be such a bitch about it.” Women are silenced into not calling the real assholes on their bullshit because we’re not allowed to react to the needles that slide under the radar of what’s enforceable under a sexual harassment policy. If we do, we’re put down again using gendered language that attacks an emotional or even a verbal response. There is no escaping this barrage–some of it is innocent in intention, as I know John’s comment was, but a lot of it is vicious and underhanded and characteristic of the scum that feeds on the fecal matter of the lowest scum.
Maybe this is unfair to my sweet, feminist, kind husband, but when he makes a crack that would fall decidedly under the category of aggression if the intent were sexist, I can’t not experience the emotional reaction that is tied to the myriad slaps in the face I deal with every time I walk out the door. John will always have the benefit of the doubt with me where sexist intent is concerned, but that doesn’t mean he’s magically disconnected from what I hear and see in the rest of the world. He’s not an ass for making a gendered joke once in a while either, but he was being a little bit of an ass for insisting on his right to not experience my annoyed look when the shit I deal with as a woman makes me less than entertained by some off-handed quip.
I remained uncharacteristically articulate while I was telling him off, apparently, because when I finished explaining this to him, he said, “Oh. I didn’t realize. I speak with the voice of a thousand assholes.”
It was a strange crepuscular ray in the murk that has surrounded our marital chats about feminism, but I think it sums the issue up nicely. When you use the language of gendered microaggression, you speak with the voice of every other person who uses that language, and your words are festering with the maggots and gangrene of their rotting intentions.
Take that for what it’s worth.