Tag Archives: Sexism

Pete Buttigieg, Hillary Clinton, and who gets to show emotion in American politics

Last night the New York Times editorial board endorsed Senator Amy Klobuchar and/or Senator Elizabeth Warren for the Democratic nomination. Leaving aside the arguments for and against each of these candidates as well as the arguments over whether endorsing two candidates makes sense (I think it does), I want to—quelle surprise—talk about Pete Buttigieg. Chiefly, I want to talk about Mayor Pete, emotiveness, and who gets to be expressive in American politics and culture.

First, let’s get something out of the way. I am supporting Pete Buttigieg for president. I think the New York Times’ interview was at times very unfair to him, especially Binyamin Appelbaum’s outright lies about his time as a consultant for McKinsey. I am not happy with the Times’ endorsement, though I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Mayor Pete was the fourth-place pick of the editorial board (behind Warren, Klobuchar, and erstwhile candidate Senator Cory Booker).

With that said, there was an exchange that I think is worth discussing in a bit more detail than I’ve seen discussed elsewhere. In response to Appelbaum asking whether he feels the same anger a lot of young people feel about the state of the country, Mayor Pete answered that “while I may not be as emotive sometimes about my sense of anger or frustration or injustice – and I would argue that some people are given more room to be emotive than others – I would not be doing any of this if I were not propelled by a level of passion.” While debating the pros and cons of each candidate (as shown on The Weekly), Michelle Cottle complained that “Pete talking about how he doesn’t emote as much as some, that’s a real problem. I mean voters love that ‘I feel your pain’ stuff,” prompting Lauren Kelley to rightly point out “he also almost surely would be painted in some unfair way if the gay man on the trail was overly emotional, right? I mean, it’s a bind.”

Indeed, it is a bind – one in which many gay men have found themselves. I don’t know if Pete Buttigieg meant to imply that others have more leeway to be emotive because he’s gay or not (he never expressly says), and I understand the point Cottle was making. Voters really do love a passionate, emotive candidate – think Bill Clinton, think Bernie Sanders, think Donald Trump – though Barack Obama showed that sometimes cool-as-a-cucumber works, too.  But Kelley raises a point that I think is important to make, if not about Mayor Pete specifically, about politics and business in general. Who gets to be emotive, and who gets dismissed when they’re emotive, is something worth discussing.

Gay men have long been portrayed as flamboyant and dramatic, from Nathan Lane’s character in The Birdcage to Jack McFarlane in Will and Grace right on up to Cam on Modern Family. There’s nothing wrong with being flamboyant and dramatic—lots of gay men (myself included, frankly) are, just as lots of all sorts of people are. For a long time, though, the stock character of the gay “drama queen” was the predominant depiction of gay men in pop culture, and that image has become a stereotype of gay men in general. The problem arises not because some gay men are dramatic, emotional, emotive, or flamboyant, but because the straight world assumes that when a gay man is dramatic, emotional, emotive, or flamboyant it is because he is gay and that is, inherently, a bad thing.

As I said above, I’m an expressive and sometimes flamboyant gay man. I’ve never felt any shame in this. One of my nicknames among my friends in high school—given in good nature— was “Bitchy Diva Queen.” (The other was “Zazu,” because I always knew the gossip.) The nickname itself didn’t bother me. The way my emotions were often dismissed because of it, though, did. I developed a thick skin back then—you had to as an openly gay boy in a southeastern Kentucky high school in the early 00s—but when something really did upset me, such as sophomore year, when a group of bullies apparently planned to attack me, my genuine fear, anger, or hurt was dismissed as being “overly dramatic” by my friends, my classmates, and even the administration.

This attitude followed me into adulthood. I was heavily involved in student government during college. During one contentious meeting at a retreat, frustrated, I got up to go smoke (a filthy habit, I know). This was allowed considering how long the meeting was going; people were taking breaks as needed. I walked quickly and with purpose (as I always do, a product of trying to make it from one class to the next without getting attacked in high school), hurrying outside to light a cigarette. The next thing I know the student body president—my boss, as her chief of staff— is outside chastising me for “storming out.” When I tried to explain that I simply needed a cigarette, she wouldn’t hear it, dressing me down for being so dramatic.

Even into the professional world, even in a big blue dot like Chicago, this attitude has prevailed. When I was in meetings with management at the corporate headquarters of a large American mortgage company, I often felt dismissed if I showed even a hint of emotion. One well-meaning boss, who herself could often be heard cussing and screaming from her desk, suggested that I “tone it down” a bit. Another not well-meaning—and to no one’s surprise, male—boss told me to “stop being a diva and stop complaining,” even though I was one of several employees—though the only gay man—raising concerns that day.

Learning to keep cool is an important skill for anyone of any background, because sometimes you can’t just fly off the handle—and sometimes you won’t want to. I’ll be the first to admit there have been times that I have let my emotions get the better of me, when people had every right to pull me aside and tell me to chill out. I think that’s happened to most of us. For many years, this was compounded by an undiagnosed anxiety disorder which I only discovered I had in my late twenties. But time and again, people have somehow linked my emotiveness with my sexuality, othering me in the process.

This is why it matters who gets to be emotive and who does not. Hillary Clinton famously had a similar problem in 2008, when she was first accused of being cold and unfeeling. When she did show emotion at a campaign stop in New Hampshire, she was pilloried for it. “ A common first instinct was to treat the episode as a ploy, a calculated effort to ‘humanize’ the candidate—an interpretation that depended heavily on its having been somehow staged or faked,” Hendrik Hertzberg wrote at the time in The New Yorker, “but the authenticity of Clinton’s emotion was apparent to anyone who took the time to study the many replays with an open mind…”

Hillary Clinton herself has addressed this double standard several times. In 2016, she told the viral photography project Humans of New York she “had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions. And that’s a hard path to walk. Because you need to protect yourself, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don’t want to seem ‘walled off.” In her 2017 memoir What Happened, she rightly called this “another variant on the impossible balancing act” women must perform in order to show enough emotion to be quote-unquote likable while not showing so much that they’re thought of as quote-unquote shrill or overwrought. “If we’re too composed, we’re cold or fake. But if we say what we think without caution, we get slammed for it,” she writes. “Can you blame us for feeling like we can’t win, no matter what we do?”

I suspect the similar double standard experienced by Hillary Clinton and—it must be said, to a lesser degree—Pete Buttigieg is rooted in the same patriarchal, misogynist notions about how women and gay men behave. It’s why when a straight man gets angry, he’s “passionate,” when a gay man gets angry, he’s “dramatic,” and when a woman gets angry, she’s “hysterical.” This is further compounded by race, with tropes such as the “angry black woman” making it even more difficult for Black women specifically, and women of colour more generally, to be allowed space to have and show emotions without ridicule or prejudice. Black men, too, are often viewed as angry or violet where white men aren’t, as a 2017 American Psychological Association study reveals.

Homophobic, sexist, and racist double standards influence how we perceive people’s emotions and emotiveness. Mayor Pete never says why he can’t be as emotive as others, nor does he say who gets to be more emotive than he does. Zooming out from him and looking at the culture more broadly, though, it’s clear that in America, not everyone is equally free to express themselves. So long as stereotypes and double standards continue to affect who gets to show emotion and how that emotion is perceived, we should all remember that sometimes a candidate is guarded not because they aren’t passionate, but because they aren’t allowed to be.

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.

We need to talk about sexism and Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders doesn’t think a woman can be elected president. At least, that’s what Elizabeth Warren says he told her, in her own home, in December 2018. “Among the topics that came up was what would happen if Democrats nominated a female candidate,” Warren said on Monday. “I thought a woman could win; he disagreed.”

This type of bombshell that can easily derail a campaign. With only three weeks to the Iowa caucuses and a Democratic debate tonight, the Sanders team is scrambling to control the damage, immediately denying the comment and accusing the staffers who initially leaked the comment of “lying.” Yesterday, Sanders himself weighed in on the issue, telling CNN it is “ludicrous to believe that at the same meeting where Elizabeth Warren told me she was going to run for president, I would tell her that a woman couldn’t win.”

Sanders supporters are quick to dismiss the comment as a misquote at best and a malicious fabrication at worst. And, as Vox founder Ezra Klein tweeted last night, “people communicate unclearly and it’s possible that what Sanders meant to say is not what Warren heard and nobody in this disagreement is lying.” Sometimes giving the benefit of the doubt is the graceful and generous thing to do, and maybe this is one of those cases. There’s a nagging sense, though, that Sanders said exactly what he meant because Sanders has a long and often troubling record when it comes to how he talks about women and women’s issues.

It’s worth looking back to 2016, when Sanders was running in a contentious primary against Hillary Clinton. He certainly never ran an overtly sexist campaign the way Donald Trump did in the primary, Sanders nonetheless had a series of moments which raised concerns about whether he seriously prioritized women’s issues. It cast a pall over his campaign then and has raised serious questions about whether Sanders takes women—and feminism—seriously.

Sanders supporters are quick to point to the fact that the Vermont senator has a consistent record of voting for women’s rights on a range of issues from reproductive rights to equal pay. But, as Katha Pollitt wrote for The Nation in 2016, “there’s a difference between someone who votes the right way, and someone who introduces legislation and champions the issue.” That problem has not gone away. For feminist activists, simply voting the right way is not enough. “You have to be able to engage in a dialogue about race and gender and the inequalities in our system as a result of those two dynamics in particular,” Destiny Lopez, the co-director of the All* Above All Action Fund, told the Daily Beast in June 2019.

Speaking to and about issues affecting women (and, for that matter, other marginalized groups) has long been a problem for Sanders. Part of this is due to his leftwing populism which eschews identity politics and believes class is the primary axis of oppression. Sanders honestly believes that a coalition of the working class is the only thing that can affect real, structural change—and he seems willing to compromise on issues such as abortion if it means building and maintaining that coalition.

In 2017, Sanders caused some controversy by campaigning for an anti-choice candidate in Nebraska. “The truth is that in some conservative states there will be candidates that are popular candidates who may not agree with me on every issue. I understand it. That’s what politics is about,” he told NPR at the time. It’s tough to square this “I’m just being pragmatic” dismissal of concerns with Sanders’ own unyielding zeal for economic and healthcare issues (such as Medicare for All) and raises questions about Sanders’ priorities. The senator is a true believer when it comes to democratic socialism, yet on reproductive rights he is willing to compromise—a worrying sign for feminists concerned that a President Sanders might be willing to sacrifice access to abortion in order to overhaul the economy.

Perhaps this explains why Sanders was so quick to dismiss two of the prominent women’s reproductive health groups in the country. When, in 2016, Planned Parenthood and NARAL—a pro-choice lobby—endorsed Hillary Clinton over him, he lambasted them as “establishment.” It is a ludicrous statement to make about any reproductive rights organization generally and the oft-vilified Planned Parenthood—that bogeyman of the right—in particular, especially because they decided to endorse a woman instead of you.

To Bernie Sanders, though, that anyone would want a woman president (or a Black president or a Latino president or a gay president) is a ridiculous desire. “We have got to look at candidates, you know, not by the color of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or their gender and not by their age,” Sanders told Vermont Public Radio last year.

At first blush, this sounds sensible enough—people ought to and usually do consider all sorts of issues when voting for a candidate, including and perhaps especially their policies—but, as Isabella Gomez Sarmiento explained in an essay for Teen Vogue on why Bernie Sanders lost her support, “this, to me, feels like the equivalent of him telling everyone who is not a straight, white, cisgender male that we shouldn’t care about seeing ourselves represented in our government.” Sanders is reluctant to or incapable of understanding that, when it comes to voting and public policy there is more than the class struggle to contend with. This was another bone of contention raised by Katha Pollitt in 2016. “The problem is less that Bernie focuses on class and economic inequality than that he doesn’t seem to understand that the economy, like society generally, is structured by gender and race,” she wrote at the time.

In fairness to Sanders, though, he does seem to understand that some people do vote—at least in part—based on a candidate’s sex (or race, or sexual orientation). When asked why Elizabeth Warren was surging in the polls last summer, he cited her sex. “I think that there are a certain number of people who would like to see a woman elected, and I understand that,” he told CNN. The problem is not only that Sanders doesn’t think that’s a good thing, but he also seems to think that’s the only reason a woman might be gaining in the polls and not, say, her thoughtful, bold, progressive policies.

All Sanders could see with Elizabeth Warren was that she was a woman, but ironically he often seems patently incapable of noticing sexism—at least if it comes from his ideological allies. Sanders received a lot of criticism for endorsing Cenk Uygur—a man with a known history of sexist remarks—in his run for the House of Representatives despite Uygur’s history of sexist remarks. Uygur, Sanders said, “has shown enormous courage in standing up to the greed and power of the corporate elite, and has spent his entire life fighting for justice and the needs of the working people of our country.” Part of that “enormous courage” includes objectifying women, including discussing their physical attributes and whether men would perform oral sex on them. (Jezebel does a deep dive into some of Uygur’s sexist comments, if you have the stomach.)

To Sanders’ credit, he retracted the endorsement, but the fact that it was given at all is concerning. Sanders saw a man who spoke his leftwing populist language and that’s all he heard. Being unwilling to hear sexism or listen to women who point it out has real world consequences. When female staffers on Sanders’ 2016 campaign alleged they were victims of sexual harassment and pay discrimination, as well as given menial tasks compared to those assigned to their male counterparts, Bernie initially denied any responsibility for this, responding that he was “busy running around the country” and had no knowledge of these complaints. Again to his credit, he later unveiled a plan to combat sexism within his 2020 campaign, but it was only after the media furor over the allegations regarding his 2016 campaign.

It’s regrettable, though, that anyone, but especially a progressive seeking the Democratic nomination, would need such a plan. It’s worth asking whether his fervent pursuit of ending income inequality has blinded him or calloused him to other injustices—especially sexism. The next president of the United States must be willing to prioritize women’s rights. It’s an open question as to whether Bernie Sanders would.

Bernie Sanders is the darling of the left, and he has many admirable qualities. His lifelong pursuit of a fairer economy and more equitable society are commendable. But there are serious questions about the way Sanders views women and women’s issues which he needs to answer. I suspect Elizabeth Warren will force him to do so in tonight’s debate. How he responds will be key, because regardless of whether Bernie Sanders thinks Trump can be defeated by a woman, women could end up defeating Bernie Sanders.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer with a decade of experience covering US and UK politics, media, and culture. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. 

Skylar’s Naughty and Nice List 2017

naughtyandnice

 

It’s that time of year where we all get drunk, sing hokey songs, and hang our stockings in anticipation of Santa’s visit. I’m already in the festive spirit, wearing my Christmas pyjamas at my favourite microbrewery and drinking a beer whilst petting a very cute dog called Finegan. I can’t tell you whether you’re getting candy or coal this year, but I know I’ve been very good indeed. The same can’t be said for everyone, though. With that, I give you this year’s naughty and nice list!

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5. Arlene Foster

The Bigot of Belfast had a banner year. The leader of the DUP, along with her nefarious elf Nigel Dodds, secured a billion pound cheque from Number 10 in exchange for propping up Theresa May’s shambolic government. This is after a scandal over an energy deal she made in 2012 which ended up making profits for those enrolled but cost the taxpayers of Northern Ireland £500 million. Her refusal to stand aside during an investigation led to a power-sharing collapse between the DUP and Sinn Fein and created the largest political crisis in the province since the Good Friday Agreement. She’s exacerbated this with her sabotaging a deal between Theresa May and the EU over the Irish border. Never mind her continued opposition to equal marriage in Northern Ireland – she’s royally screwed the UK and looks set to continue to do so into 2018 and beyond.

4. Paul Ryan/Mitch McConnell

From capitulating to Trump on the Muslim ban to turning a blind eye to his threats to the media to trying to repeal Obamacare to passing the single biggest transfer of wealth from the working class to the 1% in a generation, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have shown themselves patently unable or unwilling to be a check on the executive branch. They kowtow to Trump at every turn, stymie the Russia investigation, and lead the Republican Party straight into fascism just to line the pockets of their supporters. These ghastly men can hardly be called patriots.

3. Roy Moore

This man (allegedly) molested teenage girls and still came within a breath of winning a seat in the US Senate. That’s how depraved the modern Republican Party is. But Roy Moore was always an odious man. He was twice kicked off the Alabama bench for ignoring rulings from the US Supreme Court. He blamed sodomy for 9/11. He said gays should be executed. He’s human trash, and the people of Alabama finally took out the garbage. Thanks to his reactionary, bigoted, and frankly sexually predatory antics, a deep red state just became a beautiful shade of purple.

2. Theresa May

Oh Teeza. What a year you’ve had. From cozying up to a proto-fascist (that’d be Trump) and inviting him to meet the Queen (leave her out of this) to that shambolic campaign, your year didn’t start off very well. Then you lost David Cameron’s majority, bought the support of a bunch of homophobes, had cabinet minister after cabinet minister resign – including Priti Patel who took meetings with Israeli officials and didn’t think you mattered enough to tell – and have negotiated exactly nothing when it comes to Brexit. You’re going down in history as one of the worst Prime Ministers and you’ve only been in office for 18 months. Well done, you.

1. Men (as a class)
Donald Trump. Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Matt Lauer. Charlie Rose. Mario Batali. Roy Moore. Al Franken. Mark Halperin. John Conyers. Stephen Crabb. Charlie Elphicke. Louis CK. Jeffrey Tambor. Glenn Thrush. Jared O’Mara. Nelly. Matt Damon. Ben Affleck. Casey Affleck. Danny Masterson. Michael Fallon. Mark Garnier. Lorin Stein.  George Takei. Damien Greene. Daniel Kawczynski. Tavis Smiley. Garrison Keillor. Kelvin Hopkins. Clive Lewis. Russell Simmons. Ed Westwick. Dustin Hoffman. Jeremy Piven. George HW Bush. Bill Clinton. Etc, Etc, Etc.

We’re scum.

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5. Colin Kaepernick

Kaep gave up a lucrative career in the NFL to stand up for what’s right. His subtle act of “taking a knee” for the American national anthem sparked a national protest movement against police brutality and gun violence. He has spoken out on not only this, but the need for community investment in our inner cities, schools, and children. Colin Kaepernick has become the voice for a generation of activists saying “enough” and looking to challenge white supremacy and the extrajudicial killings of Black people wherever they find it. He is an American hero.

4. Diane Abbott

I admit it hasn’t been the easiest year for the Shadow Home Secretary, who had a couple rocky interviews during the general election campaign back in the spring. But no one on either side of the Atlantic has been a more effective and louder voice against online harassment, particularly against women of colour, than Diane has. She delivered a brilliant speech in the Commons, a heart-wrenching op-ed in the Guardian, and has highlighted an issue which stifles discourse and threatens to defer thousands of young women, especially, of entering politics. Regardless of whether you’re a Labour supporter or not, or of what you think of Diane’s politics, her contribution cannot be understated.

3. Robert Mueller

After Trump sacked former FBI Director James Comey, Robert Mueller stepped in as a special prosecutor into the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Since then, he’s gotten guilty pleas out of two Trump campaign staffers, including Trump’s first National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, and has indicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Whatever nefarious actions the Trump campaign was up to in 2016, Mueller has begun to shed light on them in 2017 and it looks like we’ll hear more from him in 2018. Good, because it’s time to LOCK. HIM. UP.

2. David Lammy

I’ll never forget watching David Lammy’s emotional interview after the Grenfell Tower fire. He’d lost a friend, rising artist Khadija Saye, in the blaze and has become one of the most vocal champions not only of the victims, but of working class and poor people across the nation who so often live in substandard housing. Since the tragedy at Grenfell, David has never ceased in his efforts to find justice for the victims and to make sure a tragedy like this never happens again by leading the movement for more social housing and stricter safety codes. A rising star, David Lammy has already proven himself a champion of the people and one of the few MPs who seem willing to truly advocate for an end to the endemic housing crisis that has plagued Britain for years.


1. Women (as a class)

Perhaps paradoxically, considering the election of Trump in 2016, 2017 has been the year of women in so many ways. Women have led the resistance to the resurgent fascism Trump embodies and espouses from the Women’s March in January to Maxine Waters, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand in Congress. And then Harvey Weinstein happened, and women around the world began speaking out about their own experiences with sexual violence and harassment. Watching the sheer volume of women I know tweet #MeToo has been jarring, humbling, and empowering all at once. Speaking out is courageous, but after Weinstein was exposed a grassroots movement began which cannot be stopped. You have my solidarity and my utter awe, women. The shit you put up with just to exist in this world no male can ever even fathom. I stand with you.

That’s it from me in 2017. I may have one more piece at the HuffPost UK or Independent, but other than that, it’ll be fairly quiet until next year. So I’m wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you in 2018!

xx Skylar

On Rose McGowan, gay male misogyny, and why intersectionality matters

Photo credit: Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Photo credit: Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Intersectionality. Louise Mensch thinks it’s bullshit. Caroline Criado-Perez thinks it’s bullying. Rose McGowan thinks it’s, well, we don’t know what Rose McGowan thinks it is. But her recent comments about gay men being “more sexist” than straight men, which she subsequently apologized for, demonstrate that she may not be an intersectional feminist herself.

I don’t disagree with Rose McGowan that a lot of gay men are misogynists. That’s a given, because a lot of men are misogynists. When I was 18, I briefly dated a man who referred to one of his close female friends as “Gash.” Reducing a woman to her genitalia is objectifying and demeaning, regardless of a man’s sexual orientation.

Back in January, Jezebel ran a lengthy piece by Rohin Guha, an out gay man, about just this topic, addressing the “myth of the fag hag” (itself a disgustingly sexist term) and the misogyny permeating gay clubs and the gay community:

It’s a dirty secret of a subculture of the gay male world about women: That they’re essentially unwelcome, unless they come to us as a Real Housewife, a pop diva, or an Tony award winner–or an unassuming fag hag. To anyone just coming out of the closet and hoping to get his bearings in the gay male community, the attitude towards women is simple: They are just objects whose function is to serve gay men. Maybe it happens when gay men get too comfortable in newly-discovered safe spaces–where they get to call the shots as their proudly out new selves. Or maybe it happens through cultural conditioning. Whatever the cause is, it becomes clear: If there isn’t any kind of transactional exchange happening, then women lose their value in gay male subcultures.

Rohin, like Rose, is talking about “gay male privilege,” but this is only part of the story, and misses the intersectional reality here, a point that Noah Baron cogently made in a rebuttal at the Huffington Post. There is no such thing as “gay male privilege.” There is male privilege, which gay men have. There is cis privilege, which cis folks have. There is white privilege, which white people have. A gay man can have, and should be expected to check, any and all of these privileges. But there is no “gay male privilege.” Being a member of the LGBT community means you are a member of the oppressed class, and by default lack privilege-in this case, “straight privilege.”

This is where intersectionality comes in. If Rose or Rohin were to speak of the male privilege which gay men possess and which many are oblivious to yet benefit from, while also acknowledging their simultaneous oppression, I wouldn’t be writing this. But neither does. Rose starts off by straightsplaining queer activism (around the Beverly Hills Hotel, specifically, and Sultan of Brunei’s brutal anti-gay policies more broadly), lecturing the gay community on why our response to our oppression is the incorrect response. Only after this does she begin lamenting the lack of gay male allies in the fight for equal pay and women’s liberation.

Rohin also addresses pay inequality. “So long as [gay men] know how to play our cards in the corporate world, we can potentially enjoy a higher salary than our female counterparts…” he writes, continuing with how, so long as we have a “poker face,” gay men can avoid sexual assault. “It isn’t perfect,” he says rather blithely, “but privilege is privilege.”

Indeed. But for the millions of Americans who live in states where they can be sacked or refused a job for being gay, this isn’t a privilege, it’s an oppression. For the millions of gay people, including in places like New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, who have to assess their new workplace and think twice about putting up a picture of their families, this is not a privilege. We live in a white heteropatriarchy, which values heterosexuality and reviles homosexuality. Yes, my male privilege makes me less likely to face street harassment, assault, or gender-based discrimination. But you best believe I wouldn’t dare hold my boyfriend’s hand back home in Kentucky. You best believe I was a dirty little secret for years because my ex worried what coming out would do to his career. You best believe I still have to assess every situation, corporate or otherwise, to figure out whether it’s safe to come out.

Addressing men as a class, which includes gay men, and addressing the misogyny of gay men is not homophobic, and it needs to be done more often. Explaining how male privilege benefits all men is important. I’m glad that people are thinking and talking about these things, because the gay community has gotten a pass for too long. But there’s a way to do it that doesn’t dismiss the very real oppression that gay men face every day.

And that was my major problem with Rose’s comments, and it’s been something I’ve stewed over since Rohin’s piece went live last winter. Rose didn’t approach gay men as men, she approached them as gay; as such, it read as a member of the privileged (straight) class attacking members of the oppressed (gay) class. Similarly, Rohin is incredibly dismissive of “gay culture,” completely ignoring the sacrosanct nature of gay spaces (like gay bars, for example) to so many gay men, for many of whom it is the only escape from pervasive heteronormativity.

Should more gay men step up in the feminist fight? Absolutely. Should more gay men have our male (and white, and class, and cis, and able) privilege checked? Definitely. Should more gay men examine the ways in which we objectify and degrade women, invading their spaces and bodily autonomy? Yes.

But this isn’t because we’re gay. It’s because we’re men.

Comparing oppressions is tacky, but understanding the basic tenants of intersectional feminism is necessary. We are all differently yet simultaneously privileged and oppressed, and it’s important to recognise the differences, both in ourselves and in others. Neither Rose McGowan nor Rohin Guha did this, and it was to the detriment of their otherwise cogent point. Tackling sexism in all its pernicious forms, in every place, is imperative, but attacking an oppressed class is a lousy way to do it.

Skylar’s Naughty and Nice List 2013

naughty and nice

It’s Christmas Eve, which means Santa’s making his rounds. While I expect coal-and hopefully some condoms-in my stocking, not all of us have been quite so naughty this year. With that, I revive a holiday tradition, and give you my naughty and nice list for 2013!

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5. Katie Hopkins

Whether calling X Factor winner Sam Bailey “a fat mum in a tracksuit,” expressing her belief that Scots will do “anything to avoid working until retirement,” or slagging off ginger children as “harder to love,” this may well be Katie Hopkins’ naughtiest year yet-and that’s saying something. Despite a litany of inane ramblings throughout 2013, it was her controversial classist statement that she wouldn’t let her children play with other kids called “Chardonnay” or “Tyler” because their names imply a working class background which propelled her from annoying gadfly to unbearable git. Maybe I’m just taking this personally, as I am a chubby gay ginger called Skylar, but seriously, I need her to sod off in 2014. As that’s unlikely to happen-she’s tipped to enter the Big Brother house next month-I think I’ll just get a tattoo to spite her. Maybe one of Russell Brand.

4. Russell Brand

Just kidding, that man’s a dick. I mean, I know you did a lot of drugs Russell, but Ozzy Osbourne is more coherent and decipherable. This year’s verbal masturbation champion, Russell Brand has suggested a revolution of…? He’s rambled on and on about the need to have a banker-bashing orgy and the needlessness of voting, but here we are at Christmas Eve and I’m still waiting for his point. His talk is pretty and makes you feel good, but much like the Justin Bieber blow-up doll, there just isn’t much depth.

3. Justin Bieber

Speaking of the Biebs, much like his inflatable doppelgänger, he needs to take a seat. Seriously boy, what have we done to you? The first time I ever heard of Justin Bieber he was 3 years old talking to Chelsea Handler. That’s where it began. Nothing good can come from talking to Chelsea Handler. And then we let Usher raise him, and look what happens. From pissing in a bucket while sneaking out of a restaurant to visiting Brazilian brothels to playing naked guitar for his gran, it’s been a bit of a year for Justin. His worst act, though, was by far stepping on the Blackhawk head. Unless you’re a Chicagoan, you won’t get this; if you are a Chicagoan, don’t let the reminder ruin your Christmas. This boy needs to check it before he wrecks it.

2. Robin Thicke

Another man who needs to check something-his privilege-is Robin Thicke, the End Violence Against Women’s coalition Sexist of the Year. The only acceptable “blurred lines” are the ones the cops will likely make me walk tonight after my eighth eggnog. I just can’t.

1. That guy who kissed me by the Serpentine under a pale moon

😉

nice

5. Tom Daley

He’s Britain’s sweetheart, isn’t he? I mean seriously, how can you not just want to give this kid a pat on the back (or the bum)? Sure, he didn’t cure cancer-another LGBT kid did that-but in coming out, Tom not only gave hope to countless kids around the world, but blazed the trail for other high profile LGBT athletes to follow. Make all the jokes you want about diving being the second gayest sport in the summer Olympics (after gymnastics, duh), but sport is rife with homophobia, and Tom’s decision was makes him one brave little toaster.

4. Kellee Terrell

Journalist. Activist. Filmmaker. Kellee is a jill-of-all-trades, and has done so much in the past 12 months to further causes of social justice. Her short film, Goodnight My Love, takes a nuanced look at the last few minutes of a black lesbian couple in a zombie apocalypse, which in itself is awesome enough to land her on this list. But beyond this, her outspoken advocacy for HIV awareness has helped further break the stigma of the disease, and her unwavering support as an LGBT ally has helped shed light on the plight of queer people of colour. Kellee is the only person on either list who I can also claim as a personal friend, having met her at an Oscar viewing party last winter, and her wisdom, guidance and encouragement have been instrumental in my return to writing. I can’t thank her enough.

3. Jennifer Lawrence

God I just love this woman. She’s a feminist. She’s from Kentucky. I mean we’re practically besties right there. But seriously, Jennifer Lawrence has been eschewing conventional stardom for something with substance, taking on Joan Rivers and Kelly Osbourne for tearing into women’s appearances and telling the Guardian it should be illegal to call someone fat on tv. She’ll say what she wants, do what she wants, eat what she wants, and no shits are given. I fucking love her.

2.The British Twittersphere

You lot. Nothing sums up my experience on Twitter better than the time Louise Mensch and Laurie Penny teamed up to take down transphobic tweets. My followers aren’t many, but they’re proper quality, and my return to commentating on British life and politics has been met with a warm welcome home. Despite being an American and living in Chicago, y’all have welcomed my input and opinions as valid and, in some cases, worthy, never dismissing me or critiquing my imperial American privilege. I’m well aware that a foreigner constantly commenting on your politics can seem condescending and presumptive, but you have willingly engaged me and encouraged me. As one follower said, and I’m paraphrasing, “you know so much about what’s going on I forget you’re not here!” It’s tweets like this that make getting up at 3:00 AM to catch the British morning news cycle worth it. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

1. Caroline Criado-Perez

Whilst my followers are cracking, the same can’t be said for all the Twittersphere. For her resilience and sheer tenacity, Caroline Criado-Perez is the nicest of the nice this year. When the Bank of England decided women weren’t worth £5, Caroline led the campaign to keep a woman on banknotes-and to officially recognise the contributions of women throughout British history. Owen Jones has called her “a brilliant fighter,” which might well be the understatement of 2013. Caroline has put up with threats of rape and violence all year, but her voice is louder and clearer than ever before. When Caitlin Moran organised a “twitter silence” to protest, she acknowledged the show of solidarity but said that she would not be silenced by anyone. A true role model to all of us campaigning for social justice, Caroline has inspired me beyond most anybody this year.

I hope you made Santa’s nice list, and that all your Christmas wishes come true. To all of my readers, both here and at The Columnist, I wish you nothing but joy this Yuletide season. Thank you for making my return so rewarding. See you in 2014!

#NNSexism: Newsnight illustrates the rise, Twitter the need, of digital feminism

Last night, Fi Glover had an excellent piece on BBC’s Newsnight about digital feminism and the future of women’s liberation in the 21st century. She profiled Laura Bates’ “Everyday Sexism Project”, the media’s fascination with and objectification of breasts, including Amanda Palmer’s Glastonbury nip slip, as well as the objectification of black women’s bodies. The prevailing theme was that technology and social media is changing the face of feminism, promoting the democratisation of the women’s movement.

So perhaps it was inevitable that a story about feminists online would prompt a storm of controversy on the Twittersphere. Using the hashtag #NNSexism, the Twitterati engaged the masses in their own experiences with everyday sexism while a debate erupted over the role of feminism and, indeed, women themselves. One of the biggest debates I had was the tiresome, redundant, 20th century debate over the difference between sex and gender, as illustrated below:

Now, for those of you who aren’t aware, the difference between sex and gender is quite simple. Sex (male/female) is physiological. It has to do with your reproductive organs, your hormones, and your pelvic bone. Gender (man/woman), on the contrary, is a social construct. It’s the set of characteristics we are assigned, even before birth, based on our sex. Think of it as blue for boys, pink for girls. Dolls for Linda, trucks for Liam. It’s not a radical notion; it’s been debated pretty heavily for the past sixty years, certainly since the advent of the third wave feminism in the United States.

My position sparked a lot of vitriol, mostly from conservative (small c) men. Some of it was quite nasty:

Others took to calling out the “sexism” of the Newsnight piece:

What was most poignant, though, were the women (and some men, like myself) using the hashtag as a sounding board for their own experiences with everyday sexism:

What was most disappointing was the number of men trying to trivialise or completely write off sexism and misogyny:

To say there is no evidence of real sexism is laughable. It certainly shows, at the very least, that one hasn’t been paying much attention to, well, anything. Just this month we’ve had Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis speak out on the fear many women have of being “found out” or labeled a “fraud”, the United Nations showing just what the internet thinks of women (and it isn’t pretty), and The Great British Bakeoff finalist Ruby Tandoh defending herself against allegations that she flirted herself to the top. I mean, cos, you know, pretty women can’t bake well. Only male chefs and your nan.

Or they attempted to turn the conversation away from women and onto their own perceived grievances:

Which Laurie Penny succinctly put down to actual, perhaps stealthy, misogyny:

And of which I stand guilty:

I’ll be honest, it hadn’t occurred to me that by sharing my own experience I was steering the conversation away from sexism against women (which is 99% of sexism, after all). In fact, I thought Laurie Penny was calling me specifically out when she tweeted that, and it made me reevaluate my personal approach to the hashtag. After all, regardless of whether or not I identify as a feminist, gay men are still capable of sexism, and we have a notorious entitlement to womanhood and women’s bodies.

In the end I forgave myself. My feminist credentials are fairly well known, and while it was perhaps rude to change the subject in the middle of a conversation, it wasn’t entirely off-topic. In fact, I challenged Laurie on this point (and got no response, I should mention-though I do hope she’d agree):

For as the men who couldn’t grasp the difference between sex and gender prove, we (as a society) can’t even seem to get the vocabulary, let alone the conversation, right. So the men who actually acknowledge not only the merits of feminism but the hindrance patriarchy places on their own existence ought to be not only allowed but encouraged to freely contribute. At the very least we’re acknowledging sexism is real and tangible, which is more than can be said for a great lot of us.

That’s not to give us a pass, though. Patriarchy manifests itself in all sorts of ways, and the internet has proven that even those of us with the best intentions can sometimes stand accused, and even slightly guilty of, inadvertent sexism. In the end, Newsnight did a commendable job of highlighting the rise of digital feminism, but Twitter itself illustrated the dire need for it. Social media makes it possible, in real time, to illustrate tangible examples of blatant and even unintentional sexism and misogyny, and the Twittersphere was not lacking either yesterday. The rise of sites like EverydayFeminism and Jezebel give voice to women (and men) who may otherwise lack one, and perhaps it’s only a matter of time until we have a Feminist Spring.

Until then, let’s all brainstorm it a catchy hashtag.