One of the great myths of our democratic society is that liberals can’t be sexist (or racist, classist, ableist…), by default, simply because of their intrinsic liberal nature. In fact, the -isms are alive and well in the liberal camp, despite strident claims to the contrary, and I find it intriguing to observe the liberal community’s response to charges of sexism, which usually involves either sticking heads in the sand, or plugging ears and whistling loudly.
Many liberals seem to believe that a voter registration card with a D stamp is like a get out of jail free card, that acts which appear to be sexist in nature aren’t really sexist when you’re liberal, because it’s physically impossible to be sexist when you’re liberal. Kind of like how there are no homosexuals in Iran because homosexuality is illegal in Iran. Sexism doesn’t just happen in liberal communities, though, it actually runs rampant, and is every bit as offensive as the sexism among conservatives, because, guess what, sexism is disgusting no matter what the politics behind it are.
When liberals are called out on their sexism, they get defensive, and usually quite offensive in the process. Amanda Hess recently called the Huffington Post on the rampant sexism on their website, providing a number of concrete, elegant, clear examples of sexism in their coverage and sexist content on their website (like the multitude of celebrity wardrobe malfunctions which litter the sidebar). The response? A dismissive comment which totally missed the point of the criticism and attempted to denigrate Hess, while arguing that the issue shouldn’t be “viewed through a political prism.”
Except that it should be, because conservative and liberal responses to charges of sexism are so different. Conservatives ignore such charges, and occasionally are goaded into making dismissive comments which totally miss the point of the criticism, call the author an uptight bitch, and argue that politics has nothing do with sexism. Liberals respond by marginalizing critics, suggesting that they are stepping out of the liberal lockstep, and that charges of sexism against liberals don’t hold water because, wait for it, liberals can’t be sexist.
Sarah Palin, polarizer of political opinions, provided a great example of varying liberal and conservative responses to sexism. Conservatives embraced her as a media darling, while the liberal media, by and large, smeared her with all kinds of sexist crap. Conservatives cried foul, as did most feminist websites, arguing that sexist crap is sexist crap no matter where it comes from, and the self righteous Sexist Liberal Doods argued that conservatives and feminists were missing the point, and were uptight, and didn’t appreciate humor. (Because feminists are humorless and conservatives are crybabies.)
Despite the fact that numerous feminists of all colours (including me) denounced sexist language about Sarah Palin, conservatives (as usual) ignored feminist critiques of sexism, and liberals attacked the feminists because the feminists were calling them out on disgustingly sexist behavior. They defended themselves with charges that people crying foul were being “too PC” and that feminists were saying that no one could even talk about Palin’s gender or looks, when in fact that was not what was going on at all. It’s fascinating to see both conservatives and liberals using “PC” as an insult which is designed to dismiss someone’s point without acknowledging it, addressing it, or implying that the author’s opinions have any kind of value.
I can deal with conservative ignorance and the dismissal of feminism by most conservatives. I am not as much a fan of the conservative attempts to coopt feminism for their own purposes, as with done with Sarah Palin, but conservative attacks on feminists come from a basis of well-accepted and widely understood sexism. What I don’t understand is why sexism is allowed to thrive in the liberal community, which is supposedly so intolerant of sexism, and why it is that liberals are so determined to ignore very real criticisms of their sexism, ableism, classism, and racism. It’s impossible to have a rational discussion with someone who is wilfully ignoring you, which makes it impossible to get at the rot of sexism in the core of many liberals, and in the core of some liberal values.
Can we not see that a key part of progressivism should be a commitment to the idea that women should be treated like human beings, not objects for consumption?