One of the most frustrating parts of talking with men about sexism is the amazing ability so many of them have to remain absolutely convinced that they are “Good Guys” while they behave in ways that reveal their sexist beliefs.
You know these guys. They are the ones who tell sexist jokes and then chastise you for objecting because “it’s just a joke.” They are the ones who constantly interrupt and dismiss women but definitely aren’t sexist because they “love women.” And they are the ones who “only” watch alternative porn because it’s way less harmful to objectify (read: dehumanize) women with hair on their legs.
It’s like these men keep a list of the most abhorrent, misogynistic behaviour possible and, as long as they don’ t regularly do those things, believe they can confidently declare themselves Good Guys and wash their hands of this whole sexism business, while continuing to behave in ways that harm women. These self-identified Good Guys are convinced they needn’t bother with silly things like listening to what women say about the impacts their behaviour has on us, or working to challenge the messages they’ve absorbed that allow their problematic behaviour to continue. Because sexism is what Other Men do – men who definitely aren’t Good Guys.
Now, everyone’s self-awareness has limits, and we all have our hypocritical moments, but there are SO MANY men doing this that we need to ask — what exactly IS on the Good Guy Checklist? And how different would that list look if women had a say?
As far as I can tell there are only two things men can do that exclude them the Good Guy Club: violently raping a stranger or hitting a woman without provocation.
Good Guys don’t bother thinking much about sexual assault, because it’s something that Other Men do. As such, Good Guys take their cues about what sexual assault is from movies and TV, where rape is overtly violent and most often committed by strangers. Never mind that 88 per cent of the pornography Good Guys use to become sexually aroused depicts aggression, most of it against women, and never mind that most women are sexually assaulted by men they know… As long as a man hasn’t jumped out of the bushes and attacked a woman he doesn’t know, he meets this requirement of the Good Guy list.
The only other thing that could jeopardize a man’s Good Guy standing is hitting a woman without provocation. The provocation part is important because, even though domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women, Good Guys often believe that, despite the size and strength advantage most of them have over most us, hitting women is justified in some situations. Because, you know, we ask for it, or our feminine wiles somehow disable their ability to walk away from conflict without becoming violent.
With the Good Guy bar set this low, men can easily meet the criteria despite doing pretty terrible things. The list of criteria is really effective at making men feel great about themselves, but it’s absolute crap at discouraging them from behaving in ways that don’t harm women. In fact, the Good Guy list actively contributes to women’s oppression because it prevents men from identifying and challenging their sexist programming and working as our allies. Here are some of the questions men would need to answer “no” to in order to qualify as Good Guys if the list actually gave a hoot about women:
1) Do you get annoyed when women aren’t as nice or quiet as you think we should be instead of recognizing how the expectation that women are nicer and quieter than men is harmful?
2) Do you tell jokes that degrade women?
3) Do you stand by quietly while men around you say or do sexist things, instead of challenging them — even when women aren’t around?
4) Do you interrupt women when we’re speaking?
5) Do you offer women advice without being asked for it?
6) If you think a woman needs help, do you assume you know what’s best for her instead of asking what kind of support she might find useful?
7) Do you think rules that apply to other people don’t apply to you because you’re special?
8) Do you take up as much space as you want in public, without thinking about the impact on those around you?
9) Do you think women who don’t put effort into their appearance are unattractive?
10) Do you think women who put too much effort into their appearance are shallow or superficial?
11) Do you stare at women you find attractive, instead of considering how threatening this feels to most women?
12) Do you offer women your opinion about our appearances without being asked, instead of realizing that we aren’t contestants in a beauty pageant you’ve been asked to judge?
13) If you share a household with a woman, do you expect her to handle most of the domestic responsibilities or to make sure you’re pulling your weight, instead of actively looking for ways to do your fair share?
14) Do you think there are circumstances in which a woman is responsible for being sexually assaulted or beaten by a man?
15) Do you think sexual assault is something women can avoid by changing our behaviour or clothing?
16) Do you watch pornography or go to strip clubs or burlesque shows even though they objectify women and contribute to the male sexual entitlement that fuels sexual assault?
17) Do you buy sex or believe men are entitled to buy sex?
18) Do you think a woman you’re in a sexual relationship with should have sex with you even if she doesn’t want to?
19) Do you pout or try to convince her if she doesn’t?
20) Have you ever said “not all men” in a discussion about sexism?
21) If a woman points out that you did or said something sexist, do you deny it and defend yourself instead of setting aside your ego and listening?
22) Do you try to speak to women as an authority on women’s issues?
23) Do you continue to associate with men who behave in misogynistic ways?
24) Do you think it’s women’s responsibility to make sure you understand sexism?
25) Do you expect to be rewarded or praised for not being sexist?
That’s a long list, isn’t it? And, because our society expects women to accept mistreatment while encouraging men to dominate and win at all costs, it probably looks like an unreasonable list too — like an unfair infringement that expects too much of men. So, instead of considering how the behaviours that define masculinity are inherently misogynistic ones, and how they’re so normalized and invisible that expecting more of men seems impossible, it’s much easier for men to consider themselves Good Guys and leave women to pay the price.
If you’re a man who cares about women and, after reflecting on this list honestly you answered “yes” to a few questions, the most ineffective and selfish thing you could do is get hung up on your bad feelings. It’s really simple: you’ve been taught to behave in ways that create real hardship for the women around you, and you have some work to do. That’s it. Luckily for you, most feminists believe you can do better and you want to do better. So get to it — start doing better — because women are being hurt, women matter and women have waited long enough.
Jindi Mehat is an East Vancouver-based second wave feminist who is reconnecting with feminism after several tours of duty in male-dominated corporate land. Follow her @jindi and read more of her work at Feminist Progression.