If you heard a guy yell this to some woman he barely knew across a crowded street, odds are you’d probably write that person off as a misogynistic prick, or if you’re a straight guy you’d at least give your girlfriend a look like “wow, there are some truly regressive, backwards people out there, good thing I—a kind, sweet-natured guy with just the right amount of scruff—am not one of them” and then continue walking to the 2:10pm screening of Bridesmaids.
And yet Tyler the Creator says it and lots of sweet-natured, “progressive” types snicker—for a reason that, I think, had very little to do with the actual content of what he is saying. The line itself (in case you needed reminding, it’s “If Tegan and Sara Need Some Hard Dick, Hit Me Up!”) is pretty much as vulgar and anti-clever as it gets. In and of itself, it is not a joke; it is, rather, an extremely public piece of sexual harrasment.
But the very public nature of it is why some dudes (and maybe some ladies?) laughed when they heard about it. The reason it is “funny,” or can be considered funny by people who would never actually say shit like that in real life, is because it is atotally fucking insane thing to say, and is made even more insane by the fact that he is saying it in front of millions of people.
Well, great. Except that this is the entire problem with the whole OF conversation?
Like, yeah: Some dudes, many dudes, lent public support to a misogynist cliche — girls who get too uppity just need some dick — and this was bad. It was a bad thing to do. It should not have been done. It was sexist. This post seems to recognize that, in its tone and its need to explain. But it also rationalizes it away: They know it’s wrong to say, they’re really sweet, they’re really nice, they’re really progressive, they have their reasons. If we ignore this one thing we do, or understand that it wasn’t serious, they’re great guys.
And it’s the same thing we do with Tyler: He’s joking, he’s really a sweet kid, it’s not real, it’s just music, it’s ironic. Except that it is real. At Odd Future shows, women get “bitch, kill yourself” and “show your tits” and “slut! Slut! Slut” chanted at them. That’s not made-up. Those are real female human beings on that stage. He’s “sweet” except for all the time he spends objectifying and humiliating women, and degrading them publicly, and sharing detailed, “funny” rape fantasies about them. Oh, yes. Except for all THAT, he’s the nicest guy in the world!
Remarkably, pretty much ANYBODY can be called “the nicest guy in the world” if you ignore or rationalize away any and every fucked-up thing they have ever done.
For the record, there are more things wrong with that “Need Some Hard Dick” response — and the fact that men were willing to publicly applaud it, say “this is how you respond to criticism” — than just the sexual-harassment component. Or even the sexually violent components, or the homophobic components. It’s fucked-up because it mirrors exactly how women’s responses to sexism get dismissed and demonized.
Women stick their necks out to say that something is fucked-up, hurtful, oppressive, scary: Misogynist. They do this knowing full well that there will be social consequences. Remarkably, we’re all familiar with the idea that the women who do this are bitches/ugly/humorless/scolds/delusional (“you see sexism everywhere”)/hysterical/oversensitive/insensitive/etc. We know that we take on most of the risk, in this conversation. We know that we have to be very careful in terms of what we say, and to whom; that we will be expected to choose our targets and our words very carefully, seem “understanding,” seem “empathetic,” make all the right allowances, be oh so very polite. We labor over our words, swallow our anger, push through our fear (and most women who bring themselves to make these kinds of statements are very afraid of reprisal; we know it happens, in overt and subtle ways, pretty much every time), construct these carefully tortured and worked-out sentences; we work at this shit.
And then, after all that work, some dude makes a joke about how we need some dick — not even a joke he’s had to work on, really; that line’s been around forever — and everybody laughs, and it’s over. We get no apology. We get no consideration. We get no hearing. We get nothing. What this exchange ultimately proves to women, every time it’s played out, is that no matter how hard we work, we will never matter. We will never be heard. It’s just the same fucking thing, every day, like a punch to the gut: You think you can change shit? You think I care how you feel? You think I care what you think? No. Never. You think it fucking matters that you don’t like what I do to you? It doesn’t. I’m gonna fucking do what I want to you. Sit the fuck down, shut the fuck up, and take it. Or else I’m gonna tell everyone what a bitch you are, that you won’t play my game. My very special game, that I designed. And here are the rules for the game: You Lose.
And if a girl calls that shit out, calls out the fact that this always happens, this keeps happening, well: They’re really nice guys, they had their reasons, they’re sweet, they’re progressive, it was a joke, calm down. Can’t you handle a little disagreement? Jeez.
I did something very rude, when that shit went around Tumblr: I named certain dudes who had clicked “like” on it, and on the “this is how you handle criticism” note underneath it. The reason for that was this: All three of those men were men that I had called out for saying and doing sexist shit before. On two occasions, it was specifically about rape: Cajunboy wrote a paragraph-long rape joke, which I blogged about. Brian Van was the “Sady Doyle Always Takes The Rape Bait” guy, and the “rape linkbait” guy. Barthel and I have had a few disagreements; around whether feminist content “counts” as “real” music criticism, around whether women should take this whole abortion deal so seriously (this was the one where he used sexist dogwhistles like “screechy” and called me a Tea Partier), around a few things. And I keep affirming that I do like his work, when he’s not talking about gender politics, but the longer it goes without an apology, the more disinclined I get to add that disclaimer, and the more honest I get with myself that I’m just really hurt. I don’t ultimately think it matters, whether I respect him or not. Or whether I say so. I’m not getting treated respectfully, either way.
And I know I’m not supposed to name those names. I know it’s not going to make me more popular, or more well-liked, or increase my chances of getting work, or whatever. I know it’s bad for me, maybe openly self-destructive, to do that shit. It’s going to get me made fun of. It’s going to get me into conversations that will be upsetting to me. I know there will be consequences, maybe some consequences I can’t afford. I know I’ll be seen as the aggressor in that situation. I’m used to being treated as sort of a dirty joke. I’m used to hearing that my work is worthless or illegitimate. I’m used to experiencing the most severe consequences in any confrontation. Those men are well-liked; they’re probably lovely people in person; we’re roughly in the same industry; we know people in common, I think. Like I said: I know it was rude.
But being polite no longer makes sense to me. All three of those men were men that I had called out for behaving in a sexist way. Two of them had responded badly. And it meant something, something very particular to me — not “personal,” but particular — that all three of those men approved of responding to feminist criticism with “you need a hard dick.” It meant something very real. It made all of that foggy hostility and disrespect, the vague condescenscion, the careful absences, the passive-aggressive jokes that maybe I just didn’t get, the tensions just under the surface of those conversations — the stuff I couldn’t quite respond to, because hey, maybe I was making it up, I really can be paranoid sometimes, and anyway, it wouldn’t end well if I said anything — that much clearer.
This is how you respond when a woman tells you that you’re being sexist: Tell her you’ll shove your dick in her.
If you’re the most recent woman to tell a dude he’s being sexist, that means something. And whatever it means, it doesn’t mean that those guys are “sweet.”
Which is where this stops being personal. At the end of every sexist joke or act, there’s a woman who’s being hurt, browbeaten, silenced, dismissed, demonized; there’s another woman forcing herself to choose between self-respect and getting along ; there’s another woman waking up in despair, maybe just dimly recognized despair, maybe something overwhelming, because she has to recognize that people can hurt her and get away with it, that she can never adequately resist this, that resistance will always be punished in some huge or subtle way. Maybe she swallows it, finds some complex way to negotiate it: Tells herself she’s better than other women, that the only women who get hurt are the women who really deserve it, tells herself that if she just learns to be appropriately manipulative or cool or virtuous she can keep herself safe. Or tells herself that it doesn’t matter, she’s too tough to care what they think. Or maybe she just spends too much of each day staring off into space, starts crying for weird reasons or blowing up over trivialities, swallows it to the point that she honestly can’t tell any more why she feels like this; she just does, and it won’t stop. Or maybe she feels the pain of it, and knows what it is, and goes on ahead anyway; tries to transform the pain into something better, tries to use it, even though at the end of every day she feels a little less hopeful, for her own chances of survival or happiness, for the chances of a better world. But at the end of every sexist joke or act, there’s a woman being told that she does not deserve kindness or happiness or respect, and living with that realization. And that woman is not always me.
In the later parts of the post, you talk about how you’re worried that Tyler’s popularity is leaving the “reasonable” realm of music blogging and entering the great unwashed masses, who of course are more sexist than music bloggers. Which I think is another mistake. And it’s how certain women are able to play it safe, around criticizing sexism: They always aim for the safe targets. Those other guys, over there. The ones who aren’t popular. The ones nobody knows. The ones we don’t have to protect. It’s an easy way to get ahead, if you want to do this feminist stuff without being tarred and feathered. It’s also how the sexism that does exist in one’s immediate circle is allowed to continue.
Here’s where I add in the part about every person — male and female — who lives in a sexist society absorbing sexist attitudes, and how it doesn’t make you a bad person, it just means you have shit to work on like all the rest of us, etc., etc. Here’s the part where I add in that I really am a deeply flawed person who fucks up, too, all the time, and pointing out that I can be mean or over-the-top or wrong or stupid or overemotional or whatever comes as no surprise to me: Any bad thing you could say about me, I’ve probably said to myself. Here’s the part where I’m deeply hurt, and I make a point of making allowances for the people who have hurt me. Here’s the part no-one ever listens to. I just add it in because, well, if I don’t, I won’t feel that I have been sufficiently nice.
But I don’t need a post rationalizing away why men have laughed at the “you need a hard dick” thing. No matter how responsible and anti-sexist it tries to be, I don’t need it, and I don’t think the world needs it either. I’m sick of the rationalizing. I’m sick of hearing how they meant it. I don’t want to hear that you’re nice. I want to hear that you’re sorry.