When asked if I’m a Democrat or a Republican, I always hesitate. I’m a Feminist. I support whatever party promotes the human rights and equality of women. This tends more often to be the Democratic Party, but not always. As we’ve noticed more recently, sexism is a non-partisan institution. Sexism and misogyny cut across all lines: race, class, religion, party, nationality. Sexism is the oldest and most universal of all evils. Inside any group I belong to, I also experience discrimination based on my gender (I know what anti-Semitism feels like from non-Jews, and I know what sexism feels like from Jewish and non-Jewish men.) I have never defended sexist behavior from men, in whatever flavor it comes in. I find it exponentially more abhorrent when it comes from men who I assume are on my side, but it sucks whatever the source.
We live in a Patriarchal society that elevates men above women, that creates a differential power structure in which sexual harassment is normal, acceptable behavior. Men have most of the power and wealth, and women are treated as if we are here for men’s pleasure. We all live and operate inside this system; men and women, Republicans and Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives; none of us can escape it, and we are all infected/affected by it. Making degrading comments to women within this sexist environment seems normal. We’re so used to it we barely see it. It is displayed in every segment of our society- our movies, books, newspapers, magazines, entertainers, lawmakers, bosses, family members- it’s just life, women deal with it as best we can. Many consider it the natural order.
Sexual harassment is a continuum, and it is embedded within our sexist culture. On one end we have degrading sexually suggestive images of women in every conceivable form of media. We have sexist language in every sentence we speak or write- male is the standard, the generic. Guys, fellows, congressman, policeman, chairman. It’s ALWAYS ok to refer to a woman with male language, but we would never call a man a gal, a congresswoman, or a chairwoman. It would be considered an insult.
Women listen to jokes that demean us, whistles as we walk the public streets, and comments all day long that belittle us and remind us of our lower position in society. We deal with unwelcome gestures, invitations to meetings we don’t feel comfortable taking but have to, requests for hookups that we laugh off but that scare us. We spend way too much time deflecting male advances at work so we can navigate that weird line of pretending we’re flattered while diffusing the attention so we don’t insult the men above us and hurt our careers. All the way to the other end, sexual assault/rape. One long continuum, with every point along it being awful for women. There is no such thing as “legitimate” sexual harassment- it is ALL horrible, and women experience it every day, in one form or another.
I make no excuses or apologies for men on “the left”; they can be equally offensive, and equally to blame. The difference is that Democratic men are at least USUALLY promoting policies that help improve the lives of women, while Republican men enjoy the benefits of sexism while promoting policies that conserve the patriarchal system of gender inequality. They are engaging in harassing sexist behavior while passing laws that preserve the system that condones and encourages the harassment. I believe this is much worse, and an important distinction as we get caught up in this “progressive men do it too” moment. We all live in a sexist environment; some men are trying to change it. And apologize when they realize they have failed women. Harassment from any man is wrong, but we should not get caught in the trap of false equivalency and kindergarten behavior that the current Administration has taken us into (“I know you are but what am I? I know I did it, but he did too”.)
It’s amazing that so many women are finally speaking out and saying no more, but now we need to move to the next step. In a Patriarchal culture, sexual harassment is normal, so everyone participates at some level. There will never be an end to the “me too” stories, because we’ve all lived them. Under the continuum model all men are part of the tainted system- this is no longer surprising and we can’t allow people to get numb to the numbers and stories. Or claim that now they can’t interact with women at all.
We must recognize what has happened and move forward in a positive direction, not continue to look back condemning and denying. We need to use this moment to change the system so it can’t happen in the future, and when it does, it is immediately called out and punishable by law. We need to get rid of gender inequality once and for all, so that sexual harassment cannot exist within any party in the future. We won’t change the behavior until we change the system that cultivates it.