Thinking makes it so: stopping sexist posts at the source

Watching a friend get dragged on Facebook for celebrating women

Sign at Women’s March 2019, Kuala Lumpur. Photo by Michelle Ding on Unsplash.

A close friend of mine, a white woman, posted on Facebook that picture of Kamala Harris, the Vice President elect, with the silhouette of Ruby Bridges, who was famously escorted to a newly desegregated school by U.S. Marshals. (The image was created by artist Bria Goeller and the owner of Good Trubble, a Black-owned business in the Bay Area.)

My friend included a one-liner, something about a big step for womankind. She quickly garnered over 200 comments — now well over 300 at the time of publishing this piece — and most of them were not supportive.

A week later, this is the one I can’t stop thinking about:

“Deployment” is a military term, “Papa” a whiskey reference. i.e., if had been long enough and he were drunk enough…

Let’s overlook, for a moment, that the commenter shared a meme making two claims that can easily and quickly be debunked by anyone with an 8th grade education and a smart phone who isn’t using reality-blocking software — and agrees that there is such a thing as empirical reality.

The thing I’d like to focus on is the commenter’s gleeful willingness to engage in “She’s too ugly to rape”-type humor on a public forum, to a woman, that he considers a friend.

Even when I was coming up in Texas, the unspoken decorum among white men seemed to be, if you’re going to say something racist or misogynist, you only say it around your friends who think the same as you. You don’t shout it when there’s company over. “Lower your voice,” we were told, which is the less kind version of “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” In 4 short years, we didn’t become a country half full of racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic (look it up y’all), anti-semitic people — we were that already. One deeper tragedy about the last 4 years is that we became a country where it’s totally acceptable to shout the most bigoted feelings, at friends, in public.

This commenter lives in the south, yet this smacks of extremely un-southern behavior. It brings out my Texas Gentleman in not a good way: I reckon someone needs to take him outside and remind him of his manners. (This is euphemistic Texan talk, Yankees; and no, I don’t condone violence.)

This commenter is not only “friends” with the original poster, he runs in the same social circles, in a city with a small-town social structure — he will have to see her again. He is completely without shame, and by the posts that preceded and followed this one, it’s clear that he’s proud of his remarks.

We all know that “too ugly to rape” jokes are hilarious to a certain sexist asshole subset of the population —

but in a public forum? Does this person not have a wife, a daughter, or a sister? Does he really claim women as friends? Sorry to get all Texan here, but as they say: “YOU might not be ashamed, but your momma is.”

No one on my friend’s post was screaming, “Stop the count on them Senate Seats.” They are calling Kamala out, and you can flip a coin as to whether that’s because she’s black or a woman, though I suspect the latter. John Lennon was right. (And if you really want to get bummed out, ask how many women chimed in against Kamala.)

As for the blatant disinformation that this commenter spread on another person’s page — and yes, I think my friend should have deleted it, we should all delete obvious agit-prop wherever we see it — that’s unfortunately something else. We’re in a place where it may not be ignorance or stupidity, but a hypnosis of the algorithm, a victim of mainlining too much disinformation to the point where the Matrix becomes real, the shadows on the cave wall more believable than the outside world: “Demons and pedophiles pulling the strings.” Seriously, we do need to grow some empathy for the deluded and the QAnon believers as they may still pull some actual triggers in the name of Pizzagate. (Honestly, The Social Dilemma stretched my empathy a bit.)

I came of age in a red state, own property in a blue city in a red state, and have spent a lot of time this year talking to other Red State ExPats. It’s hard to know that I have friends and family who voted — twice — for white supremacy, and openly support making my gay and transgender friends’ lives illegal, as well as disenfranchising or just killing my black friends. But I also know that a lot of these voters are not horrible people, and even though I had to distance myself from a few people I liked after seeing their racist and/or anti-immigrant social media posts in the run-up to 2016, I didn’t stop talking to anyone.

It’s going to be harder this time. We can’t just not talk about it. If I see this guy again it’s going to be hard to remember that I still have the manners he doesn’t. But here’s hoping that in the next 4 years, at the VERY FUCKING LEAST, we can at least re-learn how to be discreet about our biases.

The thing about learning self-control is that it actually works. If you can stop yourself from making a racist or misogynist comment when there are black people or women in the room, you can stop saying it altogether. And if you can stop saying it, you can stop thinking it. As someone who has suffered from serious depression, and delved deep to learn the value and the pitfalls of “self talk” — put simply, how you talk to yourself about the world and your relationship to it — I can personally vouch for the value of learning to control yourself. It’s how people learn to quit drinking, to quit smoking, to quit gambling. If you can learn to stop acting on your every impulse, you may, eventually, stop having those impulses.

Maybe, if we quit posting sexist, racist disinformation on Facebook, we might keep our friends. We might even make this country something we can all be proud of, no matter how we voted.

Books: Killing Williamsburg, The Painted Gun. FIlm: #AnnieHall. Words: Bedford+Bowery. 13spinelli.com

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