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Is it really cheeky to be sexist?

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I will confess, I didn’t get around to reading the Life section of the Tuesday, June 16 Globe and Mail until Saturday night at 11 pm, and then, only when the section was handed to me by an equally disgusted reader.
Check out The Office column in the Work and Money pages.  A little tid bit called “Queen Bees” relates the latest insights from Askmen.com (in case such institutions as the White House, the United Nations, the Catholic Church, and CNN weren’t already asking enough men, and a separate website were needed). 

According to the authors of Askmen.com, more women in charge in corporations would have a damaging impact on the economy (to be precise, the economy would “grind to a halt”) because “all women” are nasty, competitive, back stabbing, can’t control their feelings and treat their male underlings like “whipped boyfriends”.  (I am summarizing of course, but the full arguments are, if anything, less nuanced).

Now, were I a regular reader of Askmen.com (if I felt I didn’t get enough male influence through my government, the media, organized religion, and the traditional family), I could think of at least 2 possible responses to this important Askmen.com contribution to the debate around men, women, work and power. 
The first would be to ignore the piece, stop reading the website, wonder why I had started in the first place, and treat the website like the fringe, useless material it is.

Apparently though, the website has a wide readership and does seem to hold some influence, so I might consider a second option -- writing a posting or a letter to the authors. I might agree with the authors that women shouldn’t lead corporations, since men are doing it so well on their own: the banking system, consumer confidence and the stock market have not “ground to a halt” in a least a couple of weeks.  I would thank the authors for making things so simple by giving us a short-cut to understanding the 51% of the population that is female.  Finally, I would strongly agree that despite persistent pay equity imbalances, sexual harassment by men, inadequate parental leave pay, and good old-fashioned sex-based-discrimination, it is men- and not women –- who are treated like “whipped boyfriends” in corporations. The insights from the Askmen authors are nothing a little sarcasm, irony and mockery won’t fix.
Note that publishing the Askmen “opinions” in a national newspaper and calling them “cheeky” is not in my list of options for a response.  And yet, that is what our friends at the Globe and Mail decided to do.
It reminds me of the time Norman Spector made a deeply sexist and truly infantile remark about Belinda Stronach on public radio (calling her a “bitch” after Peter Mackay referred to Ms. Stronach as his “dog” in the House of Commons).  Spector was given several opportunities to retract the remark, refused, and then was back writing as a regular columnist in our national newspaper within weeks.

Or the time the Globe published Christie Blatchford’s misinformed and deeply disrespectful article about sexual harassment.  In the article, Blatchfored suggested that a young crown attorney, who was groped and kissed by a judge in an elevator and then -- not surprisingly –- pressed charges, simply didn’t understand the way things worked and should grow a thicker skin.

But this isn’t really about the Globe.  Or even about the mainstream press. It’s about why we, as a society, are so tolerant of sexist behaviour, and so much less ambitious than we ought to be about creating an egalitarian society in which everyone is treated with the respect they need to thrive and flourish. 

Why is it “cheeky” to be sexist and “shrill” to denounce sexist behaviour? It seems to me that it will be impossible to get rid of sexism if we are not able to call it wrong and make it unacceptable. And maybe that’s the unfortunate answer to why our society tends to downplay sexism and shame those who name it: we’re either in collective denial about the discrimination, or collectively committed to its survival.  I think we can do better.

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