I have an ongoing joke with two of my close friends, about a Tumblr we’re going to create called “I’m Disappointed in You.” It will include a variety of things people — most of whom we thought knew better — have done which lowered them in our esteem. Examples will include deliberately racist comments, fat shaming, heterosexism, anti-feminist nonsense … you get the idea. It’s a joke, but it’s based on a feeling I’m sure we’re all familiar with.
A few weeks ago, I was startled by the kind of disappointment that can only come from someone you love and trust. I wish I remember what started this conversation, but suddenly a man who has done an excellent job of loving me for almost 20 years said to me, “I think that if there are 10 women who say they’ve been raped, eight of them are telling the truth, and two of them are probably lying.”
I panicked. I shut the conversation down. I said, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” and we didn’t. The evening continued as though it had never happened, except I felt sick. Incompetent is a more apt word for how I felt. What I wish I’d done is throw statistics about him about women and rape, ask him questions like, “Why do you need to believe that?” Fight him, in other words, instead of feeling immediately exhausted and overwhelmed by his remark. It was a different sort of fatigue than I feel when someone writes something long, offensive and intellectually masturbate-y on my Facebook page. The person who said it wasn’t some random I haven’t spoken to since high school or someone married to a friend of a friend. It was, and is, a fatigue associated with realizing the thoroughness, the depth, the ferocity of misogyny, and how you can’t be a male and be unaffected by it.
It took me a while to get to that particularly realization. I’m still trying to figure out how to balance all of this – the fact that this loved one of mine believes that 20 percent (20 percent!) of women lie about being raped, that I panicked because I didn’t have a perfect answer that would immediately convince him he was wrong, that would undo all those things he’d been taught his whole life about how women are liars, the fact that my reaction was to take all of this on, and that I was actually being mean to myself because I couldn’t fix it.
Every feminist knows about the particular kind of exhaustion that comes with having to illuminate, explain and deconstruct things like rape culture to people who either don’t see, or don’t want to see them. There’s a point when you figure out that some people, even people you love (parents, for example), are a lost cause, that nothing you say is going to change their minds. There are battles to pick, if we want to keep our energy.
If I had that moment to do over — and I could, of course, if I brought it up again — I would do my best to remember to take a deep breath and focus on why it’s important to me that he understand what he just said.Making him understand the gravity of what he said is important because this is also about convincing me. Sometimes, when it’s really bad in there — such as a particularly crazy Internet comment thread — my friends and I confess to one another that there are moments when we wonder if we’re wrong, if the trolls and the bros are right, if we are crazy. And what we do for one another is say, with conviction, “That’s what they want you to think, but it isn’t true.”
Another person’s sexist beliefs is not a thing that can be fixed in one conversation. There is no magic elixir that will undo the damage of a lifetime of entrenching men with misogyny and toxic masculinity. The fact that I think that the strength of my feminism, my worth as a human, rests on my ability to convince him, is an example of how I’ve absorbed a dangerous martyrdom of my own. What does it say about the pernicious influence of sexism that I can feel like if I can’t do this thing, if I can’t change the ideas of this human, what I believe isn’t really true? That’s what defeating internalized sexism involves, understanding the way these things are working on us.
Although sexism hurts everyone, he isn’t without the burden of responsibility. He has to do some work. Most of it, actually. He needs to think about why — in spite of his analysis of white privilege and class and capitalism — he’s still clinging with conviction to the idea that women lie about rape. It hurt to find out someone I love believes this. I need to believe that he can understand why the unlearning of this matters. I hope i see him do it.