They’re smart and sweet and really good at debating. But ‘men of the left’ have something in common with the broader brotherhood, writes Nelly Thomas.
If you’ve done an Arts Degree (you’re reading New Matilda so you’ve probably done at least one) you’ll know the USA or Unexpected Sexist Arsehole. You arrive at Uni all wide-eyed and ready to learn. You’ve got big ideas about changing the world and improving life for the next generation. You CAN car pe diem! You CAN have a dream! You CAN decipher Judith Butler!
You meet some fellow students and they’re AWESOME. The girls are funny and smart and don’t take sh*t from anyone. The guys are funky and kind and some of them have mowhawks. They don’t look or sound anything like those douchebags you grew up with. You know those ones who talked over you, didn’t like you talking back and who, when all else failed, found 1,000 different ways to joke about your gross genitals? These guys are different. Woot!
And then you spend three (or 10) years with them and find out they’re not. Very different.
I am unashamedly left wing. What some call left wing bias, I just call being correct. Mine, like most people’s views, are complex, but in short, I believe in the community over the individual. If you think of “socially progressive”, just locate Finland on the political spectrum, keep on moving to the Left and you’ll find me there in the nude, holding a Mapplethorpe. I also have a vagina and I like to make decisions about what to do with it, so I am a feminist. Does that inform my world view? Yes it does. No thanks required.
Like any good communista-feminista I follow as much public discourse about feminist and left-wing issues as I can stomach. As a comedian, I do as many left-wing and feminist gigs as I can (plus, they’re so lucrative). As a human, I have many left-wing men in my love-camp. And I am sick to bloody death of Unexpected Sexists Arseholes.
You know the ones: they’re usually highly educated, right-on, articulate and watch a lot of Game of Thrones. They champion refugees, attend Pride Marches, wear Reconciliation t-shirts and love a White Ribbon. They tell jokes about Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones. They care deeply and you really do love them. But scratch the surface or, say, turn up at a polling booth and lots of them – far too many of them – turn out to be USA’s. It’s so disappointing.
They’re tricky these fellas. They’re smart, so they can defend almost anything rationally. Most often, they mount good free-speech defences of their stuff with sophisticated arguments like, “I can say what I want.” And they can. But my kids are 3 and 8, and even they know you don’t get to say what you want without ramifications.
And there’s a clue, because frankly, they often have the emotional intelligence of an adolescent badger. Poke them a bit and they bite back hard. Unfortunately, like the douchebags from high school, when challenged, they often do a good impersonation of a sexually frustrated pit-bull and attempt to reduce you to nothing more than a slippery vulva.
I’m not sure what’s going on for these dudes, but I think it has something to do with the fact that unlike the Neanderthals many of us grew up with, when “progressive” men are called out on their sexism they often seem gutted: like their very identity has been challenged.
Indulge me for a second. Think of your dad not doing the dishes in the 70s. Maybe mum challenged him and called him a lazy sh*t, he laughed, picked up a tea towel and waited for his standing ovation.
Think of the contemporary progressive dad. All the research shows he’s probably still not doing the dishes (metaphor, big picture) but challenge him on this inequality and there’s a good chance he’ll feel that the very idea of who he is has come into question: but I’m one of the good guys, I’m trying so hard, I’m a feminist goddamn it!
This leads to the absurd and head-scrambling situation where progressive men – in both the public and private spheres – are arguably harder to call out on their sexism than a Sam Newman.
I know for sure this can be true of progressive male comedians and it certainly seems to be true of their journalist and commentator mates.
So, I’m asking my brothers this: how about, if and when you’re accused of sexism or even misogyny, imagine you’re not involved and it’s someone else. Imagine Eddie McGuire has called Adam Goodes an ape again, or Mark Latham has trolled Annabelle Crabbe or Pauline Hanson has asked for an enquiry into Halal.
Now hear their defences: it’s only a joke, people are too politically correct these days, you’re attacking me and it’s NOT FAIR.
And before you bite back or issue an apology-non-apology that implies the recipient/s of your sexism were too easily offended or “sensitive”, at least consider that it’s you. That it just might be you.
That would be actual progress.