"What the hell is going on with everyone?" - Our increasing awareness of misogyny

Posted by Venerable High Pope Swanage I, Cogent Animal of Our Lady of Discord 24 March 2012 at 01:42PM

My CEO/friend/person who's fired me twice Justin Gehtland exclaimed on the twitters yesterday: "What the hell is going on with everyone? Boston API Jam, Belvedere Vodka, Santorum. Is it National Misogyny Month and I missed the PSA???" I glibly replied: "People started paying attention to misogyny and calling it out. The misogyny didn't increase, your visibility into it did."

I find this basically true and explanatory, but after a few hours of reflection and home improvement I'd like to discuss it in further length than 140 characters allow.

I think we are seeing a consequence of a few important factors, and I'd like to describe a couple. First I'd note that our increased social interaction and eased communication have resulted in more people having more empathy with others. Secondly, in the U.S. we are in the middle of a Republican primary election where the defining attributes of the debate for many outside observers, including me, includes who can behave the most misogynistic.

I find the first of these particularly encouraging; it suggests our movement toward a more egalitarian and sympathetic world. This movement has used technology as a lever, which I find pretty cool considering how I spend most of my vocational efforts. People can more easily object to, for instance, including women as an item on a bulleted list of highlights to voice their objections and to have those objections reinforced in a meaningful way today. This ad hoc organization of protest demonstrated material consequences in the real world: the sponsors of the Boston API Jam started pulling their financial support. The organizers accepted the fact they upset a significant number of people they tried to make money off of (they mismanaged it pitifully, but that's a different concern). Everyone else who organizes events now has to wonder if they will cross the same line. The organizers, Sqoot, do not appear to directly engage with the public, but with businesses. It appears they still feel consumer backlash; in 2012, every company is consumer facing. These material consequences amplified the visibility of the issue as well.

Right now people understand that there are financial consequences for failing to conduct themselves in a way considerate of women. This is a consequence of a social reality, the financial consequences only exist as long as a sufficient number of people care to enforce them, but right now, it does exist. This is great. It might even form the foundation of lasting, meaningful social reforms that further undermine the disequality many women in the U.S. experience today.

However, I find the second point cuts at how much confidence I can have in this prospect for meaningful progress in our social consciousness. We have a caustic political environment in the U.S., one that precipitates far more negativity and vitriol than it does pride and inspiration. Many people's political identities are defined by what they oppose, rather than what they promote. Worse still, these identities do not always derive from opposition to repugnant principals, but by opposing principals held by a repugnant political opposition.

Some hard questions I do not think we can find the answers to today, but that do concern me: Would there be these same outcries against misogyny if they were not the sword with which Rush Limbaugh was attacked? Would people find the Boston API Jam ad offensive if we were not in the midst of a Republican primary advocating vociferously for stripping women of self-determination over what happens in their own bodies? Will the social reality that casual misogyny will precipitate calamitous financial ruin persist past November?

These are hard questions because they essentially ask how we as people will behave in the future, or would behave in counterfactual scenarios. Only our future conduct, collectively, will determine the answers.