Yesterday, The Sydney Morning Herald published a column by political journalist Annabel Crabb entitled “Men: All thumbs and no subtext”. The Canberra Times, retitled it in syndication as “Men, thinking of some textual healing? Get your thumb off it”. Being a man myself, you can imagine why the piece caught my eye, but though the headline’s gender division is where the problem begins, it’s unfortunately not where it ends.
Crabb’s article is, in essence, a recounted slew of scandals: Ben Polis, Shane Warne, John Della Bosca, David Beckham, Tiger Woods, Ricky Nixon, and Anthony Wiener to name a few. But then she takes the next step: What do all these names have in common? They are all men, she says. As if to drive herself further from indemnity, she clarifies: “When will they learn? More specifically, when will men learn?”
Instead of taking the more academic approach – what makes men behave badly? what kind of society makes these kinds of men famous and/or powerful? why are women comparatively sensible? – Crabb chooses to give example after example, each time framing the culprit as specifically male.
Let’s consider her argument by reflecting the stereotype onto women.
Annabel says, “Give a Republican US congresswoman a Twitter account and she’ll distribute links to congressional committee reports. Give her male colleague a Twitter account and within a week he’ll be photographing his donger and sending the pictures to a puzzled sophomore in Des Moines.”
Consider what backlash might come if I had written the converse: “Give a successful businessman an internet connection and he’ll spend hours checking his stocks. Give his female colleague the same, and within a week, she’ll have increased the GDP of Italy by imported shoes alone.”
The rewrite smacks of sexism. First, because it limits a woman to her stereotype despite her financial success and then secondly, it belittles her with that stereotype. It’s not as harmless as the stand-up comedian saying “men are like this, while women are like this” – The implication is that a man in power is more likely to jeapardise his career, because he is a man. Annabel’s comment, though aimed at men and not women, is the equivalent to calling all businessmen neanderthals and then beating them with their own proverbial club.
Beyond her indictment of powerful men as dimwits, she also fails to even consider that where there are dimwitted men, there might be dimwitted women. Consider for a moment Britney Spears flashing the paparazzi, Sinead O’Connor’s disturbingly personal sex tweets, Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian’s sex tapes, Rebekah Brook’s exposed corruption, and Sarah Palin’s… everything. I don’t point these women out to belittle their gender; we are equal in our propensity for failure, especially in a society which elevates individuals based on traits irrelevant to intelligence or morality.
What if we consider how all of the men were caught? Annabel cites Ricky Nixon, but fails to mention Kim Duthie who has constantly been found manipulating the truth for her own selfish purposes. Shall we wash the guilt from the women who revealed such transgressions, as if they could not possibly have nefarious tendencies?
But it would be incorrect to say that women are opportunistic or manipulative when in touch with a powerful male figure. To use Kim Duthie and her ilk as proof of a female demeanour would be a thoroughly sexist generalisation.
We should not merely be concerned about female-centered sexism on the merit of it being the more prevalent form and, as a tool of the dominantly male society, arguably more effective in its limitation of women. Instead, we need to avoid any entry into gender politics which ignores one gender in order to criticise the other. The first issue of Annabel’s article is that it focuses its critique on only one side of the gender divide. The second is that it does so with such superficiality that it blames a handful of men’s transgressions on their genital situation instead of critiquing the social discourses which might have caused such men to fall to such folly.
Unfortunately, she is not alone in failing to see the bigger picture. Just last week, UK resident Samantha Brick wrote an article in which she bemoaned being hated for her beauty. The “twittersphere” responded violently, and Facebook users soon followed. They attacked her conceitedness, and then they attacked her physical attributes. Very few, unfortunately, jumped to the heart of the controversy to ask the question: Even if Samantha Brick is blissfully unaware of her own conceit, surely the editors of the Daily Mail were not, and in their complicity, have become culprits in the perpetuation of hate.
We need to move away from being reactionary beings and consider the structures which actually give rise to such transgressions. There is very little in this world which isn’t caused or perpetuated by some kind of social structure and these antiquated structures should not be so rigid that they resist the change of a more enlightened society.
Rather than simply distil front page headlines into a male stereotype, we need to consider whether the reason that men are caught out is in the societal structure alone. Perhaps, in a time where women are still not paid equally, and where very few CEOs are female, those specific women are more sensible because they had to work harder to get there. Or because they are more likely to lose everything if they fail. Consider that the Labor party might avoid choosing another women as leader, not because they are necessarily sexist but because Julia Gillard’s gender has taken somehow the blame for her shortcomings.
Why not go further? Why are men like this in positions of power? I promise your family lawyer isn’t sending nude pics via twitter, nor is the local grocer sexting about the vegetables he fondles. It is not men who are to blame, but the society which causes guilty men to be heralded until the facade wears thin.
Why might a sportsperson who can barely string a sentence together on the TV news? Why is one of our most funded industries also the one consistently charged with gang rape? Are we really to assume that all men are rapists, philanderers, sexual deviants or just plain dumb?
It’s been thousands of years since the greek tragedy was defined, surely we can move past the catharsis of seeing powerful men fail and actually promote those with the intellect to sustain their positions. And the same goes for women. The problem with Sarah Palin wasn’t that she was female vice-presidential candidate, the problem was that she was grossly underqualified.
I really don’t think Annabel Crabb is a sexist, but I do think this article is. We need to be careful when we brand people with these labels, rather than branding their actions, because branding people merely disconnects the vessel while maintaining the source.
Yes, there are a lot of fools, but they are not all men, and not all men are fools.