Empowering Women Politics

Mansplaining 2.0: Sexism in the New Resistance

This post contains adult language. This post is a continuation of my earlier blog post Division in Social Movements: How to prevent a movement from collapsing.

Mother’s Day 2017: I’m reveling in the homemade gifts and cards my kids have made for me. Filled to the brim with hugs and kisses and the sweetness of my 7-year-old twins on what my daughter called “You Day, Mommy.”

I spend the next couple of days reflecting on what I went through to become a mom of twins and on my life, including the struggles I have faced over more than forty years of life as a girl and then a woman. I am reflecting on my own mother (passed on 10 years ago), the strength she had, and the sexism she had to overcome in her day. It doesn’t end there. I reflect on her mother, and her mother’s mother, and generations of women, feeling the strength of each of them inside me as I continue to try to manifest and demonstrate the strength, kindness, and calm reason I’d like to pass on to my daughter and son.

On twitter, I’m reminded of the disadvantaged status women still have in society—from how we treat Mother Earth,

to how the Republicans are trying to strip women of their basic healthcare and reproductive rights,

Mother's Day Paul Ryan

to how women are not paid equally for the work they do, to the fact that in America we still don’t have paid maternity leave, while so many other countries do (including Iran and Mexico at 12 weeks paid leave).

I laugh at, and agree with, a quote that has been falsely attributed to Betty White: “Why do people say ‘grow some balls’? Balls are weak and sensitive! If you really wanna get tough, grow a vagina! Those things take a pounding!”

Then, 3 days after Mother’s Day, I see a tweet by a leader in the local resistance movement that says: “Thx MOC Kinzinger for testicular fortitude MOC Roskam lacks. Must be the Seal in you. Go hold Peter’s trembling hand.” (This is in reference to Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger from Illinois calling for a special prosecutor or independent investigation into Trump’s administration, and Republican Representative Peter Roskam from Illinois supporting everything Trump and the other Repubs in Congress do.)

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Ok, I think. Someone is trying to be cute and funny with this tweet, but the fight against the current Republican administration is personal for me. It’s personal for all women, as gains that we have made over the last 8 years are being swiftly thrown aside by white men who are hiking up their testicles and doing their best to quash any sense of power women may feel they have.

I politely respond to this tweet by pointing out the unnecessary use of gender-biased language (esp. in the wake of the new women’s movement). “Testicular fortitude?” I tweet. “I’m not sure one needs testicles to exhibit bravery and stand… up for what is right.” I also offer a link to my blog post about how sexism played a role in prematurely tearing apart the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

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This is the reply I get: “Let’s not lose focus by concentrating on wrong things. It’s a word in a Tweet. Bill Maher said it best.” And I’m offered a clip of Bill Maher.

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First of all, “Let’s not lose focus…” he says. I have not lost focus. My eyes are on the prize. I’m focused on fighting for the rights of the downtrodden (that includes those of us that have two X chromosomes and birth babies).

Second, let’s get to the clip. I don’t have high hopes that Bill Maher has anything eloquent, relevant, or NOT misogynistic to say on the topic given that the one editorial of his that sticks out in my mind contains this quote about his preference in women’s pubic hair styles: “New Rule: Bring back a little pubic hair. Not a lot, I’m not talking about reviving that 1973 look that said “I’m liberated” and “I’m smuggling a hedgehog.”I just want a friendly, fuzzy calling card that’s a middle ground between toddler smooth and “Dr. Livingston, I presume?” It’s supposed to have some hair on it. It’s a pussy, not Dr. Evil’s cat….”

Ok, so let’s look at what Bill Maher has to say on the topic at hand (transcript below):

Transcript: “While the sting of defeat is still fresh and the horrors resulting from that defeat pile up, liberals must examine all the reasons why we keep losing elections—starting with Democrats have gone from the party that protects people to the party that protects feelings. From “ask not what your country can do for you” to “you owe me an apology.” Republicans apologize for nothing. Democrats apologize for everything. Can’t we find a balance? In 2016, conservatives won the White House, both houses of Congress, and almost 2/3 of governorships and state legislatures. Whereas, liberals, on the other hand, caught Steve Martin calling Carrie Fisher beautiful in a tweet and made him take it down. … Liberals do this all the time. They get offended for people who, themselves, would not be offended. … [He goes on to mock celebrities who have offended people by not being politically correct and their subsequent apologies.]

The majority of Americans are actually with the Democrats on the issues: raising minimum wage, sensible gun laws, path to citizenship, abortion rights, pro-environment, you name it. But we keep losing. Now there’s a lot of reasons for that. But the one we can immediately fix is that too often Democrats remind people of a man who has taken his balls out and put them in his wife’s purse. And, please, someone tweet me right now and tell me how that was inappropriate so I can tell you to:


[He talks about another celebrity that was accidentally politically incorrect and subsequently apologized about hurting peoples’ feelings.]

Things like this don’t matter at all. What matters is that while you self-involved fools were policing the language at the Kids’ Choice Awards, a madman talked his way into the White House. What matters is that while liberals are in a contest to see who can be the first to call out fat-shaming, the Tea Party has been busy taking over school boards.

Stop protecting your virgin ears and start noticing you’re getting fucked in the ass.” 

Ummm, ok. So you have to be an asshole to be in the resistance? If that’s so, then I’m out.

And is this local resistance leader telling me to go fuck myself?

Once I vigorously shake my head in an attempt to get over all that was thrown at me in that 5-minute video clip, I am able to say to myself: Wait a minute, a leader in the local resistance thinks Bill Maher is right when he says that the reason Trump is in the White House is because liberals care about each other’s feelings? THAT’S NOT WHY TRUMP IS IN THE WHITE HOUSE!!!! Trump is in the White House because he (and Putin) rode the wave of disenfranchised, poor white people feeling discontented because NOBODY in government cared about them!

That being what it is, being an asshole is not the way to build a government that works FOR the people. It’s just not. And this movement will never be anything but a flash in the pan if whole segments of the resistance are told not to be so sensitive and are tossed aside when they point out that something is happening that is divisive.

I have to be honest, I didn’t watch the Bill Maher video at the time, before responding with the following series of tweets: “I’m not attacking…never attacking. Merely pointing out a problem that could divide the movement. I know you want to move forward, but you can’t move forward without including everyone. This fight is for all of us. Gender-biased language removes me from the fight. I just wanted to point out that language is a reflection of an attitude that may be unconscious. We’re all in this together. We’re on the same side. Let’s try not to foment division in our social movement.”

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I never got a reply.

So what can we do to ensure that those in leadership positions in the resistance don’t marginalize the very groups they’re supposed to be fighting for? Besides just pointing it out. This will take some thought.

Please check out my earlier blog post: Division in Social Movements: How to prevent a movement from collapsing.

UPDATE: Bill Maher has subsequently issued an apology for using the ‘N’ word on the air on 06/12/17.

If you have any ideas or suggestion, please share in the comments below.

Please like and share with your friends.

Janette DeFelice, MD, MA is a writer currently focusing on how the changing environment affects our health. Her essay collection Resistance Essays from the Heartland and her new novel Delia Rising: A Ballet in Three Acts are both available now. She has also published at Be The Change Mom, ChicagoNow, and Medium.com. She holds a Doctor of Medicine degree from Chicago Medical School and a Master’s degree in Humanities from the University of Chicago, where her major essay was Hegel and Ibsen: The Evolution of Consciousness in Ibsen’s Prose Play Cycle. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Indiana University. A former professional dancer, former adjunct Humanities professor, and former lecturer in Medical Clinical Skills, as well as a mom of 9-year-old twins, she currently finds herself at a career/life crossroads at which she is trying to figure out how to use all aspects of herself (her art, her medical and scientific knowledge, her philosophical explorations, her interest in popular culture as a teaching tool, and her unique perspective) for the good of humanity.

1 comment on “Mansplaining 2.0: Sexism in the New Resistance

  1. I share your annoyance with some of the archaic gendered language! What is it about men, especially conservative white men, that they constantly need to use “balls” or “testicles” as a symbol of strength in public like that? It seems designed to just alienate women, and it’s not even an accurate symbol. Like that Betty White quote suggests, the second any of these guys actually get kicked in that particular part of their anatomy, they’re instantly on the floor moaning in agony. It makes no sense as a symbol of strength at all!


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