Does a misogynist action make a person sexist? I don’t know … I suppose it depends on whether one believes that action determines essence or vice versa, which is an existential debate.
If I walk up to you and punch you in the face, am I violent? Is it proper to describe me as generally violent or violent without qualifiers or to say that I am a violent person? Should we rather say that I have just done a violent thing? Should we pay close attention to the circumstances surrounding your broken nose–perhaps I’m especially unhappy or under a lot of stress or possibly even gay–before calling me violent? Should we acknowledge that there are people out there who would not only punch you in the face but also knee you in the groin and take your wallet? Should we acknowledge that few people live out their lives without once resorting to physical violence? Should we allow me to defend myself by pointing out that I hardly ever punch people in the face, that I have on many occasions not punched people in the face, and that I furthermore punched you in the face for reasons completely unrelated to a desire to knock you unconscious?
Or does it make more sense to turn to the guy who just walked up to someone and punched them in the face and go, “You asshole, what the fuck is wrong with you?”
I wholeheartedly agree that there is a difference between someone who posts an ill-conceived blackface photoshop caricature and, say, Nathan Bedford Forrest. I will also happily concede that there is a difference between someone who openly identifies as feminist but casually uses misogynistic slurs and graphic misogynistic riffs to deride people–women in particular–and, say, John Knox.
This does not mean that it’s a good idea to restrict “a racist,” “a sexist,” and “a misogynist,” to the very worst of the worst. For one thing, it makes TRex’s feelings about allegations of sexism the central issue of the debate. For another, it reduces complaints about all of these words to matters of personal affront, such that “sexist” and “cunt” are equated. “Sexist” becomes not a criticism of someone’s demonstrated beliefs, a term like “reactionary,” but an epithet as crude as the slurs to which it responds. It’s mean and unfair to call someone a sexist:
I just don’t believe that using the word “cunt” makes someone sexist. Or more specifically, calling a person “cunt” does not make the person who uttered it sexist. Most likely it means that they were angry and they used a bad word. I don’t toss around the word “cunt” and I don’t toss around accusations of sexism either.*
As the woman says, it derails the discussion into a debate over who exactly counts as a sexist and who is merely engaging in sexist behavior. Just how many times, and to what degree, and in what context, do you have to engage in sexism to be described as a sexist person rather than a person who is sexist? Then, inevitably, it becomes impossible to describe behavior as repeated and typical, part of a pattern, because there will always be a John Knox whose lack of respect for women is more constant and more obvious. In fact, it arguably conflates extremism with consistency. If my bigotry does not reach a certain level, then it is a negligible component of my persona, even in discussions about bigotry that respond to demonstrations of bigotry.
(This same diversion occurred many times over during the blackface thrashes and in many similar contexts, and it resulted in people (myself included) having to say stupid things like, “No, no, of course I don’t think you’re a racist! I don’t even think you’re racist! I think you’re being racist! Can we talk about nostalgic minstrelsy homages on a freaking progressive activist blog now?”)
Of course, it’s virtually impossible to concede that “You’re a sexist” is fightin’ words whereas “You’re sexist” and “That’s sexist” are wholly within bounds. That’s pretty much the point.
It also cedes the debate over the propriety of sexism to the dismissive side. If someone cannot be called a sexist unless they either constantly treat women as though they hated them or engage in behavior that even Bill Napoli considers abominable, then little things like using a misogynist slur are automatically trivial. They’re so far from true sexism that they might as well be called feminist.
There’s another controversial premise it gives up: that we are oversensitized, rather than desensitized, to sexism such that people are suffering from feminism fatigue rather than simple lack of respect for women, and that feminists shouldn’t court backlash. I don’t think that progressives have all exhausted their capacity for empathy through overconcern, and I think that the comments that started this discussion are pretty good evidence of that.
That’s why I’m not going to modulate my tone down from “misogynist assberet.” I call TRex a sexist because he has stated that he sees nothing wrong at all with using misogynist slurs to refer to women. I call TRex a sexist because it is just plain senseless to assume that demonstrations of bigotry are isolated incidents rather than demonstrations of a worldview. I call TRex a sexist because I see no point in pretending that he has nothing to do with his own words, or that those words are not important.