Harriet Page has a great post on Facebook about how many men who call themselves “feminists” sometimes unintentionally say or do sexist things, and how they’re often unable or unwilling to accept criticism:
There’s a rule that you shouldn’t wake sleepwalkers – the sudden transition into consciousness can be terrifying. My little sister can testify to the fact that on the one occasion that she woke me mid-somnambulance, I was so surprised I slapped her face. It’s startling to suddenly find that you’re not where you thought you were and, moreover, that you have no idea how you got there.
And, in a way, this is exactly what happens when nice, reasonable men who call themselves feminists are called out on their unconsciously sexist behaviour and attitudes. These men have sleepwalked contentedly through the minefield of gender relations without ever having cause to question what they’re doing and then BAM. Some crazy feminist with no regard for how scary and disorienting it’s going to be comes along and wakes them up with the rude news that, actually, they have unintentionally been engaging in some pretty sexist behaviour.
The result is, metaphorically speaking, the slap to the face that I gave my sister. She was the one who woke me from my comfortable reverie, and my instinctive response was to defend myself with a rapid attack. In her case, it was an ill-deserved slap. In the case of sleepwalking sexists, the responses are more varied. It might be immediate, unhinged abuse – ‘Crazy bitch, you must be on your period or something’. It might be icy politeness and contempt – ‘I’d thank you not to be so aggressive, it’s completely unnecessary’. It might be fake concern – ‘You maybe don’t realise it, but when you attack men like me who are only trying to help, it hurts the whole cause of feminism’. Whatever the method used, the result is the same; instead of reflecting on their own behaviour and attitudes, these men will retreat into an impenetrable defensive fortress.
I think that a lot of feminist men are aware that other men sometimes say sexist things. I think that a lot of feminist men are aware that other feminist men sometimes say sexist things. Yet somehow, the idea that they might also sometimes say sexist things never occurs to them. I’ve seen men who believe that of course other men can say sexist things sometimes, but they cannot possibly do the same. They’re feminists, after all, and they would never say something sexist.
The important distinction to make here is that even if a person is not themselves a sexist, they can still say and do sexist things. Usually, these things are unintentional, but when called out on them, many people seem to conflate saying something sexist with being sexist, and thus perceive it as an attack on their character. Not everyone that says sexist things is a sexist person, and more people need to be aware of that distinction.
Anyway, if you want to read the whole post (which you should absolutely do), you can read it here.