This weekend was the 2008 Georgia Progressive Summit. Yes Georgia is a red state, but there are pockets of blue. There are progressives in this state and this is the third time we've come together to find a common cause to get behind and to network.
The beginning was good. One speaker came up with a flip chart with his "Dirty Dozen" of issues that need to be addressed. Examples include energy independence, military withdrawal from Iraq, tax reform, access to health care, and the prison-industrial complex. I was so with him!
Then he made a sexist joke involving prostitutes, dresses, panties, and screwing to make his point about the US tax structure exploiting workers.
I was stunned.
I told the main organizer that I thought that speaker's comments were out of line. She agreed and said that she would speak with him about it. And she asked me to speak directly with him about it, so he knew it wasn't just coming from her but it was widely regarded as inappropriate.
Ironically, the next workshop I went to was presented by that speaker and it was about coalition building! This guy was going to tell us how to build coalitions across issue areas and he makes a sexist joke that alienates half the audience?!????
I was late for it because I and another guy got a bit lost finding the room. We got there just as we're going around the tables and introducing ourselves and our cause. I mentioned that I work for women's rights and I take exception for something he said this morning.
He was a bit surprised but that he hoped that there'd be opportunity for me to discuss it in the workshop and that his shoulders are broad so he can take it.
Well, there really wasn't any opportunity to talk about it in the workshop and I was going to just talk to him privately later. But towards the end, he turned to me and said Sister ______, what was it you took exception to?
I said I didn't think it was necessary or appropriate for him to use a sexist joke about a prostitute and her dress and panties to talk about how the US tax structure exploits the people. I said, as someone who wears dresses and panties, when you said that joke I identified with the prostitute being screwed and did not appreciate it.
He apologized for having offended me, it was not his intent. He was also defensive saying it was a woman who told him that joke in the 1970s. (Dude, get with the times! Yes, you're my elder and need to be respected. And need to keep learning yourself, too.) And that feminists need to be part of the movement.
What?!???? I said WE ARE part of the movement. He was so clueless and he's supposed to be a progressive?!????
He did also say that he realized that he still had work to do regarding sexism. And then he said I guess next time he tells that joke he should make sure that there aren't any women in the room.
I said there should be no next time! I was so mad, my face was hot.
Afterwards, the other guy who was late with me, came over and said that I should have talked to him privately, otherwise he was defensive. This guy was also older, white haired. He mentioned that that's just the way their generation was raised, but that each time he's held accountable, he does remember and tries to modify his behavior in the future.
I asked this guy to talk to the presenter then. If this guy thinks I was right to call out the speaker about the sexism, then he should back me up (and be a good ally and progressive) and say that to him too. Because the speaker (older man) will respect you (another older man), instead of me (younger woman).
We still have a long way to go.