If a white person calls me a nigger, that’s pretty racist, right? I mean, if someone is willing to use that particular word against me, that’s not a mistake, that’s not an oops, that’s not a slip of the tongue. That’s a pretty clear cut situation.
Okay. Now let’s say that “Bob” calls me a nigger and I go: “You racist! OMG.” Would you expect rational people to then say, “But Tempest, Bob is really nice. In the past, I’ve never heard him call anyone a nigger before. He didn’t call Jamal a nigger last week. And he marched on Washington with Martin Luther King!”
No, you wouldn’t expect that, would you? And even if that did happen, wouldn’t your reaction be, “The dude called her a nigger you idiot. It doesn’t matter what he did or didn’t do before this moment, that is some fucked up racist shit.”
Maybe Bob doesn’t always have racist tendencies. Maybe Bob has an unconscious bias. Maybe Bob was having a bad day, was drunk, just had a fight with his wife, whatever. That still does not negate the fact that, in that moment, Bob pulled out some racism and hurled it at me. And we don’t need to see Bob do it 10 more times over the course of several days, weeks, years, etc. to be able to peg that instance as A Bad Thing.
So, why is it then that whenever the gender bias thing comes up, people say “Well, you can’t judge on just this one instance” or “Statistically you need more data”? No. No, you really don’t. Because it doesn’t matter what happened before. If someone does something that smacks of sexism in one point in time, that is a problem at that point in time. We don’t need statistics to tell us that the one instance was wrong. More data can show a pattern, sure, and that makes things worse. But the absence of a pattern does not make things better. Because the wrong thing was still done. Plain and simple.
We seem to have gotten to a point in this community where sexism and gender bias is a nebulous, hard to pin down thing that people don’t want to admit exists or require extraordinary evidence before they’ll admit it exists in one place. Even when it’s as blatant as Bob calling me a nigger. (As proof, I cite the Harlan Ellison boob grab incident.) It’s not really a problem, some say. It’s not a problem until you can prove it over the course of five volumes, others say. It’s just you people looking to fight about something and then you’ll forget about it later, still others say.
No, people. You need to stop. Because, as with many prejudices, it is not okay to ignore the individual instances of wrongness until you can prove some sort of pattern. Because each time it comes up, some yahoo will always claim it as an individual instance. Take it from a person who has had to deal with both large scale and individual level prejudices all of her life: You do not win by ignoring the small stuff just as you do not win by only worrying about the small stuff and ignoring the bigger problem. You win by pointing out and eliminating both.
So the next time you feel the need to say something about how it’s “just one anthology” or “just one year’s worth of a magazine” or “Just” anything, stop and eat a cookie. Better yet, knit. It’ll keep your fingers busy.