by Jessica Fithen
It’s been almost 18 months since I started the You Look Like A Man page on Instagram. What began as a silly way to make fun of sexist and misogynistic comments aimed at women in the athletic community quickly turned into something I had not expected, and was not prepared for. Here are some of the things I’ve learned since becoming a vocal activist for equality.
1. Your Friends, Family and Even Other Athletes May Not Support You
When speaking out against harassment and sexism, your friends and family may not support you. Sometimes they might wish you would revert to the old, quiet, agreeable woman you were before you started fighting back. It’s easier for them to ignore their own behavior and the behavior of the people around them if you would stop being vocal about women’s issues. And it’s certainly much more comfortable.
A few months ago, a man who professionally photographs women in the sport of strongman randomly posted an insensitive “joke” picture, likening the bodies of strongwomen to animals. When he was confronted for this tasteless “humor,” he eventually deleted, but not before other women in the strength community rallied to defend him.
Incredibly, when women complained that comparing women’s bodies to elephants was offensive, they were told – by other women - they were being overly sensitive and unable to take a joke, because after all, he’s a nice guy. One woman even remarked if women complain about such silly, inconsequential things like this, no one will take women seriously “when it actually does matter.”
2. Not All Men But Enough Men
YLLAM has amazing friends, supporters, and allies who are men. Men who clearly are as disgusted with their fellow men as the women are, and who will be vocal and outspoken in their opposition to their inappropriate behavior. However there is growing number of men who have started coming to my page, not engaging a single time in any meaningful way before screeching “not all men” at women in the comments. If a woman says “men scare me,” you can bet within a few minutes a random man profile will immediately shout “SOME MEN! NOT ALL MEN! I'M NOT LIKE THAT! STOP GENERALIZING!”
I created a highlight folder on the page to tackle this particular issue so I’m not going to rehash this entire subject here. I will note that almost every time this happens, I ask the man making this comment to read my information before continuing, and nearly every time he refuses and continues antagonizing and arguing in the comments. Last week I asked a man to stop commenting and read so he could be better educated on the reasons screaming “not all men” at women is not helpful, and he flat out told me “I’m just here to read cringe comments” and blew me off.
While women don’t owe men the emotional labor of teaching them everything they need to reevaluate their own contributions to sexism, I’ve been struck by the number of times they blatantly tell me they don’t care to learn… they’re simply here to be entertained by my humorous posts, and will flippantly admit women's issues don't interest them. Typically, the men shouting “not all men” likely do fit into the category of the “all men,” and they know it.
*Read The Not All Men Syndrome
3. Not All Women Are Allies
YLLAM is often accused of being a “man hating” account. Unfortunately the overwhelming majority of negative commentary on women’s social media posts do in fact, originate from men. While I don’t have any scientific data on this, from my own experience of reading hundreds (actually, thousands) of hateful, unnecessary comments, I’d list the split in the 90/10 range – 90% of comments appear to come from accounts of people who identify as men.
But, that doesn’t mean that all women are allies. Many women suffer from their own internalized misogyny that has been conditioned into them since childhood, and also suffer from “pick me” syndrome. A woman with “pick me” syndrome is someone who is more interested in men liking her and being accepted by them than supporting other women (“I’m not like these other sensitive, crybaby girls – I’m a cool girl!”). Assuming women won’t participate in their own oppression when given the opportunity is a mistake.
4. Knowing Women Doesn’t Make Men Less Sexist
Oftentimes men will tell me, “I’m not sexist! I understand your issues. I have a mother and a sister!” Knowing a woman does not make men any less sexist. This is one of the reasons I strongly dislike the phrase, “I bet you would feel different if someone said this to your wife/girlfriend/daughter” etc. as a rebuttal. I understand the intent, however this not-so-subtly implies that it’s acceptable for men to only care about women’s issues when they affect a woman they care about, feel ownership over, or get something from in return.
Secondarily, men who only respect women they want to fuck don’t actually respect women. Do they respect women they get nothing from? That is the real question.
Men also shouldn’t need to be fathers of little girls to understand leaving disgusting, violent, nasty comments on women’s photos isn’t acceptable. Respect is a basic human right, for all humans, and if someone is unable to pass by a photo and remain respectful on a stranger’s social media profile, that signifies a much larger problem.
5. Every Woman Probably Has Internalized Misogyny
One time a commenter mentioned “no one is perfect” in response to being called out for nasty comments. Meaning, everyone says things that are inappropriate and calling this stuff out is hypocritical in its very nature. No one claims to be perfect. Certainly not me. In fact, since starting this account, it has made me truly self-reflect on some of my own choices and participation in conversations that I fully regret today. Being human isn’t about perfection, but growth requires maturity to look back on your own internalized misogyny as a woman and come out on the other side with a different perspective.
Have I ever said unkind things to or about other people? Absolutely. Everyone has. However I can say with certainly I have never, ever, in the years and years that I’ve been active on the internet, ever gone on a the photo of a stranger to bully, harass, intimidate, threaten or otherwise upset them. The randomness of this “drive by hate” that I see with increasing viciousness should shock anyone. Reflecting back on past thoughts and feelings has made me even more hyper-aware of what internalized misogyny truly means, and how many times we are unable to see it for what it is.
6. Politics Are Tricky
This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but politics are tricky. Especially in the United States, where the political scene is one of the more hateful, volatile, nasty arenas in existence. While I believe that feminism and equality IS a political issue, I have tried my best to make YLLAM a politically-neutral account, because I don’t believe that all accounts need to be all things to all people. Hilariously, I’ve been called a “libtard” and also a die-hard Trumper in exactly the same day.
I’ve made over 1,000 pro-feminist posts to date, and exactly one – ONE – could be considered even remotely political. I posted a DM I received as a joke; I found it amusing my Facebook account and IP address was banned for a month for reposting public nasty comments of men, but the President was (at the time) only banned for two weeks for inciting actual real violence. Within two days, I lost easily 1,000 followers. Maybe more. Follower counts aren’t everything (more on that in a moment) but I will admit to being blindsided that I could post over a thousand pro-feminist posts these women appeared to agree with, but one post with the T word and they instantly refused to support my efforts any longer.
*see above: Not all women are allies.
7. The Majority of People Are Good, But Still Won’t Speak Up
I believe the majority of people are good people. Social media has simply made it too easy to speak without thinking, to give commentary when not invited, to belittle, critique or chastise people one would never have the courage to speak to in person. I don’t know the answer for this. But I remain hopeful that there are enough people who are fed up with what they see online, people who want better for the generations that follow us.
But, I’ve noticed a huge problem among The Good People. The Good People don’t agree with the hate they see women subjected to, but that doesn’t mean they’ll do anything about it. That doesn’t mean they’ll speak up about it. That doesn’t mean they will sign a petition, talk to their kids, or share a blog post. Internally they nod their heads and agree, “Yes, that’s bad.” But The Good People – and yes, especially The Good Men, will rarely contribute to preventing it from happening again.
We have to do more as The Good People. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." This particular quote has stayed with me and is doubly meaningful in my life today.
8. Men Believe Everything Is A Joke
Well, they don't really... But the “it’s a joke” response remains the default to any and all sexist, offensive, rude, hateful or mean comments, followed quickly by manipulative gaslighting that the real issue is women just can’t lighten up and learn to laugh. Oh, you don’t like my sexist humor? What a snowflake! Grow up! Weak!
I posted a video of a news reporter being sexually harassed on the street while recording a live broadcast. A man drove by in a car and screamed, “Fuck her right in the pussy” as she was talking. The number of men defending literal street harassment as a “funny meme” was incredibly disheartening. I was quickly informed this was copycat harassment, and based on a comedy sketch, so therefore the news reporter was clearly being too sensitive, and she should learn to stop being so serious. After all IT’S JUST A JOKE.
The number of women who are street harassed and catcalled as a daily part of their existence will blow your mind. Many women are catcalled as children and quickly learn that strange men are dangerous and unsafe, and men screaming sexual vulgarity at them from vehicles is a traumatizing experience. Take some time to read the “Catcalls of NYC” Instagram page if you want to see a horrific lineup of how catcalls truly affect women and girls.
So when a reporter has a visible, incredibly sad reaction to men screaming obscenities at her while she tries to do her job, don’t “It’s a joke” defend this behavior on my page. It's easy to scream "it's a joke" when the "joke" has never affected someone personally, pretending that the "joke" is not part of a larger, much more nasty, vile culture of treating women with daily disrespect.
It’s not a joke. It’s a woman. It’s a human. It’s not funny, it’s not adorable, it’s not okay. (On the Facebook page post of this story, a man even told her – the reporter – that she needed to “grow up” for talking about her feelings. He never suggested the adult male screaming at a woman on the street might need to grow up, just the woman…) Women routinely are expected to simply grin and bear abuse, no matter how blatant or obscene. The joke is simply more important than anything else and will be protected at all costs.
If you are a man who dehumanizes and degrades women in the name of “humor,” you’ll probably be offended by this too.
*Read why the “It’s Just a Joke” defense encourages and perpetuates sexism.
9. Men Will Listen to Other Men Before They Listen to Women
Men will often listen to other men before they will listen to women. Many times on a heated thread, 15 women can all agree, relate, and attempt to educate a man in the comments, and he will absolutely refuse to even remotely consider an alternate perspective, until another man shows up to set him straight. I have one male follower that finds great humor in this – he will watch a thread of numerous women saying the same thing and then message the man the same exact comment (many times repeating it verbatim) – and then forward me the vastly different response he receives.
Not surprisingly, the responses and replies are always toned down, quieter, more respectful, and less aggressive.
I've also never seen a man threaten another man with any type of sexual violence, but I read vile threats of rape and assault directed at women daily. One of a thousand reasons more men need to speak up – men still need to hear it from other men. It is currently not enough that a woman says “We don’t like this, stop doing it.” Until a man say, “Hey bro, that’s not cool…” they will completely dismiss her.
10. Many Men Still Believe Attractiveness Equals Respect
The default insult for feminists is still some variation of the “lonely cat lady” trope. This is particularly amusing for me, a married-for-15-years adult woman with a teenage son and two dogs, with an active career both professionally and in the strength community. And predictably, when the trolls realize I do not fit into the only narrative they know, they resort to calling me some version of fat and/or ugly – because everyone knows being fat or ugly is the worst thing a woman can be.
A gym owner who was attacking a woman on Rogue Fitness’s Facebook post once said about me, “none of her lifts are relevant, she's a 2, being generous” talking about my personal profile. This is a man who advertises his private training services solely to women and claims to be a women’s fitness expert. Rating a woman's perceived attractiveness as not desirable enough to demand women be treated with respect and dignity is a battle women face every single day.
An athlete's ability being diminished because of her perceived lack of fuckability by random men is something I have encountered numerous times. Women are still nothing more than ornaments to be lusted after and sexually exploited, and if you’re not viewed as conventionally attractive enough for the random men of the internet, your very existence is deemed useless.
11. Follower Numbers Are Meaningless Without Action
I’ve been accused of faking followers, buying followers, and everything in between… and while that is simply untrue, I’ve learned that a large following is useless without action and/or direction. What good is a large following if nothing is ever accomplished?
I would rather have 100 engaged followers – people who are committed to the cause of changing the landscape – than 300,000 disengaged followers. Sometimes people unfollow the page because seeing the constant barrage of misogynistic content is simply not good for their mental headspace. I respect this and completely relate (IG makes ‘mute’ button now which is totally helpful!). But, I don’t let follower numbers dictate the path YLLAM is on. If I lose followers but remain true to myself, while serving the feminist community the best way I know how, I will consider that a success.
Jessica Fithen (@filthy_fithen) is a competitor in the sport of Strongman and creator of You Look Like A Man.