Home > activism, feminism, politics > Illustration of sexism within activism – voice pitch, authority and feminism

Illustration of sexism within activism – voice pitch, authority and feminism

Sexism in a protest situation? Surely not! :/

Though I found this article about unmasking and non violently removing an undercover cop from a group of protesters interesting for the obvious reasons, the reason I’m linking to it is because the sexist behaviour illustrated in the video is such a good example of something I’ve observed frequently in protest movements.

A group of activists are seen and heard questioning a suspected undercover cop. They ask him outright if he is a police officer, and working for the Metropolitan police – he admits to both. They then challenge him on the ethics of what he is doing, before surrounding him and excluding him from their midst. It was obviously a tense moment – nobody seems sure what to do, and having been in similar circumstances I imagine they feel shocked and adrenaline is probably running high.

There are two voices that we hear from the protesters side, one sounds female and I will call her “Jill” the other sounds male, and I’m going to name him “Jack”. The start of the clip shows Jill interacting with the cop. 5 seconds in she asks him how much he is getting paid. However Jack obviously thinks that Jill needs a hand :/ because before the cop can respond, Jack repeats Jill’s question, and then expands it into a longer rant, possibly deciding that the main point of the exercise is for everyone to hear the sound of his voice.  Jill obeys female socialised etiquette / common manners and waits for Jack and the cop to finish their interaction, and then tries to ask another question; “Are you working for the Met?” Almost before she’s finished Jack again butts in, repeating her question word for word. Jill has a further attempt, but Jack doesn’t even bother waiting for her to finish, and begins speaking directly over her, before tiring of the whole thing, assuming leadership, and ordering the other protesters to form a circle around the cop.

Now I actually think that surrounding the cop and then excluding him from their midst was a good idea. And I understand that energies were running high, and Jack might be a perfect feminist normally. But this was still classic sexist behaviour. He clearly had heard what Jill had said, because he used her exact words, but he pushed her quieter, higher-pitched voice out of the conversation, and moved his own deeper voice centre-stage.

The sexual politics of voice and pitch are apparently linked to us hearing deeper voices as more authoritative and likely to be saying something worth listening to. Additionally females are socialised to cede whilst males are socialised to take up space, both physically and in abstract space such as in a conversation.

These socialisations of both males and females are deeply imprinted on us, and so it is not surprising that even those of us that are politically aware on many levels, even those who have good feminist understanding, will still display sexist behaviours. I’m not saying Jack is a bad activist, indeed I like his solution to the presence of the undercover cop. Nor am I saying that Jill was wrong or stupid to relinquish space to Jack, or to have not challenged him. What I want is for us all to be aware of how sexism can exhibit itself. I want men to be aware of behaviours that they have been socialised into, and to notice when they or other men do them, and begin to learn new ways of being. To recognise that women’s voices are still being silenced and to understand why this is and address it. Unmasking and excluding sexism from our movement is less glamourous, but as urgent and important, if not more so, than unmasking and excluding undercover cops.

Categories: activism, feminism, politics
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