As a sexist, you have two things going for you: a) an investment in maintaining your systemic advantage over women, and b) a huge anxiety not to have anyone notice said investment.
These motivations are tricky to balance, particularly when women call you out on your behaviour and you find yourself scrambling for a way to recuperate your image without ever conceding that you’ve done anything wrong.
If you’re stuck in this situation and want to be the very best reactionary woman-hater you can be, then Fox News have laid out a pretty handy template for you to follow.
I’ll break down the non-apology structure as follows: incident and apology.
you can either copy these examples wholesale or use your position of profound social ignorance to come up with a few of your own
Say or do something that a woman finds sexist.
Here’s one that Fox News made earlier: on its talk show “The Five”, co-hosts Greg Gufteld, Eric Bolling and Kimberly Guilfoyle all had things to say about Major Mariam Al Mansouri, the first female pilot in the US Arab Emirates Air Force. Those things were terrible.
To start us off with some anti-Arab rhetoric, Guilfoyle hopes ISIS find these bombs particularly hurtful because “in some Arab countries, women can’t even drive”. It’s funny because it’s so obviously stupid to a) frame gender equality as a peculiarly Western value, and b) equate ISIS with some of the countries that actively oppose them, that Guilfoyle can only have been joking. (Right?)
Then comes Gutfeld’s contribution: “Problem is, after she bombed it, she couldn’t park it.” It’s funny because women actually can drive in the UAE, and also because they’re stereotyped as being bad at it in the US.
Bolling’s contribution: “Would that be considered boobs on the ground or no?” It’s funny because Maj. Al Mansouri has breasts.
In preparing for your own non-apology, you can either copy these examples wholesale or use your position of profound social ignorance to come up with a few of your own.
The first thing to bear in mind is that admitting you were sexist – saying the words “I was sexist”, or “My behaviour was sexist” – is dangerous. It gives feminists, not sexists, the power to define what is and is not sexist.
This is not a problem for non-gender-specific ways in which people can be wronged. It would be absurd, for example, to apologise for the fact that someone’s functioning nervous system happened to mean that your accidentally swinging your elbow at them might have resulted in an unverifiable but plausibly quite painful outcome for them. In that instance, you say “I’m sorry I hit you”, whether or not you meant to.
A proper apology for hitting someone is okay because it does not threaten your privilege in the same way as a proper apology for sexism would. Most people experience physical pain, so taking physical pain seriously is of blandly universal benefit. Only women experience misogyny, so taking misogyny seriously means you will have to make concessions and sacrifices that they won’t. This is very good if you want to correct the current gendered power imbalance, and very bad if you want to maintain it.
Saying absolutely nothing is your best bet. Acknowledging that sexism exists at all does do a very little bit for feminism, even though acknowledging your own complicity would do a great deal more. For this reason, avoid any apology if you can help it.
feminists get absolutely nothing out of this exchange, and in fact are even more likely to be perceived as oversensitive the next time they call someone sexist
Sometimes, though, you will have to say something nominally conciliatory or else risk looking like a sexist. This is harmful to you for the same reason a genuine apology would be: not responding to accusations of sexism is an implicit concession that the people calling you one are right to, which is bad because this, too, gives them a definitional power that serves to advance gender equality.
So your next recourse should be to frame any offence as something the complainants have spirited into being. Once you’ve done that, they are less able to call you a sexist. After all, you have just told everyone you aren’t one, and they’ll be inclined to believe you because of your socially dominant position. Simultaneously, feminists get absolutely nothing out of this exchange, and in fact are even more likely to be perceived as oversensitive the next time they call someone sexist. This is beneficial for you because you hate feminism.
With the above in mind, let’s turn to the object lessons with which Fox News have so graciously furnished us.
Kimberly Guilfoyle has not offered an apology for her comment – and given Fox News’s overall unabashed xenophobic and racist tenor, I regretfully doubt any is forthcoming. Hers is the literal version of the non-apology, and is preferable if you want to completely avoid any admission of wrongdoing.
Bolling gets a high 2.1 in being a male chauvinist. But if you’re aiming for first class honours, take a look at what Gutfeld has to say
Your second-best option: the Gutfeld and Bolling route. Here are the apologies Fox published. Let’s examine Bolling’s:
Now, no sexist is perfect at their job. Bolling at points admits that his sexism happened, as opposed to his sexism just being perceived to have occurred by people whose direct personal experience should apparently be given the same credence as men’s second-hand speculations (if even that). He allows that he “made a comment that was wholly inappropriate”, “should have known better and used better judgment” and is “sorry for what [he] said”.
But there are also places where he does sexism just right. Stating that “[his] remark was not intended to be disparaging of her, but that’s how it was taken” foregrounds the assumption that his intentions should be taken into consideration, i.e. that his interior musings should have any role in deciding whether or not he was sexist. Similarly, “that’s how it was taken” implies that women have wilfully construed him as sexist and could have “taken” it differently if they wanted to. One of the most helpful things you can do to secure your place in a gendered hierarchy is to imply that women have a choice whether or not to be offended by sexism. That having been established, they could equally just choose to be okay with it – which would solve the whole problem without your having to give up anything.
Overall, Bolling gets a high 2.1 in being a male chauvinist. But if you’re aiming for first class honours, take a look at what Gutfeld has to say:
Instead of “My joke was sexist”, we get “I have heard that some people in Washington and elsewhere may have misinterpreted my joke” – a sentence with enough qualifications to be a brain surgeon. In addition to being misinterpreted, poor Gutfeld is misunderstood by the culturally ill-versed: “People who watch this show and Red Eye, which is on late at night, know that I make hackey jokes knowing they are very hackey”. It’s impossible that women could know what he’s doing and disapprove of it; they need to do their research and realise that he’s not sexist, but he’s sorry if they’re insufficiently familiar with his work right now.
Then, to give an illusion of fair play, he makes fun of his own driving: “I can’t even park! It’s disgusting.” This is maintenance of hierarchy in egalitarian clothing. Joking about an Arab woman’s driving is materially different to joking about his own; in terms of cultural perceptions of driving ability, the former is negatively accredited and the latter positively accredited. Joking about the former places her further in the red, while joking about the latter entails at most a slight dip in a still positive balance. They are not the same, and pretending they are the same does nothing but enable Bolling to get away with more sexism going forward. Simply put: his driving is his to joke about, and in doing so, he does not harm himself in the same way as he harmed Al Mansouri.
the women whose identities most overlap with Al Mansouri’s are the women most excluded from the apology
I’ve saved the most important thing for last: try to make sure the apology shuts out as many women as you can. Bolling’s dog-whistle rhetoric about “extreme radicals” could be taken as conveying how little ISIS have to do with most Muslims, but in the context of Fox News’s (and co-host Gutfeld’s) backing of the “war on terror”, this seems optimistic. Gutfeld then goes all out with a blatantly Islamophobic reference to “blowing up those heathens”. The result is that the women whose identities most overlap with Al Mansouri’s are the women most excluded from the apology. This has a benefit sexists love: it tells women that any concessions wrought from privileged men will only ever apply to women who share other privileged identities with them.
It’s hard maintaining your structural dominance over women, but hopefully you’ll get by with a little help from your friends at Fox News.
Illustration: Naoise Dolan