The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck by Melissa McEwan

This may be the most straightforward, insightful and affecting work on sexism I have ever come across.

I read it a month ago and was so furious and relieved by it that I bookmarked it and put it aside for another time. I’ve just read it again, and feel exactly the same way, which is incredible but also totally debilitating in terms of commenting on it.

Let me know your thoughts, which will hopefully be more coherent than mine.


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18 responses to “The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck by Melissa McEwan

  1. andrepeach

    i think melissa articulates in a much more coherent and affective way the point i tried to make on my blog – “swallow shit or ruin the whole afternoon”.

    after reading her article, i’m more convinced than ever that we need to really think about the true costs of ‘offensive’ humour. and not only humour, but our language in general – the ‘britney spears is such a slut’ type of conversation (and its variants – particularly classist denigration of ‘outer suburbs slappers’) pops up a lot amongst people i know – male and female, and people who claim to be interested in emancipatory politics.

    again, it’s simply a matter of it not costing us anything to not say these things, and it costing someone else a hell of a lot of emotional trauma. but i also read melissa’s article as not only a challenge to people on the ‘oppressing’ side of the conversation, but also to the people who are on the ‘oppressed’ side – to not make that terrible bargain. i’ve heard the excuse just all too often from people saying ‘but my female/queer/ethnic friend is totally “ok” with me saying this’. that sort of authorisation only validates the culture melissa talks about.

    • Bhakthi


      You say offensive humour, whether ironic or not, is always hurtful, and that it us up to all of us to make every space a safe one. How can you be so sure?

      See, I don’t think that all offensive humour causes invisible and permanent harm. Instead, I think we should be looking at relationships of trust, and doing our best to solidify them (something McEwan touches on). Your argument implies that people might not know what’s “best” for them, and while that might be logical, it’s also arrogant.

      Ultimately, autonomy is just as important as any other consideration in these debates and one that I feel you are overlooking.

      • andrepeach

        but that still doesn’t get at why it’s ok for two of my female friends to talk about how the girl across the road ‘looks like a slut’. sure, within that conversation we all trust each other and no one is taking offense or anything like that, but there’s still harm coming about from comments like that.

        i think your argument that we are autonomous agents who know what’s best for ourselves presumes that we are able to remove our social, cultural, gendered and sexualised identities out of the equation. what i’m trying to say is that i don’t really think the decision to authorise ‘abuse’ can truly be a free one. and yes, i don’t believe that i’m a free autonomous agent either – i’m not so arrogant to think that ‘others’ don’t know best for themselves but i do.

  2. Really, Bhakthi?

    Sometimes I watch shitty Hollywood/action/patriotic type films, and when KevinCostner/HarrisonFord/BruceWillis saves the day from the Asians/Arabs/Convcits by shouting, “Get off my Water World!” or some such, and the whitenoise blasts and the strings swell and the camera sweeps… I get a chill down my spine, and my skin tingles. It’s totally fabricated, but I react autonomically.

    I feel your reaction to this article may be similar. A little bookmarked dose of victimhood which you can dip into and be impassioned by. Some obstruction to give traction to your life; like placing piles of angry twigs under the wheels of the 4WD of your life when it is bogged in the sands of privlege amidst the desert of middleclass morality.

    I would much rather read your contributions to a feminist debate than hers, Bhakthi. I feel you have something worthwhile to say.

    • Bhakthi


      Your analysis is spot on, but your disapproval is unfair. It ignores the reality that I am exhausted by these (I am sure you will agree, worthwhile) conversations and in order to avoid imploding, I need to feel validated from time to time. I won’t apologise for it. I also get the feeling you think it’s merely in poor taste to be self indulgent. I’m not so masochistic.

      Nonetheless, you’re right when you say the things I write about are generally quite different and deliberately so. I am often bored by and resentful of these feelings, and I know they can be unproductive (especially when people like yourself don’t take them seriously).

      PS. I would never drive 4WD. Now, a ute…

  3. CTC

    Lachlanr wrote the best and most hilarious response. I am drunk and he wins the comment competition.

    BP, I found it to be a fairly concise and interesting article. I like that you find empathy and solidarity in the author’s personal and emotive response to the issue; but at the end of the day it’s nothing revolutionary.

    I think it’s also worth noting that this ostensibly ‘casual’ or ‘joking’ subjugation of women often goes both ways. I have been told by women on several occasions – sometimes under the pretense of a joke, sometimes seriously – that I should adhere to a specific set of behavioral standards simply because I am a man. And I don’t buy the argument that this is acceptable behavior on a woman’s part merely because men occupy a position of social authority.

    I also think that ‘misogynist’ is an exhausted and ill-used word. I’m yet to meet a man who hates women.

  4. I empathise with MacEwan (myself being of a sexually marginalised group), but I think she represents everything that is wrong with the project of feminism. She is the sort to undertake a top-down “feminist” interpretation of any human interaction so that any utterance of the word “bitch” is a crime against women. Of course “bitch” is often used misogynistically, but language is also constantly changing and mutating. There is a battle to be fought to be sure (on behalf of women, homosexuals, all minorities really) but it is not a battle against “men”, or a battle fought from a position of “womanhood”. It is a battle against “men” and “women” as concepts. MacEwan only knows how to be an outraged victim. But she knows nothing of revolution.

  5. Bhakthi

    “Everything that is wrong with the project of feminism”; “knows nothing of revolution”? You’re being a bit absolute, Brad, not to mention assuming we’re all on Team Revolution.

    Theoretically, concepts of male and female are the enemy, but concepts are not the only object of distress when a co-worker belittles you publicly, or your dad tells you to dress more modestly. Those are the experiences that stay with you and drive these conversations.

    I defend this piece of writing not despite the lack of intellectual obviousness but because of it; because sometimes clever posturing isn’t enough on its own.

  6. Bhakthi

    Also: it is a little curious and just as sad that no women have commented on this post…yet.

  7. Brixley here,

    I was going to comment but then saw your last comment and decided not to.

    G.O. Brixley

  8. Brad

    Ha ha. Or you could say it’s heartening that so many guys care about feminism.

    Anyways, the rebuttal:
    (1) I’m assuming we’re all on Team Revolution, because revolution is the aim of all emancipatory politics. The alternative is to accept the status quo and I think it’s fair to assume that people reading a feminist blog have a problem with the status quo.

    (2) It is incorrect to differentiate between “concepts” and “real problems”. They are the same thing. If a co-worker belittles you publicly, that is a bad thing in theory and practice. How you respond to an alleged misogynist act is also a real thing but it involves a conceptualisation of the hurt sustained, the power relations involved, our ideas of identity. There is no response either way without those things.

  9. Capt'n Nich

    There is little more grotesque – and, dare I say it, sexist – than someone wallowing in playing the victim. Defining their entire *existence* as a victim.

    Oh wait, there is. It’s someone who does that while being an egregious hypocrite.

    A hypocritical navel-gazing, panties-in-a-wad, fuck-wit, self-absorbed, self-containing, self-labelling victim.

    I hope she chokes on her crocodile tears.

  10. Capt'n Nich

    Wait, I found something worse: I started reading the comments.

    “Yes, it is very hard to trust men. Very true. I was lucky with fathers, both my dad and my children’s grandfather were honorable, trustworthy, loving men. With my x, not so much. Women must be very strong to survive in this world. ”

    If that doesn’t make your throat burn from the bile of condescending sexist bullshit, I don’t live on the same slice of Earth.

  11. Jim

    I just wasted twelve minutes reading that.

    Feeling the victim is self-fulfilling. Geez. I’d touch her pompis just to piss her off.

  12. hankie

    Hi Bhakthi!
    Thanks for posting this, but I must say I absolutely do not recognise any of my own feelings in her description. Quite possibly because I don’t identify particularly strongly as a “woman” (except maybe when I’m conceptualising “men” as sexual objects, in which case I’m identifying myself more specifically as a “woman who likes (to consume) men (at least in her imagination)” (hm, that came out sounding a lot dirtier than I intended, but I’m just letting my thoughts wander) anyway, back to the point)- I’m more likely to call myself “human”. Does that make me naïve? I hope not, because I’m not blind or deaf to the fact that *others* suffer because of sexist or otherwise discriminatory remarks/behaviour – it’s just that I don’t separate “misogyny” out as something worth special attention. Inequality and discrimination should be fought against in *all* areas where it happens.
    …and the fact that I believe that, and believe it quite intensely (I can tell by the way my stomach curls) makes me a complete hypocrite, because I *don’t* fight. Hm.
    Anyway, what I originally was going to say, was that: it’s a *good* thing that I don’t feel the same as this MacEwan lady. It means someone (possibly a feminist or two) has done something right in the society I was brought up in! So your fight is definitely worth it. Thanks. 🙂

  13. tatjna

    I was at a wedding a few weeks ago. The bride was coming in and the female photographer got down on her knees in the aisle next to the pews to get a better angle for the shot. The man next to me, supposedly my friend, whispered “While you’re down there…” and grinned at me. He clearly expected me to enjoy his joke.

    I stared at him, not gobsmacked that he was suggesting the photographer should give him a blowjob, but gobsmacked that he thought I’d find it funny. And saying anything would be completely inappropriate in such a setting.

    And I was reminded of this article.

    People can call it self-absorbed and playing the victim if they like – I can even see how people might think so.

    Me? I wonder what the photographer would say about it, and what she’d have to say to me, knowing I didn’t take it up with the guy.

    The author of this article has a point.

    • Bhakthi

      I’ve stopped moderating this blog, but I thought I’d make an exception to respond to this. Thanks for commenting on this post and sharing. The humourless, PC femmo is a hard stereotype to shake. I guess the most we can do is try and explain how these situations make us feel, and if they’re people who care about us, they might listen.

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