“What did you expect?” is one of those stock responses I get whenever I post anything more substantial than a picture of Green Lantern. There’s some variation in the wording (“Are you surprised?”, “LOTS of people do this”, “This has been done forever”, “This has been done worse before”), but the tone is pretty standard across the board. The tone is that something that is wrong is okay so long as it is wrong all the time.
The tone presents the critic as someone who is complaining because they picked up an issue of Hustler expecting to find pumpkin bread recipes but was blindsided by the dirty pictures. The tone implies that disgust and anger only arise from a sheltered life. The tone implies that anger and disgust don’t accumulate over time.
“What did you expect” has nothing to do with criticizing sexism in any part of the culture. Because whether I expected it or not has nothing to do with whether or not it’s harmful and whether or not it should be there. The criticism isn’t about expectations. It’s about seeing something you think is wrong, and saying something about it.
I don’t expect everyone to agree with me about what is wrong. It would be nice if everyone would, but it’s not going to happen and I accept that. I have a lot of ideas people disagree with. I think Countdown is worth reading. I think Taco Bell isn’t worth eating. I think Ron Marz writes a good Hal Jordan. I think the best Star Wars movie is Return of the Jedi. Personal judgments are up for debate (Please note: I am not going to debate these particular judgments in the comments of this post) and I can’t fault you for not finding something as offensive as I do.
But if your entire comment amounts to “What did you expect?” you aren’t telling me you just don’t find it as offensive as I do. You’re telling me that you agree with me, but that you don’t care because the problem has been around so long. And since a problem which is widespread and/or standard operating procedure is considerably worse than an isolated incident, you’re only giving me more reason to be bothered by what I was originally complaining about.