An Unusually Successful Facebook Interaction

A really good friend of mine, who is the leader of a pretty well-known publication in New York, posted this webcomic on his facebook wall the other day. I responded to it as follows:

(paraphrased for clarity, also I bolded some stuff that I thought was smart)

Me: Women are not machines that you put niceness into and sex and babies come out.

Friend: Well, there you go reading into it. Whether that meaning is there or not (I’m gonna go with not), it’s still pretty neat.

Me: The woman is technologically advanced, like a high quality machine. That’s objectification, pure and simple.

Friend: Or it’s an expression of wonder at the miracle of life couched in a nerdy sense of humor.

Shani Chabansky: Hm, then I guess a nerdy sense of humor is misogynistic.

Friend: Well, what isn’t? Also: You calling me a misogynist?

Me: What isn’t misogynistic? Um, not treating a woman like a sex object. If you don’t understand why a woman would be offended by being made into a baby factory (even in a humorous way), then yeah, you’re a misogynist.

Friend’s Friend (who is a woman): I loooove this one!! Wait, but….this comic doesn’t call women a factory. It says women CONTAIN a factory for making more of them. It’s just a nerdy way of marveling at how incredible it is that what starts out as two cells grows into a whole person

Me: Oh right, I’M not a factory, just my BODY is a factory. Has a factory. Whatever. Still objectifying.

Friend’s Friend: WORD, [Friend’s Friend]. Shani, I’d be with you if it said something like, “It’s neat that you are essentially a factory that makes more humans.”

Me: [Friend’s Friend], you don’t have to be offended if you don’t want to be. [Friend], you can ask as many questions as you want to try and understand why I feel the way I do, but when a woman is telling you that she feels objectified, you don’t really get to argue with her. In any case, I don’t really care whether or not the woman is being totally objectified or just partially. That comic still makes me feel like nothing more than a glorified baby-making machine. Like, is it not objectification if it’s ONLY her womb (and not her elbows and spine, too) that’s being POTENTIALLY treated as if it’s sole purpose is a box to raise little versions of herself? No. Still objectification. Objectification isn’t like this equation where you plug in X amount of sexism and Y amount of male privilege and out comes this totally logical result that makes mathematical sense. Don’t try to make sense out of feelings, it doesn’t work.

Friend: I understand why you feel the way you do (at least, I understand it as well as one person can understand another person’s feelings without actually sharing those feelings). And I am not attempting to question the validity or reality of those feelings. I don’t like the objectification of women either. I just don’t agree with you that this comic is an example of objectification. And you’re definitely right that there isn’t a simple equation that will allow us to determine whether this is objectification or not — which is exactly why both of our very divergent readings of this comic are valid readings.

Me: Yeah but you’re not the one who’s hurting here. The author probably wasn’t intending for the woman to represent all women, but without giving her a face or a name, she comes off that way. Like all women who have wombs have baby-making factories. I mean, I have a womb but there is not baby-making factory in me because I don’t want a baby. In keeping her anonymously female, the author (probably unintentionally) takes away the agency of women who choose not to have children.

Friend: Not being the victim of a thing does not bar one from making a legitimate observation or argument about it. Also, examine it within the context of the rest of his work: Everyone is a faceless stick figure. In xkcd comics, the real punchline/point is often in the text that pops up when your mouse hovers over the image for a moment. In this case, the hover text reads, “We are sexy, sexy von Neumann machines”

Friend: Related (but only in that it’s an xkcd comic about women — and, I’d argue, this one’s way more about women than the one we’re discussing here):

Me: You can argue about whatever you want whenever you want to. But as a person who often benefits from patriarchy, it’s a lot more useful to listen a woman who says she’s being objectified than to argue with her (if your ultimate goal is to end female objectification). Um! Also, just because the rest of his work is anonymous doesn’t make this particular instance okay.

Friend: I can’t argue with you AND listen to you at the same time? Consider this: The longer this discussion goes on, the more I’m learning about your perspective on this. I know it’s kind of weird in today’s internet argument atmosphere to use an argumentative back-and-forth as an honest way of exploring an issue, but that’s what I see this as. Notice how I’m reading what you have to say and responding with relevant thoughts, rather than just shouting my talking points at you (which would be hard because I don’t really have any talking points about how it’s good to objectify women). In general, I agree that an offensive work isn’t excused by other non-offensive works by the same artist. I just don’t think it applies in this case. I had a way better way of saying that a second ago but it fell out of my head and I don’t know where it went….
about an hour ago · Unlike · 1

Friend: Sometimes I wish I could like a like.

Me: OK so I think you generally do a pretty good job of listening AND arguing. My responses are aggressively defensive because I’m used to men not listening to me because I’m just another raging feminist and I hate men and I’m actually probably sexist myself and blahblahblah. But as a leader, I think in cases like this one, it would go a long, long way (much longer than arguing AND listening) to just simply listen to a woman and ask honest questions, no matter if you disagree with her or not. Like, a LONG way.

Friend: You may be right about that. But that ain’t me.Me: It could be you! You can be whoever you wanna be! It’d be so cool! Hella ladies might fall in love with you!Friend: Yeah, but would those ladies be, to paraphrase a lady I know, “raging feminist[s who] hate men and [are] actually probably sexist [themselves] and blahblahblah”?Me: Not necessarily. Plus, those ladies are all probably dykes anyway.

Friend: (Also, in this regard, I am who I wanna be. It’s great that there are people who are unlike me in that way, but I’m OK being a person who argues when he thinks there’s an argument worth having.)

Me: Even when being that way might unintentionally and unnecessarily offend some people? I’m not saying you need to change who you are. But in certain conversations, it might be more useful to rethink the way you discuss. Like, I’m a person who argues when I think there’s an argument worth having too. Obvi. But like, if a disabled person tells me they’re feeling discriminated against, all I can do is ask why and how can I help? Not tell them that I don’t see the situation the same way. Not all arguments need to be dissected in the exact way you want to dissect them. Yeah?

Friend: I’m not worried about offending people — and I’m surprised to see you implying that you are! I don’t WANT to offend people when there’s no call for it, but I’m don’t usually stop myself from saying what I think because it might offend someone. Also: Disability isn’t a great example here. I dunno about you, but I know more about women’s issues — though not as much as you, of course  — than I do about disability issues. But I have encountered examples of disabled people (and women and members of GLTBQetc crowd and so forth) who are so used to feeling victimized that they can’t see when someone is going out of their way to be helpful. You can give all the help you want, but if the other party won’t even recognize that you’re helping, even if you understand where they’re coming from — well, fuck that.

Friend: But I wanna dissect things the way I wanna dissect them. Maybe there’s a need to do it differently, but what if I haven’t been persuaded of that need yet?

Me: I am always worried about offending people. It causes me pain to know that something I did or said hurt someone else, no matter how “legitimate” their feelings are. And also, if saying something in a different way will make someone hear me better, then I will change the way I say stuff. That’s who I am. You’re right, though. Comparing a woman’s struggle to a disabled person’s struggle isn’t a fair comparison at all.

Friend: Word.

Me: Also, wtf is wrong with raging feminists?

Friend: Other than the raging part? Nothing.

Me: For many of us, rage not something that we actively choose. It’s a product of the fact that women are still subordinated, and we’re like really mad about it. For others of us, rage is something we do actively choose because it’s better than a) continuing to be subordinated (therefore, it’s like, how we liberate ourselves) and/or b) better than being scared or depressed. And I think you might kinda like the raging bit, if you put it in that context. It’s kinda neat, watching people liberate themselves. But yeah, liberation is a messy process and threatens stability and comfort. Which is what you claim to be stoked on.

Friend: Yeah, I’m not down on rage when it’s called for. But — to go back to your point about “Hella ladies” falling in love with me — I know enough about me to know that I need a partner who’s usually at least a little calmer than I am. Re “what you claim to be stoked on”: I don’t speak Californian.

Me: Not trying to knock your need for a calm partner. By “falling in love,” I meant really respect you a lot. You said that you don’t back down from arguments that need to be had. I’m saying that raging feminists don’t do that either, so actually you have a lot in common with them.

Friend: Oh, word.

Me: Zomg that felt good.

Friend: WORD.

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