Another Semi-Useful Feminism Discussion on FacebookPosted: 09/07/2013
I don’t know if these facebook conversations are interesting to anyone else. All I know is that I need to document conversations like this one for my own sake because they demonstrate the problems I face every day so well. It’s like an ethnography of my feminist struggle. Again, edited for clarity/anonymity/conciseness.
After a huge blow-out with my well-intentioned and semi-progressive white, male housemate, I posted this status update:
I AM TRYING TO UNLEARN THE SHIT SOCIETY PUTS ON WOMEN AND QUEER PEOPLE BUT I CAN’T BE THE ONLY FUCKING ONE. WHITE, HETEROSEXUAL MALES HAVE TO DO IT, TOO.
It was so fun (in a experience-my-own-irritation-threshold-being-tested kind of way) to watch all the white males I was referring to “like” that status. Some radical sisters posted “amen”-like responses, and a couple of dudes even commented in agreement. Everything was all peaches and cream. Until this other well-intentioned and semi-progressive white, cis male said…
“part of our programming is to think that some(of one type) = all(of that type). This applies to generalizing white heterosexual males as well…”
Wait for it…
“I have not met a single white, heterosexual, cis-gendered, class-privileged, able-bodied man who has proven me wrong. Not gonna say I hate all men, and unlearning shit is hella hard. But most are extremely resistant, if not outright dismissive, of checking their privilege.”
BAM. LET THE EVISCERATION BEGIN.
Me (cont’d): And again, that is not to say that being an ally is easy. But I can probably count the number of men who haven’t in some way taken advantage of male privilege on one hand.
White Male Homie (WMH): My point still stands in how you’re just narrowing the generalization with more modifiers.
Also, most male privilege is somewhat covert. If I get placed in a job over a more qualified female candidate, or paid more, I would not know about it in my instance. I can be just as disgusted by such a choice as anyone (if I knew about it), but also blamed by proxy because I’m the unknowing/unwilling benefactor and/or am the same gender as the one who made the bad choice. And as a personal note, I know white men who have left good jobs because of the poor treatment of women in their workplace. I see that as a direct attempt to purge male privilege. So I think it’s a bit unfair to make a character judgement about someone based on the circumstances in which they were born, disregarding their upbringing and conscious actions and opinions.
Me: Um, that is not true about most male privilege being covert. It is very, very direct in many cases. You’re just able to pass it right by because it doesn’t directly affect you (although it does affect you indirectly, because it turns all men into “guilty until proven innocent.”) Just look at the media and the way people talk about women’s bodies.
I agree with you that I am making a generalization. That is not innately flawed or wrong. Making judgments about who people are based on what they look like, who they love, etc., will always happen. In fact, it’s can be a good thing. One of the ways that people experience the world is based on the way they are treated by other people. The ability to ignore that is indicative of your own privilege. It’s not unfair for me to be untrusting of men because in this society, men have power over women and most men that I know have abused that power. That, my friend, is unfair
And just so you know, what you’re arguing right now is that reverse sexism exists. And it doesn’t. Because when a woman makes negative judgments about who a man is based on the fact that he is a man, that does not feed into a system whereby men are subordinated on an everyday basis. Because that does not exist.
WMH: I wouldn’t call it reverse sexism; that’s why I didn’t. I’m not claiming that male subordination is institutionalized or even socially acceptable, where female subordination is. It’s disappointing that you’d think I’m doing this. I’m just pointing out the idea of judging an entire sector of humanity based on the habits of people who look like them. Habits about which more people are acknowledging every day. What you want is for white men to begin to gain this awareness, and I can tell that at least some of us are. Especially among those of us who were raised in social settings which sought to diminish said subordination.
Me: I don’t believe for one second that these habits are being acknowledged more every day. In fact, I see the exact opposite. Also, I find it extremely irritating when men try to educate women about shit we live every fucking day.
Other WMH: I wonder if you are conflating the expansion of sexist habits with the expansion of your awareness of them. I do see sexism getting marginally better (insomuch as I can from a privileged position). Our broadening awareness of its presence and effects doesn’t mean it’s getting worse; it means that the finish line of effectively “solving” it is pushed further and further away.
Me: Okay you know what? Ya’ll better cite your sources and give me some evidence to back up those claims. According to MY experience, shit’s only getting worse, and it’s not because my awareness has been heightened. Men (especially ages 18-30something) are getting more and more defensive, and victim blaming is at an all-time high.
And ask the women in your life what they think.
Ever heard of Men’s Rights Activists? This shit is real and only growing more pervasive by the second. Becoming a feminist cut my friend group (not to mention potential romance and sex partners) in less than half.
OWMH: Imagine the repercussions of becoming a feminist 50 years ago. Victim blaming is at an all time low compared to any other century on Earth. What we can both agree with is that it can and should get a lot better – as quickly as possible. I’m sorry that we don’t agree that it is, even a little.
I believe the perceived spike in bad behavior we see during any period of heightened social change — desegregation, women’s suffrage, for example — is A: not any more plentiful than normal, just louder, and B: an expression of the anger stage of grief from the privileged majority.
I see things like Men’s Rights Activists and Westboro bullshit as signifiers of this same cycle; not indicators of anything worsening, but a last, desperate bulwark against the inevitable.
Me: I am not trying to knock the wins of first and second wave feminism. But to celebrate those wins today, when the amount of work that there still is today is enormous and still entirely lead and participated on by women, is not useful and sometimes disgustigly ignorant. Especially when men are the ones doing the celebrating. Women are forced to focus on how far we still have to go, while men get to celebrate how “far” we’ve come, when MOST of the women in my life have been raped or sexually abused or manipulated by men, particularly the men they trust and love.
OWMH: If the work is only being done by women, then I’ll fulfill your generalization of me by bowing out of this conversation.
Best Friend Ever (who is also a white, queer, woman): I am going to throw out a crazy idea. It’s pretty fucking crazy, but here it is. Shani knows more about this than both of you. Both of you combined. She has experienced this every day of her life, she has studied this theoretically as well as practically and has written about it dozens of time. She is also a survivor, so she knows very deeply how not “covert” it is. Listen to her. Check yourself, because I don’t believe either of you have a leg to stand on in the argument. The oppressive group does not get to say when sexism is getting better. Also many of then things said above, are factually untrue, therefore you both have proven her point five times over. I will not say more because Shani has said everything else that needs to be said.
OWMH: Holding knowledge on a subject and persuasively communicating it are two different things. I have given my perspective with the goal of specifying, rather than debunking, Shani’s ideas. I’m having trouble digesting what she’s saying not because it’s inconvenient, but because the argument isn’t yet sound to me.
Regarding the original post, if you want to help heterosexual, white men’s understanding to evolve, we’ll arrive there through discourse that is not dismissive of our perspectives – incomplete as they may be.
For a lot of reasons, I don’t think any of us will find satisfaction from a discussion in this medium. I love you both, and I get achey over tensions rising, especially over something I know is deeply important to you. Voices and faces should be part of this.
Me: This shit is not about sound arguments or rational debate. It is entirely about what it feels like to be a woman. FEELS. FEELINGS. Those are not things you can logic your way into or out of. You will never know what it feels like to be subordinated based on your sex and gender, so the best you can do is look to women as the experts on patriarchy and feminism. Earnest questions (“Why does this or that make you feel victimized?”) go way further than a “hearty debate,” because to women, it’s not a fun conversation to have and it’s not about presenting a logical argument. It’s about being interrogated and disbelieved by people we love.
Also, if you wanna talk about sound arguments, you better back your own shit up.
OWMH: You’re right. I’m partial to debate, and because you made statements that I found problematic, I slipped into debate mode. Talking freely on this subject is something I’ve been made to feel okay about by some other groups of women. I didn’t need to here. It’s on me for not feeling it out more. The last 2 sentences of your post (“Earnest questions …”) are right on.