Archive for the ‘Gender & Feminism’ Category

On caregiving & domestic violence

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

Okay I've read Thinking the Unthinkable (reprinted elsewhere as "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother"). How could I not? It was linked on social media more than any article I've seen since that tiger mother lady said she doesn't let her kids get up from the piano to pee. And now I've started reading the backlash. You Are Not Adam Lanza's Mother, not to be confused with No, You Are Not Adam Lanza's Mother or I am NOT Adam Lanza's Mother. There was Want the Truth Behind "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother"? Read her blog (retracted, sorta, here). There was I Was One of the Scary Kids (which I found thoughtful), and For the Last Time, Stop Conflating Violence and Mental Illness (also thoughtful). And then the backlash-to-the-backlash, like Sorry Everyone, Now We Are Not Allowed To Talk About Mental Health Either. I'm sure there's much more.

I just need to say one thing.

If a woman in any other circumstance were to write that she lives in daily fear that a male she lives with might kill her, or hurt or kill her children, we would put her safety above all other considerations. We wouldn't worry about whether she's violated his privacy. We wouldn't berate her for not understanding his side of the story. We wouldn't comb through her biography for clues that she has faults, too, or why would he behave that way? We wouldn't tell her she caused his behavior in the first place. We wouldn't say yes, we get where you're coming from, but you're his sole source of financial support, so you need to tough it out for his sake. We wouldn't chastise her for giving him a reputation for violence, as if that's worse than the actual violence he is already committing. We wouldn't tell her that she needs to stick with it and reform him, somehow, through love, on her own, whatever the risk, because it's her responsibility to ensure that he doesn't hurt anyone else. If she insisted that she were committed to this relationship and that she was sure he could change and that she was going to do everything she could to help him, even at the risk to her children, we would try to gently counsel her out of that belief. If she persisted in it, we might intervene legally.

If it were her partner, her parent, an older sibling or another relative or even an adult son who was terrorizing her family, we would recognize that this woman is being verbally, emotionally, and physically abused. Of course it's different when the male in question is a 13-year-old child, and no one understands that better than the mother herself. She surmises, correctly, that no one will love and advocate for him the way she will (she's his mother!), so she can't just walk away. But when she says, "I love him and want to help him, but I've run out of ideas and I need help," the response should be, "You're right. We need to figure out a way to make this system work better, for you and for him." What you DON'T do is tag her with every woman-erasing cliche that domestic violence victims used to face routinely.

As far as the real Adam Lanza is concerned, we keep hearing that he left behind twenty-six victims. There were actually twenty-seven; the first one was his mother. I understand why we're not mourning Adam's own suicide the way we're mourning the women and children that he murdered, but it's telling that we are ignoring his mother, too, as if she's implicated equally in this crime. I'm sure some will say she can't possibly be worthy of sympathy if she raised a son like that. Others will fault her for being the one to introduce her son to guns in the first place. I wonder about these things myself, if only because his act was so horrifically incomprehensible. I've thought that it was a mercy that he killed her, because as a parent how could you live with that?

But there is no evidence that anything Adam Lanza's mother did was so heinous it merited her execution. When we dodge the fact that she, too, was a victim, the implications go beyond this one event. We are sending the message to all mothers that they are on their own with this stuff, that they will continue to serve as our scapegoat. Reforming gun laws is a political nightmare. Fixing the mental health system without (re-)stigmatizing mental illness is difficult. And challenging America's culture of violence will probably take generations. But blaming mothers, that's easy. Likewise telling women they are responsible for violence committed by a man. We know how to do that. We've been doing it for centuries.

More women of Egypt.

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Reading Nawal El Saadawi when I was 17 was my gateway drug into Middle Eastern politics. Now she's 80 years old, living in Cairo, and still protesting. Here she's interviewed by Amy Goodman from Democracy Now!

This is an interview from Tahrir Square yesterday (Monday) with an activist who explains the current situation.

And I don't know who this woman is, but she's being called "The Bravest Girl in Egypt." I saw the original version of this on Facebook and she goes on like this for NINE minutes. This is only a third of it. Incredible.

Remember the ladies!

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

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photo credit: Ben Curtis

Some have asked where the Egyptian women are, since most of the protest photos are of men. It's a valid question. There have definitely been gendered uprisings: either men fighting for a change that would explicitly put women down, or, more often, uprisings in which women were told to table their concerns AS women — "just until the revolution comes!" …and then, conveniently, the men who take over never get around to that.

This is NOT what's happening in Egypt right now. There are women of all ages and classes on the streets as we speak. It's true that they're outnumbered by men, but that's not because they support Mubarak. Of course there may be individual women who support Mubarak, just as there may be individual men who do, but this is not a case of men going out and demanding something that women hate but are powerless to stop. The vast majority of Egyptians, male and female, want revolution very badly.

I'm not in Egypt now, but I've lived there, and if I had to guess why there are more men than women, I would say it's a matter of safety. As an American I was always surprised at how convinced Egyptians were that "barra" ("outside") was a dangerous place, despite the fact that Egypt is probably one of the safest countries in the world. Street harassment is ubiquitous, but violent crime is extremely rare. Nevertheless, I was constantly being warned that I should not walk alone, should not take a taxi alone, should not live in or even visit this neighborhood or that neighborhood, etc. Even a knock on the door was treated with alarm. I can't tell you how many times I would visit someone, there would be an unexpected knock, and then this ritual of shouting "meen? MEEN?" ("WHO?") before anyone would open their giant, thrice-deadbolted door. And this was AFTER the visitor had been let upstairs by the nosy doorkeeper downstairs. Men, too, are conscious of this kind of stranger danger, but women even more so.

So now you have a situation where people REALLY ARE being shot point blank on the streets. What's amazing is not that so many women are staying indoors, but that so many are going out despite the risk.

If Mubarak does leave, women AS women may have new concerns. Would the new government protect their rights? Would their situation improve or worsen? But even if that happens, it's important to know that Egypt has been through this before. In the revolution that ended British occupation — which older women will still remember, and younger women will have read about and heard about from their mothers and aunties and grandmothers — the Egyptian feminist movement (by that time 60 years in the making) had to fight for a place at the table. There were victories and setbacks with that, but these are not new questions.

Even in the worst-case-for-women-scenario, where the Islamists take over, it's difficult to imagine that they would fare as badly as women in Iran, for various reasons having more to do with the history of class politics in those two countries than anything to do with feminism. Egypt would certainly not look like Afghanistan. (I feel stupid even pointing that out, but it is something I've heard: "They'll all have to around wearing those bedsheets and never go to school!")

None of this is meant to downplay sexism, which is alive and well in Egyptian culture, and, sometimes, in Egyptian law. (For example, there are gendered aspects to divorce and custody laws, only men are drafted, and citizenship comes through the father.) But at the moment these are not issues at the forefront of people's minds. The issues right now are poverty, unemployment, the lack of a free press, government corruption, and state-sanctioned torture. These issues affect men and women alike.

This is a professional disagreement, not a catfight.

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Newsweek has an article about the differences between Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Michelle Rhee, chancellor of D.C. schools. Anyone familiar with Rhee's work can see where this is going; as chancellor, she has become (in?)famous for her almost single-minded determination to "demand accountability" in schools — read: blame and fire teachers. As head of one of the country's largest teachers' unions, Weingarten predictably disagrees.

Both women are also known for their uncompromising personalities. I have my misgivings about both of their stances on educational reform and labor issues; I'm sure I'm not alone there. But I'm also capable of recognizing this argument for what it is, which is a professional disagreement. Newsweek, however, seems to think it's a sequel to Mean Girls. Under the headline Schoolyard Brawl, we get a story that might as well come with a cartoon of them pulling each other's braids in the girls' bathroom. It's creepy and it's sexist. To wit:

Rhee has a chance to set a strong example for weeding out incompetent teachers—if she doesn't overplay her hand against Weingarten, who is a formidable foe. "You have two strong-willed and very smart and determined women with very different agendas," says Chester Finn Jr., a former assistant secretary of education and a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution. "It has an almost gladiatorial aspect to it."

"Gladiatorial"? Really?

I think what's really going on here is the Bechdel test playing out in real life. The Bechdel test is an idea from an old Dykes to Watch Out For comic, in which a character says she will only watch a movie if it has 1) at least two women 2) who talk to each other 3) about something other than a man. It's amazing how many movies fail.

Out in the real world, we're accustomed to seeing women in the public eye when they're in fields where their bodies are paramount (actors, athletes), and, increasingly, in politics (Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi). But how often do we see a woman engaged in a public debate with another woman, over ideas?

Rhee and Weingarten, who first tangled about five years ago when Weingarten was running the New York City teachers' union and Rhee was testifying against her as the head of a nonprofit organization promoting school reform, clearly dislike each other.

Well I would hope so! It would be hard to have much integrity if they were having tea every week.

This isn't Jennifer and Angelina. It's a debate about one of the thorniest problems in school reform: how to get rid of bad teachers without any fair and reliable measure of what constitutes bad teaching. Rhee and Weingarten occupy the extreme ends of the argument. In a field that is overwhelmingly female, but where administrative positions are still largely held by men, it is refreshing to see women in leadership roles. As I said, I disagree with both of them on any number of issues. But it would be nice if those ideas could be discussed without falling back on stupid gendered stereotypes.

Actually it's only my 18th-most precious gift.

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Jessica Valenti, author of The Purity Myth, is interviewed by conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham

What Jessica says: "Valuing young women for their virginity is still valuing them for their sexuality. Women are multi-faceted human beings and this obsession with abstinence is just the flip-side of the oversexualization of young girls, in that they both reduce women to what they do with their bodies."
What conservatives hear: "SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX."

Thus proving the point.

I haven't read her book (it just came out) but I've seen or heard her on a couple shows now, and the reaction she keeps getting is the "what's wrong with abstinence?" strawman. But she's not arguing against abstinence itself; she's arguing against reducing women to their sexual status, whether they're having sex or not.

The proper conservative comeback — and one guest does make this point — is that, in fact, women should be valued mainly for their sexuality, because a woman's sexuality is the greatest gift she has to offer to the world. I disagree, but bonus points for staying on topic.

Anyway, you should listen to this, just to hear the guest who calls in with the "trash in the street" analogy. This man identifies himself as a high school teacher. Egad.

The girls of Swat.

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Class Dismissed in Swat Valley: A 15-minute video about the closing of girls' schools in Swat, the region of Pakistan that has been taken over by the Taliban.

Everything about this is heartbreaking, but I was especially moved by the girl who gave a speech about the political situation and had to cover her face to hide her identity. She's only 12 or 13 but already fearing personal reprisals for speaking out in favor of something as basic as her right to go to middle school.

More about the video at alt.muslim

Ow! Ow ow ow!

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

The next time someone tries to talk to you about the misogyny behind the hijab, comparing it unfavorably to the freedom of Western fashion, please direct them to this link: Nina Ricci Fall 2009 Shoes

I need to go soak my feet in hot water just thinking about it.

National Organization Of (Some) Women Gets It Wrong: More On Muzzammil Hassan And Domestic Violence

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

photo courtesy of yasmine

[x-posted at]

When HijabMan posted his entry on the murder of Aasiya Hassan yesterday, "On Giving Men a Free Pass," I was thankful. It was, I thought, another sign that the Muslim community is taking the issue of domestic violence seriously. In some cases the talk is coming from corners where the discussion is long overdue – there's no use pretending otherwise – but if there is any small good that can come out of this woman's brutal murder I hope that it will be in the form of more attention to violence against women, and the need for Muslim leaders, in particular, to address it.

Secular North American feminists have been at the forefront of this issue since the 1970s. In theory, they should be playing a leadership role as well. Instead, though, we get quotes like this from NOW-New York, attacking the use of the term "domestic violence" in Aasiya Hassan's case:

The ridiculous juxtaposition of "domestic" and "beheading" in the same journalistic breath points up the inherent weakness of the whole "domestic violence" lexicon… This was, apparently, a terroristic version of "honor killing," a murder rooted in cultural notions about women's subordination to men. Are we now so respectful of the Muslim's religion that we soft-peddle atrocities committed in it's

I'm not sure what a "terroristic version" of an honor killing is, or how it's worse than the regular kind. But I do know that "cultural notions about women's subordination to men" are not limited to Muslim countries. And the thing is? Marcia Pappas, NOW-New York's president, should know that, too. I expect sensationalistic coverage from FOX News (who tell us divorce "is not permitted in their culture," and that such crimes will increase if left "unchecked by Western law"). But mainstream feminist groups like NOW keep doggedly insisting, year after year, that no, really, we speak for all women, not just white middle-class women. Really! We swear! And yet when something like this happens, they inevitably revert to the same tired script: When white men kill white women, they do it out of misogyny. But when brown men kill brown women, they do it because they're, well, brown.

Last year I attended a conference at UMass-Boston called "Engaging Islam," where Lila Abu-Lughod, a Palestinian-American feminist anthropologist who has done work in Egypt, gave a talk about honor killings. As she was researching this issue, she found that many cases of family-based violence in the Muslim world were labeled "honor crimes" but did not have the characteristics that would merit this label (i.e., a girl killed by male family members over real or imagined sexual indiscretions); for example, one case was that of a Palestinian father who likely killed his daughter because she was about to expose him as an informant. While family-based violence should be a serious issue in any circumstance, there was nothing uniquely Muslim about this case. This lack of distinction between forms of violence, she found, was typical of research on the subject; reported numbers of honor killings varied dramatically, from fourteen a year to four thousand a year, depending on how "honor killing" was defined.

She also asked how descriptions of these situations capture the flow of life-as-lived in areas where these acts are practiced. In her own fieldwork with the Awlad 'Ali Bedouin in Egypt, she said, the emphasis on honor and morality was true, but girls' lives could not be reduced to those factors – as in any community they were valued for their individual personalities, scolded for their mistakes, and so forth. And, as in all societies, there were violent husbands, brothers who committed incest, and other transgressions, but the perpetrators were considered as individuals, not men who were acting out their "culture." Finally, she said there is no evidence of honor crimes being on the increase (because the state of research on the subject is so inconsistent), but if this is true, it's more likely to be found in areas of rapidly changing social circumstances, rather than being an example of societies following an "ancient code of morality."

Was Aasiya Hassan's murder an honor killing? There's no evidence of that. We've only heard that she wanted a divorce. While that clearly infuriated her husband, there's nothing "Muslim" about such fury. It has been well-documented that one of the most dangerous times, for a woman who has been the victim of domestic violence, is when she finally decides to leave. The question, for feminists, is how to condemn honor crimes without playing into a wider discourse that depicts Muslim women as abject and "Other."

This is not the first time that a large, mainstream feminist organization that claims to speak for all women has made it clear that it only speaks for some. We should expect better.

What's the opposite of abaya?

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

Aliyah’s Choice: The LA Times’ Profile of a Lesbian Muslim:

The problem with articles on gay Muslims is that they often paint a distinct binary of the Muslim identity as constraining, conservative, and judgmental, and the gay identity as free, liberating, and natural. There’s a reality that developed this stereotype, but it’s not quite that simple. When a gay Muslim throws off her Muslim identity because it conflicts with her gayness (as some Muslims do), it’s not as though all the problems of being gay disappear and life is suddenly easy. And it’s certainly not as though families, if only they weren’t Muslim, would accept a gay child. It’s true that many Muslims and many immigrants don’t view homosexuality favorably, but it’s not a position that’s unique to these communities, even when it may be more prevalent in them.

Excellent (and succinct!) analysis of a popular media trope, from Muslimah Media Watch.

Obama will lift global gag rule.

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

When he first took office in 1993, it took President Clinton about two minutes to abolish the Reagan-era policy known as the Global Gag Rule. Then, in 2001, it took President Bush about two minutes to reinstate it. Now it looks like President Obama will be abolishing it again. This is good news.

Officially termed the Mexico City Policy, these restrictions mandate that no U.S. family planning assistance can be provided to foreign NGOs that use funding from any other source to: perform abortions in cases other than a threat to the woman’s life, rape or incest; provide counseling and referral for abortion; or lobby to make abortion legal or more available in their country.

Called the "gag" rule because it stifles free speech and public debate on abortion-related issues, the policy forces a cruel choice on foreign NGOs: accept U.S. assistance to provide essential health services – but with restrictions that may jeopardize the health of many patients – or reject the policy and lose vital U.S. funds, contraceptive supplies and technical assistance.

This is one of those cases where I get worked up when people say there are no differences between Republicans and Democrats. We can fight battles both epic and tedious here in the U.S. to make incremental change in reproductive rights within our borders, but in the stroke of a pen the president can make a decision that affects millions of women abroad, with no debate here at home or even much awareness of it.

This is not me defending the Democrats so much as it is me lamenting the disproportionate role the U.S. plays in world affairs. However, since that is the case (at least for now) it seems there should be less focus on the president's positions on things he can't control (i.e. stuff that's decided at the local level or in the other branches of government) and much, much more attention to his views on foreign policy. (Note also that there's more to "foreign policy" than "war." See above.)

Barbie: math isn't tough, sexism is!

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

Countries with Higher Gender Equality Produce Girls Who Are Better at Math

This is why I think international studies in education are so valuable. You cannot argue that something is purely biological if you're not seeing the same result in other countries.

In this case, an analysis of PISA scores shows girls in Iceland outperform boys in math and that boys and girls have roughly equal scores in Scandinavian countries. In the U.S. and Britain, boys slightly outperform girls. The gap (in boys' favor) grows larger in countries like Italy, South Korea, and Turkey. Researchers studied a total of 40 countries and found that girls' math scores generally correlated to their countries' rank on gender equity as measured by the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Index and other similar research. The study was controlled to ensure the findings "are related not to economic development, but directly to improvements in the social position of women."

The reading gap (where girls traditionally outperform boys) did not disappear with increased gender equity. The average reading gap is also larger than the average math gap (6.6% to 2%) and there is no country where boys outperform girls. But overall scores for boys were higher in both areas in countries where women have the most advantages: "This is important because it shows that advances for girls do not come at the expense of boys," Sapienza says.

There's room to quibble with the results, and I'm sure people will be falling all over themselves to do just that. There were a few anomalies: Germany has a larger math gap than its high gender equity rank would suggest; Indonesia and Thailand have lower gender equity but girls and boys perform equally. One gender equity index can be found here (pdf); the PISA scores can be downloaded here (xls — look at table 6.2c). One thing that jumps out is that the country where girls outperform boys most is Qatar — by 14 points to Iceland's 4 — and yet the country earns a dismal 109th place on the gender equity scale. Expect that to be headline news in every article and blog post questioning these findings; as an Arab Muslim country it will serve as convenient shorthand for a Handmaid's Tale-style learning environment. Having never studied Qatar I have no idea what's going on there, but I do know that the "boys study math, girls study languages" trope is not universal, and that in the Middle East medicine and engineering are valued for both genders to the point of being a cultural cliche. It would be interesting to tease out what's going on with these outliers, but the fact that they exist does not, in and of itself, negate the entire study. There may be other things that do, however, so it's worth watching to see how this does or doesn't change the discussion around learning differences.

At a bare minimum, though, research like this shows how inadequate it is to use American data alone (or British, or Namibian, etc.) to try to explain biology. Especially when even -that- data evolves over time. Biological differences may still play a role — the researchers themselves discuss this — but it's not the result you'd get if you limited yourself to a single country's test scores.

Open letter.

Monday, April 7th, 2008

On Prisons, Borders, Safety, and Privilege: An Open Letter to White Feminists

Two movie reviews.

Monday, February 19th, 2007

1. I finally saw Out of Africa, 22 years after it came out. In the past, this was one of the few movies guaranteed to put me to sleep. I've tried to watch it at least three times and could never stay awake. This time I soldiered on because it came on tv, coincidentally, just as I was finishing the book.

The book was published in 1937 and is as racist and colonialist as one would expect. There is much talk of the Natives, and their charming Native habits, etc. What it wasn't, though, was sexist, and watching the movie I was up in arms at little things I wouldn't even have noticed had I not read the book (for the first time) and watched the movie (for the first time) both in the same week.

I am not one of those people who needs a perfect match between the book and the screenplay, and even if I were, Out of Africa wouldn't be one of the darlings I felt obligated to protect. I also realize that a movie is dependent on dialogue in a way a book is not, and having Meryl Streep sitting alone in her kitchen saying "I am observing something about the Maasai…" just wouldn't work.

BUT, the way they chose to handle this was to turn the movie into a romance between Streep and Robert Redford, and put the author's words into his mouth. That's right, he explaaains Kenya to her, in his rugged, been-there-done-that way, and she, the sheltered woman, nods sagely at his wisdom, with just enough intelligence (this being Streep, not Paris Hilton) for the viewer to think, "my, what a good, almost-equal partner she makes! he's so independent, but she's smart enough to appreciate him! what a well-matched couple!" — when in reality the things he's explaaaining, about Gikuyu history and big game hunting, are taken almost verbatim from the book, i.e. stolen from the female narrator. Those should have been Streep's lines, with Redford, if he had to be there at all, being the one to do all the intent listening, all the thoughtful nodding.

Moreover! Because they made it into a romance above all else, the movie was actually more racist than the book was, even though it was made 50 years later. Because they'd turned Streep into a woman who primarily pined for her man, alone out on the sweeping African hills (how poetic!), the myriad relationships Isak Dinesen had with Kenyans were written out. It's true she did have this lover who would come and stay with her every now and then, and I'm sure that was hot and everything, but most of her energy was spent trying to make her farm work and on interacting with people who weren't out on safari ten months a year. Although her relationships with Kenyans were deeply problematic in a colonial context, at least those relationships _existed_, and took up a good portion of her attention and thus a good portion of her ink.

In the movie, however, she's got a couple of African servants or something, whatever — cut to a shot of her on her porch! wind in her hair! wishing her white boyfriend would come home and kiss her on the mouth. Both of them are portrayed as outsiders among the other colonials, which was true in the memoir as well, but making Redford the leading man (as opposed to occasional visitor) forces whatever knowledge he's acquired of the culture and the landscape to be packaged as evidence of his rugged independence, rather than evidence of things he's learned from the Kenyans, and because Streep's the girl and can't out-independent him, her relationships are even more superficial. There's no room for African characters in that set-up, at least none with any background, history, complexity, or expertise in anything that would outshine Redford. So they mostly plant coffee and sweep floors and do things in large mobs.

2. I also saw World Trade Center. From the trailer, I thought it would be a sappy sentimental ode to cops and firefighters, and how surprising would that be, because that's not anything I've heard before in relation to 9/11. Instead it was a disaster movie about some heavy stuff that fell on these two guys.

Ranty, circa 1989.

Sunday, June 18th, 2006

In "The stupid things people say to prove they are comfortable with race," The Happy Feminist addresses one of my pet peeves — that of a white person hearing about another white person (including historical, long-dead white people) slighting a person of color and responding with something like "As a white person, I apologize for that person's stupidity," or "Things like this make me really embarrassed to be white."

I understand it's done with the best of intentions, but it's always jarring. Mainly because it whips the focus off the incident in question and straight onto the white person's need to be praised for not wearing a sheet on their head. Online these comments can be ignored, but in real life the person of color is usually expected to find a socially gracious way of assuring the white person that it's fine, I know it's not YOU, some people are just assholes, whatever, because to express anything that looks like shock or outrage might make the white person standing next to them feel implicated, and god forbid we can't have that.

It also assumes some automatic affinity between All White People Everywhere, or at least the white person's assumption that people of color believe this is true. I'm not talking about the fact that all white people benefit from race-based privilege. I'm saying that when you say you're sorry as a white person, as opposed to sympathizing generally, you're giving yourself permission to deny and dismiss the other person's reaction because after all, you speak for All White People Everywhere, and it's up to you to decide what people of color are and are not allowed to be upset about. Now that you've apologized for everything from a single racist slur to the entire history of European colonialism, we should put the past behind us and get on with the peace and love. I understand the need to recognize the ways in which one's own experiences influence one's view of the world, and to that end bringing up one's own race is appropriate in lots of other conversations, but mentioning it in the context of someone else's pain feels less like "I am recognizing my privilege" and more like "I'll always be white and usually that's super great. Sorry it sucks for you. Now let's move on."

See also when men's first reaction to hearing about something like rape or sexual harassment is to remind women that "not all men are like that." The man thinks he's saying "I don't condone what that other man did," which is a noble (though I'd hope obvious) gesture, but what I hear is "get over your anger, get back with the program, don't let this one isolated incident lead you to start questioning sexism to the point where I have to suffer in any way." Alternate translation: "That guy's a dick. Fuck/flatter/serve/flirt with me instead."

I know I'm not saying anything new here, but what year is this? and I'm still seeing versions of these comments come up in blogs over and over again. I think many men would be surprised to learn how OFTEN women hear this, and how quickly those relationships ("the good ones," right?) turn manipulative and even violent when the man perceives the woman as not making enough of an effort to "put her anger behind her," or at least to only and always mention it in the context of that one specific incident. And the truth is most women DON'T see all men as evil predators, but it's also rather exhausting to remind individual men "I was raped – I know you didn't do it – and I had bruising on my thighs – I know you didn't put them there – so I went to the hospital – I know you would have been great, just perfect, had you been there for me – and they did an exam – yes I remember you went to that 'Men Stopping Rape' conference that one time, that's fabulous " –you can see how this isn't really the way a person would normally tell a story about trauma, right? How it inserts an additional burden into what is already a trying experience?

And heaven forbid the woman/person of color DOES start to talk, even a little bit, about the ways in which sexism or racism in general contributed to their experience, because now the conversation is going to have to be all about why their listener is The Exception and how he's been dicked around by life too you know.

Not to imply these conversations are inherently impossible. The question is, are you focused on the pain and frustration this person is feeling? Or is your main concern the PR damage that misogynists inflict on men as a group, or the damage that overt racists inflict on white people as a group? The second reaction is understandable, but it indicates you have greater loyalty to your demographic than you do to the person in front of you, and expecting that person to stop and help you through YOUR pain at being associated with something you didn't do is (literally) insult to injury.


Monday, June 14th, 2004

I enjoy poking fun at White Liberal Guilt and Sensitive New Age Guys as much as anyone does. However, when these jokes become the only thing you ever contribute to a discussion about racism/sexism/classism, I start to wonder what your priorities are.