Be Something Better: Change the conversation

by on Oct.10, 2013, under Observations

Today we saw a conversation we see far too often, about some nasty men who harass women on the Internet. They aren’t speaking their opinion, they are attacking women. It’s reprehensible behavior, and it needs to stop. And it needs to stop now. I am shamed that we allow this behavior in our society, and I wish I could do more to stop it.

When I saw the last tweet, I immediately thought of something that I’ve been trying to find the words for recently. I tried to say it on twitter, but I was struggling hard with the length limitations.

Yes, what these men are doing is reprehensible. It angers me. It leaves me furious for days. I totally agree with Charles Stross: I want to disassociate myself from these broken implementations of humanity in every possible way.

But we cannot mirror the behavior when we reject it. Treating women poorly for any reason, or treating the art or work done by women as second class, is so badly invalid that even its utter opposite (shaming men as a gender) is equally invalid. The concept is fundamentally broken at its core, and nothing polarized around it can be valid. Don’t polarize around a broken idea. If we want to destroy the usage, we must use a different model.

People learn behaviors by watching people. They weigh the input they receive by the value in which the hold the individual. I think that those of us who have an audience of any kind, no matter how small, can advance the conversation, and can eventually destroy this way of thinking by framing it correctly.

Males are no more evil/stupid/etc than Females are (take your pick, I won’t justify any of them).

Don’t say it. Don’t say its opposite. Don’t empower the concept by raising its mirror. Say something completely different. We must change the frame.

Be Something Better: Frame the problem correctly. These men’s actions are reprehensible. I share nothing in common with these men.

Important Note: that I do NOT believe that Charles Stross was trying to suggest that we do what I am asking us not to. He was expressing his distaste in the same limited length we all struggle with on Twitter. I stole his comment and broke its context to express my own idea. I am not attacking Charles.

These men and their hatred have a disproportionately large voice for men everywhere because they spew it so often. I desperately wish those of us with better notions could express our love for our favorite authors in a positive manner that would overwhelm that smaller voice. Sadly, this would overwhelm the authors, and be a denial of service attack on the people we love. Augh, practicalities. I want to find a way, I want these valuable contributors of art/work/effort in our community to know just how much they are loved. I want to find a way.

Today, we should start by refusing to empower a concept broken in its core.

2 Comments for this entry

  • Foz Meadows

    Though I agree with the sentiment behind what you’ve said here – that is, that nobody should stereotype based on gender – it’s impossible to avoid reference to the fact that men are overwhelmingly the harassers of women without making it incredibly difficult for women to explain, not only what’s happening to them, but the context in which that harassment is happening.

    Culturally, we have a long history of men oppressing women, and even though society has come a long way in recent decades, we still have very far to go. As such, it’s a false equivalence to suggest that women collectively decrying men *in the specific context of highlighting sexism* is the same as men collectively decrying women at other times: the former is a linguistic shorthand for talking about *the ways men are commonly socialised to behave* made necessary by the sheer scope of the problem, whereas the latter is a casual dismissal of an entire gender based on (perceived) inherent traits and backed up by several thousand years of socially entrenched misogyny.

    Which isn’t to say that women don’t similarly internalise this history of sexism, or that we never make casual, damaging comments about men – we do, because sexism leeches into all our thoughts. (A good but frustratingly pervasive example: “men just aren’t as good at parenting as women.”)But in the specific context of fighting sexism and misogyny – of identifying patterns of behaviour and the cultures which create them, particularly when it comes to microaggressions and our daily experiences of harassment – then talking about “men” or “maleness,” for instance, is never understood to mean “all men, everywhere” in the same way that sexist remarks about women are meant to mock all women. Rather, we are simply identifying our assailants. We are saying, men have attacked us, not that ALL men have attacked us.

    But sadly, this isn’t a distinction many men are willing or able to make. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve seen conversations about feminism and sexism derailed by outraged male commenters entering the discussion and, either abusively or condescendingly, rebuking the women present for being sexist themselves “because not all men are like that”. Not only does this have the effect of silencing such conversations – to say nothing of the fact that it privileges the offence taken by an uninvolved bystander over the testimony of those who experience actual abuse on a regular basis – but it demonstrates the fundamental pervasiveness of false equivalence logic.

    And this is what I reacted to on Twitter. Feminists do not need to be reminded, tone-policed or otherwise informed that “not all men are like that”, or have it pointed out to us that stereotyping men is bad, too. WE KNOW THAT. We shouldn’t have to add the same disclaimer that “not all men are like this” to every single statement we make about the sexism we experience for the comfort of male allies, because if those men really are in favour of equality and understand the necessity of such conversations, then they’ll understand that *they’re not the men we’re talking about*.

    Because, overwhelmingly, this is the fear of men who enter feminist conversations to loudly point out their own innocence at the expense of what’s actually being discussed: that their honour, somehow, is being impugned. But here’s the thing: sexism in our culture is so pervasive that, chances are, EVERYONE – regardless of gender – is going to behave in a sexist manner at some point regardless of their intentions; regardless of whether or not they even realise it. A real male ally, while being discomforted by this fact, will nonetheless accept it *as* a fact – and work to overcome it – *without feeling threatened by those who point it out*, because he understands that his mild discomfiture at having his flaws referenced in passing is much less important in that context than *actually fixing the problem which caused them in the first place*.

    But when a guy comes into a feminist conversation and says, “not all men are like that; we need to stop talking about gender,” or something like that, he usually means one of two things: either that he is angry we made him feel bad, and that we should accommodate his discomfort with apologies and reassurances or else face the consequences (in which case, he means us harm); or that we’ve made him feel bad, and we should accommodate his sadness with apologies and reassurances or else risk losing his support (in which case, he was never really an ally to begin with).

    So. While I believe that you didn’t mean any of these things – that your desire to call for peace and to work towards equality is sincere – these are things which you need to be aware of when entering feminist conversations. We cannot talk about sexism without talking about men as a group and maleness as a pervasive social construct. But that doesn’t mean we’re talking about ALL men, forever.

  • jorhett

    I agree completely with what you said. I have seen the stultifying behavior you describe here myself, and I detest the people who employ it.

    I was not attempting to tell you or Seanan or any other woman silence herself for any reason. I meant to reply to Charles, and let you two know what I had said and I didn’t do that very effectively.

    My one and only goal (for this) is to end forever the conversations about “men are …” and “women are…” because even when they are not meant offensively, they are inaccurate, ineffective, and incomplete.

    Thank you for pointing this out. Do you mind if I quote parts of this back into an edit of the original post?

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