Wednesday, May 23, 2007

How not to be an asshole, a long overdue expanding of the template.

An observer, thegirlfrommarz, whom I'd not heretofore been familiar with, chimes into the FFF/WOC blowup with some words of wisdom and basic sense:

There are always going to be some people who will be jealous of the fact that she has been picked to represent the world of feminist blogging by writing a book or who will be angered that she is the one whose views on feminism are published in the mainstream media (and that the article is so very simplistic, but that’s another story). In short, people are people. Maybe that was why some of the “big bloggers” got it so wrong - they were expecting a backlash from people who wanted some of that limelight for themselves.

And yet that’s not what this was about…

The furore over whether Valenti’s book was inclusive of women of colour (apologies to fellow Brits - we just don’t use that phrase here, but I’ll use it rather than any of the Brit alternatives) wasn’t about jealousy over not getting a book deal, personal issues with the author or the rest. It was about an accusation that has been made about feminism since the very beginning: that feminism is largely a movement for well-off white women talking amongst themselves and that issues of importance to non-white women are systematically marginalised. This is a HUGE issue, and the response from many of the WoC bloggers out there shows that it is one that strikes a chord with them. Saying that it’s not important is simply not an option when there are so many many women out there telling you that it is.

As feminists we hate it when left-wing men tell us to suck it up about our issues because talking about them is “divisive”. Why can’t we white feminists get that it’s just as patronising and just as wrong...to ask non-white feminists to shut up about their issues?

...Chris Clarke wrote a great post for Pandagon back in April as a guide for men (written in response to the Kathy Sierra online harassment situation and the way in which it was dismissed by Kos, one of the big liberal blogs). I can’t imagine a single feminist who won’t have read it and nodded along...

...You know what, everyone? Shut the fuck up. Listen to what fellow feminist bloggers are telling you. They feel marginalised and ignored in a movement whose goal is equality and whose members are quite able to spot a man exercising his privilege at a thousand paces, yet somehow can’t see how a white feminist could be doing the same thing.

It’s hard not to put on the blinkers when a friend is being criticised. It’s even harder when it seems like you are being criticised. But we ask men to do this all the time. We say “it’s not about you - you don’t have to identify with the people who happen to have the same chromosomes as you but who act like assholes“. So take off the blinkers, listen and learn. If we can’t do this for our friends and allies amongst non-white women, how can we expect men to do it either? We owe it to ourselves but, most of all, we owe it to the women around us.


on edit: also see:

You are not the default at tiny cat pants.

10 comments:

Sara E Anderson said...

I don't think the "don't identify with the assholes" model really is very helpful, since we're talking about a lot of unconscious and inadvertent behavior here. I could just start to ignore anything that makes me uncomfortable, because I get to think, "Well, it's not me that's doing racist thing x, phew."

belledame222 said...

...yessss...otoh, the CC post, which I truncated for the sake of not quoting the entire thing (it's back at the original post) has some good concrete suggestions about how to become conscious of some of the not-so-conscious stuff.

thegirlfrommarz said...

Thanks for linking to me, belledame - I'm blushing! You were one of the first people to start me thinking about this issue a while back, so it means a lot that you liked my post.

Sara - I think you're absolutely right about unconscious and inadvertent behaviour and how the "don't identify with assholes" idea lets us off the hook. I'll update the original post to clarify.

Alon Levy said...

I can’t imagine a single feminist who won’t have read it and nodded along.

I'm one. That post made me wince, it was so offputting.

People don't like to be told to shut up. And that goes both ways. If an activist has a duty to his chosen cause, that duty must include the duty to be effective.

Good intentions don't matter. Jessica may personally like the ideas of gender equality and racial equality. Great. But her book not only fails to make a case that will convince anyone, but also actively hurts those ideas by marginalizing nonwhites in such a way that may contribute to the feminism/civil rights schism.

I'm sure the cops who shot Sean Bell didn't mean to shoot random black civilians, either. But they did and that's what matters.

Roy said...

I'm one. That post made me wince, it was so offputting.

People don't like to be told to shut up. And that goes both ways. If an activist has a duty to his chosen cause, that duty must include the duty to be effective.


Sure. Nobody likes to be told to shut up. There are times, though, where you have to be told "Look, shut up and listen for a second."

And... I mean, isn't that what part of the whole explosion is about? And, isn't that one of the suggestions being made: "Look, shut up and listen for a second! This isn't about jealousy and this isn't about not liking you, it's about something bigger than that, and you're not listening!"

Good intentions don't matter.

I don't know if that's true, either. Good intentions only go so far, yes, but they do matter. They don't excuse bad behavior, certainly, but they should be taken into consideration. If I fuck up and I say something stupid or insensitive, I expect to be called on it, but if I say something stupid or insensitive and it's clear that I did so unintentionally while working towards a good goal, I think that the response to should be substantially different than if someone says something stupid or insensitive on purpose because said person is a shitbag.

I'm sure the cops who shot Sean Bell didn't mean to shoot random black civilians, either. But they did and that's what matters.

Oh, come on Alon.
1. I don't think that's a very fair comparison at all.
2. Is a criticism like that fulfilling your "duty to be effective"?
3. Do you think that being compared like that is going to be less offputting than being told to "shut up and listen"?

belledame222 said...

he's got a point there, kids.

M.Dot. said...

As feminists we hate it when left-wing men tell us to suck it up about our issues because talking about them is “divisive”. Why can’t we white feminists get that it’s just as patronising and just as wrong...to ask non-white feminists to shut up about their issues?
===========================
Holy f_cking sh-t.

Alon Levy said...

Sure. Nobody likes to be told to shut up. There are times, though, where you have to be told "Look, shut up and listen for a second."

Yeah, I know. But I've found that omitting the "Shut up" part tends to produce more positive responses, and is harder to use as a bullying tactic. I suppose both of those features boil down to the fact that "Listen to me" has a somewhat falsifiable subtext - "I think what I say will change your mind if you give me five minutes to convince you" - and doesn't belittle the listener the way "shut up" does.

Good intentions only go so far, yes, but they do matter. They don't excuse bad behavior, certainly, but they should be taken into consideration. If I fuck up and I say something stupid or insensitive, I expect to be called on it, but if I say something stupid or insensitive and it's clear that I did so unintentionally while working towards a good goal, I think that the response to should be substantially different than if someone says something stupid or insensitive on purpose because said person is a shitbag.

Possibly... it depends on receptiveness to persuasion, though. If I think that you said something stupid but mean well, then I'll spend some time explaining to you why it was stupid, based on the assumption that you'd be convinced and subsequently stop it. However, if I think you also can't take criticism, and will keep saying that stupid thing no matter what, then you're in the same category as people who don't mean well.

Do you think that being compared like that is going to be less offputting than being told to "shut up and listen"?

No, probably not. If I were blogging, I'd choose a less extreme analogy, or perhaps dropped it entirely. It's hard to find analogies for this that are on the one hand self-evidently negative and on the other not revolting. I use it here because I'm fairly certain neither Jessica nor any of her most emotionally invested defenders are going to read this.

But you're right, it's not the best analogy to use.

ilyka said...

I've found that omitting the "Shut up" part tends to produce more positive responses, and is harder to use as a bullying tactic.

I agree with you here, actually, and my own experience tells me the same.

The thing is, though, you (as I myself do in race discussions) have the privilege of not having to argue the same points over and over again. It's not your everyday situation, whereas for a high-profile feminist or womanist blogger, it is. I mean, I'm sure you can acknowledge that you answer or respond to someone more diplomatically the first time an issue is raised than you do the 50th or 12,000th time it comes up.

That's basically when you need to open up a can of STFU. You're right that it's less effective, but patience in human beings is sadly finite.

thegirlfrommarz said...

Alon - I do agree that "shut up" isn't a great way to persuade people, in general. In a conversation, there *is* a difference in tone between an angry "shut up, you idiot, you don't know what you're talking about" and a less aggressive "shut up for a minute and listen, dear friend of mine, as you're missing the point", but as we all know, tone is difficult to get across on the internet. If I'm feeling hurt and defensive and someone says "shut up" to me, all I'm likely to think of is the first sense, not the second. However... since I was quoting Chris, the "shut the fuck up" thing made the post much punchier.

Most of the time when I get into debates with men who think feminism is a waste of time, unnecessary, has served its purpose or is about women trying to get one over on men, I am polite, reasonable and persuasive. I know you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and I also know I've convinced a few of them that maybe feminists have a point and that we aren't all strident, ravening witches.

But sometimes I just can't face the sheer effort of doing it. When someone makes the same tired old antifeminist argument with no statistical evidence, sometimes I'll snap, be sarcastic and rude because I'm dog-tired of explaining in a calm and rational way and dog-tired of refuting the same tedious "aha, but...!" arguments and dog-tired of how some dude feels entitled to demand a justification of my position, rather than spend 30 seconds thinking about his own. So sometimes I'm not so calm and rational, which is pretty much what Ilyka said.