I have a friend. Most of you know him. He is one of my true friends, internet or no. We disagree about some things. He made a post about some of them. When my reply hit 1,000 words I figured I should probably make it a post instead. These issues are complicated and multifaceted and I appreciate talking about them at length. I hope that this post will lead me and others to encounters with new ideas and a more focused worldview.
The friend is Vance and his post is here. My reply follows.
My friend, you have been brutally honest with your criticisms, so I shall be brutally honest with my reply. I know you are frustrated and I can empathize. To be honest, you made me laugh even as I (strongly) disagreed with you. Which I think is maybe what you were going for.
You’ve missed the point (from my angle) –almost entirely…not altogether, but almost.
There probably is some small, vocal subset that does blame you for things that you haven’t done, but most advocates for social equality are not so illogical.
Where gender is concerned, you said:
I’m told that men shouldn’t be involved in the gender debate, that they should just listen quietly and be educated. Fair enough: quiet listening is necessary to education, and speech before learning leads only to Fox and Friends. But there is a time for quiet listening, and there is a time for taking what one has learned and getting into the conversation, respectfully but actively. Otherwise, there isn’t much point in learning in the first place.
We have talked about gender inequities before and, given the content of those times, I think this is at least partly influenced by those talks. I say ‘talks’ because they were not conversations or exchanges. You said your piece, I said mine, repeat, and close the browser. I think we talked at each other. For me, it felt as though you had your opinions and that my challenge to those opinions insulted you. I hoped my comments would be a starting point. Instead, they became the final destination. I take at least part of the blame for that. No doubt I could have spoken better.
And yet, I cannot bring myself to take much blame.
You see, I’ve run into this situation too many times to count. The situation: Men, usually calling themselves feminists, talking about equality. By talking about equality, I mean talking over me or shrugging off the conversation when we get to a divergence. Again and again and again. You speak of listening with the intent of being educated, but if our few attempts at exchanges are anything to judge by, you may have never truly listened.
I don’t want to leave men out of the conversation. I know some feminists do, but I don’t. Still, men need to recognize that there are things that they just cannot know. And, yes, especially white men. When you are so used to the world listening to your voice and orienting itself to you, even a minute shift can be jarring for reasons not immediately understood. It is hard to adjust to and accept. Yet, if we are to improve as a society the skill must be learned by those in power. Even those with power they didn’t ask for.
There are things that men need to say about gender equality and I want them said. Here’s the thing though: they already are. Men have the platforms, they have the respect, they have the confidence. When a man stumbles upon a space (almost certainly online since there are very few such places in meatspace) in which his voice is not placed on a pedestal, it seems to him as though some indignity has taken place when in reality the limelight is only being shared for the first time.
I have seen only a handful of men actually listen consistently. I don’t know any of them personally. On occasion? Sure, I’ve seen it myself–but never consistently.
So, a man routinely listening to feminists about feminism and then speaking to them with respect and understanding? Surely it happens, but I have never witnessed it. Not really. It’s so exceedingly rare.
Can you imagine the pain of every man in your life failing to listen to you so often that the mere fact that some man, somewhere might not seems like a fantasy? It hurts.
Your post? It made me laugh. And, Vance, that laughter hurt.
It hurts to see a woman say something about feminism and then to see a man to say something similar. Especially online. Seems like that should be a good thing, right? So why isn’t it? Because the woman gets degraded almost exclusively with a few encouraging comments here and there. Meanwhile, the man gets lauded with maybe a few degrading comments. The comments that degrade him? Words referring to women and their anatomy. Because to be a woman or to be like a woman or to have female anatomy is degrading. It is literally an insult to be female. Is it any wonder that some have tried to make being a male insulting? They’re trying to even the score. They’re striving for justice. Anyway…
The man will endure a few of these insults and he will be a hero for having done so. The woman will quietly shut down or change the subject or turn off the comments and sludge on while being lambasted as a censor. If she trudges on and consents to the comments, she will be threatened with rape and death.
She will say something. A man will say the same thing. The cycle will continue. It will continue to hurt. By all means, speak out, but never mistake your words for experience.
My husband gets aggravated every time my eight year points out that the world around her defaults to whiteness and maleness. He thinks I’ve jaded her too soon. I thank all that is good in this world when she does this. She knows that the world is not all white and all male and she refuses to accept the defaults society gives her. Society will change because of girls like her and in spite of the men that will talk over and around her.
Where race is concerned, you said:
I’m told that Black Lives Matter. And they most certainly do. But I’m also told that this is a claim that must exist in isolation; that to suggest, as a member of the white community, that my life also matters, that indeed all lives matter, is an act of imperialism and violence. I am told by those speaking out for their own worth and meaning as people that if I do the same, I am worthless and meaningless. Meanwhile, on many levels, the whole argument misses its own point, given that we are prosecuting it as a multitude of refugees stands helpless and homeless at our borders, hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens stand helpless and homeless on our street corners, and all the rest of us stand idly by demanding more attention for ourselves.
I’m white. Well, as far as society is concerned and let’s face it, race is all but just a social construct.
Where to begin? I’ll say this: I still cringe when I see ads for black only dating sites. They make me think about how we’re still separating ourselves. I feel the same way when I see Christian Mingle ads. But then I remember that I met some of my best friends at a group specifically for non-believing families and that I feel most comfortable on internet forums for women. We’re humans living in a society that has not reached peak equality and understanding. We categorize and label. Sometimes we just need to share a basic level of understanding with other people and that is okay–we will move on as society does.
The last few years have been quite an evolution in how I see race. I knew of prejudice. I knew of racism. I knew Jim Crow was not that long ago. But I didn’t know how bad our issues of segregation continue to be. I didn’t know how ingrained racism continues to be. I didn’t appreciate the absolute failure of our society to recognize its own failings on behalf of people of color. I am white, but two of my great-grandparents are from Mexico. My great-grandfather forced the accent from his voice and dressed his girls in pastel dresses to fit into White America. My grandmother married a white man. My father is a white man. I never learned a word of Spanish at home and all that is left of that part of my heritage are some astounding recipes.
I carry within me the desecration of a race and the race that did the desecrating. At this point, most of us do. No, we are not responsible for the actions of our forefathers. But we are responsible for recognizing the privilege that society bestows upon us today.
Of course all lives matter, but that is not the point. The point is that we have an epidemic of black bodies being beaten and killed. The point is that we have a history of black bodies being split and sold and beaten and killed. The point is that some of us still haven’t admitted the problem. This point is that we have not made amends.
Refugees matter. The homeless matter. The hungry matter. The poor matter. The abused matter. All lives matter–yes, yes, yes. But every person must pick their battles.One person cannot fight all injustices and actually get anywhere. There isn’t time. So each person chooses what is most important to them and tries to make some difference. So, yes, all lives matter. But also, Black Lives Matter. That’s the point.
I refuse to accept this. I will not play this game nor will I acquiesce to these rules, any more than anyone should give in to the arbitrariness of socially-imposed classes and categorizations. Justice is never about taking dominance away from one voice and giving it exclusively to another. Justice can only come about by way of dialogue; it must involve both the wronged and the perceived wrong-er.
Anyone that is suggesting taking dominance away from one group and giving it to another is probably not worth listening to. It’s about taking dominance out of the equation. I do not think that we need justice. Justice is blind and thus blinds all. We need compassion, empathy, and understanding. We have to meet society where society is at. Society needs #BlackLivesMatter. Society needs feminism. If you think otherwise, just read the comments. (Lewis’ Law can be applied to more than feminism.) Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter may logically be a false dichotomy, but it is a societal fact.
I do not doubt that you have worthy contributions to make. I do doubt that you have honestly listened to what has been said on these matters in the past. I just can’t imagine that your post came from a place of understanding.
Like it or not, you are white and male. In this universe, on this planet, that means that for those reasons alone you are endowed with powers and privilege. It is incredibly difficult to appreciate that fact. I get it. I’m part of a few minority groups and a few dominant groups. I have medium code-switching abilities. Recognizing the ways in which society attempts to hold me back is hard. Recognizing the ways society privileges me is harder.
It is incredibly difficult to get someone to realize their privilege, even harder to get them to do something about it. Some will be persuaded by grief and empathy, others by compassion or sadness, and many by anger. Even you.
Of course, some go too far in anger and some do more harm than good. We are human, that is our wont.
I do not want you to apologize for things you have not done. I do want your best actions and words. I do want you as my ally. But you have to listen. We have to hear each other. I don’t know if I deciphered your post and heard you as you meant to be listened to. I don’t know if my words are arranged in a way that will allow you to understand me as I mean to be understood. I hope you reply. I hope we keep talking. I don’t want justice–it’s too late for that. We humans have lived too long, we’ve hurt too much. I want equality.