I did a stupid thing yesterday. I got into a fight with some dude on The Internet (via my phone) whom I’ve never met about #YesAllWomen and “toxic” masculinity. It was on Facebook, though, so GIFT doesn’t apply. Which didn’t stop him from being an ass-troll. I know it can be hard as a man to talk about gender relations and feminism without feeling like you’re walking a path peppered with landmines. I know this because the awkward, delicate discussions are not unique to gender, but extend to sexual orientation, race, citizenship status, etc. While I’m only on the “oppressed” side of the gender discussion, I’ve definitely avoided asking questions of other “oppressed” groups because I wasn’t sure whether they were appropriate. For instance, we had a visitor to Artifice yesterday who was wearing a dress, a delicate necklace, and earrings, but went by “Steve” and preferred male pronouns. Had I known Steve for longer, I might have asked whether he actually views himself as trans (in spite of a story about being that “girl” in a comic book store who put one of the dudes in his place) or just thinks binary gender is stupid and is making a statement. But I haven’t, so I didn’t. But here’s one thing you can always count on when having these conversations as the person whose rights aren’t at stake: DO NOT EVER TELL A [WOMAN] THAT SHE IS NOT QUALIFIED TO TALK ABOUT THE PLIGHT OF [WOMEN] JUST BECAUSE SHE IS A [WOMAN].
The entire point of #YesAllWomen was that it was a way for women to speak out about their individual experiences and for the collective to form a clear picture of the problem. I’m not saying everyone used it well, but there can be no doubt that the hashtag resonates with many, many women. But here comes some dude (thinking, by the way, that he’s not being a misogynist) to tell me that I’m not qualified to talk about the problems women face in society or how cultural gender norms play into them just because I’m a woman. Actually, I am. Is anecdotal evidence the strongest evidence? No. Is it still important? Uh, YEAH. First off, you can’t be a sympathetic ally without hearing the stories of the marginalized. Further, restorative justice after human rights atrocities, as it turns out, is cathartic even if nothing comes of an individual’s report because having their experiences validated as truth is healing. (I’ll try to figure out which of my several books on the topic addresses this.)
We still need facts, of course. And not just any ol’ data, but data that clearly dictates how progress can be made. I’ve been critical of Feministing for posting studies showing that, for example, “Women need a PhD just to as much as a man with a BA” (which is misleading because the Bachelors degrees are not divided into BA/BS) because many of these studies are not broken down by field and they’re thus useless as anything other than a critique of the way we value different skills and types of labor in the U.S. Without controlling for industry, it’s too easy to say that women with PhDs in creative writing obviously earn less than men with Bachelors degrees in engineering. Turns out, if you control for industry, rank, and other factors, it seems that there is a bias toward men in some fields, including STEM, and a bias toward women in “caring” professions. I’ll try to find the numbers again, but I think it was data from the BLS.
At any rate, this ass-troll (who knows nothing about me except what my Facebook profile says, but clearly has an inferiority complex when it comes to his undergrad institution versus mine (and that of most of the folks on this thread) basically told me I was making things up (yay, gaslighting!), wasn’t qualified to speak on the topic (lololol, the irony of saying that on a thread about #YesAllWomen), and that there existed no data to back me up, even though I’d already pointed him toward Lean In. (I have a lot of problems with the corporate elite feminism in Lean In, but the research is extensive and very well-documented.) He additionally accused the people arguing with him of being “slacktivists” and “armchair philosophers,” which is pretty funny given that correcting assholes like him at every turn is one of the most important, practical contributions non-policymakers and non-researchers can make to gender equality. What would make us bonafide activists? Going around shooting all misogynists? So yeah, I read things, talk to people, sign petitions, and write things on gender equality, which makes me only slightly more slack in my “slactivism” than, say, Gloria Steinem.
This is a conversation I’ve had before and it’s one I know I’ll have again. It is important for men to understand that when we get upset because they’re demanding statistics and data to validate our experiences and those of the women we know (which is different from respectfully requesting and discussing reliable data to inform a nuanced conversation about remedies), it’s not because we’re “crazy” and it doesn’t make us wrong. What you’re doing is disrespectful and it undermines us. This is not the debate club or a courtroom. Getting upset doesn’t mean we lose the argument. We’re upset because THIS IS OUR REALITY that you’re so casually challenging. Our lives and our hopes and our dreams are what’s on the line, not a fleeting ego boost from winning some argument. Our painful experiences and the things we feel about them are not made better by “Yeah, but _x_ study says that’s uncommon” or “Well, _y_ study says that happened to you because of choices you made [though you couldn’t possibly have anticipated this outcome].” While I can normally debate the finer points of an argument with a disinterested passion, I cannot do that when it’s my rights and my safety and my wellbeing that we’re talking about. I cannot do that because it’s my rights and my safety and my wellbeing that we’re talking about. I am not a disinterested party and that should count for more, not less, when you’re deciding whether or not my oppression is real and how much my perspective counts. (Which, frankly, you shouldn’t be deciding regardless.)
If you actually want to be an ally in the very messy, confusing fight for gender equality, start by acknowledging the truths of the women around you. It doesn’t matter whether you’re not a man who would do these things (although, thank you, if you’re really not) because we are the women who experience them. In other words, #YesAllWomen have a right to speak to the oppression they’ve faced as women and, yes, what they have to say counts. If you can’t get on board with that, you are part of the problem.
ADDENDUM, because this troll thread is still happening, two days later and I’m still pissed (but no longer responding): This discussion our society is having and the fights with the misogynists and trolls who are trying to appropriate or derail it? It’s not for your entertainment. It’s not “fun” or “interesting” that you’ve enraged women who live with and suffer because of these realities. This outpouring of pain and anger is not an invitation to pose douchey hypotheticals about feminism being wrong and men being the natural leaders of our race. I will say it again because it bears repeating: THIS IS NOT AN ACADEMIC DEBATE. Upset women are not “losing.” The fact that we are upset is not proof that anything we have said is “weak.” We do not “owe” you facts or answers of any kind. There is no fucking burden of proof here. We are not testifying in front of Congress or any other court. Providing you men who’ve appointed yourselves the Estimable Arbiters of Truth in all of this with the evidence you demand will not result in solutions. And we know that because we know from your demands that you are not truly interested in helping. If a woman, as part of this nationwide discussion, tells you that your tone or your attitude are inappropriate in this context and you continue on in the same vein, especially if you are also ignoring, belittling, mocking, or distorting her words, YOU ARE PROVING OUR POINTS. YOU ARE THE PROBLEM. I, for one, am done engaging you because your narcissism will never allow you to admit your contributions to our oppression, so I will instead look to change minds where it is still possible.