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The Missing Stairs of Feminism

Image: Flickr user kke227

Image: Flickr user kke227

Ugh. I’ve been working on this post on and off for weeks, but have been so disgusted and discouraged (and clinically depressed, as it happens), it’s been really challenging to get it finished and put it out there. It’s not the sort of thing I like having to write about, and I think some part of me was hoping that the person who sparked it would address the issues and somehow make it less necessary, but alas, that was wishful (one might even say “magical,”) thinking. Also, I recently learned that this whole thing came out a whole lot longer ago than I thought and some of us just missed it. See my apology toward the end.

Perhaps you’ve heard the analogy of the “missing stair.” It refers to a phenomenon wherein women warn one another about predators and other creeps in their social group because the social group is unwilling to oust said creep, makes excuses for him, or doesn’t even realize that the fact that he’s a creep is a problem to be solved. “But he’s a nice guy,” they’ll say, and list all of his good qualities, ignoring the fact that he’s at best an annoyance and at worst a danger to the women in the group.

In feminism, a missing stair can take many forms, as the author of the “missing stair” piece points out. Today I want to talk about one particular form: that of the faux feminist ally.

It recently (for some of us) came to light that a man who calls himself a feminist ally (and who many of us believed to be one) has behaved in ways and harbors attitudes that are decidedly un-ally-like. This is a person who, at first glance, seems like the perfect ally. He says all the right things, and he says them often. He just seems to “get it.” I mean, how many guys get it like this guy does? Wow. Everybody loves this guy.

Everyone, that is, except those who have already discovered that there’s more than one side to him. Or, perhaps more accurately, that there’s just one side, and it’s cleverly hidden under a fluffy sheep’s skin.

This guy is accused of silencing women on his once very popular (now defunct) feminist Facebook page as a matter of daily business. He has been accused of a number of things I’m not going to go into here, but suffice to say accusations abound. And the fact that there are so many accusations is an important piece of data. Perhaps emboldened by others speaking out, people seemed to flock to Twitter to share their stories, and many had screenshots to back them up. Put it all together, and the picture is not pretty.

And then there are the things he has admitted to: He has admitted to sending a very ugly message to a woman who criticized the way he ran his page. He has admitted that he used that page to meet women. He has freely—and one might even say proudly—admitted that his interest in feminism is at least partly based in “self-interest.” And I don’t mean in the way that feminism is good for everyone. No, this guy wants to be a professional feminist.

While dozens loudly criticized his behavior in a recent Twitter campaign to bring it to light, the dude in question ignored them and tweeted this quote:

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Numerous people attempted to engage him and from what I can tell, he responded to very few (many were apparently blocked). His feminist Facebook page disappeared after folks who tried him there got the same treatment. The Twitter hashtag calling him out is still active after several weeks. So yeah, people have been talking.

But I believe when Mrs. Roosevelt said the words above, she was talking about gossip—e.g., whose car was parked in the neighbor’s driveway—and gossip is not what has been happening here. It is not “gossip” that this dude berated a woman and used his privilege to mock her for using the word “privilege.” It is not “gossip” that he called her an “idiot” for expressing her views on how he ran his page. It is not “gossip” that he has expressed a desire to make a “career” of being a prominent male feminist and that he estimates he’s about “80 percent” dedicated to the cause, with the other 20% being about him. These are all things he has said and admitted to, and reducing these criticisms to gossip indicates that he does not take them—or his critics—seriously in the least.

No, gossip is not what has been happening. Here’s what has: People have been talking about what it means that a self-styled male “feminist” does these things and continues to have a speaking spot at a major feminist rally, a platform in major publications, and a place in a movement that is meant to empower women.

Some of us are disappointed that a man who said all the right things and really should have known better has privileged himself above women; that someone who talks so often about following women leaders thinks that what the feminist movement needs is a man who berates, verbally abuses, and silences women who disagree with him; that he thinks what we need is a man to lead us.

Some of us are angry that this person who ought to know better so often uses the word “vagina” (even as he verbally abused a woman who dared question him) in ways that ignore and even erase trans* people from the equation; that someone who claims to be an expert on feminism can be so clueless about intersectionality.

Some of us are shaking our heads in disbelief and even embarrassment that we didn’t see through this facade sooner; that we didn’t take a clue from how much space this man takes up in feminist discussions—from how often he talks about himself and the good deeds he does on behalf of feminism; that we held him up as an example of what an ally looks like.

Some of us are disgusted that (though he vaguely laments his tone) this dude not only stands by the things he said to the woman he abused—which, for one thing, firmly privileged him above her in all things feminist—but fully admits that feminism is an ambition for him and that much of what he does (i.e., posting on social media) is to promote himself as a feminist “leader.”

Some are relieved that a thing they’ve known for some time is finally coming to light; that the experiences they’ve been trying to talk about for months or even years are finally validated by public disclosure of this harmful behavior.

Some of us are wondering how we can—how we should—help prevent others from falling prey to a “feminist leader” who believes it’s ok to privilege himself above women and verbally abuse them when he thinks they’re wrong. We’re wondering if the right thing to do is to name names, join in the pile-on, and drum this guy out of feminism before he can do more harm, or to quietly remind people that allies who promote themselves* as allies seldom are and thereby avoid making targets of ourselves. Because make no mistake, not only is this dude willing to verbally abuse and shame people who disagree, this “ally” has allies who have made it their business to chime in and “explain” to women who speak out about this that they are everything that is wrong with feminism. And in an ironic twist, the MRAs have joined in to support this dude and to gleefully accuse us of eating our own. And frankly? Most of us get enough of their crap on a daily basis.

Some of us are developing a better understanding of why some of our sisters have been so suspicious of men who claim to be feminists.

I have long believed that men not only can but should identify as feminists or at least feminist allies, because I believe that men have to be part of tearing down the systems that benefit them and oppress everyone else or it just won’t happen. But a man who strives to become a professional feminist is taking the concept of dominating feminist spaces to a whole new level. Men who use the feminist movement to further their own ambitions do so at our expense, which means that instead of helping us to tear down these oppressive systems, they are using feminism to benefit from them, which is pretty fucking sick if you think about it.

And men who set out to use feminism as a launchpad for, say, a talk show career ignore the fact that (as others have said before me) for us, feminism is not an ambition. It is our lives. It’s not something we do to promote ourselves—it’s what we do in response to oppression. I don’t believe that men who strive to become “professional feminists” are in it for the women—not to any degree that makes a difference. And quite frankly, it is my firm belief that if anyone gets paid to do feminism, it ought to be women. Period.

That’s one big difference between guys like this and real feminist allies. Good allies understand that it’s not appropriate for men to presume to lead the movement. They get that it’s not their place to teach women about feminism any more than it would be a straight person’s place to teach gay people about LGBT issues. (What might be more appropriate would be for men to teach other men about feminism, assuming they actually know what they’re talking about and won’t do more harm than good, like this guy would.) Good male allies understand that their place is at the back of the room. Men who want to be allies need to study the behavior of failed allies and learn how not to be That Guy. Because That Guy is not only not an ally, he has the potential to do harm to our movement from within, not least by silencing people who already have a hard enough time being heard.

That Guy, these guys—men who use feminism for their own gains and do harm in the process—are the “missing stairs” of feminism. They look perfectly safe (in fact, they can look so safe that they’re practically begging you to step on them) but they will break your ankle just the same. And it will hurt, if only because you trusted them and they turned out to be just like every other entitled straight white dude on the planet.

Image: postthisinc.com

Image: postthisinc.com

I think we do have a duty to warn one another about these missing stairs. And then we have to work to fix the staircase. We have to raise up the voices of the marginalized and privilege them above these men and we have to deny these men access to leadership positions. Because for us, this isn’t a thing we do to make a name for ourselves. It’s what we do to live an authentic life and make our world better for our sisters and daughters and for boys and men and for everyone.

And yes, talking about this means talking about people who place themselves in our spaces.

For my own part, and to get around to the real reason I felt like I needed to write about this, I want to apologize for every instance in which I touted That Guy (the person in question or anyone like him) as a feminist ally, be it a Follow Friday on Twitter or a gushing share of a pithy feminist post on my Facebook page or the inclusion of his photo on my blog as an example of how men can do good in feminism. In doing these things, I helped give him credibility—I helped him perpetuate this image of himself as the perfect male feminist when what he turned out to be is the perfect faux ally.

Here are a few things I learned from this experience. It all seems so clear to me now.

  • When a straight, white man takes up more space in feminist conversations than most women, he may be in it for the wrong reasons.
  • When 99% of his Facebook posts are about the Good Feminist Deeds he did today, he may be in it for the wrong reasons.
  • When he is called out on bad behavior toward women and ignores his critics (many of whom are the very women making the accusations), posting passive-aggressive quotes instead of responding to criticism, he may be in it for the wrong reasons.

And from my own personal experience (because friends have urged me to share), when an “ally” solicits donations to his feminist charity event in return for promoting your work on his feminist network, then never seems to get around to promoting said work despite multiple promises, you might be tempted to let him off the hook because “he’s such a good guy; he does so much good” and “he must be so overwhelmed, poor bunny,” but when you find out that this behavior is part of a larger pattern of promoting himself as a great ally but actually being an awful one, you realize that you’ve been had** and…wait for it…he may be in it for the wrong reasons.

Now, because I held him up as an example of a good ally on more than one occasion and he turned out to be a missing stair (and because I don’t think I could look myself in the mirror if I didn’t), I’m going to say the thing that needs to be said out loud:

Charles Clymer can call himself a feminist if he wants to, but I do not believe he is an ally to feminism, and I’m sorry I ever helped promote him as such. In fact, I believe that he displays the same behaviors and attitudes of some of the worst MRA fuckwads who show up here and on my social media feeds to tell me I’m doing feminism wrong, except it’s worse because he does so in the name of feminism and at the expense of the people he claims to uplift and empower. He has expressed a wish that people would come to him personally about all this, but if you have a strong stomach, you can see what happens to women who challenge Charles and I highly recommend you check out the discussion on Twitter for additional data. As for me, I sincerely hope he finds a different career aspiration for the sake of all the people who daily continue to be taken in by his words, knowing nothing of his bad behavior or his continued unwillingness to address it in any meaningful way. And if he really wants to be a feminist ally and not part of the problem, I hope he goes back to feminism school and also how not to be a complete jackass school.

“One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes... and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.”  ~Eleanor Roosevelt

She also said this.

I further apologize to anyone upset by this news (however, if you’re angry that I named names, I don’t know what to tell you—I’m doing what I think is right). For me, finding out about this felt like getting punched in the gut. I felt (still feel) sick and betrayed and sad and angry because not only did I trust this guy, I told other people they should trust him (again, sorry), and his actions show that he is not worthy of that trust. Ultimately, I hope my writing this helps you avoid not just this particular faux feminist ally but also others still out there saying all the right things while doing all the wrong ones behind the scenes. I know I will be less trusting in the future (I already am), and that’s sad, but it’s a difficult thing we’re doing and we have to protect ourselves. There’s an old saying about friends and enemas that applies here.

I guess I’ll just leave it at that.


*In fact, one big takeaway for me from #YourSlipIsShowing (a recent campaign to out fake “feminist” Twitter accounts) was the louder and more often it quacks, the less likely it is to be a duck.

**I don’t regret my donation in the slightest, as it went toward providing abortion access (I had already donated once before he made the promo offer). Also, I don’t think he set out to defraud me, just that he was far too busy promoting himself as a great feminist ally (and shouting down women who disagree) to actually be one even in such a small way as this.

Note: I made some post-publication tweaks for clarity and inclusivity.


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Dear Entitled Straight White Dudes

Eviction-PhotoThis is formal notice that I’m evicting you from my life. I’m utterly and completely over you. Your privilege allows you more platforms than anyone and ensures that your voice is always heard first and foremost. It lets you be pretty much anywhere you want anytime you want. But the one place you can’t be is in my face or in my life any fucking more because it’s my face and my life and I’m sick of hearing from you.

I’ve written about splaining and been splained at. I’ve written about privilege and been devil’s advocated at or simply ridiculed. I’ve talked about sexism and racism and been reverse-sexismed and reverse-racismed at. I’ve written about sexual assault and been gaslighted. I’ve attempted to talk about issues that affect me and other women and been barraged with comments from you, ESWDs, telling me how wrong I am (because what a woman really needs is for a man to tell her she doesn’t know what she’s experienced or what issues affect her life). You insist on our time, energy, and attention even when we make it clear we don’t want to engage and then you act as though the fact that we don’t want to engage with you means we don’t have the courage of our convictions (i.e., we’re full of shit). I’ve pointed out that it’s ALMOST ALWAYS you who does these things and asked you to please stop, and when I do, you show up in force to tell me I’m being divisive and women do it too and that I’ll draw more flies with honey.

Here’s the thing: I don’t care what you think anymore. I’m not interested in your opinions because you’re not interested in mine, which is clear from the way you talk at and down to me, make proclamations tied to bullshit conclusions, and generally behave as though you’re the teacher and I’m the student. I’m sick of you thinking that every post you disagree with on social media is an engraved invitation and that the rest of us are just waiting to be enlightened by you. I’m not interested in your opinions because you seem completely unwilling to learn about the role you play and how you can stop making things worse and I’m tired of giving you the benefit of the doubt.

I am an opinionated woman and I speak my mind, so you may be wondering how what I do is different from what you do. The difference as I see it is that I don’t walk through life believing that everyone is entitled to my opinion on every subject even if they aren’t talking to or about me. I don’t believe that my opinion is so important that I must inflict it on other people and their friends at every opportunity. Because I was not raised in a culture that taught me that I am the most important person in the social hierarchy. (In fact, the same culture that taught you to be brash and opinionated taught me that I’m supposed to use honey and draw flies.) And because I wasn’t, it actually occurs to me that my opinion might not be required at all times—that other people might just want to be able to talk without someone disagreeing with them about every fucking thing. That people less privileged than I might like to have a conversation about how they see the world without me butting in to tell them how I see it differently because it turns out, it’s not about me.

carlsonI’ll tell you what I’d like to be able to do: talk about privilege without you showing up to wave yours around like a fucking flag you don’t even realize you’re holding. The problem is that even when we point it out to you, you still can’t see it. In fact, you absolutely refuse to see it even as you brandish it at us like a club. You refuse to see how that club you’re armed with creates a power differential that can’t be ignored. So you continue to ignore it and say things like “women do it too” and “stop making everything about race.” You become the perfect illustration of the problem that is you.

But here’s the thing: I know that not all straight white dudes are ESWDs. Many straight white dudes have learned that their privilege is something to be aware of and that awareness allows them to navigate the world without walking all over everyone else. And that gives me hope for you—each and every one of you—that one day you’ll pull your head out of that warm, wet place you keep it and realize that what you have been is part of the problem.

It’s the E that’s holding you back, ESWD: that sense of entitlement that is part and parcel of your privilege and your biggest weakness because it blinds you and keeps you from challenging yourself to truly do better by your fellow humans. Right now, you’re an Entitled Straight White Dude waving your flag and knocking shit over, and as long as you’re doing that I have no use for you. But you can choose to shed that E and join the ranks of regular straight white dudes who are out there working to make things better for everyone who isn’t a straight white dude, and if you do that…

Well, if you do that, I’ll be rooting for you.


Related:


Note to white dudes offended by this post: Is that your shoe?

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The Choice to Be Silent

Trigger warning: discussion of rape.

Note: This post has been updated since its original publication. I just kept having more to say on the subject. Also, I’d like to amend “silent” in the title because while many survivors choose not to report, we are often far from silent about our rapes. This is about the choice not to report a rape to the police.

I am a multiple rape survivor. I have experienced what it’s like to report rape and I have chosen not to report rape. And although I want all rapists caught and punished, I fully support every survivor’s right to choose whether to report rape and I do not question any survivor’s choice no matter what. For me—and for most of the feminists I know—this is fundamental.

A recent post on Fiending for Hope discussed the choice not to report a rape as an act of self-care and something to be respected. She went so far as to suggest that survivors who choose not to report are courageous:

People that do choose to report their rapes are incredibly courageous and I support them so freaking hard. But those of us that don’t choose to report are no less courageous.

She didn’t claim that the choice not to report required the same amount of courage as choosing to report and face the consequences which will likely include being grilled about every choice she made leading up to the rape and immediately after. She merely stated that choosing not to report doesn’t make you less courageous. I agree with her (on all counts—read the piece if you haven’t) and will take it a step further: I believe that choosing not to report requires courage (of perhaps a different kind), and I don’t think that there’s a mathematical formula you can apply that will determine which survivor must display more courage. It’s not a contest, and every survivor must be courageous—sometimes just to get up in the morning and live our lives. But while choosing to report a rape may require the courage to deal with systemic abuse of rape survivors, choosing not to report—choosing instead to take care of yourself first and foremost—requires the courage to deal with the fallout when people hold you responsible for the rapist’s future actions.

Because there are still those who believe that a rape survivor owes it to society to report rape—as though by doing that we are protecting society from a rapist—and hold survivors who don’t report responsible for rapists running free. I saw some of this in the reaction to the piece in question—and to the quote above. The idea that a survivor might choose not to report a rape is, to some, not a courageous act but a cowardly one—one that leaves a rapist at large, and so, endangers others.

Fun fact: 97% of rapists never serve time. It’s estimated that about 46% of rapes get reported, only 12% of rapists ever get arrested, and only 3% go to jail. So how, exactly, am I protecting society by reporting my rape when the odds are the rapist will never see the inside of a prison cell? When, in fact, there’s a good chance that my rape kit will sit untested on a shelf for years—possibly decades?* How the fuck do you take a rapist to trial without testing a rape kit? You don’t. (Hence the 9% of rapists who get prosecuted.)

via RAINN

via RAINN

I don’t know the percentage of female rape survivors who report and are subsequently treated like criminals and interrogated about their clothing choices, how much they had to drink, how many sexual partners they’ve had and whether their attacker was one of them, whether the “sex” was actually consensual but they regretted it later…but I’m guessing the percentage high based on pretty much every survivor I’ve read or talked to. So when people say that a survivor owes it to the rest of us to endure this scrutiny and shaming even knowing that the rapist is going to walk free almost every single time, they are basically saying, “If you don’t run the gauntlet, you’re responsible for all future rapes this perp commits.”

A rape survivor is never, ever responsible for future rapes perpetrated by his or her rapist. I mean, the fact that I actually have to say that… But you know, I do. And for anyone out there who questions a survivor’s choice not to report, I’d like you to think about the following:

Would you support a rape survivor’s choice not to report a rape because…

…he feared for his life?

…she was drunk and can’t identify her attacker?

…his attacker threatened his family?

…her attacker is already on trial for another rape?

…his attacker was a family member dying of cancer?

…her attacker got hit by a truck right after the rape and so will never be able to rape again?

If you answered yes to any of these questions (or can conceive of any possible circumstance under which you would be ok with not reporting), then you support a rape survivor’s right to choose whether to report. And so, to question any survivor’s choice to report a rape is bullshit because you have no idea why they are choosing not to report and IT’S NONE OF YOUR GODDAMNED BUSINESS.

Out of three rapes, I reported the first two. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about whether to report the first time, but the second time I was afraid it wasn’t rape because I didn’t fight, and a police officer convinced me that it was indeed rape and took my report. Neither of these times did it ever occur to me not to file a report, so no particular courage was required for me to do so. I wasn’t out to save anyone—I was a mess and I did what people told me to do. The third time circumstances were complicated enough that reporting seemed utterly futile based on my experience with the system. I did not display courage in choosing not to report; I just did what I had to do. But I wasn’t *more* courageous when I reported the previous rapes than someone who chooses not to, and to say I was is bullshit. And furthermore, I can’t conceive for one second of holding a prior victim of any of the men who raped me responsible for my rapes.

Like Britni says:

We all have our own stories and our own reasons for making the choices that we make. It’s important to remember that survivors make the choices that are best for them– not the choices YOU think are best for them. And all of those choices are valid. All of them.

Rape survivors don’t owe anyone anything. They certainly don’t owe us their continued pain and suffering so that we as a society can blame them for their rapes and lament the ruination of their rapists’ lives and ultimately let the rapist go free most of the time. They don’t owe us that.

I am a multiple rape survivor. I have reported rape and I have chosen not to report rape. Both choices required courage and still do. Every fucking day of my life.

*True story: One of my rape kits has been sitting untested on a shelf in Texas since 1981.

UPDATE: Check out the #WhyIDidntReport hashtag on Twitter, which was started by @ethiopiennesays soon after I posted this piece. It saw tens of thousands of tweets from survivors sharing their stories of why they chose not to report their rapes. If you can read their stories and walk away believing survivors have a duty to report or that reporting somehow equals justice, then there’s very likely nothing anyone can say that will change your mind.


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ANITA the Documentary: See it and Send a Message

ANITAIn 1991, Anita Hill captured my country’s attention when she testified before congress that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her while he was her supervisor. I was in my late 20s at the time, and I remember how brave she seemed, but the power dynamics were frankly lost on me at that point. In fact, they were lost on a lot of people. Prior to Ms. Hill’s testimony, we weren’t even talking about sexual harassment in the workplace as a nation. Like so many societal ills, it was a silent current running through our culture, accepted as just “the way things are.” Anita Hill changed that.

Now, watching the trailer for the upcoming documentary ANITA, I look at the sea of white, male faces that confronted her (literally) as she testified, and I have a far better sense of just how much courage that must have taken as a woman and especially as a Woman of Color. She spoke a hard truth to the most powerful men in her country and made herself a target not only for politicians but for racists and comedians and anyone else with an axe to grind against a Black woman who dared talk about how powerful men treat women who are subordinate to them. She did so with a grace I know I couldn’t muster in similar circumstances, and I am in awe of her. I expect I’ll be even more in awe after seeing this film.

Watch the trailer:


Yeah, this looks really, really good.

I’ve worked on Women, Action, and the Media (WAM!) campaigns before and hoped at one time to start a Seattle WAM! chapter. Life got in the way and I have had to take a step back from my activism until further notice, but I’m still kicking, and when Jaclyn Friedman asked me if I’d help WAM! get people out to a local ANITA screening I was happy to oblige. But I don’t want to stop there.

Initial screenings are taking place in March and April in select cities (see below). Based on ticket sales for those screenings, distributors for the film will decide how many cities will get the film and for how long. WAM! wants to get as many people as possible out to these screenings to ensure that the film gets wide distribution and in doing so, send a message to Hollywood that “woman-helmed films about women are a good investment.”

I think this is a worthy endeavor—don’t you? I’m hoping you’ll help me get the word out so these initial screenings are as successful as they can be. And BONUS: WAM! has arranged for discounted tickets (see links below)!

From WAM!:

Just past the 22 year anniversary, Freida Mock revisits one of the most controversial watershed events of the past century, the Anita Hill – Clarence Thomas hearings, the weekend of shocking television that made Anita Hill a household name and smashed the door open on the issues of sexual harassment and gender equality.

tumblr_static_webanita_background_1960x1304

Attend a Screening

Screenings are happening in the following cities (courtesy of WAM!—follow links for discounted tix!):

MARCH 21 – 23, 2014

APRIL 4 – 6, 2014

  • CHICAGO, IL – RIVER EAST 21: Email us ASAP to help make a Chicago WAM! screening happen

  • ATLANTA, GA – REGAL TARA CINEMAS 4: Email us ASAP to help make an Atlanta WAM! screening happen

Help Make ANITA a Success!

Watch the trailer. Spread the word about this film, these screenings (and discounted tix!), and our goal to turn out as many movie-goers as we can. If you live in one of the above cities, attend a screening! Any screening! And if you live in one of the above cities and would like to help ensure the success of ANITA in your city, or if your city is not listed and you’d like to bring a screening to your areaemail WAM! and let them know.

Let’s send that message to Hollywood so more films like this one get made and seen.

I’m Tired of All the Damned Splaining so Check Your Privilege, Please

STOPI’m tired. So tired of all the splaining and the related derailing and domination of conversations about issues facing less privileged people by those who have more privilege in our society.

I have written about mansplaining before. Many men (who seem not to have read past the headline) get their feelings hurt by this because they automatically assume it applies to all men. If you do not engage in mansplaining, it does not apply to you. The same goes for what I have to say here: if the shoe fits, wear it.

All of us sit somewhere on a scale of privilege. Some are more privileged, some less. My wish is that when someone from a lower rung on the ladder of privilege speaks out about an issue that affects them, everyone above them on the ladder would take the opportunity to listen and learn and allow room for that voice to be heard. Too often what I see instead is the people from higher on the ladder jumping in to splain to the people on lower rungs why their perspectives are flawed. I see threads about women derailed and dominated by men. I see threads about People of Color derailed and dominated by white people. And it’s not cool.

I am tired of being splained and watching other people get splained. I’m tired of women never being able to speak out about an issue that affects them without half a dozen men jumping in to splain “it’s not just women” or telling us how wrong we are when we try to talk about our lived experiences and how we feel about them. I’m tired of seeing People of Color speaking out about their lived experiences and issues affect them only to have white people splain that “it’s not just Black people” and “that’s not racist.” I’m tired of straightsplainging and cissplaining. I’m tired of abandoning threads I started because even when I say I’m done arguing, the splainers keep on splaining (often becoming more and more condescending as the discussion “progresses”). I’m tired of dealing with people who are more interested in having their opinions heard and being right than in sitting back and listening to people whose lives and challenges are different from theirs and maybe learning something.

You know what? When people less privileged than you are use their voices to talk about an issue they face, it really doesn’t matter whether the issue also affects you. The point is that it affects the less privileged group to a (chances are much) greater degree, and they are trying to talk about that, and it is not helpful or wanted for you to splain that you were once poor or that you got sexually harassed one time so it’s not just them. In fact, when you do that, you take up room in the conversation that really ought to be reserved for other voices in the less privileged group who want to discuss the issue. What would be helpful would be for you to listen and learn about how other people experience the world—other people who do not benefit from the privileges you enjoy—and the challenges *they* face. Consider whether your opinion is required on every topic on which you feel tempted to comment, or whether you are simply exercising your privilege when you and people like you end up dominating a conversation that wasn’t about you in the first place. Consider how your privilege allows you to feel comfortable doing that.

Your privilege means that your voice carries more weight in almost every situation. Do you really have to chime in on every single thread on which you have an opinion? Must your voice be heard, possibly at the expense of others? Want to talk about an issue that affects you? Maybe go start your own conversation rather than taking over one a person on a lower rung of privilege is trying to have.

If this pisses you off, then maybe ask yourself why, and consider whether you’re actually willing to allow less privileged people to talk about issues facing them without splaining how it’s “not just X” or how their perspectives are flawed. Consider whether you are willing to make room for voices that carry less weight in our society. If you’re not willing consider these things, then you are not being an ally to those less privileged than you are.

I’m tired of all the damned splaining. And I’m about to start culling my social media feeds to reduce the amount of it I have to deal with in my life. I have already revised my comment policy here to reflect the fact that I’m not nearly as tolerant of various flavors of bullshit as I once was. This is one of my least favorite flavors because people who do this are often unaware of what they’re doing and consider themselves to be allies, which means that people like me end up wasting a lot of time and precious energy trying to help them understand. False allies are worse than trolls because at least they seem like they have good intentions, but what they end up doing is sucking all your energy as you try to engage them when ultimately, they can’t see past their own privilege to actually listen. They end up dominating conversations instead of learning. And the less privileged end up leaving these conversations because we’re tired of arguing with people who have no intention of hearing us, and so our voices we are effectively silenced. False allies are people who think of themselves as “progressive” but behave in ways that become part of the problem.

If you want to be an ally, learn how to be a good one. If you want to argue about this, go argue with someone else. And please stop splaining.

Because I’m so fucking tired of it.

BE AN ALLY.png


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Trigger Warnings: It’s About Empathy and Choice

Trigger warning for multiple topics*.
EMPATHYsmI am super irritated that I have to write this. That I feel like I have to write it today, right now, because not only did a concern-trolling article come out in the New Republic a couple of days ago, but people were already complaining about trigger warnings as though they were some kind of censorship (some even using the word). As though the people using or benefiting from them were proposing banning words or ideas. As though we want our world scrubbed clean of all references to traumatic topics. This is not remotely the case, and I feel the need to clarify for anyone who’s listening and isn’t sure they get it. 

What’s a trigger warning? The top Urban Dictionary entry does a fairly good job of defining them:

Used to alert people when an internet post, book, article, picture, video, audio clip, or some other media could potentially cause extremely negative reactions (such as post-traumatic flashbacks or self-harm) due to its content. Sometimes abbreviated as “TW.”

Trigger Warning for sexual violence

The New Republic article adopts a slippery-slope argument, pointing out among other things that UC Santa Barbara’s Associated Student Senate has passed a proposal, now presumably before university officials, recommending required warnings before graphic material. The author doesn’t seem curious about how this might help people. In fact she states quite plainly that it doesn’t:

As a means of navigating the Internet, or setting the tone for academic discussion, the trigger warning is unhelpful. … There is no rational basis for applying warnings because there is no objective measure of words’ potential harm.Of course, words can inspire intense reactions, but they have no intrinsic danger. Two people who have endured similarly painful experiences, from rape to war, can read the same material and respond in wholly different ways.

This tells me that the author a) has missed the point entirely and b) didn’t bother to speak to anyone who uses or benefits from trigger warnings (she certainly doesn’t quote any). If she had spoken to some of us, she might understand that trigger warnings are actually very helpful to trauma survivors. They allow us to choose when and how we engage with content so we can do so in a way that results in less harm. It doesn’t mean we won’t view the content. It just means we have a choice—that it doesn’t hit us like a slap in the face and possibly to our great detriment. But people who pooh-pooh trigger warnings often (though not always if they take the time to listen) seem unconcerned with the everyday battles survivors face on the Internet. In fact, like the author of the NS article (quoted again below), some are now wringing their hands over how this practice is apparently harming us as a society and will lead to trigger warnings on cereal boxes and shit:

What began as a way of moderating Internet forums for the vulnerable and mentally ill now threatens to define public discussion both online and off. The trigger warning signals … a wider cultural hypersensitivity to harm and a paranoia about giving offense. And yet, for all the debate about the warnings on campuses and on the Internet, few are grappling with the ramifications for society as a whole.

… it’s only a matter of time before warnings are demanded for other grade levels … it’s not inconceivable that they’ll appear at the beginning of film screenings and at the entrance to art exhibits. Will newspapers start applying warnings to articles about rape, murder, and war? Could they even become a regular feature of speech? “I was walking down Main Street last night when—trigger warning—I saw an elderly woman get mugged.”

Trigger warnings aren’t about not giving offense. They’re about taking the time to consider how material might affect survivors of trauma (empathy) and allowing them to a) brace themselves emotionally for the material or b) skip it entirely (choice). They serve as a helpful guide for people who might want or need to prepare for—or choose not to experience—content that might trigger reactions that they aren’t ready to deal with right now—reactions that can range from mild discomfort (which is what most people who have a problem with TWs seem to assume we’re talking about) to outright panic to self-harm. In an age when most of us are suffering from information overload, it’s about giving people more awareness of possible emotional landmines so they can make informed choices as they navigate their day. Believe me, we’re going to encounter plenty difficult material without the benefit of a trigger warning. We’re not living in a sterilized environment. But we do appreciate a heads-up when something might reopen our wounds. To me, it doesn’t seem like much to ask, and it doesn’t cost me anything to include trigger warnings on my content.

As yet, no one is obligated to provide trigger warnings. It’s something we do out of consideration for those who might appreciate and benefit from it. A simple [TW] before a tweet about a difficult topic gives readers a chance to steel their gut or skip it if they don’t feel like dealing with hard stuff just now. Ever read or watched something that made you cry at work? If so, you might know the feeling of wishing you’d waited until later. Have you ever said something insensitive in front of someone who was hurt by your words and wished you hadn’t opened your mouth? Would you knowingly walk through the world causing people to feel either of those ways…or much worse?

No, the world cannot and should not be free of all references to rape, abuse, domestic violence, racism, slut-shaming, fat-shaming, suicide, war…but knowing what we’re in for allows us to reduce emotional stress and strife in an environment that—for at least some of us—feels like a barrage of those things on a fairly constant basis.

It’s about self-care, and those who think trigger warnings are unnecessary or asking too much are basically saying that they don’t care whether we’re able to practice self care, or whether being blind-sided by something might cause us to engage in self-harm or flip a switch in our brains and trigger anxiety that can last for weeks (or months and require medication or even hospitalization to overcome)…this is what we’re talking about here, folks. We’re talking about caring enough about survivors of trauma that we allow them to choose. The National Institute of Health estimates that over ten million people suffer from PTSD in the United States alone. We’re talking about avoiding doing or saying something carelessly that might cause real harm to people who are already struggling every single day.

Here’s where the concern-trolling really gets going:

Issuing caution on the basis of potential harm or insult doesn’t help us negotiate our reactions; it makes our dealings with others more fraught. As Breslin pointed out, trigger warnings can have the opposite of their intended effect, luring in sensitive people (and perhaps connoisseurs of graphic content, too). More importantly, they reinforce the fear of words…

*scraaaaatch*

Go read the article if you want. I’m done.

Yes, there is a good chance that trigger warnings will rise in popularity as people become more aware of why they are a thoughtful thing to do. And people who think they’re useless will continue to wonder “What’s next? A trigger warning because you don’t like the brand of beer I drink?” And I will shake my head and wonder why it’s so difficult for them to consider the lives of others—lives which are clearly quite different from theirs when their reaction to our trauma is “This is the world. Deal with it.”

Well, this is empathy, and it’s what allows people to care for each other and not hurt each other. I recommend that everyone take a spoonful with their tea in the morning and see if your day and that of everyone you interact with doesn’t get just a bit better. At the very least, maybe you’ll cause less harm.

Screen shot 2014-03-05 at 10.58.17 AMSpeaking of lack of empathy, here’s what Dan Savage had to say about the NR article:

Any article in which I’m cited as triggering needs to have a trigger warning. Because that totally triggers me.

Way to be an insensitive fuckwad, Dan. High five.

I mean seriously: aside from some people’s snide reaction to the idea that some people need to be a bit more gentle with themselves than others, what is the problem with a warning before a particularly graphic film or tv show (many of which already feature them, and have since I was a child)? What is the cost? Do we really think this is going to lead to everyone walking around in full-body armor and darkened goggles that filter out anything objectionable? Why don’t we start by worrying about survivors and concern ourselves with the Trigger Warning Dystopia later? Because at this point it sounds to me like some people are just irritated by other people’s sensitivities, and to that I say, get out into the world and meet some people whose lives are completely different from yours. Listen to what they have to say. That’s where your full dose of understanding will come from.

I’ll close with a quote from the always-amazing Anne Theriault of The Belle Jar:

Life is an ongoing exercise in empathy. As a human being, your job should be constantly learning how to make your own way in this world while causing as little harm as possible.  Which is why I’m ultimately baffled when people wonder aloud if they’re supposed to look at everything critically and worry about its potential to harm others. Because yes. Yes, that is exactly what you are supposed to do.

tortoise

Me empathizing with a baby tortoise, in case that’s helpful.

*See how easy that was?

UPDATE: People have argued here and elsewhere that trigger warnings might be harmful to someone who really ought to face their triggers as part of recovery. This argument assumes that a) we are all in the same place in our recovery and b) we all need the same thing with regard to our recovery. It seems to me that people making this argument are telling people who appreciate trigger warnings that they (the arguers) know better what we (the triggered) need than we do. While I think these people’s intentions are in some cases good, I strongly disagree and I ask these folks to examine their own privilege in making these assumptions for others.


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Rape Culture at UofO: Come at Me, Bros

Trigger warning for discussion of rape and rape culture.

Screen shot 2014-03-03 at 2.59.43 PMMy friend Anne Thériault of The Belle Jar wrote a post a few days ago about an incident at University of Ottawa wherein several male members of student leadership gathered to chat about Anne Marie Roy, president of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa. Ms. Roy had apparently beaten a dude for the office, and these dudes were not happy. They went on for several screens talking about how someone should “punish her with their shaft,” speculating about what venereal diseases she might have, and offering to buy beers for a guy who says he’s going to “fuck her in the ass” on someone’s desk. You’ll find the whole disgusting mess over on The Belle Jar. Here’s an excerpt from Anne’s article, which you should go read right now.

Someone punish her with their shaft. Someone punish her with their shaft. This is the type of thing that’s said about women in positions of power – not a critique of their policies, but a threat of sexual violence. Not a comment on how they do their job, but graphic fantasies about how they should be sexually degraded. Nothing about their intelligence or capability, just a string of jokes about how riddled with venereal disease they are. This is misogyny, pure and simple. This is slut-shaming. This is rape culture.

As I’m sure you can imagine, Anne was immediately subjected to verbal abuse of the sort women who dare to speak out on the Internet will be familiar with. But then Anne Marie Roy received a cease-and-desist letter. From CTV News in Canada:

The letter — which identifies the four participants as Michel Fournier-Simard, Alexandre Giroux, Alexandre Larochelle and Robert-Marc Tremblay — threatened legal action against Roy if she did not “destroy” her copy of the online conversation and stop sharing it with others.

It wasn’t long before Anne Thériault received a similar letter. These individuals have now withdrawn their threats with regard to Ms. Roy. Anne is still waiting to learn whether she will be sued for her blog post.

Every single day, women are silenced when they try to speak out about rape culture. Every day we are told that “it’s not rape culture” or “it’s just how guys are,” which sound to me like conflicting statements. Why are guys just “like that”? Duh, because of rape culture, which Matthew G. P. Coe defines thusly in his follow-up at the Good Men Project:

Rape culture is the gradual normalisation, through, for example, jokes, commentary, and apologia, of the exertion of one person’s will over another, through the use of coerced or forced sex acts, such that such exertions become acceptable or justifiable as either hypothetical or practical actions.

Every time a conversation like the one Anne Marie Roy and Anne Thériault have helped bring to light takes place, it reinforces this culture of rape as acceptable. It reinforces a culture that treats women as objects, as products for men’s consumption, as sex toys, as less than human. And it reinforces a culture where women remain silent when things like this happen. Or as Anne says,

If these men face no consequences for their actions – indeed, if they are able to press charges against Roy for publicly addressing their comments – what are the students going to learn from this? They’ll learn that rape is a joke, that women can be terrorized into silence, and that it’s useless, maybe even dangerous, to speak up. Are these the lessons that we want our student leaders to be instilling in the heads of seventeen and eighteen year old kids?

I’d like to ask each of you to think about how you can help shine a light on this bullshit and show the world that we will not be silent. As for me, I’m looking forward to my cease-and-desist letter. Oh! I probably won’t get one unless I include at least part of the conversation, so here you go, bros:

screen-shot-2014-02-28-at-1-57-41-pm

And here’s my call to action:

Join me by writing your own post, reblogging/sharing Anne’s post or this one or Matt Coe’s or all of them, and tweeting on #UofOrapeculture. Let’s shine a frakking Klieg light on these assholes.

Update: All four members of student leadership involved in this conversation have resigned their positions. (I missed this article previously. Apologies.) No word on whether legal actions will continue.

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