Why We Talk About This
Why do we do this? Why do we write about our experiences and talk about misogyny and women in today’s society and put all this out into the world?
I used to wonder that. Why bother? The only people reading are a) people who already agree with you or b) people who honest to God just want to fight with you.
The people who should be paying attention usually aren’t, and if they are, it’s only to argue. Most misogynists don’t even realize you’re talking to them, because no one self-identifies as a misogynist. Even the most ardent among them love women, you see. They have mothers and sisters and everything. Some of their best friends are women. You can’t change the mind of someone who can’t hear you, so these are obviously—as much as we might wish otherwise—not the people we’re talking to.
So who does that leave us with? Are we honestly just left sitting around in a big internet circle talking to ourselves?
I used to think so. I believed that everyone who talked about feminism and the way women are treated in media or in life just wrote blog posts so they could all sit around and agree with each other. Because who else was reading that sort of thing? Just a quick glance at the comments showed people either vehemently agreeing or trolololing. No one else was commenting, so obviously no one else was reading.
Except…I was. Not consistently or anything, because I’m not a big blog reader in general, but I’d get the link in an IM or on Facebook and I’d read it. And the weird thing for me is that I walk away from most articles or blogs neither agreeing nor disagreeing. I would walk away feeling that I had just read something interesting, but I develop opinions very slowly. I would read it, think about it, and then mentally file it away before going back to whatever I was doing.
This annoys some people, I think, who send me links and expect me to immediately jump in with strong reactions, but that’s just not the way I process information, and it never has been. I file it away, and I add to that file as I absorb more and more information on any given topic. Over time, the information all combines in my head when I’m not paying attention, and then poof! like a puff of smoke days or even weeks later, I suddenly have thoughts and opinions on things. But at that stage, I still don’t always feel like I can express my thoughts. When I try, the first time someone counters me, I stumble around my words. “I, uh…well, I mean there was this article I read…it was a few weeks ago…I can’t really remember, but I thought it said…I mean…”
I’m not the world’s best speaker. I can do it if I try super hard, but then add in trying to defend a topic—even one I know quite a bit about!—and I feel so put-on-the-spot that I can’t actually retrieve any of my information. I believe I’m a good writer (it’s my day job, after all), but my first drafts are always just gibberish ideas of what I think I want to say, be it fiction or non. When I write, I can literally look at my ideas, judge which ones have weight, which ones are well worded, which ones I need to rephrase. I can set them aside for days at a time, letting them sink into the page and into my head, then I can easily move them around when I come back to the draft and see if I still think all the things I thought I thought. I see if it still all makes sense, and if it all holds together.
I don’t have the luxury of doing that in any spoken conversation. I thrive in the ability to make my points slowly, not to awkwardly roll them out of my mouth in some collection of words that almost resembles the thing I kind of wanted to say as someone stands ready to shoot them down the second I get them out. As such, I usually avoid discussions on topics I haven’t thought about extensively—and even some I have. If a debatable topic comes up, I usually just shut up, and it’s not that I don’t have opinions or that I’m not smart enough to understand what’s going on. It’s that I’m taking in what everyone else is saying. I’m listening and adding all the information in the room to that part of my brain that collects blog posts and this side’s point and the other side’s point and eventually smashes them together into a big fusion of What I Think—but that process takes a while.
So I don’t comment on blogs. Almost ever. But I’m still listening.
So are a lot of other people. More people read an article or blog than comment on it—that’s just basic math right there—so while comments may look like any given blog post exists solely for the rah rah in the comments, really the people we’re talking to and trying to reach are the ones who don’t leave comments. We’re talking to the girl who gets called a lesbian because she doesn’t want to wear skirts, but is confused about what is inherently bad about lesbians or good about skirts. We’re talking to the preteen or teenage boy who feels uneasy when his friends make rape jokes, but he hasn’t yet pinned down exactly why. We’re talking to our husbands and coworkers and male friends who aren’t dismissive, but find our experiences so alien to their own that they’re unsure how to even participate in the conversation. We’re explaining what it feels like and what it looks like and what it sounds like when we are harassed or put down or dismissed on no basis other than gender.
And we’re talking to women who have never had this experience. That used to be me, too. It was easy to dismiss that “crazy feminism thing” because, well, I had never experienced it, so obviously the people who talked about it were just getting all uppity about every little thing they could latch on to. (Later I would realize that all the times I’d tried to make myself stand out as the Girl Who Could Carry Stuff, the Girl Who Could Work While Her Boyfriend Stayed Home and Cleaned, or the Girl Who Didn’t Wear Dresses were actually a direct result of people telling me what I couldn’t, wasn’t allowed to, or had to do based on my gender.) We’re talking to these women even though they’re only half paying attention. Some people get really mad about that, the half paying attention thing, but you know what? I think that’s fine. If every one of them gets to breathe their last breath having been treated completely fairly in every facet of their lives, then that’s honestly fantastic.
But that is super unlikely. And when they face that inequality—when they actually see it up close after never having had to face it before, what will they do? They may ignore that part of them that says something about the situation doesn’t sit right—and, probably, that’s exactly what they’ll do for a while, because it’s hard to just wake up on Tuesday and decide to believe in the boogey man when you’ve spent your whole life denying that he’s real.
Eventually, if she’s lucky, each of these women will notice that she can’t quite let it go. She’ll try to work out why this situation feels wrong. If there’s nothing there to pull from, then it’s too easy for her to dismiss the feeling as nothing. If she’s even half read a few articles or blogs that cover what gender judging feels like, though, then her brain can recall that, and bit by bit, she can start to feel more confident in calling what is happening to her “discrimination.”
Any time you write a blog or an article that focuses on what could potentially be a narrow target audience, it can feel like you’re just talking to yourself, or to the people who either agree with you or can’t hear you. Remember, though, the silent majority who don’t speak because they feel they have no voice, who don’t speak because they feel they lack anything to contribute, who don’t speak because they don’t understand or even have their own opinions yet. Don’t give up on getting your message across just because you don’t think it’s going anywhere new. We are making a difference, even if we can’t see it yet—or hear it.