Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Hiatus, Schmiatus!

Yeah, I know what I said.  And I'll be back on point come the first.  No foolin'.  But in the meantime, one of my heroes actually engaged in some man-splainin' a faux-pas*, like, I don't even fuckin' know how.  Well, I mean, I do.  I spotted it.  And, to his fully-deserved credit, he seems to have caught on and everything is looking great.  But I had some other things to say to our new friend, Austin Green, so I'm going to say them here on my own soapbox.  Here we go!  :)

* - EDIT:  Goddammit, I kicked myself over this all day.  On the way to work this morning, I realized that this wasn't actually man-splaining.  Man-splaining is when a man "explains" something to a woman (who often already knows what's being explained) in a condescending way.  That's not what this was.  The pointing out of man-splanation will often result in backpedaling, digging oneself deeper, getting defensive, and so on... some of which I saw, and then I went and affirmed the damned consequent because it looked kinda the same coming out the back-end.  So yeah.  Yoy my bad.  Sorry, Adam!

So, Austin, I think this (expecting to be able to communicate on your wavelength) is why your reflex is to say, "you seem to be misunderstanding something," when we're not communicating on the same wavelength.  As if it's my fucking job to immediately synch up to your wavelength.  Now, OK, I know that sounds harsh when I say it like that, but stop and feel that harshness - really, truly, feel it - and now hold on to that in one hand, and in the other hand, take a step back.  With the harshness in one hand, and a coolly reflective displacement in the other, realize that when you say something like, "Whoah, slow down there, you seem to be misunderstanding something here," it really feels like you're telling me that it is my job to immediately synch up to your wavelength.  Like your wavelength's normal, like your wavelength's the default, and like it's not an assertion of privilege to expect me to grasp that without even thinking about it.  This is the extreme hostility that McEwan is talking about:  but it feels like it's coming from you, even though it's hard for you to see it until I put the implication right back at you.  It's not what you meant - I don't doubt that, and in fact, "me not receiving what you mean to send" is why you feel the need to say it in the first place - but it's how it's received, nevertheless.

To clear things up with a brief list:
1.  It is not my job to interpret what you say in the best possible light (or to immediately synch up to your wavelength).
2.  It is not your job to magically know the best way to phrase things to me (or to immediately synch up to my wavelength).
3.  But!  If you want me to receive what you have to say in a positive way, then that desire of yours puts obligations on you in order to achieve it.  I don't have to want to receive you in a positive way (because #1).

Now, with friends, family, and even long-time acquaintances (i.e. "most of the people you talk to most of the time"), you're already on the same wavelength, so none of this matters.  But when you (for example) start talking to me (for example), I don't know you from Adam.  You're just some guy.  If you say something that sounds dumb, well, whatever - most people are dumb.  No surprise, there.  But if you then tell me that I'm making a mistake for not thinking you just said something awesome, then you're digging yourself deeper.  But!  If you instead act like you stepped on my toes and say, "Whoah, I'm sorry, I must have said something wrong," that tells me you at least recognize that A) we're not on the same wavelength, and B) I don't have to want to be on yours.

Note that B is more important for you to acknowledge.  Also note that I'm still not obligated to give a shit.  Remember:  you're still just some guy.  That sounds harsh, I know, and I don't even have a reversal here; it's just a fact that I don't need to always have an open slot on my list of People I Give a Shit About Today.  (To be perfectly clear, you are on that list today.  Congratulations?  But that's why you're getting all this:  because this is how things are, and if you're just now waking up to it... boy howdy, do you have some waking up to do!)

(...to take a dose of my own medicine... if that sounded harsh, then I probably said something wrong.  Sorry.  What I'm trying to communicate to you here is that, it looks like you're fixating on getting other people to understand what you mean.  You're trying to get people on your wavelength.  But it's way more effective, and way more impressive, if you can bring yourself over to someone else's wavelength - it's also way harder, so if you're just now seeing the scope of how hard it is, what I'm saying is that "You ain't seen nothin' yet!"  I hope that sounds better and more encouraging than what I said before.)

So, OK, you're having some confusion on "what is and is not reasonable criticism of feminists as a male feminist."  That, right there, indicates to me that you're taking the "Hold on, I have something to say" approach.  I mean, I bet you do.  But you're just some guy.  I'd say "try listening to them first," but you're probably doing that already.  I'd say "try synching up to their wavelength," but I just said that and you're also probably doing that already.  Y'know, I think we're friends, and... uhh... wow.  That six-pack went by real quick.  OK.  We're friends, right?  Here's some stuff from Feminism Class I think you'd be able to handle.

Marilyn Frye writes about a mindset called "look, listen, check, and question."  Looking, sure, we can take that for granted.  Listening is sort of a whole-body thing, it's distinct from merely "hearing," and if you grasp that distinction then we can probably take that for granted, too.  But "check and question" are where things go straight to Hard Mode:  you then have to double-back, see where you just were and where you've been coming from, and really honestly think about where things are going from there.  When you're talking about being a "male feminist," you're halfway there (at least!  I'm saying that merely identifying as a male feminist brings you halfway there, because you're like, "OK, yeah, I wanna be on-board with this").  But the checking and questioning needs to be directed at yourself.  Yes, there will be some checking of others, some questioning of others, but all that happens more or less automatically.  When you check yourself, and question yourself, you start making progress.  But here's the thing:  you never get to the point where you're like, [Bill Hicks' God voice]:  "There it is, I have checked myself.  Check.  And questioned myself.  Check.  That's done.  Time to go about solving problems once and for all!"  That never happens.  These are continuous processes.

Mariana Ortega writes about "loving, knowing ignorance."  This is what happens when you look and listen, but don't check and question.  (The "loving" means that it ultimately does come from a place of love, and the "knowing" is meant semi-sarcastically in the way that "a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing," as made [hopefully] obvious by the "ignorance" bit.)  You get a little into feminism, you start to get comfortable, but really you're only over that first hill where you ought to be seeing the whole mountain range, and sure, maybe you do... but then you think you've got it all down.  Oops!  That's the mistake right there, it's so easy to make, I've made it at every job I've ever held where I thought I stopped being a noob and then started making noob mistakes all the fuck over again.  Loving, knowing ignorance.  There's levels and levels to this stuff, because once again, it's a continuous process.  You don't check it off and move on, you have to keep doing it, because there will always be things outside your experience and people not on your wavelength.

All right, so that was a ridiculous Cliff's Notes summary of some serious Feminism Class stuff, but we're friends and I think you can handle it, so let's try it together.  I'm actually pretty lit right now, and this is getting way long.  But you listed some concerns:  "I've been really confused over what is and is not reasonable criticism of feminists," "I'm just trying to evaluate whether or not their interpretation of events is correct," and everything in between.  Take another look at that, let's have a conversation here, and we'll see if we can't raise some consciousness and build some bridges and stuff.  Sound good?  I hope so.  :)

And yeah, in case anyone doesn't know the ground rules:  this is not a Safe Space.  This is a Danger Zone.  Comments are not moderated or edited for any reason - I refuse to do that, and nobody else has the power to do so.  So... it's a dirty free-for-all.  But that also means it's a great practice space - I myself have said things I've later regretted, and I don't edit or retract them.  (EDIT:  I usually don't edit or retract them.)  I rub my nose in it and live with the mistake.  And I just kinda hope that everyone else is willing to go with the same sort of example, unrealistic as it is, because dammit this is my soapbox.  :)


athyco said...

I hope that my comment to Austin didn't step on the message you intended here. If I've successfully sidled onto your wavelength, I don't think it did.

You gave me such a ]click[ moment with your first comment on that thread. I really meant it when said that I flushed. I had to beat back the homunculus in my brain that loves repeating, "Ain't as smart as ya think ya are! Ha!" My jealousy is assuaged with your admission of taking four hours. The time span, though, that you dedicated to produce it has heightened my appreciation.

I feel really lucky that you came out of hiatus. I'll be browsing.

Steve Bowen said...

As usual you have illuminated the situation perfectly. I deliberately did not comment on Adam's post because although I had a view I wasn't about to go wandering through a sociopolitical landscape I am less than familiar with.
It is in fact quite difficult to be a male feminist (particularly of my generation) as the movement and therefore the debate is mature,increasingly nuanced and grew up largely without my involvement. This is because when I was a student 30 odd years ago feminism at least in the UK was excluding men from the conversation, probably for the right reasons, but did I must confess alienate me and many like me. Consequently on the odd occasion I have pitched in (usually at Ophelia or Jen's place) I find myself being jumped over for what seem to be innocuous comments. My current strategy is now to watch and learn...

D said...

Athyco... I don't even know what you're talking about. I mean, I read your comment to Austin, but I don't recall thinking that anything stepped on anything I said... so hooray?

I'm really glad I could make that click for you, though! :) And I'm tremendously glad to have a new reader!

Steve, always glad to read your words. I hear where you're coming from, with the history and the awkwardness and the oi, and I applaud your self-control. Watching and learning is a long-respected tradition in treading unfamiliar ground, so more power to ya. Paradoxically, one of the perks of the Danger Zone is that it's safe to stumble: you still might get yelled at for it, but you won't be censored or stifled, and then there are people like me who have an almost endless well of patience for those who are trying to learn but having a tough time. (Which is a lot of people! You are not alone! Some of my very best friends are struggling to understand feminism! I actually had a six-hour conversation with a friend a few weeks ago over what exactly "rape culture" means and the finer points of privilege... it was... grueling, but worthwhile.)

Also, I'm not ignoring that thing you emailed me about, I'm just thinking about it. You saw how long that other project took me. So yeah. Still thinking!