Imagine if you will that you’re walking down the pavement. Just, minding your own business. You walk round a corner and BAM you get hit by a cyclist riding on the pavement coming the other way. You fall over, maybe you graze your elbow. Maybe you even bang your head on the floor. Either way you’re kinda banged up and feeling sore and hurty. The cyclist ignores you and continues on his way.
Later that day you meet up with a friend who’s also a cyclist. You say to him “You’ll never believe what happened to me today, I got hit by a cyclist who was riding on the PAVEMENT! They knocked me over, I’m lucky I didn’t get a concussion!”
“Um, I’m not like that” your friend replies, hurt. “I’d never ride on the pavement.”
“I…know.” You reply. “I wasn’t suggesting that you did…I was just saying that THIS one did.”
“Look, we don’t ALL ride on the pavement, some of us are GOOD cyclists and we ALWAYS ride on the road, so don’t go thinking that we’re ALL like that because we’re NOT!”
“Look, I’ve just had a bad experience with a cyclist and I’m kind of in pain here…”
“GOD will you just STOP badmouthing cyclists it’s UNFAIR!”
How about another scenario? Let’s say, you’re a massive football fan. Huge fan. You follow your team, try and catch every game. Your team has just found it’s way to the final, and you and a friend are having an in-depth discussion about what you think went well this season, the tactics you think they should use, what the new manager’s been like.
Up comes another friend. “Oh, hi, you’re talking about football? I don’t know much about football, what’s the offside rule?”
You blink at him. “Well, I can explain that to you later if you want but we’re kind of in the middle of a conversation here…”
“Hey!” says your friend. “I just wanted to KNOW. Jeez, you people go on about football ALL THE TIME, if you want me to be interested in it you’ll have to tell me how it works!”
“Well, sure” you say “but right now I’m talking to this guy about this season…”
“What’s a season? I don’t understand! How do you expect me to like football if you WON’T EXPLAIN IT TO ME?”
“Look, dude, you could Google it? Or maybe read a book about it? Or, find a website that talks about the basics? But now’s really not the time…”
“Um, no, you’re the one who keeps saying I should like football, so YOU should explain it to me and you should do it NOW, HERE so I can join in your conversation! Otherwise I won’t understand.”
“This isn’t the right time. Maybe you can let us have this conversation here, and then maybe you could go and read up on football?”
“FORGET IT. You always say I should look into football but I GUESS if you won’t explain it to me you’d rather be ELITIST. You complain all the time about how people don’t understand it but now you won’t explain it to me.”
The first one involves someone someone being more concerned with their own reputation despite someone having been hurt. The second involves someone wanting to have their needs met despite it not being the correct situation for their needs to be considered. Both of these (somewhat simplified) situations arise wherever women meet to talk about feminism Both online and offline.
The first one is happening right now. Women are sharing their (real, disturbing, traumatic, upsetting) stories of times they’ve been assaulted by men. The response from men is “But not ALL men are like that!” As I said in my last post, this now makes the conversation about the man, not about the woman. It suggests that the man’s hurt feelings are worth more than women telling the truth about their experiences. We know that “not all men are like that.” In fact, very few are suggesting that. But, it’s men’s hurt feelings being more important than women telling their stories.
The second one usually comes up either in online or real-life discussion when feminist theory debate and discussion is going on. Women are having their discussion when a man shows up and says “Hey, I want to join in! Why are you saying we’re all bad? What’s privilege? What’s intersectionality?” and the women say “Um, actually, we were kind of in the middle of a conversation here..” and the response is pretty much always a version of “Well, you want men to learn more about feminism and then you won’t help, what do you expect?”
Firstly. it is not the women’s job to teach men about feminism. It is the up to the individual to educate themselves. There are places you can do that.
Secondly, it’s another example of the man wanting to make his feelings and needs the priority. “I don’t know about the stuff you’re discussing, educate me!” No. This conversation is not for you. As has been proved, there is a habit of men wanting to make the conversation about them.
“But, I won’t make the conversation all about me!” First, see point one. Second, sometimes there needs to be space for women to talk about being women without men present. Unfair, no? Well, no, it’s not unfair, not really. Just think of all the male spaces readily provided in society. The football pitch. The pub. Many company boardrooms. There are so many male spaces that sometimes women need to create a space of their own.
And there’s no risk of men being “oppressed” by this creation of women’s space. Mainly (to quote myself, modestly):
Oppression happens over centuries, through cultural norms, through generations of being taught that you should be a certain way or that you have power over someone else. It doesn’t happen through a hashtag.
There are spaces I don’t get to go into. I don’t belong in spaces for people of colour. I don’t belong in spaces for trans people. Even though I’m married to a trans man! And I probably know more about being trans than a lot of the population! Yet I still don’t get to be in that space! Oh no, poor oppressed me! No. I don’t belong there because that space is not for me. My issues do not matter in that situation.
So, therefore, men’s issues are not relevant in a women’s discussion of feminism.
Again, I welcome comments and discussion. Again, I ask you to work out if you feel pissed off, then think about why you do before you comment. Again, I’m not going to spend my time reassuring men that “they’re not all like that” because that is not my priority. It isn’t all about you.
Alright. This is a blog post I’ve got to write but I think it’s going to take me a while. Because this is a subject that should take a while.
I am not going to try and reassure men that I’m “not talking about people like them” when I’m talking about women being killed. I’m talking about fellow members of my gender being murdered, my priority is not your feelings. People are going to get pissed off reading this, and that’s 100% intentional. If this pisses you off, I want you to think hard about why it does.
I’m also not talking about the perceived “nerd culture” or “PUA” theories around what happened with the recent shootings. You can read a fantastic piece about that here (and I think you should because it’s very well written) that basically boils down to “Sex is not a zero-sum game. You don’t put enough “nice” in until “sex” comes out”*
*I heard this line somewhere online and thought it was brilliant, I forget where I saw it.
I am, however, going to talk about the #YesAllWomen on Twitter, some of the reactions to it and why, if you’re feeling anger towards the things being said there it might be time to stop justifying yourself, and listen.
Don’t talk about how’s it’s not you, you don’t do this, it’s not all men, not me. Not me.
And listen. Listen to the women who are harassed, assaulted, harmed and killed. And think. Think about how, if you’re male, this is your gender doing this. It’s part of a group you belong to. And I know, I really do, that it feels so, so awful. Stop saying “it’s not me”, and start saying “it’s my people.”
But why? Why should you, a law-abiding human being who would never dare to rape, to hurt, to kill, why should you take responsibility for these monsters? That’s not fair, surely? Well, no. I suppose it’s not. But speaking as a member of a group who are battered and murdered on a daily basis, I say you should realise that they are part of your group. That’s just the way it is.
The patriarchy is a real thing. And part of it says “Men have voices! They have things to say! They must stand up for themselves if their gender is being hated! Otherwise we’re going to be oppressed!” That same system says to women “you have no voice. You must be quiet. You are not to be heard. You should be talked over.” Trying to get past that is what causes the “not all men” problem. Firstly, men will not be oppressed for being men. Oppression happens over centuries, through cultural norms, through generations of being taught that you should be a certain way or that you have power over someone else. It doesn’t happen through a hashtag.
The other element of it is that men are not taught to listen. They are taught that their voice is the most important, that their feelings are the ones that matter. If a woman says “I’m scared of going out at night because men are rapists” men instantly hear “You are a rapist”. It’s made about them, about the individual man. That sentence is not about the man hearing it spoken. It is about the woman who is afraid of being raped. Hearing that sentence should NOT make you think “well that’s not fair, I’m not a rapist!” it should make you think “what must men have done to cause that woman to feel so scared? There is a reason behind it and that’s awful”.
Stop again. Take a moment. Are you angry? Cross? Frustrated?
Ok, think about why. Are you frustrated for the woman who is scared of being raped? Or are you angry that I’m making a sweeping statement about men? Which one do you think should have the biggest priority?
Women are scared. And they’re scared of men. If you are a man, that means they are scared of you. No matter how nice and kind and wonderful you are, someone will be scared of you because in the past, she was raped, hit, assaulted, harassed by a man. If that makes you feel bad, then good.
So what, I want all men to feel guilty? No. I want men to stop. I want them to stop talking and listen to the women. To the voices that usually don’t get a chance. Go and read the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter. Listen to the stories these women are saying. Think “am I angry that I’m being put into a category or am I angry that this woman was attacked?”
The #YesAllWomen hashtag is a space for women. It’s a space where men need to stop talking, start listening and decide what they can do to stop their sisters, mothers, daughters being attacked on a basis that makes this an ongoing endemic of violence.
I am very interested in discussing this in comments. All I would ask is that, if you’re feeling angry because you feel I’m treating you unfairly is that you wait for a moment, go and read the hashtag and come back later. Discussing through anger is never fruitful.
I’ve another post on feminism coming later. Please leave your thoughts. Please listen to your sisters.
The victims of the shooting of May 23, 2014 Isla Vista, CA were:George Chen, 19 Weihang “David” Wang, 20 Chen Wang “James” Hong, 20 Katherine Cooper, 22 Veronika Weiss, 19 Christopher Martinez, 20
These young people’s names deserve to be remembered, not the man who killed them.