April 01, 2006

Still busy, so a link for you today...

Food for thought from A White Bear, who is minding the store over at Bitch PhD.

Anytime any women get together to have a conversation about women's problems, there's always a man there to say, "That happens to men, too!" or "You just want to take away what we have!" or "You have no idea how your feminism makes me feel!" Men who say these things are not feminists. Why do we still listen to them? Why do we bother letting them catch us up in stupid arguments about whether it's worse to be forced to have babies or to be forced to go to war? No one's drawing any comparisons, sweetheart. We're just dealing with these women's issues right now, you see, and if you'd like to help us solve these problems, please do. If you want to go solve the problems of the dominant culture, you're welcome to do so any time of any day. Most men have had the luxury of dealing with their own goddamned problems for, oh, at least 5,000 years.

When feminists get together online or in person to talk about our problems, the focus is on us. If we decide to deal with a different or more specific group's problems, you can bet straight white men's problems are not on the emergency to-do list. We might talk about men of color or gay men or impoverished men, but for some reason, straight white bourgeois men rarely take up a lot of our activist time. Some of us feminists happen to be straight white women who are involved sexually with straight white men. In my love life, I do care for a straight white man and we treat each other with complete respect. In my work, I deal all the time with straight white men, and I treat them all with exactly the respect with which I treat everyone else. But in my activist life, when dealing in abstracts, I don't think, "You know who desperately needs my help today? Straight white dudes."

When men derail a conversation about feminism, they are not interrupting a conversation in which privileged little girls are sitting around bitching to hear our own voices or even to solve our own problems, necessarily. They are often interrupting a conversation in which we are concerned with the least fortunate among us, the ones who have to struggle to get through a day because of who they are. When we talk about abortion rights, it's not because each of us desperately wants to have an abortion. It's because we know that the people who suffer most from abortion bans are almost always poor women of color who don't have anything like reasonable representation in government.

A White Bear does hit the target with this question: "You know who desperately needs my help today?" I'm not sure it's quite so easy, or altruistic, mostly because I readily admit - at least for myself - to spend a fair amount of time thinking about things that affect me (and not necessarily others' situations about which I know, hmm, not much) and those who have similar interests. Ultimately, deciding that someone needs my help today might not be what that "someone" really wants or needs. That's another discussion for another day, when there isn't a pile of grading.

Posted by binky at April 1, 2006 03:59 PM | TrackBack | Posted to Gender and Politics


As to your last and most interesting point, I have found that both women and men are often much more willing to talk about the problems of other people that just happen to be causing them a little probem incidentally rather than talking about "their problems." For both men and women, it's much easier to agree and commiserate (not necessarily solve the problem) with the one complaining when they appear to be sticking up for somebody else, rather than investigate or confront the problem as they'd be more likely to do if it's someone asking for help for themself. Expert triangulators know this and can then bring third parties into their arguments to keep the focus off themself (picture them saying something like, "all my friends say that you need to be spending more time at home with the kids/at work providing for the kids/at wherever doing whatever I want you to be doing"), instead of asking directly for what they want and facing the possibility of rejection that goes along with that, and which they may personalize. I'm certainly not meaning to diminish the discomfort this causes with people who don't find a source of consistent emotional nourishment. But if they ask on behalf of their kids with the authority of their friends behind it, they can take the moral high ground without risking personal rejection. If she asks someone to help out with women's issues and they won't, they haven't rejected her, they've rejected all women, so again it puts her in the one up position and she has a right to be angry. If they just reject her, many in that position would believe whether or not they have a right to be angry (as if our emotions require a lawyer) is a reflection on whether they've earned what they're asking for, rather than what it really is, the preference of the one they've asked for help. People who get caught up in the pursuit of justice get caught up thinking it's all about who owes who, and sometimes they don't see that for some other people it's about wanting to take care of themselves, not about being so insecure that they have to give in to what somebody else thinks they owe to whoever because whoever's suffered. But then, if you've been reading REBT books lately, I don't have to explain musterbating.

Posted by: Morris at April 1, 2006 05:15 PM | PERMALINK

I see what you mean, but that wasn't exactly what I was talking about. I was thinking more in terms of social activism, and the difficulty, and misplaced desire to "help" that comes into it. That is, saying "I want to help you by doing X" isn't always well received. Particularly from outgroup people. Instead of saying "1) do you want my help, and if yes 2) what can I do to help? and then 3) great! ahppy to do it!", people operating from a place of privilege say "aha! I will turn my good will to helping those unfortunate people XYZ" which comes across as condescending and patronizing. Scratch that. It is condescending and patronizing.

Posted by: binky at April 1, 2006 05:38 PM | PERMALINK
Post a comment

Remember personal info?