The Good News: Sometimes, They Get It

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OK, first of all, I want to make clear that this entry ends up happy, or at least happy-ish, because I'm going to spin it as a feminist success story. But there's some gross stuff to get through along the way.

Thanks to Salon's Broadsheet, I have been reminded that Feminists suck all the humor out of sexual harassment, always, all the time, though in this case it's because feminists object to ads that try to sell cleaning products to women through jokes about sexual harassment and threatened rape.

Apparently feminists' lack of humor so upsets some guy that he delivers a REALLY HORRIBLE misogynist rant arguing that women who are offended by the use of the imagery and language of sexual violence to market products to them, should be silenced, killed and sexually assaulted.

And when people point out that his misogynist rant is as gross as the original ad, he says, "But I didn't see it that way. I didn't see the rape imagery in the original ad, or in my own comments. When i said that women who didn't think it was funny to see a woman threatened with sexual assault, should be confronted by a bunch of guys who ejaculate foamy white stuff on them, I wasn't try to offend anyone."

And then there's a long discussion of male privilege, and one wise commenter points out that The greatest advantage of privilege is the ability to be blind to it.

That reminded me of old entry of mine that makes a similar point: namely, that one of the privileges of being on top of the power hierarchy is that the people in that position don't have to spend a lot of time worrying about the people below them, the people who take care of them.

Here's the good news part of all this:

sometimes all these things feminists are saying actually sink in. The guy who recommended that women who dislike the ad should be denied free speech and killed so that he has more opportunity to laugh at rape imagery did eventually admit that he was wrong--though it took over 90 comments for him to see that. The guy I was writing about in the post two years ago has told me from time to time that he can see the truth in my criticisms of his defenses of his own privilege. Other men have told me recently that they've been persuaded by some of my critiques of patriarchy, sexism and male privilege, not merely despite the fact but because they hit very close to home.

This is great! I'm glad. I spend a lot of time and energy discussing feminism and I'd hate to think that I'm merely wasting my time. And I guess if it were just MY time, and just ME making the arguments, I'd be pretty damn proud of myself, and satisfied at how much I'm able to accomplish when some of these guys get what I'm saying.

But it's not just me. I am one of many, many voices. And I am sometimes surprised and disheartened at how many feminist voices (all of which a great many people want to silence) it takes to persuade ONE guy to see our point of view.

In a recent conversation on a friend's Facebook page, for instance, it took several women making repeated, complementary, and overlapping arguments about a sexist, misogynist situation before one guy could see the validity of what we were saying. And of course I was chastised, even by another woman, for not being nice enough, because what always matters most in these things isn't defending women and their right to respectful treatment, but not making a man feel bad for ignoring or even defending sexism and misogyny. How can you ever convince men to treat women with decency, if something you say forces a man to engage in uncomfortable self-reflection?

But I would ask: how do we ever discover anything about our faults and failings, and the ways in which we need to change our behavior, if we don't engage in uncomfortable self-reflection? It's not just on topics like sexism where this is the case. A dean and good friend at one of the institutions I taught at liked to say, "An education is a harrowing experience." Learning that the world is more complex than you thought it was, finding out that your parents and your church fed you a lot of misinformation, discovering that some of your most cherished beliefs are flat-out wrong--it FUCKING HURTS.

But one way to minimize the harrowing pain of being educated by others, whether you like it or not, is to seek out an education. If you're a guy who sort of gets that women in your family and social circle are upset, disturbed, distraught, FUCKING FREAKING FURIOUS over certain things, OK, it's a good thing to ask them WHY, provided you're sincere in wanting to know. But listen to them, and don't tell them they're wrong, or over-reacting, or just sorta silly.

And as a way of further taking charge of your education and thus making it less harrowing, pursue it through avenues that aren't always so close to home. As this comment on the ad kerfuffle points out, reading feminist blogs is a great way to find out what feminists are upset about, what systemic problems they're addressing, what they want to see change.

In other words, decent men out there who get it from time to time, THANK YOU. I'm glad you have listened to us. But listen to our sisters, too. Because they are working to make life better for YOUR sisters--and your daughters, and your wives, and your mothers. And, whether you realize it or not, they are also working to make life better for YOU. They are trying to help you reap the benefits of living in a society that truly is dedicated to justice and equality and respect for all human beings.

And it would be seriously nice to have your outright help and not just your acquiescence in that project.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on December 10, 2009 8:36 AM.

Reciprocity and Gratitude was the previous entry in this blog.

Before the Weekend Ends is the next entry in this blog.

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