Well. What a fuck-awful week. Guy thinks women owe him something, so he goes on a killing spree.
I was gonna start with “putting aside the gun issue”, but putting issues aside is part of the problem, so: it thoroughly upsets me that American society is one where a 223-year old correction to a piece of paper, trumps common sense. Two points:
- It’s possible for an amendment to be wrong or no longer relevant. Here is my constitution: 2 + 2 = 5. Oops, it’s missing something. Amendment: 2 + 2 = 6. There we go, let us never discuss this again.
- The fact that it is an amendment tells us that it’s possible to make mistakes. But of course, admitting that the Constitution might need fixing (you don’t need to rewrite it, maybe just punch up the script a little. Maybe let William Goldman do a draft) would damage America’s young fragile ego, and we can’t have that.
Young fragile egos, nice segue.
Here are all the things I’ve felt this week, on account of the killing spree, and subsequent events online. (Oh, and my mood hasn’t been improved by people voting for an openly racist political party in the European elections. Fuck me, what a week):
Sadness, defensiveness, depression, frustration, guilt, nihilism, sympathy (for men and women and all points in between), empathy (ditto), anger (ditto). I’m sure that list is missing some things, but you get the idea.
As it stands, I’m not feeling particularly great about people right now. (Disclaimer: don’t worry, I’m not the killing spree type. The rest of what I have to say should reassure you of that).
Making a hash of things
So, as I’m sure almost all of you are aware, the big thing happening online right now is the #YesAllWomen/#NotAllMen thing. I call it a “thing” because I’m not sure there is a word to describe something which ranges from awareness-raising-and-education, to discussion, to strangers-shouting-abuse-at-each-other-and-threatening-sexual-violence.
Anyway, in short: #YesAllWomen started as a way to point out that sexism and misogyny is far, far more pervasive than we think it is. For me, there was a time (early 90s / pre-internet) when my perception of sexism/misogyny was “builders on a construction site, wolf-whistling at women passing by”. Boy howdy, was I wrong. Depending on how depressed you’re already feeling, it might be worth spending a minute or two checking out #YesAllWomen on twitter. The point of it is that whether we are overtly aware of it or not, ALL women face sexism/misogyny every single day. You may disagree on the extent of it, but it’s a fact that it is way more common than you think it is. Guaranteed.
Anyway, in response to this, #NotAllMen started. This started because some men (be they individuals or groups or ‘movements’) felt defensive about being tarred with the same brush.
So. I admit it, I saw quite a few opinion pieces and comments and tweets etc. which did state that “all men” behave this-or-that way. And yeah, my kneejerk emotion was defensiveness. I know how I behave, I have a certain level of awareness, and I do what I can to be conscious of my actions/words and their consequences.
But. I have spent a lot of time this week thinking about all this. And a lot of time thinking about certain men I knew who have behaved in less-than-reasonable ways (oh boy, “less-than-reasonable” is a massive understatement, but if I used the word I want to use, I might be seen to be undermining my point. Let’s just call these people “assholes”. Nice and gender-neutral. Because everyone poops). Anyway, the more I think about it, the more irrelevant that defensiveness becomes.
Problems, Solutions, Responsibility
Okay. Here’s the important thing. Men, I am politely requesting that you read this section carefully. Neither of us can stop any immediate feelings of defensiveness you may feel, but I am not shaming you, I am shaming myself and one other person. I only ask that you consider the following and understand why #NotAllMen is in no way constructive.
At first glance, if you are a man and take the stance “well, I don’t act that way, so don’t tar me with the same brush as men that do”, that seems reasonable. But even though it stands to reason, it doesn’t help. Or make anything better for anyone. Here’s the short version: if everybody only takes responsibility for their own negative actions, then people (not just men) who do not take responsibility for their negative actions, are going to continue to get away with being assholes, because they will ignore their responsibility.
Settle down, kids, it’s story-time. The first one is vague, but illustrative: I have a friend, who I care about a ridiculous amount. She was in a situation with a guy who did not care about her, and I knew it (and she knew it). I made sure that I did what I was supposed to do, and just be a good friend, and made sure she knew I cared. Two years later, when it was too late, I found out something about that guy which, in retrospect, made their situation even worse. (I know this is vague, but in this case, the details benefit no one). When I found this out, two things happened. First, it kinda broke my heart. And secondly, what jumped into my mind was something a friend told me the first time Obama was up for election (sorry to get all Inception on you, but this story’s super-short):
She came back from voting and said something along the lines of: “Well, just voted. I know I should be all ‘yay democracy’ and great and all, but I don’t. Honestly, I feel pretty shitty knowing that my vote for Obama isn’t enough to cancel out the fucktards in my family who voted for McCain”. [Disclaimer: the fucktards thing isn’t because of who they voted for. I know folk who voted for McCain. But the fucktards in her family literally voted for McCain because they were racist against Obama].
Anyway, something happened in my brain where I remembered this while thinking about that guy’s actions and attitude, and it hit me like a bolt from the blue. I felt pretty fucking helpless, and useless, and entirely ineffectual. Behaving in a sensible, reasonable, appropriate way, is not enough to protect your loved ones from selfish people who will take advantage and hurt them. I, and you, have to go above and beyond the minimum effort if we’re gonna stand any kind of chance in balancing out all kinds of injustice. Which brings me back to my point. Guys, it’s not enough for you to not be sexist/misogynist. That is not going to stop men who are sexist/misogynist. And as for getting defensive, that doesn’t help women. All it does is give them another reason to think that you do not understand. That is why #YesAllWomen helps, and why you should support it, and why #NotAllMen does more harm than good.
Don’t Be an Asshole
So, here’s the second story. I debated whether or not to talk about this. Partly because thinking about it makes me angry. Partly because the first story should hopefully make the point. And partly because it’s kind of naming-and-shaming him. (Though some of you reading this know who I’m talking about, I’m not literally naming him. I lack the objectivity to decide whether that would be beneficial, or just petty. I just don’t know).
But, even a small amount of time on twitter shows that the importance of #YesAllWomen isn’t the hollow activism of a hashtag by itself. The importance comes from people sharing solid, concrete examples. If someone says to you “I am a victim of sexism/misogyny”, it’s too easy to just put that in the sexism/misogyny pile, and just move on. Perhaps you think it’s manipulative, but I think a visceral response from a definite example, is more fucking useful than, you know, wearing a coloured wristband or some shit like that.
I mean, as much as I think I’m aware of the many types of sexism/misogyny, I lost count of the number of #YesAllWomen I read where my reaction was along the lines of “holy shit!”, “what the fuck?”, “you gotta be fucking kidding me!” and ultimately, usefully: “I am not doing enough to stop this”. And honestly, part of telling this is some cathartic need to shame myself, ‘cause while I couldn’t have stopped this happening, maybe (maybe) I could have stopped him doing it again, or helped other people to see what kind of person this guy really was. This story is a memory that has made me angry for two years or so, but only in the past week have I realized, as clichéd as it is, that some of that anger is actually aimed at myself.
Anyway. I knew a guy who cheated on his girlfriend because she missed her train. Now, I hope that alone is enough to make you say “what a massive, gaping asshole”. But there’s more. I didn’t know her well at all, but I knew enough to know that his girlfriend was a very pleasant person. She is unambiguously, a “nice person”. She moved so that she could study in the same country as him, and she convinced her father to pay this guy’s tuition fees for his Master’s degree. At a party, this guy turned up after finishing work. He was sober. I asked him where his girlfriend was, and he said she was catching a train and would be there in 35 minutes. When she hadn’t showed up, I asked why, and he said she’d missed her train. 15 minutes later, he (while sober), was making out with another woman (who was drunk). And later that evening, cheated on his girlfriend with her.
In conversations before, and since [up to a point. There was a period of time when avoiding this person was impossible. When it became possible, I stopped interacting with him], he revealed his philosophies to be that men and women are different, have different roles, and that men are genetically programmed to stray. I don’t know about you, but I think if literally the only thing stopping you from sticking your cock in another woman is for your girlfriend to physically be in the same room as you (oh, by the way, he no doubt had done this before, and did it at least three or four times [probably more] since this event), I don’t think “oh, you know that wacky Y-chromosome!” is an appropriate defence.
In the environment we were all in, I wasn’t the only one who knew or found out he was like this. And I wasn’t the only one who knew that this had happened. At the time, one of my initial reactions (other than you know, swearing a lot) was that his girlfriend needed to know about this. But the atmosphere, the status quo, the prevailing wisdom or whatever (from men and women), was that it wasn’t my place to say anything to her, and that I would be violating some sort of code. Not something as childish as a bro-code (because fuck that shit. common sense and decency before [whoever]), but more along the lines of “if you’re not either [well, threeither] of the people involved, it’s not your place to say”. Well, it’s too late to do anything about it now (she did eventually break up with him, by the way, when she eventually found out about one of his cheatings. I hesitate to use “indiscretions” because that is a word that would more readily describe letting slip about a surprise birthday party, not rampant assholery). In hindsight, I would prefer that I’d said something and be thought of as breaking that social code. I’m pretty certain that I wouldn’t feel as guilty as I do about my silence. (Sorry about the clichés and all, but, you know). And I like to think that if I had spoken up, it would have ended up with far fewer people being hurt over the years. And maybe there was even the slimmest chance that this guy would have rethought his actions, or sooner taken steps on the path to righteousness, or at the very least, the path to not being a selfish apologist asshole. Maybe he has changed his ways already. Who knows.
Yes #YesAllWomen, Not #NotAllMen
But, getting back to my original point, and wrapping things up: I hope everyone has read this far and has taken a moment to think about things. What I hope I have been able to convince you, is that #YesAllWomen isn’t an attack on men. It’s an attack on an attitude. And that #NotAllMen doesn’t help anybody. I hope you understand that, and that you have a little less reason to feel defensive, if you were feeling that way before.
What I further hope I’ve been able to do, is to make you think about doing more than the bare minimum, and that silence doesn’t help anybody either. I don’t think the bare minimum will ever be enough until we’re on the same page, but… well, I don’t need to finish that sentence. I know I’m pissed off at myself for not saying something when I could have, but I think that’s good. Because I really don’t think I’m gonna stay silent if I see that kind of shit ever happen again. Not all men are assholes, of course. But if you’re not an asshole, I think we’d all be better off if you called out the bullshit of the men who are, rather than go on the defence.