Monday, March 15, 2010

Men Who Get It, Part II

[Trigger warning: Sexual Assault]

A couple of weeks ago we met homo-fem-tastic (yet hetero male) Hudson Taylor. I recognize male allies because, even though their arguments are similar to the arguments that many feminists, women, and/or LGBT people make, their words carry more weight by virtue of their hetero male privilege.

Hetero, male, and white identities are considered to be default, neutral human identities, to be contrasted with the identities of Others, whom the dominant narrative tells us possess biased and subjective worldviews. This means that when a person is hetero, white, and male, he is afforded a greater credibility than those who are not. Oftentimes, if a woman, for instance, says that something is sexist against a woman she is perceived as complaining and/or of hating men. Yet, if a man notes the exact same instance of sexism, he is perceived as making an observation from some sort of neutral vantage point. As though men do not have a stake in, or benefit from, sexism against women.

And thus, do we observe this post, by PalMD, ally, whose blog I sometimes read. For some background, Scienceblogger Dr. Isis wrote a candid post in response to a female grad student who expressed discomfort over a professor who complimented her appearance and feared that it might "escalate" into something more. In responding to this situation, Dr. Isis recounted her discomfort with men who violate her physical space, which stems from an earlier experience wherein a man who used to hit on her ended up raping her.

While most of the comments following this post were supportive, some male commenters chimed in to suggest that Dr. Isis' post was troubling because some women do like it when strange men tell them they're attractive, but given that some "females" have an "axe to grind" about stuff like this, it makes things so incredibly hard for those poor men who just want to exercise good "old-fashioned" politeness. In other words, just as they have a god-given right to ogle breasts, men are also entitled to compliment women, even though they know it makes some women feel unsafe. The thread then quickly digressed into accusations of "man-hating" once some men realize that their opinions neither automatically counted for more than a woman's opinion nor did their "authoritative" male statement automatically settle the matter.

Other than the pervasive lack, among even liberal men, of demonstrating an interest in trying to understand what living in a sexually hostile society is like for women, what is troubling about these conversations "between the sexes" about issues like sexual assault is that some men, so removed from the visceral fear that many women feel, have the privilege of treating such conversations like mere pedantic debating exercises. (When they're not dismissing them as man-bashing sessions, that is.)

So fixated on "winning" an argument and keeping the conversation centered around how complimenting women makes men men men feel, some men just really don't know how to even try to understand women's experiences. So fixated they are on informing women about the male experience in life, as though women don't already know that by virtue of the male experience having been collapsed into the Human Experience, they think they're informing us of some Startling Revelation by noting that "some men really are nice guys who only want to compliment women."

Naw, really? No shit, Sherlock.

And thus, we have PalMD's response, which is full Getting It:

"The point is, men need to man-up. We need to take responsibility for sexual violence. Women, who make up the majority of sexual assault victims/survivors, are not responsible for our behavior---we are. If you say and do things that make a woman uncomfortable, this is not the time for you to hone your debate skills. You don't get to decide if a woman feels threatened. You just need to stop, and do better next time."

So simple. Yet, when uttered by a man, scientific studies show that the degree of man-hatin' it emanates is reduced to almost zero femiwatts.

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