Tuesday, July 12, 2011

No Seriously, the Wimminz Can't Be Silenced in Gender Egalitarianism

So, there's a relatively new site called No Seriously, What About the Menz? (Tagline: "Who cares about men? We do.") The blog's purpose is to bring men back into feminism and discuss men's issues, making the title a reclamation of the What About the Menz?! internet meme that some feminists use when they perceive commenters to be re-centering men as a topical focus within conversation specifically about women.

I've been reading the blog for about a month and have some mixed thoughts. First and foremost, given that some men probably do feel alienated from some feminist blogs, that men also experience the world in a gendered way, and that men too are negatively affected by sex/gender stereotyping and assumptions, I think spaces for men (and women who agree with the premise that men are negatively harmed by sexism as well) to talk about gender issues in spaces that aren't, say, extremist MRA sites, are important.

Secondly, the site is a group blog and, accordingly, it would not be accurate to generalize it as being either monolithically pro-feminist or anti-feminist. Indeed, the "101/FAQs" section does a good job of creating nuance and recognizing that neither feminism, masculism, MRA-ism, or any other gender movement is monolithic.

Third, the tagline "Who cares about men? We do" in connection with the title's obvious allusion to the commenting policies of some feminist blogs implies that those who operate spaces specifically centered around women's issues don't care about men. I'm just not convinced that's the case and, in my opinion, the implication runs a little too close to the tired old "feminists just hate men" bit. (And isn't What About teh Menz?! as a meme kind of 2008? I still see the sentiment, but not so much that phrase used much anymore.)

Fourth, about that goal. If the blog aims to give men and men's issues a bigger role in feminism, presumably alongside feminists(?), I think it's really important that it doesn't, in turn, kick out women's concerns and/or feminists in a reverse replication of some feminist blogs' "What About The Menz" gender segregation. Not that I think the pieces should be women-centered, but a recent experience I had interacting at What About the Menz left me unclear as whether it was appropriate for commenters (women especially) to address sexism as it pertains to women, particularly if we believe some of the bloggers and commenters are engaging in this problematic behavior.

See, my fear about male-centric sites like these, especially when they are critical of feminists and feminism, is that they can end up silencing women's concerns and therefore end up replicating sexism and troubling patterns of interaction between men and women. For instance, when the feminist-friendly Good Men Project ran its series on MRAs, female feminist voices were largely silent (with the exception of Amanda Marcotte's) and certain problematic patterns emerged in the dialogue among the male anti-feminist, non-feminist, and MRA commenters that went largely unchallenged and unchecked.

When I tried to enter the Good Men Project conversation, the male commenters took a cue from the MRA posts in treating me, a female feminist, as an irrational, intellectual inferior of theirs no matter how rationally I stated my argument. In my civil commentary, they perceived aggression and took grave offense while their aggression and explicitly violent fantasies went unchecked.

Unfortunately, I had a recent, albeit milder, bout of that at the What About the Menz blog.

Doctormindbeam, a blogger there who describes himself as a "straight white American male" who isn't "part of the problem," wrote a post entitled "6%: Please Learn To Math [sic]", in which he called the feminist site Jezebel "a bunch of freaking idiots" for repeating a math error a Washington Post article had made about rape statistics. He did not call the writer at the non-feminist Washington Post an idiot for having originally made the mistake.

Citing mathematician John Allen Paulos, doctormindbeam then argued that many people are mathematically illiterate, which is a valid point. Many people do not understand statistics. Therefore, many people make mistakes in how they recite or read statistics, including rape statistics.

But from there, he went on to call Jezebel and The Washington Post's mathematical error an example of "hysteria." I would include his exact quote, but he seems to have deleted the offending phrase from his post instead of, say, striking a line through it and explicitly acknowledging that his word usage was problematic.

Nonetheless, his argument, at least in the piece as he originally wrote it, shifted. While he largely supported the argument that the rape statistic error was due to ignorance, he inexplicably then drew the conclusion that the rape statistic error was due to "hysteria," or excessive emotionality about the topic. There wasn't a clear logical line between his premises and his conclusion.

In the comments, I suggested that (a) due to him being more harsh on Jezebel than on non-feminist sources who made the exact same mistake and (b) due to his use of the gendered word "hysteria," his piece had sexist undertones and that his piece would have been better without them. Because this particular blogger is critical of feminism, I assumed he possessed a base level of knowledge about why, say, a feminist or a woman might object to the term "hysteria" in an article in which he demeans a feminist website for allegedly lying about rape statistics. So, I assumed that my criticism would mostly be a non-issue- an easy point for him to concede.

In my opinion, "hysteria" and "hysterical" when used negatively is as objectionable as bitch, cunt, dick, and prick used as slurs. So, after doctormindbeam initially brushed off my criticism by oddly suggesting that my criticism only revealed my "internal biases" against women, I bolstered my point by saying:

"You seem unaware of the fact that women and feminists are often described as hysterical, especially with respect to conversations about rape. That’s why I suggested your piece has sexist undertones. I think it would have been more accurate had you just stuck to your original theory that people just don’t get the math.

Word Origin & History:


1610s, from L. hystericus 'of the womb,' from Gk. hysterikos 'of the womb, suffering in the womb,' from hystera 'womb' (see uterus). Originally defined as a neurotic condition peculiar to women and thought to be caused by a dysfunction of the uterus'

'Hysteria' is a derivation of 'hysterical,' and given its etiology, it’s entirely reasonable to suggest that your usage of the term is problematic and conntes a relationship to women and feminists."

In response, doctormindbeam said that the phrase "hysteria" has a "gender egalatarian usage" in that these days it's used to describe both men and women so it's all good. He then added that I was "reading things between the lines that are not there," and that his usage of the word "hysteria" was what's called "artistic license."

Frankly, I was surprised that he wouldn't just concede the "hysteria" point to me. I hadn't called him names, certainly not the aggressive "freaking idiot" charge that he lobbed at everyone who writes at a major feminist site. I didn't call him sexist- I suggested that his word usage had sexist freaking undertones given its origins.

Things got more interesting when another commenter, one with an apparently male name, chimed in to add:

"...slightly different language choices might make [doctormindbeam's] article more accessible to others. At my own blog, this is a fine line we walk all the time: between holding feminists to the same intellectual standards as everyone else, and between not alienating feminist readers. I try to not give people with different views any additional reasons to try to dismiss and wriggle away from my conclusions."

Yeah, that's a really shitty, passive-aggressive implication that feminists are regularly below "everyone else's" intellectual standards, but his alienation point seemed similar to my own: The piece could have been better and more accessible (particularly to women) without the sexist undertones. Of this man's comment, doctormindbeam responded:

"@Hugh: A fair point. Thank you for your reasoned criticism :-)"

Blink blink.

You mean, as opposed to the lady feminist's irrational and hysterical criticism?


Another commenter, gender unknown to me at the time (but who I later learned is female), then said what I said:

"About hysteria: although it can in modern usage be used for both men and women, it is still disproportionately weilded against women, and when weilded against men implies femininity – more gender policing of what and how much emotion men are allowed to show....And, although I hope you know I value the work you do here, I think that your defense of 'artistic license' is severely problematic, as it is a standard defense given by people who say all kinds of misandrist, misogynist, racist, ableists, etc. things and don’t want to have to bother to think about their language and the way it affects people…

To which doctormindbeam responded:

"You have a fair point. Thanks for bringing that up."


Naturally, I recapped and made note of this disparity in doctormindbeam's receptivity and said:

"Very disappointing double standard here in your responses, doctormindbeam. You’ve been nothing but incredibly defensive about my points, which are remarkably similar to the points these two other commenters have made. I am very doubtful that my 'tone': has been out of line or that my reasoning has been faulty here."

It was truly inexplicable behavior to me. In all of my comments, I had taken the kid gloves off, but my tone was not out of line nor did I engage in name-calling or hateful speech. Nonetheless, doctormindbeam commanded:

"@fannie: You will observe the comment policy."

I'm not exactly thrilled with men ordering me what I "will" and will not do, but, you know, fine. His implication was that I was in violation of his blog's comment policy, something I did not want or intend to be. Only very rarely has another blogger accused me of being out of line, to point of threatening to ban me, because of my commentary. The couple times that has happened have been at virulently anti-gay sites where the mere presence, let alone commentary, of an Avowed Lesbian is enough to send some people toppling ass-over-heels onto their fainting couches.

So, I asked him how I was in violation of his policy.

Unfortunately, coming straight from the ol' "It's worse to call out sexist language than it is to use sexist language" department, doctormindbeam vaguely pointed me to this section of the comment policy:

"Commenters who [...] repeat the same point over and over again, who abuse contributors or other commenters, or who massively derail the thread from the post topic will be first warned, and then have their comments deleted."

At that point, I was done trying to interact with the guy. It seemed obvious that my biggest sin was not "abuse" or "massive derailment," pretty strong charges those, but that I had accused the author of writing a piece with sexist undertones against women- a point I repeated only because he failed to take me or my arguments seriously even though he quietly deleted the offending phrase.

So, yeah.

At this point, my piece of constructive criticism to the blog would be to clarify whether the space is a safe one for women and feminists to object to its bloggers and commenters engagement in possibly sexist behavior and language usage against women, or whether doing so constitutes a "massive derailment" from a Menz Blog.

The blog thus far seems to try to walk a fine gender egalitarian line and, well, if a blog is going aim to bring men back into feminist discussions, it will quickly become troubling to many women (and feminists and gender egalitarians) if the conversations replicate patterns of interaction between the genders that are problematic and hostile to women's concerns.

It will become apparent and problematic if male bloggers and commenters are held to a much more lenient standard of civility, aggression, and hostility than critical female and feminist commenters are.

It will become apparent if a double standard is created where, say, the space is safe for men to express their aggression (Jezebel is a "bunch-of-freaking-idiots") and sexist language against women, but where women who object to that sexist language are moderated and accused of "derailing."

Indeed, it took all of about two seconds before a commenter began accusing feminist critique as "What about teh wimminz?" derailing inappropriate for the forum.

So, for now, duly noted. Good thing we have our own blogs, I guess.

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