I was going through my archives the other day, and after the past few weeks I've had on Internet, thought it would be fun to re-post this article I wrote about 2 years ago.
When I wrote the post, it was in reaction to comments I had seen
men make regarding a newspaper that had cropped Hillary Clinton out of
an image, for religious reasons. Reading them, I could have predicted many of
the comments, before even looking at them.
What I'm about to say isn't a huge startling revelation, but the more I blog, especially in mixed-company, the more I see the same arguments, the same approaches, and the same patterns occur. Over and over and over again. Miscommunication. Poor communication. Cryptic one-liners. Lack of understanding. Frustration. Hurt. Anger. Poor listening. Tone policing. Trolling. Baiting. Gotchas. The pervasive buying into of the notion that as long as no one is saying curse words or throwing slurs around, then nothing uncivil is happening.
I think that a good civility policy, if enforced, could facilitate some of these issues. But, enforcement takes time and energy, time and energy that I can't do on my own, and certainly not in forums that I don't operate or moderate.
So, more and more, I question the utility of trying to engage in other forums in mixed-company, so-called civil dialogue with people whose starting points to conversations are, to me, uncivil - such as debating same-sex marriage with people who oppose it, whilst we also all operate on the unspoken rule that the word bigoted mustn't ever be uttered. Or, navigating conversations where the full extent of gay people's hurt or oppression cannot be explicitly acknowledged, lest we be mocked or accused, ironically, of "making accusations." Or, say, where we treat every anti-feminist New Guy's response of "so we can never make jokes anymore anywhere, then?!" like it's a Really Good Point, lest we be accused of creating a Feminist Echo Chamber.
And, do I want to repeatedly have conversations about, say, why we let infertile couples marry but not same-sex couples marry, if marriage is supposedly about procreation? Do I want to center the feelings of people who oppose my equality, to never have to feel discomfort about their complicity in an unjust, and dare I say bigoted, system? Do I want to salve the consciences, defensiveness, anger, and hurt feelings of men, in conversations about male privilege and sexism, while I walk on eggshells so as to not appear at all in the least bit angry or hurt myself so I won't be dismissed as emotional?
What is my role in some of these mixed-company spaces? To dialogue? To broaden understanding? To silence others? To diversify a forum? To create community? To be an empty vessel into which people can dump their projections, frustrations, and neuroses? To humanize the opposition? To be a target for people's anger? To be a sounding board for people's pet theories about How The World Works?
I think if a dozen people were asked that question, I'd see a dozen different answers. I'm not sure if any of them would be accurate.
When I think about how communicating with like-minded feminists differs from communicating with those who are overtly hostile toward, or even ignorant of, progressivism and feminism, I think about how my approaches change from context to context.
As I wrote a couple of months ago, getting men and "people complicit in problematic oppressions" to agree with me doesn't tend to be my number one blogging priority. I think that's why some people, even some alleged supporters of same-sex marriage, are shocked and appalled that I might use the b-word (bigotry) when they believe that that word, as opposed to bigotry itself, "shuts down conversations" or destroys community.
I see a greater purpose in feminist readers finding affirmation, truth, and solace in my writings, against so many people hell-bent on gaslighting and convincing them that they're crazy, foolish, oversensitive for caring about or reacting a particular way to a certain issue. Yet, when I converse in mixed-company, I find that substance often takes a backseat in the conversation since the parties have to work through a host of conflicting assumptions, patterns, and stereotypes that mixed-company interactions necessarily bring to the table.
In such a context, for instance, I'm wary of calling myself a feminist, as I know that will often involve men taking ignorant cheap shots at the entirety of feminism, people reading a "hatred of men" into everything I write, or trying to bait me into a conversation about abortion, gender roles, or how men are really the oppressed ones, in conversations in which these issues are not germane.
I'm wary of discussing my agnosticism, as that invariably involves people assuming that I completely lack values and principles, unlike religious people, and how therefore everything I say is evidence of "moral relativism" or nihilism.
I'm reluctant to call myself a progressive, as people try to play games of "gotcha" wherein if I express "disapproval" of One Thing, I'm a raging hypocrite because, don't you know, progressives are "all about tolerance" and therefore we must be "tolerant" of all things everywhere or else we lose all moral authority to judge anyone about anything.
When I'm conversing with some men, I wonder, is he taking on a condescending "neutral arbiter" demeanor because he's a man and I'm a woman and he therefore thinks he's automatically the objective party in the convo, or is he just kind of an asshole to everyone?
I dislike communicating with people who hold Very Strong Opinions, who do not express those opinions clearly or well, and yet who are hellbent on expressing those opinions anyway, while assigning bad faith to others when the inevitable misunderstanding occurs.
After more than 6 years of doing this, I've developed some semblance of awareness after being repeatedly exposed to these types of patterns in communication and interactions. As I talk about labels, I also realize it's a delicate dance to, myself, remain open to dialogue while also preserving my own sanity and well-being in these conversations.