"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Sunday, April 15, 2007

On Silence, Outrage and Being Feminist Enough

Hugh had some things to say regarding my post on Violence, Bullies, and the Right Time and Place, and I think a good deal of what he said deserves some discussion. Started writing an uber-comment, and decided to turn it into a post, in the great blog-hackery tradition.

First of all, thanks for commenting, Hugh. Hugh and I don't always agree, but I think (especially lately) we've been able to have some fruitful discussions, mostly tempered by the fact that we have some points of agreement, but also because we have a similar way of interacting online, and a good deal of civility toward each other. And, while I could live a happy, fulfilling life without again reading posts or comments from one of his partners on Feminist Critics (Daran), I often enjoy discussing things with Hugh. (Two quick asides: Sweet Jesus Malone is that a pretty site y'all have over there, what with the fading-in-and-out underline links and such. Whew. Secondly, I picked 'Feminist Allies' because of the ambiguity in the language--we can be seen as allies of feminists and/or feminists who are also allies; seems to me that 'Feminist Critics' suffers, rather than benefits, from this ambiguity, doesn't it? Do you get lots of people surprised that you are 'only' critics of feminism, and not sometimes critics who are feminists?)

Some Agreement
Hugh says:
This post reminds me of our previous discussion about "misandry," sexism against men. I know we didn't agree on everything in that discussion, but I think this video, and the thread, are good examples of some of the things I was getting at.

I can see why this would fit into your larger framework in some ways, Hugh. And, truth be told, I think our discussion of what you characterize as misandry, along with some other discussions about violence against men that I've read, has made me more keenly aware of not only portrayals of violence against men, but also of actual violence against men; in addition, I think I'm coming to a better understanding of the intricate connections between patriarchy and violence against men (most often perpetrated by other men, but not always).

So, while we might still disagree about the term 'misandry', I think that we can agree about a lot of what is going on here. I think 'sociopathic' is actually a fairly apt description of paying somebody to beat somebody up, for instance.

So, given all of the places that you and I might agree on this topic, I hope you don't mind if I concentrate on the places we (may) disagree.

What Counts as Feminist
Hugh points out:

This is NOT a feminist music video.

I tend to try to avoid binary views around what/who counts as "feminist". In some ways this is a purely philosophical decision--I just don't think that concepts very often work in an all-or-nothing way, and when they do, they're often not very useful. Which isn't to say that everything and anything counts as feminist in my mind--there are limiting cases of the concept for me. It's just that this video isn't one of them. I think that there are aspects of feminism in the video--the feminist themes that the original song (aside from the video) conveys do come through in the video to some degree: independence (emotional and otherwise) of women from men, the value of friendship vs. traditional romance, etc. However, the video also conveys lots of stuff that I don't associate with the sorts of feminisms that I embrace--paying somebody to inflict violence isn't part of any sort of feminism that I have a stake in (and it strains the imagination to think of a kind of feminism that paying somebody to inflict violence would fit within, other than strawfeminism).

I'm not trying to gloss over anything here, either, Hugh. I think it's pretty *important* that we all recognize that there are almost always aspects of things which are more-feminist and less-feminist (I would imagine you might agree that some stuff is both misandrist and not-misadrist?). Along those same lines, I don't think it's a requirement for everything posted to a feminist blog to be capital-F-Feminist, forever and ever amen. The song is about some universal themes--dealing with a broken heart, dealing with jerky people (in this case, a cheater) who seem to 'get away with it', getting some modicum of revenge on said jerks--and as such the video seems pretty much apropos in the FRT context that it was found in. Being human (and thus being a part of such universal-ish themes) and being feminist aren't mutually exclusive. Plus, it's sarcastic and snarky, which fits some of what Feministe does pretty well, right? Heck, that's one reason I read it daily. Granted, the video goes beyond those universal themes in some ways that I think are wrong, but that doesn't mean that I feel a desire to call "NOT FEMINIST" on the post. I think such pronouncements are often not very useful.

When Silence Equals Condoning
More from Hugh:
The second thing that disturbed me was the unwillingness of the people on Feministe to condemn the problematic moral aspects of the music video (except one or maybe two people). I don't think anyone in that thread actually condones the violence of the music video, but they seem to condone the moral view of the video, which suspends empathy for men and substitutes revenge for justice.

I think it's important to recognize that sometimes silence does condone action. For instance, men remaining silent around sexist behavior is something that I think most men need to work on (including myself), in part because men staying silent around that crap is a good part of what buttresses patriarchy. But I also think that silence can amount ignorance or disagreement, and in these cases a different set of tactics may be needed than would be needed when people are knowingly doing something wrong. Also, I think that consequences, both immediate and not-so-immediate, need to be taken into account in any case--so even if it's 'only' ignorance that is causing somebody to be violent, that doesn't mean we can keep silent.

In the context of the video posting, I think people just weren't seeing the violence as a problem (and I discussed this in my original post, when I noted that perhaps men are more likely to see it as a problem). I don't think people were keeping silent because they endorsed the behavior--I would guess that people were 'silent' because they didn't agree with me, or that they had no opinion on it whatsoever. Do I think they ought to have an opinion on it? Yep. But the question then becomes--should I get outraged and complain, or should I be bothered and try to tease out some discussion in an appropriate forum. I'll stand by my claim that after one remark (after which two people agreed with me and nobody disagreed) with something of a lack of responses, it was time to take my question to another forum--not because the posters and readers on Feministe shouldn't talk about this stuff, but because it's not up to me to decide what gets talked about on Feministe. I get to comment, sure, and Jill has even subsequently said that it would be fine for me to comment more than once if I'm not getting any feedback--but I still think that saying my piece and walking away to my forum is the way to go, if what I wanted was a further discussion of the violence in the video. So: I wasn't outraged by the silence in this case (you seem to be outraged for me, Hugh); I was bothered by it, and did something about it.

More on Outrage
More from Hugh:
To take this one step further, imagine if you posted that video on your blog, with no criticism of it. Then imagine that feminists called you to account, and you ignored them. Who would be the asshole here, them, or you?

I don't really care, most of the time. This is the sort of outrage that I'm trying to unlearn, frankly. Sometimes it's good to get angry--thinking of Cheney and Bush Jr. making millions off of a war they created, for instance, can be constructive--but one has to pick and choose. We don't have an infinite amount of time or emotional energy. I think that, to some degree, I *would* be an asshole if I dismissed things that people I've been in conversation with in the past bring up--but I have to pick and choose who I respond to. It's good for people to call bullshit, but not every call of bullshit deserves a response--or even if it does, we may not have time to respond to everything. For instance, it's doubtful I'll ever comment much on any of Daran's posts at Feminist Critics, because Daran isn't somebody I'm interested in having a dialog with. Daran may bring up a fantastic point sometime in the future, but that in itself doesn't mean I ought to respond. (And my silence doesn't mean, by itself, that I agree or disagree with Daran!)

Being Silenced
From Hugh:
This is an excellent example of why I don't identify as a pro-feminist man, because I would feel silenced if I had to subordinate my moral sense to stay in the good graces of feminists.

I don't feel silenced, in general, in feminist spaces, and I don't think I was silenced in any way--implicitly or explicitly--on Feministe. That said, long ago I was called a troll on Bitch, Phd. for pressing a point. I thought that in the particular case it was an unfair characterization, and I still do, but I've realized that it doesn't really matter--I'm not really silenced, I just have to pick and choose my points better, and voice my opinion in various forums if one of my opinions isn't welcome at one. (I also think that episode made me understand the relativity of trolldom.) To me, not pressing my point too far (and making a judgment about what is 'too far' in the first place) isn't to stay in anyone's good graces, but rather to make an attempt at civility (keeping in mind that 'civility' is a slippery concept).

Look at the consequences in this example: I said my piece, I got little response, so I came to FA to talk about it. A discussion ensued. Jill even responded. To me, that's exactly how civility ought to work--mutual respect all around, even when people disagree.

And Then, Some More Agreement
Hugh, one more time:
Well, I will say something like that: men are oppressed (or, to avoid quibbles about the term "oppression," we could say "systematically mistreated") due a generalized suspension of empathy for them, which is exemplified by this music video. It's the notion that in certain situations, we don't have to see men as human beings anymore. We can send them off to war, leave them on sinking ships or in conflict zones while evacuating the women, perform experiments on them (particularly in the case of minority men), dismiss childhood bullying to them as a natural and inevitable feature of their gender, or beat them up when they cheat on their girlfriends.

While I think your examples are problematic, Hugh (and I may discuss that at more length at some point), I think the term 'general suspension of empathy' toward men is fairly apt, and I do think that the reactions (or lack thereof) to the video betray that suspension of empathy to some degree. I also think that you and I might disagree as to where the suspension of empathy comes from--I blame the patriarchy. But it shouldn't be surprising that you and I might agree on the suspension of empathy--after all, I did write the original comment over on Feministe (which presumably you agreed with to some degree), and a subsequent post (now two posts) about it here on FA.

There's probably more to say, but this post is already way too long to begin with, and I doubt many people have made it this far! Thanks again to Hugh for his comments.
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