"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

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Shall I STFU?

It's All About Me, Right?

Sometimes, I don't do well with people who are in positions of authority. It may be the case that I have a neurotic problem with authority--in part because I grew up watching my mother struggle with sexism in her workplace, with her husband, and in the larger world. I think that having "problems with authority" may be a relatively healthy reaction to an unhealthy society, where it is often the case that those in power are harming those with less power. What is an appropriate response to oppression, other than a desire to fight back? (Of course, this is oversimplifying--other responses include caretaking of self and others, compassion and empathy. But I think a desire to fight should be in there too.)

And yet, there is another aspect of my resistance-to-authority, and it is rooted in patriarchy. Men are taught The Hierarchy, and are shown over and over again, that they have a place in it--above some men, below others, above all women, etc. And generally, we are told, we should be striving to be as high up on that ladder as we can be. This is putting it very starkly, of course, but this is essentially a big part of what men are taught. So, I resist authority in part because, on some levels, I want to be higher up on that ladder of hierarchy than the men (and women, and folks of all genders) who are currently above me.

Given these two factors, and many others, my instant reaction to having bullshit called on me, and/or being told to shut the fuck up, is that my hackles go up, and all of my defenses come to the fore. (Of course, having the safety and space to be defensive, may be a reflection/product of my own privilege.) So I am sometimes left in the following position, when somebody is attempting to call me on what they see as my own bullshit: I have to decide--Are they right, in which case I need to stand down and apologize? Or are they being bullies, in which case I need to step up and perhaps take them down a notch?

And sometimes the question is very easy to answer: If I use the word "lame" and get called out for ableist language, it's pretty clear that I need to apologize and take a step back to examine my privilege in that regard. (For some reason, "lame" has been a hard habit to break for me.) If an MRA guy tries to call me out for not including his woes around child support in a post about how women make less, on average, than men, I can be pretty assured that he's a douche and a bully, and is trying to impose his opinion in a way that isn't helpful (in part because of the aforementioned privilege that makes him think he needs to/deserves to move up the ladder with every interaction). And of course, somebody can (correctly) call me on my bullshit and also be cruel and rude about it: But that doesn't make them a bully in the sense that I'm talking about. It matters who is holding privilege--women feminists being cruel to me can cause me some pain, but they (generally) aren't using their privilege to do so. Which, y'know, matters.

Sometimes, though, it really is hard to tell whether I am responding to a sincere bullshit-call-out or a bully. And in these cases, I tend to err on the side of re-examining my own privilege, because, really, who couldn't stand to do that some more? Also: I don't have to stand up to every bully myself--I am part of various communities that do social justice work, and there are lots of people ready to stand up to bullies in those communities. And this is also a situation that will always recur: Given that I live in a patriarchal society, and given that I engage with both activists and folks in the larger world, I will sometimes screw up and get called on my own bullshit, and I will sometimes run into bullies who need to be stood up to. It just will happen.

All of which is to say that I have myriad reactions when I read Twisty's words at I Blame the Patriarchy:
But really, it’s comical, the predictability with which dudes who fancy themselves feministically enlightened just can’t seem to shut the fuck up when they are found to be duding the joint up a little too hardcore.

My first reaction is that my hackles go up. (Ok, my *first* reaction is to chuckle at "duding the joint up," because that's great use of language.) But then I reflect on where that feeling I'm having is coming from (privilege!), and where the criticism is coming from (Twisty, who knows her stuff, generally)--and I have to let it go. And it's not that I can say, "Well, she's not talking about me." She *is* talking about me, and men like me, when we screw up and can't see our privilege getting in the way of our thinking and talking. It does happen, even to those of us who are trying to not let that happen. I do my best, and I will sometimes get it wrong. Nobody likes to think of themselves like a douchebag, but all of us find ourselves saying stupid stuff sometimes, getting things wrong sometimes. So, sometimes, if I'm told to STFU, it's good to do just that.
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