Talking about gender inequality is like throwing a hand grenade into a cesspit: you demonstrate the cesspit’s existence, but get a load of shit flung at you in the process. Or so goes my experience as a writer on issues of economic and political inequality, when I point to gender inequality. Here is one example of how crazy things get when you point at the patriarchy.
The “Not All Men” Meme
It all started simply enough. I was unaware of the “Not All Men” meme, but reading this piece, entitled “Here’s why women have turned the ‘Not All Men’ objection into a meme” – it resonated for me.
In brief, it covers the oft-used rhetorical trick by men (but by no means all…) to avoid feelings of guilt, responsibility or even empathy for issues of gender inequality that impact women to the detriment – domestic abuse, unequal pay, dress codes, language, and so on. They will respond “not all men!” and derail the conversation into how awful it is for men to be stereotyped in this way.
I never have to moderate out (delete) as many comments on my blog as I do when I put up an article that is gendered. By gendered, I mean an issue that primarily affects women and is primarily enacted by men.
Anyway, many other women (and men) had noticed this too, identified a pattern and created a meme called “Not All Men”, where they have a bit of fun deconstructing the nonsense of this position. I still think it’s a fabulous piece, albeit it very hard to read for many men.
I shared the article on the Scriptonite Daily Facebook page and……boom! It was ‘Not All Men” live demonstration time. I won’t reproduce the outright offensive, ad hominem attacks…that would just multiply the offense and I tend to delete and forget them instantly. Instead, some examples of exactly the issue to which the article points.
“You just want the right to generalise about men and that makes YOU sexist!”
A very simple error. The piece doesn’t say this, and almost all pieces I read (and every one I write) quantifies the number of men/women, incidents, the size of the matter etc when discussing a gendered issue. Those applying this argument are saying: if you express yourself differently, the men won;t need to say this. This is wrong for two reasons:
- This again turns the issue from one for men to address, and makes it a problem for women.
- It misses the most basic point of the matter – the ‘not all men’ device does not reflect the real content of the gendered discussion, it functions solely as a means to disrupt the conversation from the issue at hand, to placating his upset, ego, sense of identity as a progressive male, need to accept responsibility or all of the above.
If you are struggling with this, here is a better way of understanding how this device works. Have you noticed those people who, in any conversation you have with them about welfare cuts, have to point out and have acknowledged as true, that ‘well, you have to admit that there are people out there milking the system’?
It’s not that they are inaccurate, but their point only serves to reframe the conversation inside their comfort zone. Ditto issues of race, people will want to point out ‘well black people are racist too!’…they may very well be, but in the context of a conversation about structural racism this point is just irrelevant. It has no place other than to console the author of the comment and minimize the issue.
The commenter above also provided an example of what is termed ‘mansplaining’, which is speaking to women in a patronising way. This is inside of the context of gendered conversation. The original article linked to a study which revealed significant difference in the way interrupt men, and the way they interrupt women (as a rule, not all men remember). The findings were quantified. Yes men and women interrupt, and interrupting is rude, but these studies suggest men and women interrupt each other in different ways and men were more likely to intrusviely or combatively interrupt a conversation that a woman has started and seize attention back on himself. As the piece reads:
On a very basic level, “not all men” is an interruption, and interrupting is rude. More to the point, it’s rude in a very gendered way. Studies have shown that not all interrupting is equal. The meta analysis by the University of California at Santa Cruz was conducted on 43 studies about interrupting. It was found that men interrupted more than women only marginally, but they were much more likely to interrupt with an intention to usurp the conversation as a sign of dominance, or intrusive interrupting. Additionally, a study of group conversation dynamics showed that the gender combination of a group affects the method of interrupting. In an all-male group, the men interrupted with positive, supportive comments, but as women were added to the group, the supportive comments dwindled.
“But…I’ve escaped the prison of male privilege and I should be acknowledged for doing so!”
Making the powerful choice to ally with women on gendered issues is to be acknowledged, and is. But if you feel the need for a pat on the head every time an issue comes up before you’re willing to engage with it….I doubt you’ve genuinely escaped anything.
Furthermore, whether or not you view yourself as a member of a privileged group, be that one of gender, wealth, social status or whatever, has zero impact on your membership. You can’t escape, ever, until the inequality no longer exists. While it remains, you have benefited and will continue to benefit from its existence…and you must factor that into discussions with those on the opposite side of that transaction. Interrupting their conversations to remind them you are a victim of all this stuff too…no, just no.
This is what that looks like in an exchange between a feminist woman, and a man objecting to the issues.
I had this issue vividly illustrated to me as a 21 year old in Palestine. The fact that I felt disenfranchised by neoliberalism and made strides against it, was not comparable to being held under occupation and frequently blown half to smithereens as part of it. We were allies, yes. Were they happy we were there? Yes. But I got to understand quite quickly that remembering my privilege was critical. The facts remains that I am also, as a Brit, a beneficiary of this system in ways they were not and likely never would be.
“Oh look! A chance to insult you but say it’s ironic!”
“You can say what you like in the world, but I promise a safe space to my page members and the moderation policy is published on the blog…follow the rules, or talk elsewhere”.
Back to the point in hand: the above comment is the lowest form of response. It dismisses the whole complex topic outlined by the article as “women want the right to generalise about men”…and responds “oh yeah, well what if we generalise about women?! How would YOU feel?!”
Gee, I wonder what it would be like if lots of men were going about generalising about women…oh, hang on. We live in a gendered society that categorically subjugates women…and it gets better and worse around the globe, but nowhere on earth is there a male population subjugated by women. That does not exist as a thing. Men can be impacted in horrendous ways by patriarchy, yes. No one is denying that. We’re here calling for an end to that damn patriarchy, so you bet your ass we understand it. But patriarchy is designed by and largely works for men.
“I have a vagina, you don’t speak for me. Leave the lovely men alone!”
Some women feel the need to weigh in on the side of the men…perhaps to alleviate the tension, act as peacemaker/mediator, or simply conform to the approved behaviour communicated by the dominant group.
This sounds weird until you check out a bit of history, like the House Negro, or the police, or the train manager!
I often hear women say “I have been more oppressed by women than I ever have men”…this might actually be the evidence that presents itself, but it cannot be viewed outside the context of structural gender inequality that creates it. This is nothing new, oppression is often indirect. The subordinate group are kept in line, held back, criticized, knocked into shape by their peers, at the behest of the dominant group. The dominant group offers approval and perks to members of the subordinate group for acting in this way.
You will have experienced this as a member of the working class, middle class, a cis man/woman, a trans man/woman, a worker, a person in receipt of benefits, you will know what that feels like – to want those who you know are being subjugated to join with you and stand for better, but they either do not recognise the oppression or they accept it – either way, they aren’t backing you up. So it is with Feminism. The difference here being one of scale, not content.
It’s Good To Talk
I loved that comment. It’s just so much easier to own our stuff! No one is attacking anyone for making a mistake unwittingly. We all do that, as members of different power groups in different contexts (again, these exist whether you consider yourself a member or not).
As a writer who is a woman, of colour, and gay, I liked to think I was a prejudice-free zone. Who the hell was I trying to kid? Of course I am littered with prejudices. However, every time I get one pointed out, my commitment is to listen, take time to let my urge to defend myself pass, and learn. This has happened over and over. I don’t regret any of it and I shudder at the narrow person I would have remained if I had chosen a different path. So when you find yourself invited into a conversation about inequality, of any kind, how about making your starting point “How can I learn from this?” and not “How can I defend myself from this?”
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