SDS Womyn's Caucus Blog

Posts Tagged ‘It’s Not About You

Posted by Robin, Philly

hugging salt n pepper

A person-shaped salt shaker and pepper shaker hug each other, the salt shaker looks a bit taken aback.

This is post #2 in a series called I.N.A.Y.: It’s Not About You. I.N.A.Y. #1: “Effectively” Calling Out Patriarchy can be found here.

Recently, I had a series of discussions with a new male acquaintance about touching. Basically, I had tried to communicate that I disliked him touching me, and he kept doing it anyway. When he was confronted about this, his explanation was that he thinks people in our society are too isolated from each other, and in an effort to bridge our isolation, he goes out of his way to touch people.

The guy is certainly not the first person in my life to repeatedly touch me when I’ve tried to make it clear I don’t want them to, but I’ll give it to him that he’s the first person to have apparently put so much thought into it, indeed to have a theory around it.

The problem is, by reducing it to a formulaic theory (we’ve talked about the link between theory and patriarchy on here before), he is putting his ideology before the desires of actual people in his life. He is being harmfully dogmatic, his actions say “I know best what is good for you, better than you do. Even if you ask me not to touch you, I will because I know what you need.” I.E., he’s being paternalistic and entitled.

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What is I.N.A.Y.? It’s an acronym for “It’s Not About You”, a heading under which I plan to do a series of blog posts here. (And I invite others to join me too!)

And now, I.N.A.Y. #1: “Effectively” Calling Out Patriarchy:

Something I am sick and tired of hearing from men who have been called out on patriarchal behavior by myself or another woman is that the way we did it “wasn’t the most effective way” we could have gone about it. Yesterday I had a dude send me an e-mail in which he said, “Perhaps you feel that the way you have interacted with me is just part of your attempt to make me aware of my biases. I would caution you that inflaming anger and defensiveness is not productive.”

Oh! Thank you Mr.Man! I had no idea that my “aggressiveness” that was clearly meant to inflame anger and defensiveness in you was not the most effective strategy for telling you about your oppressive behavior! Next time you act like a dick I’ll be sure to employ more agreeable tactics so you feel more comfortable.

This entitled reaction from dudes makes me think of a few things: One is, what is it they hear when we bring up issues of patriarchy and sexism with them? I am reminded of a comment made by author Marc Rudov on Fox News during the election : “When Barack Obama speaks, men hear, ‘Take off for the future.’ And when Hillary Clinton speaks, men hear, ‘Take out the garbage.'” It seems like no matter how nicely we try to bring things up, no matter how even our tone of voice or how pleasant the expression on our faces, when women break out of passive, silent gender roles and stick up for ourselves, many men hear yelling, “bitching” and nagging. No woman has ever told me she finds me aggressive, but apparently I come off that way to a lot of men.

Second, why is their first reaction not only to tell me that the way I approached them was wrong, but that they know how to do it better. Despite having no experience being on the other side of the interaction, they still know a better way to do it. Not only does the I’m-a-dude-so-I-know-how-to-do-things-best attitude piss me off, but the assumption that I had the luxury to carefully plan how I would call them out and that I am just not strategical baffles me. As an organizer, I know how to pick the best strategies and tactics for my audience when I am planning a campaign or action. That is because I can usually plan a campaign or action in a rational and thoughtful manner with plenty of time. This does not apply to my daily interactions. Not only do I usually have to choose if and how to call a man out on the fly, but I have never been given any guidance or instruction in how to do it. I am figuring it out as I go along. Considering the fact that everything in society has socialized women NOT to address these situations and talk openly about patriarchy makes my act of bringing the issue up at all an incredible feat in itself.

Another thing that bugs me is the ‘the way you did it hurt my feelings’ line. As if it is my responsibility to make sure men’s feelings are not hurt. Not just in our general interactions, but even when I am giving them criticism. Memo to men: sometimes hearing criticism will cause you to feel bad about yourself. That is not my problem. The implication that I should not give criticism because it makes you feel bad (or that the way I gave the criticism hurt your feelings) is outrageous. Especially because – hello? – why do you think I’m giving you criticism in the first place? Because I think it’s fucking fun? “Oh, I hurt your feelings? How do you think I felt 10 minutes ago when you did XYZ patriarchal things, which is the REASON I had to talk to you in the first place??”. Way to privilege your feelings over the woman’s. Telling women that the way we brought things up hurt your feelings or was “ineffective” is just another way women are silenced into not saying anything.

And finally, why the hell do men think they have a right to never have their feelings hurt in the first place? (Let’s not even get into how most of them don’t want to acknowledge or talk about their feelings until suddenly -gasp!- I hurt them!) I think I know the answer to this one: privilege. People with privilege are accustomed to being comfortable, and feel entitled to feel comfortable all the time. They become angry when something, or someone, disrupts that spell of comfort. It scares them, and they want to push it away and/or avoid it rather than allow the feelings of discomfort to sit or to work through them. (If they actually did the work to push through these feelings, they may find that the discomfort was actually productive and allowed them to grow.) They mistake feeling uncomfortable for feeling unsafe. And rather than blame the oppressive systems that have allowed them to feel so comfortable all their lives while women bared the brunt of patriarchal oppression, they blame the women who point out the behavior.
image by jacky fleming

This is why I am so fed up with hearing that I didn’t call someone out the way they think I have should have. Maybe if they focused their attention on not being patriarchal, instead of critiquing my technique, I wouldn’t have to call them out in the first place.

– Robin
Philly SDS