If you were around last week, you probably saw this post I wrote. That post was in response to another post. And I woke up Saturday to discover that someone I know and respect from interactions on Twitter wrote a response to mine, tying it in with a larger conversation. Again, trigger warning for discussion of harassment, rape, and threatening conduct.
As I was reading Graham’s post, several thoughts came to mind. He asks, pointedly and rightly so, how it’s acceptable for the way women are treated publicly to be so casually dismissed when their male counterparts are almost without exception allowed the autonomy and respect of having certain aspects of their lives and beings to be OFF LIMITS. Here’s the money passage:
In one of the most eye-opening sections of Emmie’s post, she talks about needing to have a strategy ready to deal with the angry response she might encounter in response to her works, and rightfully resenting that. It certainly is not something I or any other white male 18-49 heterosexual writer has to contemplate. We are free, it seems, to publish whatever we want, largely without fear of being attacked on such a level. No one is going to “mansplain” us, declare that we just need a really good f@#k, call us ugly and unworthy of love, tell us we’re being silly and hysterical and fascist feminists and that we’d be better off producing babies than attempting to string words together. No one’s going to suggest that we must be using our bodies to sleep our way to fame and success. No one’s going to tell us to “shut up and write” columns on hair products and nail polish, you know, the stuff we’re the real experts on, and leave the serious business to the grown-ups.
No one is going to threaten to track us down at home and rape us.
While I’m sure people have sat down to puzzle this out before, I read his piece wanting to dissect what this means. The why behind all of this. There’s a very simple answer (patriarchy — which seems in itself like a hulking mountain range of a word in its omnipresence), but then there’s the day-to-day answer. The wake-up-in-the-morning-and-get-catcalled answer. The glad-they-put-me-in-the-hot-chick’s-section answer. The answer that is difficult to label in a way that both requests engagement and encourages open discourse. The answer that my academic mind wants to back up and look at from afar and study from every side. The answer that I think needs to take shape.
Chuck Wendig and John Scalzi and Jim C. Hines and countless other cisgendered white heterosexual men have spoken out about the same things Graham mentions. Wendig, on many occasions, has discussed frankly how he knows that even the angriest emails he gets pale in comparison to the constant barrage of word-waste spewed at women for saying the same things.
The things I want to talk about today (and Thursday, because LOTS OF WORDS) are why this particular threat (rape, primarily) and why it’s not taken seriously. Because this post got really long, it’s split in two.
First of all, let’s talk why this bile geyser erupts at all.
This actually has a simple-ish answer.
There is a status quo. It benefits men and has for….ever. However, in benefiting men, it has historically disenfranchised and disempowered women. Globally.
Challenging said status quo is seen as an assault on something that is beneficial to men and therefore bad. Not all men see it that way, but (sadly) many do. While that “many” is not “most” or “nearly all,” I don’t think anyone can argue that when there are thousands of people spewing bile at women on a daily basis and even codifying it into law (I’m looking at you, North Carolina and Texas) that it isn’t a fairly prevalent mindset. Because it’s not a particularly long hopscotch from “panic that the system that benefits me is being challenged” to “attack what is challenging it,” this results in a desire to first make the challengers shut up.
That’s really it. The bile geyser erupts because those who like things the way they are (or in some cases, want things to regress) get stressed out when those who do not benefit from the system remind them that not everyone benefits from the system.
It’s like if you’re prancing through the grass without a care in the world and someone suddenly tells you that the grass you’ve trod upon for the last seventeen minutes was the cure for cancer, but you’ve gone and smashed it.
That might be a bit of an extreme analogy, but it’s also rather true. Most men don’t wake up in the morning and think, “You know, I think I’ll oppress some women today. Maybe shout lewd things at one on the way to work, fire a pregnant mother of three-soon-to-be-four, and stop providing insurance benefits for anyone who uses she and her for pronouns.” Most men — most people — wake up in the morning and hate their alarm clocks, wish for a couple extra winks, make breakfast, and go to work hoping all their bills are covered and that their families will be safe when they get home. And probably wish they could take a vacation.
No one likes to be confronted with the idea that their lives have either overtly or inadvertently participated in the oppression of others. It’s not a fun feeling. It’s hard for some to hear that and not feel like they’re being held personally responsible. For the folks who light the fuse on the shit volcano, they don’t stop to consider why they feel that way. They hit the button because that’s what a knee-jerk reaction is. Reaction. Immediate. Generally without thought. This can all be avoided with a judicious application of empathy, but unfortunately that’s a priceless commodity when it should be bountiful. They hit the button because they just want whoever’s challenging them to shut up.
Naturally, being told to shut up smacks of pre-school. So we’ll talk about this more on Thursday!
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