Q: Since When Is Being Criticized Like Having Your Limbs Blown Off by a Landmine? A: Since That Criticism Came from Someone with Less Privilege Than You

Awhile back, I read an excellent post by Hugo called Words are not fists: some thoughts on how men work to defuse feminist anger.

In this post, he writes about how the men speak in his women’s studies class:

…two of the guys did something that I see over and over again from men in women’s studies classes. They prefaced their remarks by joking “I know I’m going to get killed for saying this, but…” One of them, even pretended to rise from his desk to position himself by the door, saying that “Once I say this, I know I’m going to have to make a run for it.” Most of the women laughed indulgently, and I even found myself grinning along.

…one thing I remember from my own college days that I see played out over and over again is this male habit of making nervous jokes about being attacked by feminists. In my undergrad days, I often prefaced a comment by saying “I know I’ll catch hell for this”. I’ve seen male students do as they did today and pretend to run; I’ve seen them deliberately sit near the door, and I once had one young man make an elaborate show (I kid you not) of putting on a football helmet before speaking up!

All of this behavior reflects two things: men’s genuine fear of being challenged and confronted, and the persistence of the stereotype of feminists as being aggressive “man-bashers.” The painful thing about all this, of course, is that no man is in any real physical danger in the classroom — or even outside of it — from feminists. Name one incident where an irate women’s studies major physically assaulted a male classmate for something he said? Women are regularly beaten and raped — even on college campuses — but I know of no instance where a man found himself a victim of violence for making a sexist remark in a college feminist setting! “Male-bashing” doesn’t literally happen, in other words, at least not on campus. But that doesn’t stop men from using (usually half in jest) their own exaggerated fear of physical violence to make a subtle point about feminists.

There’s a conscious purpose to this sort of behavior. Joking about getting beaten up (or putting on the football helmet) sends a message to young women in the classroom: “Tone it down. Take care of the men and their feelings. Don’t scare them off, because too much impassioned feminism is scary for guys.” And you know, as silly as it is, the joking about man-bashing almost always works! Time and again, I’ve seen it work to silence women in the classroom, or at least cause them to worry about how to phrase things “just right” so as to protect the guys and their feelings. It’s a key anti-feminist strategy, even if that isn’t the actual intent of the young man doing it — it forces women students to become conscious caretakers of their male peers by subduing their own frustration and anger. It reminds young women that they should strive to avoid being one of those “angry feminists” who (literally) scares men off and drives them away.

Criticism is not fists! This is a brilliant observation.

Of course, it’s obvious. If I say “Your idea is sexist,” then I’m not literally slugging you in the face. But at the same time, the joking frame allows the analogy to pass unnoticed. And when it passes unnoticed, its effect can be insidious. The women act to protect the man’s feelings. They soften their criticism so they won’t fulfill the violent imagery of the man’s preemptive metaphor.

But I want to take it farther than Hugo does. People don’t just say “don’t attack me” as a way of getting feminists to back down. They also say it because they have a sense of being attacked. Criticism is not fists, but people really seem to perceive it that way.

And the less privilege the person who’s making the criticism has, the more it feels like an attack. In this post, Ginmar quotes Amanda Marcotte: “The less right you have to talk in the eyes of the hierarchy, the louder you seem. Which is probably why black women are seen as the loudest people ever.”*

We see this in a lot of places, right? The common sense conviction that women talk more than men cannot be supported, and in fact, people find data that suggests that — in ordinary conversation — men talk more than women. If researchers externally impose a requirement that both men and women speak the same amount, then they both report that it feels like the men hardly got a chance to talk at all.

Women aren’t supposed to talk, so when they talk, they’re seen as talking A LOT. Black women really aren’t supposed to talk, so when they talk, they’re seen as talking REALLY LOUDLY.

Women aren’t supposed to criticize, so when they criticize, it’s not just words — the surprise of their criticism feels like fists. And when women of color criticize? Well, then it’s World War III.

No, really. World War III.

Various comments, from a Feministe thread about Full Frontal Feminism:

Manar:
WWIII declared on Jessica
malicious defamation of her character

Steve:
if people would stop trying to crucify Jessica
stop treating her like she’s Satan’s spawn
there’s a limit to how far your demonization can go

Criticizing Jessica’s book is the same as starting a word war. It’s malicious defamation. It’s nailing her to a cross; it’s demonizing her as Satan’s spawn. (Note that Jessica didn’t say any of these things.)

And it’s not just the Full Frontal Feminism debate. Here’s a comment from Tobias Bucknell’s blog, on a post where he’s discussing diversity in science fiction. Here, a commenter called Jaime writes:

And the truth is that it wouldn’t matter what I said in a discussion like this, or how carefully I phrased it or if it was an honest belief on my part or not. Unless I accept everything ABW says as the gospel truth, which I don’t, I was doomed before I started. I’m white, so every thought and opinion is suspect. At best I’d come off as rather dim but well meaning. At the worst I’d have people openly screaming racist as they are on ABW’s post whether that was true or not.

But I stepped onto the mine field with my eyes open so I can’t complain about getting my leg blown off. I might as well go for the full package.

Because criticism from Angry Black Woman (or black people, including men, who agree with her) is the same as Jaime having her leg blown off by a landmine.

Sure, this is hyperbole. And yes, as Steve pointed out to me when I criticized him on the feministe thread, hyperbole is a rhetorical device. However, like any rhetorical device, it’s important to look into what it’s doing, and why it’s doing it. It’s not just a matter of personal style; language reflects the world, and it has power.

I’m particularly disturbed by the escalation in the violent imagery that one sees when comparing the examples that Hugo brings up (men talking to women in a gendered environment) to the examples that I’m bringing up (white people talking about people of color in a racialized environment). Men are worried about being beaten up; white people are worried about crucifixion, World War III, having their feet blown off by landmines.

There could be lots of reasons for these differences. This is certainly too small a sample to prove that the difference is race. If the research net were to be widened, we might find that metaphors about women’s gendered criticism of men were just as violent as metaphors about people of color’s racialized criticism of white people. If there is a difference, it could also be due to the internet environment; people may just be more colorful when they’re writing. If the difference is race, though, I think we’d find that the increase in violent language is related to the same thought process that leads people to think that white women talk too much, but wonder why black women are so angry.

It’s important to acknowledge that English is a language full of violent metaphors. Those metaphors get into our ways of thinking and speaking. I’m sure it’s possible to find examples of people comparing criticism to attack in situations where privilege isn’t part of the equation. However, that doesn’t mean that race, sex, and privilege have no effect in the situations I quote above.

Hugo points out that comparing criticism to fists is silencing. In the classroom, it functions to inhibit what the women are saying, because they have to positively act to reject the associations that the male has conjured with his violent metaphor. By comparing the woman’s words to violence, he calls into being the image of her as a violent person, which she has to rebut by tempering her words.

In the contexts above, hyperbolic, violent exagerration also functions as a power play. Consciously or unconsciously, it’s intended to reassert privilege through a hyperbolic dismissal of the critiquer’s words.

And it’s also — perhaps primarily — a defensive reaction. Since women and people of color don’t have as much perceived right to criticize, their criticism stings more. It becomes not just criticism but fists, wars, and bombs.

*edited to clarify authorship; the post is by Ginmar, but the speaker is Amanda Marcotte.

(ETA: I slapped up the “feminist and pro-feminist only” comment rules, but consider the “people who actively want to end racism” comment rules to apply, too. Please take a gander at the introduction of a new comment rules box that asks posters to be both antiracist, and feminist! Yay new comment box!)

This entry posted in Feminism, sexism, etc, Race, racism and related issues. Bookmark the permalink. 

69 Responses to Q: Since When Is Being Criticized Like Having Your Limbs Blown Off by a Landmine? A: Since That Criticism Came from Someone with Less Privilege Than You

  1. 1
    ScottM says:

    That was a good point that I hadn’t picked up on yet in this whole keruffle. Thanks for linking it back to Hugo’s discussion– it seems like a logical extension of the concept.

  2. 2
    ginmar says:

    The comment, you should specify, is Amanda’s, not mine. I only wish I said that. But, yes, the idea that criticism by one’s perceived social inferior is worse than that of an equal is very interesting. There’s an element of fear there, the way slave owners feared slave revolts, even though they were rare and savagely put down.

  3. 3
    SingOut says:

    Yes! I was just recently thinking about that post of Hugo’s.

    I was in a play about women’s history. It was attended mostly by women, but there were a few men in the audience each night. After every performance when we greeted the patrons, there always seemed to be at least one guy who’d tell the cast how scared he had been that his wife was forcing him to see this show about women’s history, trapping him a room with angry feminists — and how relieved he was that it was over, and that there was so little “man-bashing”. (hint: there wasn’t ANY man-bashing)

  4. 4
    ginmar says:

    Guys call it male bashing when it’s not glowing praise, delivered with blowjobs. I had a guy pop up on my blog during a speak out for rape victims, with rape victims venting—-often mournfully—–about their experiences, and this knob had the gall to call them frothing man haters and whiners. Then he claimed he was a rape victim and he didn’t act that way. Never mind that the women weren’t whining and man hating—-and if they were, it’s my damned blog and they can do what they want.

    “Man-Hating” is just a tell for a guy who’s so used to being sheltered that he doesn’t know what reality is any longer.

  5. 5
    Mandolin says:

    “The comment, you should specify, is Amanda’s, not mine.”

    Clarified, I hope!

  6. 6
    Kate L. says:

    I don’t have anything thoughtfull to add just want to say this is an EXCELLENT post.

  7. 7
    Hugo Schwyzer says:

    Thanks for the link. Of all the posts I wrote last year that I felt I ought to have tried to turn into an article, that one was the one.

    Funny, as one of Jessica’s defenders I didn’t realize that this dynamic I described could play out in an intra-feminist discussion. I assumed that my words applied to a tactic of silencing used only by anti-feminist males against women.

    Could I ask a favor? Could you link to the same post at my new blog rather than my old one: http://hugoschwyzer.net/2006/05/25/words-are-not-fists-some-thoughts-on-how-men-work-to-defuse-feminist-anger/

  8. 8
    Tapetum says:

    Nicely done, Mandolin. Having read through the FFF kerfluffle on several blogs, I had begun to realize that it was amazingly easy to read angry criticisms as attacks, even when they weren’t. I had even begun to notice that it happened disproportionately to minority posters. Your post analyzes this tendancy beautifully and in a way that makes it easier (for me at least) to catch myself when I start behaving this way. Thanks.

  9. Pingback: Some people aren’t perceived as having the right to criticize | the way there

  10. 9
    Pete says:

    Dude, if you’re that afraid of legitimate female anger (and 99 times out of 100 it IS legitimate, despite what the disk jockeys say) then why are you even in the class? To coin a phrase: Be a man, take the angry responses and criticisms on the chin, and LEARN from them. You might just discover the “other side’s” point of view.

  11. In Metaphors We Live By, the authors point out that the underlying metaphor by which we understand argument in the US—and probably in much of the west in general; I don’t know about other cultures—is war. We talk about demolishing people’s arguments, defending our own positions, attacking the positions of those we argue with, and so on; and the point you make about how people with less privilege are perceived as attacking that much more forcefully because they have less privilege fits into this. Think about how acts of warfare committed by those without the military power to wage conventional war by conventional means against those who have that power—i.e., guerilla warfare, so-called “terrorist acts”—are perceived, experienced and depicted, especially by those in power, as exponentially worse than acts of conventional warfare, even when the acts of convenational warfare are demonstrably the more damaging ones to, say, civilian life or the infrastructure of the nation being attacked. Please note: I am not trying to argue that all acts of unconventional warfare are therefore justified in all cases. Acts of war, of course, are decidedly not metaphorical.

    It’s also interesting along these lines to think about the ways in which the simple fact of women’s presence is also, metaphorically, understood to be an attack, specifically—and I have this from Timothy Beneke’s book Men on Rape—the presence of women who are conventionally attractive. Beneke goes through a number of expressions (some of which are dated, but the ideas they contain are not), each of which expresses the idea, metaphorically, that a woman’s beauty constitutes an attack on the man who sees her: She’s a knockout! She’s a bombshell! She’s devastatingly beautiful! (There are more and perhaps better ones, but I don’t have the book handy right now.) It would be worth thinking about whether there are similar kinds of metaphors (ones of attack, etc.) that we use to talk about the simple presence of people of color.

  12. 11
    Magniloquence says:

    Wow! That’s a dynamic I completely left out of my post on the dynamics of the conversation. Heh. Though it might fit better into the sub-discussion about who gets to have an opinion.

    Anyway, it’s a great great dissection, and one I’ve gotta try to add into my future analyses.

  13. 12
    Rachel S. says:

    Richard great point from the Beneke book. I need to read that book in its entirety.

  14. 13
    Longhairedweirdo says:

    Hm.

    This is a ramble, but it might be valuable.

    One of the reasons I think of for the “please don’t hurt me” comments is that sexism/racism/etc. are Bad Things.

    Now, there’s an interesting thing here. If something is a Bad Thing and you Accuse Someone, then you’d better have Positive Proof. Otherwise, you’re making false accusations, and we all know that false accusations are much, much, much worse than whatever the accusation entails. e.g., it’s much worse to accuse someone of racism, and not be able to prove it beyond any doubt[sic], than to be racist.

    If this had been planned, it would be brilliant. I mean, think about it.

    “I agree, sexism/racism/etc. are *terrible*. But that’s all the more reason to be a concern troll careful about what we say.”

    Not only does this shut down accusations (or even discussions) of the issue, it also helps create the environment where privileged folks are that much more afraid of being told that they’re taking advantage of privilege.

    “NO! You can’t call me sexist! I reject that, because we all agree that it’s a Bad Thing, so I’m going to react defensively!”

    Seriously: if it was a planned strategy to keep racism and sexism in existence, could you think of a better one? I can’t.

    Whereas, if I go around thinking I’ve got plenty of racist and sexist ideas from growing up in a privileged society, but that’s not a shameful thing, I don’t have to be as afraid of listening or learning. I have less invested in denying my own flaws, because, hell, everyone has ‘em.

    I think the “getting legs blown off” hyperbole connects to this. I guess it all comes down to “but we *are* rational, and *they* aren’t!”

  15. 14
    Mike3550 says:

    I have never thought of this before! Thank you, Mandolin for writing it out so clearly!

    I wonder, in response to Hugo’s football player, whether it would be worthwhile to try and talk to him (the football player) outside of class and get him comfortable with the idea of talking about this exact issue. I think that it would be an incredible “teachable moment” in a certain sense. Rather than embarassing the football player right there, maybe Hugo could point out this effect on discussion to the football player and ask the football player to react to it and/or share that reaction with the class.

    It seems like this would do two things. First, it would point out to the football player that this does have a silencing effect on classroom discussion. But, secondly, it can also lead to a discussion about how to confront tactics such as these in the future and the ways that language and rhetoric can act and protect privilege.

    I think that men, particularly men in high school and college, can be exposed to their privelge for the first time in high school and college. I know that this was true for myself. I found myself very uncomfortable confronting these issues. Many of the times that I felt like expressing something like “I don’t want to be slaughtered for saying this” (I can’t remember if I actually used any expression like that or not), I was trying to investigate and confront what seemed, at the time, to be self-evident truths and were actually manifestations of my privilege being white and male. It may be that, while doing it poorly, many of these men are trying to confront their privilege and don’t realize they are manifesting it simply by the way that they are talking. Thus, I think that, if Hugo’s football player was one of those people, it could be an incredible way to confront the very privilege he was manifesting.

  16. 15
    The Rotund says:

    Thanks for writing about this, especially so well!

    I think a lot of men react to passionate speech by women defensively. And that defense spawns offensive posturing. That’s why so many women, when speaking, are confronted by men telling them to chill out or calm down. Hysteria was a created illness so there would be something to diagnose women who weren’t happy with their situation with.

    Linking it to power negotiation is quite accurate – that’s why the portrayal is always of an ANGRY black woman. Or angry fat person. Or angry whoever is being most marginalized in a situation.

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  18. 16
    jfwlucy says:

    Terrific post — thanks for clarifying what I’ve “often thought, but ne’er so well expressed.

  19. 17
    Donna Darko says:

    Q: Since When Is Being Criticized Like Having Your Limbs Blown Off by a Landmine?
    A: Since That Criticism Came from Someone with Less Privilege Than You

    Men are worried about being beaten up; white people are worried about crucifixion, World War III, having their feet blown off by landmines.

    ROFLMAO. Steven Guess and Manar were white males criticized by women of color. Definitely World War III, landmines and crucifixion all rolled up in one!

    The less right you have to talk in the eyes of the hierarchy, the louder you seem. Which is probably why black women are seen as the loudest people ever.

    Yes and that’s one of Hugo’s best posts.

  20. Pingback: The voice of fatties « Fat-o-matic

  21. 18
    Paul says:

    It’s easy to see how it can get really tiresome to hear jokes that imply that women have so little control over their behavior that the expression of a different opinion incites them to physical violence. However, if you do a google search of expressions like “Don’t kill me, but…” or “Don’t hit me, but…,” you’ ll see numerous examples of it being used in other contexts where the speaker is assuming that his/her point of view will be unpopular among other people in the group being addressed (e.g., “Don’t kill me but I think Hemingway in general is way overrated).

    I’m not convinced that these terms are more prevalent among men addressing a group of women or among white people addressing a group of people of color, but now that Hugo and Mandolin have brought it up, it becomes apparent that using these terms in the contexts they describe can be particularly inappropriate.

    Also, (and if Mandolin thinks this is a derailment, she should feel free to delete it), *if* there is any factual basis for the belief that some black women are “loud,” might it be because they find it necessary to “shout” for their voices to be heard?

  22. 19
    Mandolin says:

    *if* there is any factual basis for the belief that some black women are “loud,” might it be because they find it necessary to “shout” for their voices to be heard?

    Huh. Interesting idea. I tend to think of it as metaphorical loudness.

    Does anyone else have thoughts?

  23. 20
    Thorne says:

    This is amazing!! Incredible and wondrous! Eee gads, I’ve been blogging all damn day and when I come across a post that really deserves my best, I’m out of steam.
    Oh. Did I mention serendipitous?? I just came from Disgusted Beyond Belief’s post entitled My thoughts on Feminism (as I now head for cover)!!! I think I’m gonna pee my pants! Actually, I think I’ll hop back over there and toss him a link! *wink* LMFAO

  24. 21
    Nora says:

    Thanks for posting this; it really clarifies something that’s been irritating me a lot during the discussions on diversity in SF that ABW and others have been hosting. Namely, a tendency for white males in the comments to focus on or make snide remarks about her anger, rather than the topic at hand. I’d recognized it as a deflection strategy, but mistook what they were trying to deflect — I thought it was the topic, and it is, but it’s also the anger itself.

    I love the Marcotte quote. I will cite it and cherish it and attribute it properly of course, all over the web. =)

  25. 22
    hf says:

    I think ginmar hit the nail on the head in comment 2. White people know that if anyone else treated us the way we’ve treated black people, we’d do our best to kill all the oppressors and all of their children. I’m not using hyperbole — white people in Germany tried to do exactly that when they blamed “the Jews” for their problems. Nobody, we feel, believes that crap we feed children and slaves about turning the other cheek.

  26. 23
    Barbara P says:

    Longhairedweirdo – I really think you’re on to something. I will point out though, that once someone says something racist/sexist/etc, they are often condemned as a person by those who disagree, and the rest of their opinions are more or less invalidated.

    I liked what you said about getting past the shame of having some bigoted beliefs; however, the shame does not just come from within. There is a very strong “us vs. them” mentality, (“I’m not like Archie Bunker/rednecks/whatever”) and an incentive to hide one’s real beliefs as a way to stay in the “us” category. IMHO, this perpetuates the insidious subtle discriminations that seem worse than the overt types.

    The struggle is to get people to admit their own bigotry, while not simultaneously allowing it to go unchallenged. Ultimately, anyone who participates in such a conversation should be well aware that their opinion is neither more important nor less important than anyone else’s. This requires an environment of trust and respect that unfortunately is difficult to find on the internet!

  27. 24
    Original Lee says:

    Mandolin – Terrific post! I love discussions of this type, because they help me understand all sorts of stuff I didn’t get before.

    I hope this isn’t derailing, but I was wondering how to explain the difference between “words aren’t fists” and “words can hurt as much as fists” (the latter being what many anti-bullying programs are teaching children nowadays). Especially given Richard Jeffrey Newman’s post about verbal disputes being treated like war in our culture, I’m having a hard time framing the distinction in a way that doesn’t undermine either statement. (That’s one of the reasons why I hang out here – many of you are really terrific at clearly articulating what I’m thinking but am having trouble expressing.)

  28. 25
    Donna Darko says:

    The words aren’t fists is about the privileged feeling hurt by the less privileged speaking up about sexism or racism. Men aren’t literally beat up, crucified or blown up by a landmine by women’s claims of sexism. The words can hurt is more general as in people who are not necessarily more or less privileged than you can hurt your feelings.

  29. Original Lee wrote:

    I hope this isn’t derailing, but I was wondering how to explain the difference between “words aren’t fists” and “words can hurt as much as fists” (the latter being what many anti-bullying programs are teaching children nowadays).

    A very important initial distinction that needs to be made is that the topic under discussion in this thread is not name calling or any of the other verbal behavior that bullies engage in, but rather discussion and argument. In the case of bullying, it is certainly true that words can hurt as much as fists because the purpose of the words used in bullying—whether it’s schoolyard bullying, men bullying women, white people bullying people of color—is to inflict on people’s feelings the same kind of hurt that fists or “sticks and stones” inflict on the body. In the case of discussion and argument, the purpose of responding to something you have said with anger, or of characterizing something you have said as racist, sexist, heterosexist—take your choice—is not to belittle you per se, but rather, among other things, to establish boundaries such that you understand where your words become inappropriate, hurtful, bullying, etc.; to command and demand from you the respect that I deserve in the discussion we are having; and so on. I am not, in other words, interested in using my words to have power over you—which is what bullying is about—but, rather, I am interested in claiming the authority of my own voice in our argument/discussion.

    Not sure how clear that ultimately is, but I hope it helps.

  30. 27
    SamChevre says:

    I suspect another reasons that “social inferiors” are stereotyped as “loud/pushy” is that if you aren’t in a position of power, it takes more–much more–”noise” to have an effect. If you can call the mayor and he’ll take your call, you don’t have to organize a protest to have your concerns heard.

  31. 28
    Hugo Schwyzer says:

    If you can call the mayor and he’ll take your call, you don’t have to organize a protest to have your concerns heard.

    Very good, Sam. Gosh, it took me a long time to learn this one.

  32. 29
    Rachel S. says:

    And you can do it all behind closed doors, so nobody even has to know that you called the major.

  33. 30
    Original Lee says:

    Donna and Richard: I guess what I was trying to get at was, the silencing behavior of privileged people is presented BY THEM as if critics are bullies, so how do you get around this? I guess I’m just having some mental dissonance, but maybe I’m overthinking this too much. The difference seems to be the intent of the speaker – bullying speech is intended to harm, while critical speech is intended to improve – and I have real difficulty with that because critical speech can be used to bully, and vice versa. I agree with many of the posters here, though, that the silencing reaction is a self-centered one.

    NB: I actually do understand the difference, I think, I was just wondering how to explain it to someone who didn’t. IRL I recently got an e-mail from someone who routinely treats criticism either dismissively (if I couch it gently) or as if I beat up on him (if I get a little loud about it), and he honestly does not understand why I don’t express my reservations to him earlier or more often. It literally took me 2 days to respond to his e-mail because it was such a load of self-pitying passive-aggressive crap that my blood pressure went up every time I read it. All I had done was tell him I was annoyed because he did not call me or refer the reporter to me when the reporter called HIM about one of MY projects. (To be fair, he didn’t take credit for my project, which would have really honked me off.)

  34. 31
    Blade says:

    This is certainly food for thought. Thank you for the post.

    I have seen the “I know you are gonna kill me” comments in these contexts before, but had not considered this perspective. I’m reminded that I see this a lot other contexts too – I’ve seen a lot of husbands in heterosexual married couples make that same sort of statement when they say anything that they think it going to upset their wives. It’s a way of deflecting the anger.

    Anyway, I think that men do, in fact, see it as bullying. The topic of power inequity, in many ways, has to identify the haves and the have nots – the oppressor and the oppressed. In terms of male privilege, men are immediately identified as the oppressor. In terms of white privilege, white people are the oppressor.

    I think that, generally speaking, a lot of men just want to be good people. But in this topic, the individual white man is the default villain, simply by virtue of existing. “I was born – that makes me the bad guy.”

    Really, if you think about it, it’s a form of discrimination. One that is far far less pervasive than what women or racial minorities deal with, obviously. But it’s the same mechanism – individuals are being put on the defensive for shared traits (biological, racial, or social) that they have no control over. And they react in ways to deflect it.

  35. 32
    Donna Darko says:

    Tell him they’re not bullying him but trying to improve him.

  36. 33
    ginmar says:

    They’re not being discriminated against because of what they are; it’s because so many of them just automatically get defensive or worse. Nice try though.

    What makes them the bad guy is their tendency—-and yours—-to come in here and claim that getting nailed for being irresponsible with all that power they have by virtue of their status is somehow discriminatory and unfair. You got all the power, you get all the blame. It’s that simple. Cope with it. And if you’re a white guy stop getting so damned defensive. Sheesh. White guys want all the power but they want it to be responsibility free.

  37. 34
    carovee says:

    This post reminds me of an argument I had recently with my husband. Sometimes when we are arguing about something related to sexism he throws up his hands and says, “Well I’m a man so I don’t get to have an opinion”, or “my opinion doesn’t count”. Normally this ends with me trying to assuage his feelings. Except this last time I got kind of tired of him shutting down the argument that way. Instead I pointed out that he can have an opinion but that doesn’t mean I have back down from trying to explain why I think he’s wrong. That response kind of threw him for a loop.

    And women are supposedly to be the fragile emotional one’s!

  38. 35
    Radfem says:

    I suspect another reasons that “social inferiors” are stereotyped as “loud/pushy” is that if you aren’t in a position of power, it takes more–much more–”noise” to have an effect. If you can call the mayor and he’ll take your call, you don’t have to organize a protest to have your concerns heard.

    Very true. Also that those who have the mayor’s ear don’t remember when they didn’t or that others don’t.

  39. 36
    Anne says:

    Great post, especially what Hugo said. I also just did a quick Google search and came up with a bunch of studies that soundly refute the notion that women speak more than men — I think all the ones below found that men almost always talk more than women in mixed-sex settings. One bit in particular chapped my ass quite a bit. The article is from 1988, but I have trouble believing that things have changed much since then — it describes how women have to go out of their way to get men’s atention in conversations, and after describing one such device states the following:

    This device and others led West and Zimmerman to note that there are “striking similarities” between the conversations between men and women and those between adults and children.

    The other articles:

    http://www.pbs.org/speak/speech/prejudice/women/

    http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=286

    http://www.buffalo.edu/reporter/vol30/vol30n14/n5.html

  40. 37
    Mandolin says:

    “Really, if you think about it, it’s a form of discrimination”

    I’m with Ginmar. It really isn’t.

    You have social benefits by virtue of your sex and race. Pointing that out is not discriminating against you.

    Original Lee:

    “the silencing behavior of privileged people is presented BY THEM as if critics are bullies, so how do you get around this? ”

    This is a really interesting question, and I’m not sure I know. :-\

    I think the first part is getting them to understand the concept of privilege. After that, it seems like things should be a smooth road. But I have trouble believing that the white, theoretically pro-feminists, that I quote above in reaction to the FFF mess don’t know full-well what privilege is, and… well. They were really mad at being called on it.

    I increasingly think that debate is not useful as a head-to-head endeavor. If you repeat things to your friend often enough, maybe sometime he’ll start to see it for himself. I kind of feel like words have to slide into people’s skulls from the side, and that debate is useful for introducing people to those words so that the slide can begin.

  41. 38
    Betsy says:

    I’m particularly disturbed by the escalation in the violent imagery that one sees when comparing the examples that Hugo brings up (men talking to women in a gendered environment) to the examples that I’m bringing up (white people talking about people of color in a racialized environment). Men are worried about being beaten up; white people are worried about crucifixion, World War III, having their feet blown off by landmines.

    There could be lots of reasons for these differences. This is certainly too small a sample to prove that the difference is race. If the research net were to be widened, we might find that metaphors about women’s gendered criticism of men were just as violent as metaphors about people of color’s racialized criticism of white people.

    The only exception is that feminists are often described as “castrating,” which is right up there in terms of violence with those latter examples.

    Anyway, thanks so much for this awesome post.

  42. 39
    Donna Darko says:

    I was addressing Lee when I said people are not bullying but improving his friends.

    To Blade: Women nag because they have less bargaining power in a relationship especially money. Men don’t have to nag women into doing things. If you’re married to someone for decades who doesn’t understand you or try to understand you, it’s frustrating. My mom’s frustrated to the point of hate. Luckily, younger generations and my brothers are not like this.

  43. 40
    sylphhead says:

    I think that, generally speaking, a lot of men just want to be good people. But in this topic, the individual white man is the default villain, simply by virtue of existing. “I was born – that makes me the bad guy.”

    Really, if you think about it, it’s a form of discrimination. One that is far far less pervasive than what women or racial minorities deal with, obviously. But it’s the same mechanism – individuals are being put on the defensive for shared traits (biological, racial, or social) that they have no control over. And they react in ways to deflect it.

    I understand where you’re coming from, Blade, but men who don’t want to be personally associated with oppressors only make up half the story. A good number of them probably get offended because they don’t actually believe white men have undue power anymore – which from there is only a few finger steps away from more blatant forms of racism. Because if white men don’t have undue privilege, how to explain their fairly obvious overrepresentation in all areas of power, wealth, and prestige?

    Probably that genetic essentialist stuff that keeps women simple, Asians short, and Arabs suicide bombers.

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  45. 41
    PortlyDyke says:

    Thanks, this post is going into my bookmarks. It will save me a lot of time ‘splaining things in discussions.

  46. 42
    Jen R says:

    I’ve just been watching an example of this principle in action. A site called fanlib.com recently opened a for-profit fanfiction archive; they are asking people to upload their fic to the site and will then sell ads, without of course sharing the revenue with the authors. They are also basically putting contributors to their site in a very dicey legal position wrt potential copyright-infringement lawsuits.

    Now, fanfiction is mostly — overwhelmingly — written by women. And a lot of women got very angry at what they saw as exploitation of their community. They got angrier when the CEO spammed some of their LiveJournals with a “We’re good people! Don’t hate us because we’re capitalists!” message and then refused to actually engage any of their criticisms. Apparently the poor thing was afraid for his life:

    “It’s a great idea and we’re currently working on something along these lines. However, engaging our “most strident critics” may be dangerous to our health. I’ve read some pretty violent posts. How about we go for just “strident critics”? ”

    This guy doesn’t just make a specious comparison between criticism from women and violence; he actually says that the posts *are* violent and claims to be afraid of the posters.

    (By the way, he did finally agree to answer some questions from his critics — on the blog of male MIT professor Henry Jenkins.)

  47. 43
    mythago says:

    In terms of male privilege, men are immediately identified as the oppressor

    Actually, they’re identified as the privileged. You’re doing exactly what the “don’t kill me!” guys are doing, Blade: you’re pretending that the topic is violence and anger toward the privileged, and diverting the discussion towards whether we are or aren’t attacking privileged people unfairly

  48. 44
    Ozark says:

    It’s sort of a nervous thing, like you’re being impolite, like pointing out someone is fat. For me, anyway, getting nervous like that signifies humility, and shows that you’re not trying to be an inconsiderate ass. It reminds me of the Japanese language – Japanese is very polite, and often that means apologetic over even little things.

  49. Ozark:

    There’s a big difference between “please don’t be offended by what I am about to say” and “I know I’m going to get killed for saying this.”

  50. 46
    mythago says:

    Ozark, the “ha ha don’t kill me, ladies” BS is nothing like Japanese. Signifying humility is done by being humble, not by passive-aggressive games designed to get the other person to fall all over themselves reassuring you.

    I have found the best way to deal with this asswipes is to interrupt them right after the I-know-I’m-going-to-get-hit preamble: “I guess you’d better not say it, then.” They have absolutely no idea how to react.

  51. 47
    clew says:

    What’s Woolf’s line? ‘For centuries, women have served as a magic mirror reflecting Man at twice his natural size; and when she stops he feels himself diminished.”

    A metaphor, but not a military one.

  52. 48
    M.dot says:

    As a really loud,
    Ebonics Speaking,
    Loud Talking,
    Feminist Reading,
    Hip Hop Loving,
    Black Lady,

    I REALLY appreciate this post.

  53. Pingback: Q: Since When Is Being Criticized Like Having Your Limbs Blown Off by a Landmine? A: Since That Criticism Came from Someone with Less Privilege Than You « cementedminds

  54. 49
    Aerik says:

    Wow, great job Mandolio. I’m definitely going to channel you in future confrontation with cowards who use this button-hook style cheap-shot as feminists as radicals.

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  57. 50
    Coquinegra says:

    One of the members of my multicultural forum alerted me to this particular entry and this blog and I’m so excited about it that I’ve used it as a basis for a discussion in our forum. All of you are welcome to come by and have your say or just watch how the discussion unfolds. Hope to see you there. Personally, I’d welcome an invasion…we need more normal voices.

    http://forums.delphiforums.com/TheRainbowTribe/messages?msg=6514.1

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