(Note: This post is in reference to some stuff going on at Family Scholars Blog. –Amp)
Fannie’s post seems to have reached its maximum number of comments, but I had already written a comment. So I’m starting a new thread to continue that conversation.
Matt made a joke about running away from a link he put down. Fannie said that joke was problematic. David B. commented:
At the same time, I cannot for the life of me find anything objectionable, from any point of view, in what Matt wrote. I mean, not even .000001 percent problematic.
It’s like a connect-the-dot drawing. You don’t see a puppy dog by taking the perspective of one individual dot. “That’s just a dot. There’s no puppy dog there, no matter how I look at it.” That’s true. But when you look at the pattern as a whole, the puppy dog is there.
What’s problematic isn’t in what Matt wrote. If Matt’s comment stood alone, not fitting into a wider pattern, I doubt Fannie or anyone else would have given it a second thought. But it does exist in a context: this same joke (or minor variations) has been made across thousands of conversations. And when the same joke is heard a lot of times, that pattern cumulatively sends a message.
What is that message? Hugo Schwyzer, who teaches gender studies and so witnesses this sort of behavior a lot, wrote:
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.” [...] 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.
This comes back to “centering” (something Fannie’s talked about before). If we “center” Matthew’s view, and put ourselves in his shoes, it’s hard to see anything at all wrong with Matthew’s joke, and it’s unfair for Matthew to be made to feel uncomfortable because he told a joke. What’s important becomes “did Matthew intend to give offense?” And the answer is no, Matthew (who is a nice guy) had no such intent.
But when we center Fannie’s position, we see that there’s a pattern here, of the same joke being told by different people over and over and over again, always implying that by disagreeing with feminists (or gay people, or black people, etc etc) the speaker has put themself at risk of violence. And the question isn’t “what did Matthew intend,” but “what message is this pattern sending to women?”
Another word for this sort of pattern is microaggressions. “Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.” (Bold added by me).
My co-blogger Mandolin (at my home blog) wrote a blog post on this subject, in which she pointed out that the metaphors seem to get even more violent when both race and sex are involved in the discussion.