This has not been the best of mornings. I woke up with a migraine from disturbing dreams of Merpeople and violent dismemberment, set against a dark background of Green Arrow. Turns out, in retrospect, that this was an indication of my clairvoyance working again, and my dream was prophetic in its symbolism. [Brief explanation: Green Arrow has always spoken up for social justice. Violent dismemberment indicated dissolution of what I though was a trustworthy friendship. Not sure about the Merpeople.]
As usual I started my day by grabbing some coffee and scrolling through my twitter feed. Not very far down, I found this:
It bothered me, but I scrolled past. I didn’t immediately want to engage. I thought: “Jason’s a Good Guy. I don’t want to alienate him.”
Then I thought: “Wait a minute. If I really believe he’s a Good Guy, I’m doing him a disservice by assuming what I have to say will alienate him. And if he’ll be alienated by my response, he’s not as good a guy as I think. Plus, I need to challenge my own propensity not to engage with men on these matters because I’m afraid of the potential consequences.”
Yes, this is something I think about on a daily basis. I live a good portion of my life on the Internet. In case you missed it, the Internet is NOT a safe place. It’s especially not a safe place for women and People of Colour. So I police myself when interacting. I don’t call men out in public unless my history with them has taught me it will be safe. And even then, sometimes it doesn’t go well. Not so long ago, I called out a high school friend on making assumptions about my marriage–perfectly acceptable and innocent, right? He said something inaccurate about my personal life, and I corrected him. During the course of the correction, I did remind him that he’d only recently reconnected with me after not being part of my life for over twenty years, and so he really had no grounds for telling me what my marriage looks like. Friends should be able to say these things, right?
Well, no. He immediately unfriended and blocked me.
Anyway. I went through all these mental contortions, and then decided to get involved. I replied with this:
To which he replied:
Oh, brother. This was a teaching moment I didn’t want to deal with. See, at this point I already got pretty strongly that Jason had some personal investment here and he really wasn’t open to hearing any more. This turned out to be true. I wasn’t privy to this part of the conversation, but he told my husband that someone had asked him to “stop mansplaining!” Obviously he didn’t like it. Now, when someone with less privilege than I have calls me on my behavior and or assumptions, I don’t like it either. I purely hate seeing people in my Twitter feed talk about “White Feminists.” But my first impulse is NOT to complain that Not All White Feminists Are Like That So You Can’t Say That. My first impulse is to swallow, take a deep breath, and look at my attitudes and actions. And NOT SAY ANYTHING. My task when people are discussing their experience is to LISTEN. What they say might apply to me. It might not. Whether or not it does, I have no business policing their vocabulary because people with a certain kind of privilege have no business policing the vocabularies of those who don’t share that privilege.
Anyway, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. My husband–whom, incidentally, I trust implicitly–was sitting next to me on the couch. I asked him to please speak to Jason, because maybe he would actually listen to another man. Let me take a minute to wallow in the irony here, of disengaging in a discussion about Mansplaining and sexism because someone is Mansplaining sexism to me.
Yeah, that didn’t feel as good as I had hoped.
So, Michael got involved. And this happened.
As Michael is relating this to me–I wasn’t following the conversation even though I was still getting tagged at this point–I’m wanting more and more to bang my head against the wall. How is the phenomenon of men at all levels of society assuming that women know less than they do about any subject under discussion, even if the woman is a recognized expert in the field, not limited to men? SURE, NOT ALL MEN do it (although I have to say I personally have never met a man who didn’t ever do it at one time or another. Even Michael has done it).
Jason and Michael go back and forth for a while. Michael is trying to explain that a man condescending to a woman because he’s a man and she’s a woman is sexist. Jason comes back with, “No, that guy’s just a jerk.” And he makes some false equivalence between the idea of Mansplaining and lumping all practitioners of Islam together with extremists.
The thing he’s not getting here, which I only just thought of, is that Mansplaining is a BEHAVIOUR, not an IDENTITY. It’s a term used to describe the behaviour of men assuming that women are less competent. Dude, if you don’t engage in that behaviour, great! If you do, you might need to look at that rather than object to terminology. I doubt it would have affected the outcome had I realised this at the time, though.
I couldn’t restrain myself. I jumped back in.
Yeah, I let myself in for that one. And so I tried to explain it, even though it was already clear by this time that he wasn’t going to give any consideration to my viewpoint, much less agree with me.
Here’s what I thought: “Any minute now, he’s going to cite the dictionary definition of racism.”
I said something that was perhaps unwise, but nonetheless true (I don’t have a screenshot of it because it has disappeared from my profile for reasons that will become clear. My husband provided all the screenshots I’ve been using.) I told Jason that in my opinion he was reacting to the word “Mansplaining” because, unlike the more general “sexism” or “racism,” it contains the word “MAN.” And that word requires him to examine his own behaviour as a man, instead of automatically being able to say, “Oh, that’s not about me, because I’m not sexist.” It’s pointed, and IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE. It’s uncomfortable, AND IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE.
And then I said this:
This was a really, really hard thing for me to do. I try whenever possible to avoid telling people they’re wrong. In fact, I don’t think I ever did it before.
Predictably, he came back with this:
Okay, fine. Rather than debate the problems with the dictionary definition, WHICH EVERYONE ON A CERTAIN SIDE OF THE ARGUMENT BRINGS UP AT SOME POINT, I decided to delegate the teachable moment to others who have written at length on the topic. I Googled “why is the dictionary definition of racism inadequate” and provided Jason with relevant links.
I went away, did some other stuff. Scrolled though Facebook, checked my email. I wanted out of this conversation. I wanted to tell Jason, “I get it. You’re not going to agree with me. But I need you to know I trust you less now than I did when I woke up this morning.” I wondered if saying that would be wise. I was afraid, so afraid I was shaking. Because I expected if I said that, if I admitted I no longer trusted this man, I would be subject to, “Geez, I was only having a discussion and now you’re judging me! How dare you judge me when I’m an ally! You’re really overreacting! Women are so emotional!” Etcetera as nauseam.
I did not expect what I found when I finally went back to Twitter, but in retrospect, I should have.
TL; DR: I had an argument with a guy on Twitter, whom I thought was a friend, and when I disagreed with him and cited sources to support my position, he blocked me.
I’m afraid to go back to Twitter now. At last glance, several people, both women and men, had supported me for standing my ground and said they were sorry this happened. Some others thought the discussion wasn’t a true indication of Jason’s character and that it got out of hand. I now have a gazillion notifications I’m afraid to look at. Maybe later.
My husband has this to say:
“You denied him the moral high ground, challenged his authority, and butchered his sacred cow.”
Meaning: I confronted him when he “called out” a form of “sexism” perpetuated by women on men instead of being silent or agreeing that he had a point; I told him he was wrong; and I refused to cave in when he referenced the dictionary (because, as we ALL know, the dictionary is a sacred text which NEVER CHANGES and is ALWAYS RIGHT).
Even though I’m an outspoken woman on the Internet, this is the first time I’ve had to deal with something like this. And I know it’s peanuts compared to what other women face on a daily basis (i.e., rape and death threats, in case you didn’t get that). I spent some time crying and shaking, and I’m still sick at my stomach. And the worst thing is, I am beating myself up for having the reaction I’m having. At the same time, I’m wondering about those gazillion notifications. What if Jason motivated the forces of NOTALLMEN against me, and now I will be facing rape and death threats? These are things that have happened to others. And since the morning’s exchange proved to me that this person is NOT the person I though he was, despite his amusing and apparently socially conscious tweets, I have no idea any more what he’s capable of.
This has not been a good morning.
I still don’t know what the Merpeople had to do with it.