Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Don't Be That Guy

Just a quick post tonight. Head on over to synecdochic for a detailed explanation of what makes a man in a feminist space into That Guy - the self-absorbed, entitled, careless idiot who couldn't give a damn about what you think because his opinion's way more important than any woman's. This one point rang very true for me. When I talk about rape, or unfair treatment, or the damage patriarchal society causes to people, I spend half my time* in arguments tying myself in knots trying to take everyone's experiences into account so that I don't get guys doing this, as they inevitably will:

6. Co-Opting The Argument.

Okay, if you're still with me, first of all, thank you. Second of all, I'm about to say something that (in my experience) makes a vast majority of men I've ever said this to sit up, open their mouths, and say "But --":

The absolute last words you should ever say in a discussion of sexual assault are "men can be raped too".

Or "but men can be falsely accused of rape". Or, well, pretty much anything that attempts to shift the focus of the conversation, subtly or not-so-subtly, away from women's problems and onto men's problems.

Because most women have spent their entire lives living in a world where it's All About Men's Problems. (In fact, we can generalize that: most people without $Privilege have spent their entire lives living in a world where it's All About $Privileged_Group's Problems.) When a discussion is happening among people without a particular privilege, it's ridiculously common for a member of the privileged group to come across it, see that rage or upset directed towards the people with the privilege, feel like they personally are being attacked (because they are a member of that group!) and leap in, guns blazing, to talk about how their group is also affected by the systematic brokenness of our society.

This doesn't calm the rage. I think it's probably pretty safe to say that no woman, ever, has heard the words "men can be falsely accused of rape" and suddenly said "Yes! You're right! Let's stop talking about how angry we are that women worry about being raped and start talking about how angry we are that men worry about being falsely accused of rape!" Whether or not it is a problem (and I so do not want to have that debate, and if you're tempted to bring it up in comments, please go reread points 1-6 again), by co-opting the argument like that, by attempting to re-focus the argument like that, your actions will be taken as not giving a shit. Your actions will be taken as trying to make it All About You.

On the surface, this can look like women doing the very same thing I've been cautioning you against: them trying to say that your experience isn't valid, and that their way of viewing the world is the only way possible. And yeah, in some rhetorical circles, that might be happening, because women are no more automatically enlightened than men are. Having a vagina does not make a woman automatically not-an-asshole any more than having a penis automatically makes a man an asshole.

But ultimately, the fundamental difference is this: because men are the group with the privilege, every conversation, if not stated otherwise, is assumed to be about men's worldviews and men's issues. And for a woman (who's used to running smack into that default assumption a hundred times a day), finding that she's in the middle of a very good conversation about something that matters to her in a place where her worldview is being given due weight and consideration can be so tremendously uplifting that to have someone come in and (in essence) say "Whups, just kidding, let's restore that status quo, it's still all about me" is either a). very frightening, or b). very enraging.

Co-opting the conversation like that is a rhetoric-specific form of Point #1 all the way back up there. By coming into a conversation in that fashion, it does not matter what your intention is. There is a much-greater-than-nontrivial chance that the women who are listening will view it as an expression of entitlement and a manifestation of your privilege. And in a predominantly-female space, there is a much-greater-than-nontrivial chance that the women inhabiting that space will feel empowered to tell you to sit the hell down and shut the fuck up.

Sometimes it is not about you. If you have ever received a LiveJournal response anywhere along the lines of "your life, so hard", or "let me tell you, internet, it is tough being a white man", or "get off the cross, we need the wood", this is a sign that you have been That Guy.

Does this make you angry? Does it make you feel upset? Do you feel like your right to speak, like your right to be heard, has been silenced?

That's the space many women live in all the time. And we can't put it down and go back to a place where that silencing doesn't exist the way you can. Because for us, the conversation you just took over was that space, and we are sick and tired of repeating this fact over and over and over again.

Don't be That Guy.

*This is difficult in fast-paced online arguments where, by the time I've finished writing my all-inclusive, non-judgemental post with full disclaimer, people have moved several points on and my post is now out of context. Oh, and people are now discussing how hard it is to be a man, regardless of the original subject.

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