A Facebook friend linked a post tonight about two guys who used an outdated law to sue and shut down a women’s tech group. First, I gotta say I hate the actions described in the story. The guys involved are jerks and their actions repugnant.
Gender bias, like any other form of discrimination, assesses relative worth of humans based on broad population markers such as sex, ethnicity, religion, social class, etc. My approach to combating it is to try to eliminate my prejudices and consider people’s words and deeds to gauge their individual character. I don’t care what you are, but rather who you are.
Which is why I’m always surprised when someone I respect objects to discrimination in a discriminatory manner. The comments when the story was shared were “this is why men are the worst.”
Men are the worst? These two assholes somehow represent the quality of my character? And the mechanism by which their behavior taints my reputation is our commonality of boy-parts? Seriously?
If the problem is that these jerks make judgements about relative human worth based on gender and use the courts to impose those judgements on others, then I agree and will continue opposing that sort of thing. But if gender bias itself is okay and the problem in this case is that the guys in question got the value judgement backwards, it’s just the flip side of the same divisive coin. That’s essentially what “this is why guys are the worst” is saying.
A year or so ago I read a post somewhere on social media that talked about the predominance of white male authors and it prompted me to turn a critical eye toward my reading list. What I found there is unsurprising to anyone familiar with the statistics. I mostly read books by white guys. Or at least I used to.
Since then I’ve made a point to seek out books by female authors, authors of color and of different ethnicities and cultures. It’s been an enlightening journey and in the new digital era of publishing it’s possible to interact with authors directly. Some have been responsive and helped me in my exploration with insights into their work and pointers to other books and authors. But where I’d expected to find a community opposing gender and race discrimination what I often run into is people opposing me because I’m a guy or because I’m white or because I’m not poor, and not because of my character.
Somehow I’d not expected that and I’m as bewildered as I am disappointed. If one of my male Facebook friends posted that “women are the worst,” I’d call him out on it and if he insisted that this position is defensible I’d unfriend him over it. That attitude won’t go away in a supportive environment or if women are the only ones objecting to it. I don’t tolerate it in my feed because I personally find it offensive and because I want to express a social vote against such attitudes by withholding my attention to people expressing them and through public disapproval.
But to call out only my male friends on such language doesn’t diminish gender bias, it perpetuates the problem from a slightly different angle. If I’m to tailor my reaction to gender bias based on the gender of the person making biased statements, I might as well not bother. There’s no logic in incorporating gender biased criteria into the stance one takes against gender bias. So when women make the same kinds of statements in my physical or digital presence, I call them out on their bullshit too.
Unfortunately, many believe its not a conversation I’m qualified to have with women. Just as I’m apparently unqualified to talk about poverty because I’m not poor, race because I’m white, disability because I do not need services, or consent because guys commit rape not suffer it. Never mind that I’ve lived all these situations and my life experience informs my opinions on these matters. I’m told that my skin color, genitals and bank account outweigh my life experience and disqualify me to engage publicly in any discussions of any type discrimination.
The first rule of having privilege is you don’t have the privilege of talking about it.
Except, of course, to have that discussion with people who look like me and then within narrow parameters. White guys of means are allowed to talk about this stuff with other white guys of means, but only to publicly call each other out on our bullshit. Other than that we are to shut up and cede the discussion to the people in the oppressed classes.
Last time I tried having this conversation was the ‘man-splaining’ incident, which didn’t work out so well and we mutually unfriended each other. Due to all the turmoil in my life right now I don’t have the energy to take this discussion to the latest poster who is one of the authors I’d discovered recently. I’m skipping the flame war and going straight to the unfriend stage. Until I have more stamina and can spare the attention, my new strategy is to peremptorily unfriend anyone who posts stuff like “[population] are the worst” regardless of who they are or what [population] refers to.
This will weigh heavily on me because I don’t know if the response is out of character for the person in question or she actually believes what she wrote. After unfriending, I’ll probably never know or ever again pick up another one of her books and that’s a shame. It seems a drastic response to someone I’d begun to cultivate some respect for and I feel guilty about the finality of the action I’m taking. But I’m all out of spoons and she doesn’t get one.
The irony is that there’s probably at least one person who will read this and immediately think “there goes the white guy finding excuses to unfriend women of color.” Sigh.