Thursday, July 21, 2011

In Which I Utterly Refuse to Credit as Ignorance What Is Manifest Dishonesty

[This started out as a comment in response to Shaker schumannhertz, and it got really long, so.]

In the comments thread of my earlier "Be Nice" piece, Shaker schumannhertz noted that zie knows" a lot of guys who [THINK they] understand the difference between the nice guy and the not-so-nice guy. The problem is: They think they're in the former category when they're in the latter." And that's a really common assertion (so I'm certainly not intending to negatively single out Shaker schumannhertz here, who just happened to be the person who left the comment this time); it's absolutely something I would have said myself once upon a time—but I wouldn't say that anymore.

In fact, I think that dismantling the idea that men can't intuit internalized prejudice against women is an important part of feminist thought.

(And I happen to know quite a few men who agree with me—men who find the notion that men lack this particular self-awareness incredibly demeaning.)

I genuinely don't believe that men don't understand the difference between "the nice guy and the not-so-nice guy." After nearly seven years of doing this, and dealing with dudes ranging from totes clueless to totally enlightened, and genuinely naive to genuinely nasty with a serious agenda, I think a man who doesn't, on some level, intuitively understand the difference between treating a woman as less than and treating her as a person, his equal, is a virtual unicorn.

It's not that I assume bad faith: It's just that my every experience, with myself and with other people, prescribes an expectation of awareness.

And then there's this: If 99% of the man who professed cluelessness in defense of their misogyny were actually just clueless, 99% of the "garsh, misogyny?!" conversations would dénouement with a grateful thank you for feminist enlightenment, instead of snarling flounces punctuated with accusations of man-hating and grievances about unwelcoming tones.

One of the rare points on which anti-feminists and I agree is that I'm not fucking special. There is nothing about me that makes me uniquely capable of intuiting the difference between my own humanizing and dehumanizing behavior toward other people. I may have the language to put that feeling into words, but I didn't need to have the language to have the feeling, to have the unarticulated knowledge of prejudice within myself.

One doesn't need to be actively trying to examine privilege to be aware of internalized bias.

I mean, hell, we've all got memories of learning about racial prejudice; we can all share stories of hearing a relative or friend or schoolmate introduce us to some piece of racial prejudice against another race (or our own).

Most of us, when we think about it, have memories of learning about sex prejudice, too. It's just that those sorts of discussions are rarer, especially in terms of men discussing the memorable events of their patriarchal indoctrination, because we take as read that men are from Mars and women are from Venus or whatever.

We use the "conventional wisdom" of intrinsic difference and unnavigable separateness to create a space in which men can tell the lie that they are unaware of their bias toward women.

And it absolutely infuriates me, because it is SUCH BULLSHIT.

When a man comes in here giving me this blinking, wide-eyed, oh-em-gee I just can't figure out how to treat women so as not to be creepy, because it's soooooo confusing, I just want to barf nine thousand times.

And if men want to get pissed at someone for my exasperation with this rubbish, then they can direct their ire at the men for whom the honesty about knowing is more important than the fraudulence of not knowing in defense of continued misogyny.

I'm just done with playing that game. I just don't have the patience for it, anymore. I refuse to indulge it, because it's horseshit. I am a human being, and I am a privileged human being, and I know how to recognize the presence of bias within myself, and so does That Guy.

All I got anymore for That Guy is this: Don't tell me you don't fucking know. Don't try to claim, with a straight fucking face, that you don't know the difference between treating a woman as an individual person and treating her as part of some ladyperson monolith whose contours are drawn in demeaning narratives by seething oppressors. Don't even feign that infuriating haplessness in which you profess to be unacquainted with the cavernous divide between treating women as your equal and treating them like garbage.

You want me to trust you're an intelligent and decent guy who believes me to be his equal for whom he has some modicum of respect? Then you can start by jettisoning the aw-shucks routine and give me the respect of truth. Tell me you do indeed know that you view women differently, treat women differently, hold women to different standards than you do men.

Then we can have an honest goddamn conversation about how to fix that.

But I'm not having one more dishonest conversation about your supposed cluelessness. Not anymore. Because we both know it's just the sad-ass anthem of the Dude Who Doesn't Want to Fix It.

To the dudes who do, I give you the gift of expecting more, which, although it may not feel that way, is an act of generosity and good faith. I am a better person than I once was because people gave me the gift of expecting more of me, of setting a higher standard and encouraging me to reach for it, of challenging me not to settle into the well-tread grooves of my socialization, of admonishing me to reject the vast and varied prejudices and myths with which I'd been indoctrinated, of urging me expect more of myself and persuading me to believe I could be the change I want to see.

Not perfection. Just more.

Perfection is an unattainable goal and an unreasonable expectation. More, on the other hand, is eminently reasonable.

And it is a kindness, extended by someone who wants to be your equal.