Jun 152018
 

Here’s a popular but shitty entry in the culture wars. It’s a defense of bigotry, dressed up as humor.

 


First, let’s cover why some people like it. All the following was said by friends or friends-of-friends. I cannot take credit for the words, which is why they are well spoken. They are slightly snipped and paraphrased here and there for brevity.

[Critics of the comic] appear to believe that the girl in the comic, and those she represents, is a bigot who speaks in “all X are awful” generalizations for any group, from white people to men to heterosexuals. This is missing the point. [“Not all X”] statements are meant to derail. I see them ALL the TIME in response to people NOT saying “all.” You want her to defend herself from an unfair accusation instead of explaining her rationale by insisting that her not adopting the language of the accuser is proof of guilt. I’m pretty sure the artist didn’t have her specifically say those words because it’s so obvious to them that the accused don’t say all in most of these cases that pointing it out is redundant to the actual message being conveyed.

To get nitpicky for a moment, the word “all” itself isn’t even what really matters. “All police departments need to crack down on prejudice among their officers” still doesn’t justify “not all cops are racist.” The argument is still being shifted away from a system of cover-ups of abuse of power, and toward a new topic of the prevalence of racism among individual police themselves… Which the original speaker now has to address, or else be accused of being prejudiced against all cops.

One of the major problems is that liberals so often speak of institutions and systems, and those who aren’t on the same page take it personally. This is why the “it’s just a few bad apples” defense is so frustrating. The quote is “a few bad apples spoil the batch” NOT because some racist cops make all cops racists, but because the institutions that allow that rot to continue ruins even the non-rotten apples. Entire populations in this country don’t trust police anymore because the bad actors have been protected too often and for too long. Hell, it’s often not even about racism really, or even sexism or prejudice, it’s about power imbalances and lack of accountability. But the most vulnerable in society are always going to be the first to speak out.

The same goes for other institutions or establishments that don’t enforce equality. It’s not that men are never raped or harmed by sexism, but institutionally, men run the military, men run the government, men run the majority of major corporations, men run the police departments, etc. The harm of “patriarchy” is systemic, and insofar as it harms men too, the sentiment that it is men who need to help solve the problem should not be taken as an accusation that they are inherently part of it.

The gal in the comic here doesn’t actually represent someone who is saying “All men are <bad thing>” or even “X proportion of men are <bad thing>.” She’s supposed to represent the view that “long-running institutional norms in our society empower or permit men to do <bad thing>.”

This isn’t about men. It’s about our society. That’s why “not all men” is a bad response. It’s not that the statement is wrong, it’s that it’s a diversion from something crucial.

The problem with #NotAllMen is that it pulls the conversation away from one about culture and social awareness to one about being personally offended at being accused of something you were never really accused of.

 


And here’s why I disagree.

I used to call myself a feminist, and I basically still am, though I don’t identify with the group anymore. [This comic] is one of the reasons why. I know people who are genuinely good people. Who want justice and happiness for all. Love a number of men. Only hate those who are awful and deserve it. They would regularly post about gross violations of personhood or other awful injustices, and head it with something like “Men are trash!” Not because they are man-hating nazis. But because that’s just the culture. It’s not seen as a bad thing to do, and gets you lots of cheers. Everyone knows they only mean the bad ones, right? Call them out. End the brutality and patriarchy and oppression. Fight back!

I did it too

And eventually when I realized I basically hate my gender and wish I wasn’t a part of it, and stopped participating, and started asking these kind and caring people to not use that sort of language anymore, I got backlash. Because of course we don’t mean ALL men, just the trash ones. Stop being such a Meninist. Stop distracting and giving cover for your peers (my peers????) who really are doing awful stuff.

And seriously, I just want to stop feeling like I’m trash because of what other people who look like me have done.

So yeah. I assume the percent who hate men is 0%, or close enough to it that it’s a rounding error. The problem is pervasive and systematic and has nothing to do with actually hating men. It has to do with creating a culture/environment that casually destroys a class of people and holds their only acceptable moral condition is one of self-loathing. It’s the daily denigration that wears away at one’s psyche. And it doesn’t have to be “serious”–the people I know who routinely say this are kind people who have male friends, relatives, and sometimes lovers, all of whom they really like. For comparison, how many times can one joke about “black men can’t hold down jobs” before “I’m obv not serious, I’m married to a black guy myself” stops mattering?

 

(in reply to) “the sentiment that it is men who need to help solve the problem should not be taken as an accusation that they are inherently part of it.”

Thing is, lots of men are working to solve the problem. We’re not omnipotent, despite being born with a penis, so there’s not a whole lot most of us can do. But goddammit, we are trying. And we *still* get subjected to the “all men are trash” rhetoric. In fact, we get it far more than anyone else, because we’re the ones that are friends with the people saying it, and see it come up often. The assholes who perpetuate oppression almost never see this sort of thing. So as good as it may feel to say that men are trash, it’s hurting the people who are trying to help, and not doing anything to fix the actual problem. And pointing that out? That gets you lumped in with the misogynistic assholes.

Also, there’s far better ways of expressing the sentiment that men need to help solve the problem than repeatedly stating how awful all men are.

The problem is that the gal in the comic sometimes says just what you’re saying, and in those cases she’s in the right, and the comic is entirely correct. But other times she’s just saying “all men are trash” and everyone’s cheering about it, and in those cases she’s doing harm and the comic is supporting bigotry. The problem with the weaponization of “Lol, another #notallmen meninist” is that it is used to conflate the second situation with the first situation, and is used by bad people to harm others and make everything toxic.

 


And of course none of the above really matters. Because here’s the thing.

Most people, and certainly the ones who share this comic approvingly, are still in “there are only two sides” thinking. It’s the message the overwhelming majority of their social environment is pushing onto them, so I don’t entirely blame them. What they’re doing is posting a thing which in their mind is the equivalent of waving the “Heeeeey, I’m on the Left side! wooooo!” flag. It feels good. It fights oppression. It shows support and caring for their hurting friends.

And so anyone saying “Hey, that’s not cool, and here’s why” is, in the poster’s mind, an attack on their side from the other side. Because they’ve been told no one on their side would say such a thing, and there’s only two sides, so obviously the person being harmed by the comic are from the Right side and are here to start shit.

I hope my words, and the words of others like me that are trying to speak up gently, with understanding, but with the message that “You are hurting us because it feels good to you and maybe that’s not so great” will help to carve out a third side. A side that has spent the entirety of their lives learning and fighting for those who are oppressed and ground down by the system, and who hate that system themselves. But who also don’t want to be ripped apart in the process. Who are not content to have to choose between that or becoming the perpetrators of further mass harm. A side that believes there’s actual mutual forward progress possible, rather than just two sides and a war over which side gets to rule.

We can do better.

  5 Responses to “Not All People You Hurt Are Your Enemies”

  1. There’s also another level where saying stuff like “All men are trash” is even more counterproductive to feminist goals. The anti-drug program DARE was later shown to increase drug use because while it criticized drug use it also made drug use seem normal and the later effect was stronger because some people wanted to use drugs. And you can see similar effects in social psychology in all sorts of other areas from dueling to stealing petrified woods from national parks to sexual harassment training. So any time you say something that gets a reaction of “Not all X do Y!” from Xs then if there are any Xs that want to Y you’ll also be telling them that their desire is normal. And reducing their estimation of getting caught in cases where Y isn’t very visible but punishments for Y are.

  2. “I just want to stop feeling like I’m trash because of what other people who look like me have done.”

    This sounds like something that a white person complaining about black people not being “over” slavery would say.

    I think the biggest point you are making is that absolute dichotomies are the easiest way for people to thing about the world. This makes sense too, one of the first things we learn as humans is opposites, usually right after colors and before body parts. I’ve always tried to look at things from a neutral perspective and not be dogmatic about anything, but it is really genuinely hard.

    Also, “not all x are y” is a very logical sounding statement. As Bayesian Rationalists, we should definitely perk up at this. Immediate questions follow. Conditional probabilities. Not all x are y, but how many y people come from x group vs not? Given that there are some z who also do y, if y is done to you, what is the probability that x or z did it?

    Not all cops shoot black people, but black people are much more likely to be shot by police than white people. Given a cop shoots a person, it is more likely that they are black then they are white. Especially when weighing for demographics. Not all men sexually assault people, but if you were sexually assaulted, it is far more likely that the assaulter was a male. etc etc. So if you are a cop or a man (white, straight, cis, whatever majority/authoritative subgroup), then I think you need to recognize that victim groups might be painting with a broad brush when they say things like “I hope all men die”, and the only way to combat that is not to say “well, I’m not one of the bad ones”, but to acknowledge that they have been disenfranchised, and offer to help.

    I really like this comic as a response to the culture warring. http://chainsawsuit.com/comic/2016/07/07/all-houses-matter-the-extended-cut/
    (the post below the comic is also worth reading).

  3. “Feminists” have given the feminist movement a bad name, so many people stop self-identifying as a feminist. “New Atheists” have given the atheism movement a bad name, which is why many are hesitant to call themselves atheist. I think it’s still ok to believe women deserve equal treatment, and I think its ok to not believe in a higher power without identifying in those groups.

    • Wait, what have atheists done that’s wrong? Did I miss something?

      • I believe there’s some people who really dislike Dawkins. I guess he’s said some stupid shit on Twitter, but I don’t follow anything that happens in the Twitter cesspool, so I also missed the whole “New Atheists suck!” boat. They’re still pretty fucking awesome in my book.

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