Guys… we need to get something. Most of the time, when we comment on threads on Facebook and elsewhere about feminism, “women’s/trans/queer issues” (which should be EVERYONE’s issues), and/or men’s transgressions, we completely fuck it up. Then we get called “douches.” Then we get defensive, angry, and menacing for being called douches, and/or we get mopey and sad. Then we commit all the douchey things women are asking us not to do again in response, digging ourselves deeper. Then the dialogue (or more commonly, debate or flame war) ends when everyone involves gets too sick of continuing it. Then everyone leaves the encounter feeling even more shitty and like nothing was resolved.
Guys, we need to do better, and we can do better. Which is why I’m writing this post. To help us, at the very least, be less douchey starting right now, and ideally, not douchey at all and even constructive and supportive, if/when we choose to participate in the online dialogues and threads that are (understandably) becoming both more frequent, and more heated, now that we have a narcissistic, openly misogynist, paleo-patriarchal asshole in the White House
(Douchey being defined as, some combination of: arrogant, defensive, entitled, ignorant, willfully ignorant, tone-deaf, explicitly or implicitly sexist or misogynist, disrespectful, and/or condescending.)
The first thing I should say in this article is that anything I know about this topic at all, I learned, unfortunately, by violating each one of the points below at different times. Then hearing very pointed and sometimes rageful feedback from women on comment boards when I violated them, then doing the typical thing of getting defensive with them, digging myself in deeper, and then finally realizing that these women were right, and were in fact taking time and emotional labor to educate me despite their upset, and then thanking and feeling grateful to them.
Specifically, several years ago, I wrote something about sex workers in the BDSM world that was intended to fit into my “brand” as an “edgy, wild, taboo-breaking writer,” but looking back, was astonishingly insensitive, and got (appropriately) attacked quite harshly. Worse, I then continued to do most of the things below (the standard playbook for guys when they feel attacked and judged), digging myself deeper into doucheland. I am very grateful to the women who volunteered their emotional labor (including what must be the frustratingly familiar emotional labor of being angry at a douche and then having him be defensive), and for patiently educating me, even through your anger and frustration. The whole process taught me to spot these things in myself and others, and (to the best of my current ability) not do them anymore.
The one thing I consistently hear women say, when men ask something along the lines of “What can I do to support you feeling more safe and respected in the world?” is something like, “Educate yourself, then educate your fellow men–because we’re sick of doing this emotional labor ourselves.” (Emotional labor will be a topic described below.)
So, this post is in that spirit. I’m by no means perfect in these regards still, or in others ways I have treated women, but I can say I’m educating myself, and I feel I’m at a point where I’m ready to do some of the emotional labor myself of talking to my fellow men about these issues, so that (I hope) some women have to do less of it.
This post is addressed to “guys” like me–you know, hetero dudes, cisgendered (another term dudes need to learn), probably white. Since I travel between the entrepreneurial worlds, the counterculture worlds, and the personal growth/spiritual “woo woo” worlds, it is primarily addressed to guys in those worlds–tech bros, groovy Burner dudes like me, and/or sensitive new age guys (SNAGS) like me who “honor the goddess” and “worship the divine feminine” and so forth. But all of this can apply to any guys.
[For those who are not “guys” reading this, I welcome any further points or clarifications you wish to contribute, if you care to do that emotional labor. But part of why I’m writing this is so that you don’t have to. I’d also like to take it upon myself to do the emotional labor of handling and educating the guys who will inevitably be triggered by this post–something I’ve repeatedly heard women say they wished men would do, rather than leaving it to women.]
I have tried as best I can to write what follows in language that I think most guys in the circles I run in can understand, without sacrificing (too much) fidelity to the way these topics are discussed by women in more explicitly feminist spaces, which is often much more nuanced and detailed than what I’m writing below. I’m sure not everyone will be totally satisfied with what’s below, and I welcome feedback, but I hope it is a solid start. (I should also add that I am not attempting to speak for women or anyone else. I am creating my own syntheis and expression, aimed towards men, of what I have learned from women.)
We guys need to get that the dialogue around these issues online has evolved a LOT over the last say 10 years, since the spread of social media, and the baseline of what is required of men to participate in dialogues online about these issues, has gone way up. It’s like entering college as a freshman, as opposed to entering high school as a freshman–we’re just expected to know more at this point. If you enter online dialogues with women about issues they feel passionate and upset about (and that I hope you feel passionate and upset about too), without demonstrating a basic-level understanding and awareness of these concepts below, you will be called a douche, and asked to STFU and leave. If you stay and persist in your doucheness, the anger coming your way will only grow stronger, and the chorus louder.
You really don’t need to have a graduate level understanding of these topics, not even a college senior level. How about a college sophomore level? That’s not too much to ask. This is roughly what women are expecting of us now (in the blue-state world, which is what I’m addressing–this stuff is way outside the purview of Trumpland- and if you’re a Trump supporter or sound like one, I will delete your comments and block you. Go fuck yourself, I have no interest in talking to you. This is a “safe space” from Trump supporters.) And if we haven’t learned these things, internalized them, and developed an intuitive ability to spot them in ourselves and others, we will be asked to return to high school, or even more likely, the kindergarten playground. That’s the level many of us are on. We need to do better.
(I should also say that almost ALL of these concepts apply, with some adjustment, to when white people start entering into dialogues about race, straight people talk about queer issues, cisgendered people talk about trans issue, or anytime a privileged person enters into a dialogue around issues pertaining to that privilege or to any marginalized/oppressed group. I should also presence that, while I believe I’ve come to a solid and intuitive understanding of these issues around gender, sexuality, and queerness, and a moderate–though not yet good enough–understanding of trans issues, I am still woefully under-educated and I think to a large degree still in denial around race and white privilege, and class privilege, something that needs to change within me as well ASAP.)
OK, enough preamble. Here are what I take to be the basic concepts we guys need to understand if we choose to participate in online dialogues about feminism/”women’s issues,” “queer issues,” and men’s transgressions as they occur in the news or within our communities.
1. Safe Spaces
We guys wince at this term. It feels to us like all the things we judge and stereotype women about: over-sensitivity, “man-bashing,” “reverse discrimination” etc. The politics of safe spaces may seem to us like it is going to ridiculous, absurd, Orwellian extremes online and in college campuses, and maybe, in some cases, it is.
But here’s the thing we guys need to get. It’s the most basic thing we need to get. Women are not feeling safe around us right now. There’s a president in power who has openly boasted about sexual assault. The most extreme forms of misogyny, queer-bashing, personal threats, harassment and stalking, disrespect, and misogynistic trolling are commonplace for all women online, and even more if they are outspoken on these or other political issues, or if they are sharing anything about their sexuality online. Women and queer and trans people still generally don’t feel safe walking around in their own cities and neighborhoods. They are still subject to daily violations of their space which feel menacing and insulting at best, or downright dangerous and violent at worst. In many quarters, we men are regressing in our awareness of these issues, and digging into defensiveness, righteousness and entitlement. A very strong backlash against the many gains and advance women and queer and trans people have won over the last several decades is forming among men, even “liberal” men.
So, can you get why women and queerfolk and trans people would want forums online (and offline) where they are not subject to these dynamics? Where they can discuss these issues and support each other, without feeling attacked, mansplained to, condescended to, belittled, disbelieved, and without having to do the emotional labor of catering to men’s emotional needs or assuaging our defense mechanisms (something they already likely have to do in their workplace and/or at home?)
You probably don’t realize just how hostile a place the online world is for women. Go look at Reddit’s Red Pill forum – which is one of the main gathering places for the misogyny wing of the alt-right. (Link in the comments- content warning: extreme and copiously detailed levels of open misogyny and bile.) There is nothing remotely comparable to this online towards men. There are a few queer/lesbian sites that advocate female separatism. There are many feminist/queer/trans spaces that want nothing to do with “cishet” men (that’s a term we cishet men need to learn and stop being so defensive about–do some googling.) There some “Male Tears” mugs for sale online. Men do not typically fare well in family courts, and white cishet men are starting to be less popular and dominant on college campuses. Men feel that there is a “trail by Internet” dynamic happening towards us around consent violations and accusations–a counterbalance to the utter humiliation and lack of justice victims have received in the legal system. But just nothing so bilious, menacing, threatening, and in-your face as what women face online and offline every day. Nothing.
If women and queer or trans people don’t want even a *molecule* of that bile in their online (and offline) reality (and they don’t), just understand and respect that. It’s really not that complicated. They want to feel safe, respected, and understood, and they want a space where they don’t feel repeatedly triggered by the same patterns from cishet men again and again, and if we can’t contribute to them having that space, then we need to leave the space.
Contribute to being a part of the solution around online misogyny, hate and disrespect, not the problem, and contribute towards the Internet (and of course the offline world) being a more welcoming, positive, affirming, and yes, safe, space for women and queer and trans people. Call out (or “call in,” another topic) men you see exhibiting misogyny, sexism, insensitivity or stupidity along the lines described in this article. Learning about all these topics is a good start. Do a lot of googling on these topics. Talk to women and queerfolk who are willing to talk with you about these topics.
2. Male fragility/male tears
Again, this seems incredibly unfair to us. There’s not a single guy out there who hasn’t been at times extremely exasperated by what we perceive to be the emotional fragility of women. We have also been repeatedly bashed, ridiculed, and shamed and had our masculinity questioned (in our childhood socialization and beyond, and including from men and women) for having feelings, or being emotionally sensitive as men–as evidence of being “wussy,” “pussy,” “gay,” “faggot,” “not masculine,” “girly,” etc. So to have our feelings around things these things further mocked, disregarded, and ridiculed, seems incredibly unfair.
But here’s the thing we need to get. Women are and feel oppressed by us as a group of people. Yes, we at times feel oppressed by them too (in relationships, dating, and some arenas like child custody, etc.) But there is a structural difference and power imbalance that is not even remotely comparable. They really don’t give a shit how it feels for us to lose some of the power and privilege our gender has enjoyed for so many thousands of years, as these vast structural imbalanced come into more balance. They really don’t. Their feelings about male transgressions and dominance and rule have been disrespected, discounted, silenced, and suppressed for thousands of years. They don’t care how we feel about their true opinions, now that they have a voice to share those opinions within social media, and without male or patriarchal gatekeepers.
I’m not going to say “suck it up and deal”–that is the same kind of shaming that we men have gotten about our own emotionality within patriarchy as well (patriarchy being, among other things, a system that devalues all traits within everyone that are perceived as feminine, with emotions and somatic/body reactions–as opposed to reason and logic, which are perceived as masculine–being the at the top of the list.)
But I am going to say, if you’re feeling hurt by how women feel towards you, individually or as a man in general, or having a difficult time, talk to your fellow men about it. Vent if you have to, offline, feel seen and heard. Maybe even by a few close women who are willing to do the emotional labor of supporting you through this process. But don’t expect strangers online to be sympathetic to how you feel about having some of the same shit we men have been heaping on women for thousands of years, heaped back on us. Return to the dialogue if/when you can do so in a calm, non-defensive, non-triggered state, ready to see how you personally, and/or men in general, have played into the power dynamics women are critiquing and complaining about.
This doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything. It doesn’t mean you have to swallow all of the feminist “party line” (by the way, hint–there is no “party line”–feminism is not a single thing but an incredibly diverse field of views and stances, many of which conflict with each other. That doesn’t mean it’s “hypocritical.” It means that women and feminists are–gasp!–human, and they disagree with each other about things, just as all humans do.)
But it does mean you will have to demonstrate a LOT (and I mean a LOT) of listening, and evidence that you have actually considered and internalized at least some of these concepts, before talking and expressing your own views. I do not believe women want men to simply be parrots to their own views. I believe women want us to bring our critical faculties and our own reason and experiences and insight towards moving past patriarchy, to be “our own man.” But, in taking pride in not just submissively parroting the views of others or any “party line,” and being an “independent thinker,” not beholden to political correctness, be sure you are not just in return parroting the same recycled tropes and argument-fragments and memes that men have been using for millennia to avoid looking at ourselves in the mirrors.
3. Emotional Labor
I’ve used this term several times before, so let me be more clear about what it means. It means, spending time/energy/frustration, etc., usually unpaid, usually by women or other people with less privilege, to handle and manage the emotions of others.
There is a much wider discussion online of women’s emotional labor in the workplace, at home, etc. (do some googling) but the specific way it plays out in online forums is that women need to do emotional labor to defend against the attacks and bile men throw at them online, particularly when talking about feminist-related issues, and pierce the defensiveness men exhibit. Many women have (as activists) taken it upon themselves to expend the emotional labor necessary to educate us men from a playground-level understanding of these issues where most of us are, to at least a college freshman level, and better yet, a college senior level. (I know I wrote a book bashing higher education, but I’m using these “grade levels” as metaphors.)
Women are sick of doing this emotional labor. It is slow and painful slogging for most of them who choose to spend their energy educating men (including for those who, I’m grateful, chose to spend their energy educating me.) Because of patriarchy, we men don’t really listen to women, not nearly enough. So this is a message to men better delivered to men by fellow men (because it provokes less defensiveness, and because we can talk guy talk, “man-to-man.”)
That means WE men need to do the emotional labor to unlearn patriarchy and contribute to post-patriarchy. There are many visions of what post-patriarchy might look like. Educate yourself, choose one of them, and (preferably under the guidance of a woman mentor in these issues) start working towards the transition. The best way you can be supportive of this transition is educating yourself, making the appropriate and necessary changes in your own life, with guidance and feedback from women and queerfolk who are willing to give it to you, and then taking the load off women in educating your fellow men. (Notice also if you are congratulating yourself for doing so, feeling your ego puffed up, seeking kudos for doing so, or to look good or sexy or seductive to women for doing so–another topic to be discussed soon.)
4. Mansplaining vs. listening.
If you notice yourself trying to explain some point of disagreement you feel really passionate about online to a woman, especially with lots of garnered facts and arguments and a sense that you’re being the “rational” or “logical” (vs. emotional) one in the dialogue, just stop. Women have been getting this shit from men for thousands of years.
Instead, listen, Listen. Listen more. Respect women’s experience and feelings about the topics. See if you can understand why they feel the way they do, and why they hold the position they hold, rather than dismissing their feelings and views.
Then, and only then, is it a good idea to venture into adding your own perspective on these topics. Notice if adding your perspective is leading to more of a sense of constructive dialogue, bridging communities, and creating alliances, or contributing to more online bile, divisiveness, and bitterness. If the latter, stop again, and listen more. Or if you have to, just leave. Mansplaining is NOT welcome anymore in spaces where women are sharing their opinions, feelings, and experiences.
Instead, let’s start reverse mansplaining–i.e., educating ourselves about these issues, and mansplaining them to our fellow men.
5. “Reverse sexism,” “both sides of the issue,” etc.
Human beings judge each other. Human beings identify in groups, and put the in-group ahead of the out-group, and develop entire ideologies or self-justifications around why the in-group deserves more attention, benefits, resources, rights than the outgroup. Human beings mistrust people in the “other” group. Human beings are incredibly prone to engaging in prejudice, stereotyping, discrimination, and out-group bashing and mistrust, along all kinds of lines.
Every human does this. There is no escaping it.
And, in the basic outlines, a lot of the judging/putting down/misunderstanding/fear/exclusion/insult feels the same, no matter what direction it’s going in. Most people find it very hurtful and triggering when they are judged. Many of the psychological features of in-group/out-group dynamics look and feel the same, no matter who the in-group/out-group is or in what direction.
All that said, some groups have MUCH more power than others. Some groups have much more power, resources, and historical precedent to cause harm than others based on their ingroup/outgroup judgments, insults, threats, beliefs, and resources.
To ignore these power imbalances, when talking about the judgements and exclusions and finger-pointing and insulting and disrespect that inevitably flies between different groups that feel threatened or hostile towards each other, is to perpetuate the power imbalances. I know very well that every side believes the power imbalance is skewed against them. And still, I stand firm in my awareness that the imbalances in regard to gender issues (not in every single specific arena, but overall) are massively in favor of men, and masculinity. That just seems unquestionable to me, and I’m not particularly interested in debating people who think otherwise, I think that belief is the starting point for the kind of work towards post-patriarchy I’m describing.
Women have been dealing with men’s judgments, prejudices, insults, misunderstandings, exclusions, and aggression towards women as an out group of patriarchy, for millennia. Do not be surprised when judgments, prejudices, misunderstandings, exclusions and aggression, insults, and anger come right back. Until women have MUCH more power in society than they do now, those judgments/prejucides/acts of disrespect or exclusion have incomparably less power to harm us, then when it’s going from us to them. That’s just a basic reality.
It hurts when people judge us, insult us, act aggressively or angry to us, show unwillingness to see our side, or impatience or contempt for our efforts to explain or defend our positions. Do the emotional labor of dealing with this hurt yourself, and with your fellow men first, and maybe with your female friends (you do have many female friends, I hope?). But don’t expect women you don’t know on the Internet to nurse and cater to your hurt, or to extend deep and compassionate listening, especially before you do so to them. They’re nursing and supporting each other through far too much of their own hurt from us not listening to them for too long.
Guys, this is work we need to do. It’s work we need to do, whether we like it or not, and whether it benefits us or not, because it’s the right thing.
That said, it’s also work we need to do for ourselves, because I sincerely believe moving beyond patriarchy will make everyone’s lives better, including our own. So there is both self-interest in making these changes, and moral interest. It’s time for us to get to work. For real.
In forthcoming posts, I will add to this list with discussions of further terms/concepts/realities we need to acquaint ourselves with and educate ourselves about, rapidly. Again, my discussion is intended as education for guys, not meant to be mansplaining towards women. We guys need to become familiar with the topics/concepts of: trigger and trigger warnings; “You’re not allowed to say that”; tone-deafness; “not all men”; women’s rage and tone-policing; spiritual bypassing; victim-blaming; “the perfect victim”; abuse; rape and rape culture; consent and affirmative consent; expecting cookies and kudos for doing basic self-education; macktivism (i.e., trying to use knowledge of these issues for seductive/attractive power); privilege; intersectionality (that’s more of a “graduate” level topic–but that’s the level the current online dialogue is among liberal women, queer, trans, and people of color, while we white liberal cishet men remain at elementary school level); prounouns and newly-labeled gender identities; feminism; and the history of patriarchy and the move towards post-patriarchy.
I’m by no means an expert in all or most of these topics, and–as all men have–I have violated many of them. But I am learning actively, and I do hope, my fellow men, that this post will be a spur to you learning as well.
In further posts I will also add resources for further education (and I welcome you posting your own you’ve found, in the comments section). For now, I will leave one resource I think every man needs to read immediately. It is written by a fellow man, and it is extremely hard-hitting. In my opinion, this book sets an extremely high bar and serves powerful guide how men need to learn about and respond to misogyny. And that book is titled, appropriately, “A Brief History of Misosgyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice” by Jack Holland (link in the comments section.) Download it on Kindle, put it on your Audible, right away. It’s not fun reading, but we men need to do a lot of not-fun reading ASAP.