As a feminist who is very active on Twitter, I receive daily unsolicited replies from people I don’t know, many of whom happen to be men. This post may not serve much of a purpose beyond providing catharsis for feminists who go through the same thing but in the optimistic hope that there are men out there who truly want to speak to feminists in a way that doesn’t end up making things worse, this is a guide for you to follow. Good luck!
Most of the men who engage feminists online are attempting to do one or a combination of the following:
- condescending (AKA mansplaining)
- pretending to play devil’s advocate when they’re really just trying to waste women’s time, make them angry, and then throw their frustration back in their faces
A common reaction to this is, “but I’m not like that!”. Actually, I hate to tell you but a lot of you are, including those of you who acknowledge your male privilege. When it comes to how men talk to women they very often fail to see how their sexism manifests in subtle ways. Maybe you don’t see it but we do. Does it mean everything you say is wrong? Nope. But when something you say or the way you say it isn’t being received warmly, that’s your cue to take a step back.
It’s the responsibility of men to continually interrogate their beliefs and assumptions. It is not the responsibility of women to explain over and over and over again things that men can and should figure out for themselves. Approach carefully. If you don’t, you may very well get your head bitten off and if you’re dealing with a feminist who takes shit from no one, she will give zero fucks about how that makes you feel. Here’s a case in point of how things can progress if you come off as a typical mansplainer. Go ahead and take a look…
Was I too harsh? Personally I don’t think so. And anyway, I don’t care.
If you’re a man reading this and you take nothing else away, let this be the one tip you remember for as long as you live: never approach a woman with the attitude that you know something she doesn’t. If the first thing a man says to a feminist is “you’re wrong” or “that’s not true”, from that point on he can have no reasonable expectation of not being told to go jump off a cliff into a fiery abyss.
The amount of arrogance women have to deal with on a daily basis is not something you should be adding to if you consider yourself an ally (forget calling yourself a feminist). A classic pastime of chauvinists is to pretend they’re asking genuine questions when they’re really just trying to pick at straws and make a show of putting women down. Maybe you’re not one of these losers and you have good intentions. Pay attention anyway – this is directed at you too.
What’s a better approach? Before you launch into something like, “Well, actually, I think…”, the best thing you can do is to ask questions. Ask, don’t tell. Know that women don’t want or need your insight. When it comes to feminism and women’s issues, it’s our turf – the only turf we have in this world – not to mention our area of expertise. It’s your turn to sit down, listen, and learn. Take the time to consider what women have to say and if you’d like to explore the topic further or you’re looking for clarification, you’ll most likely find that you’ll be met with patience and respect.
Men like Ricky Gervais who make a career out of being offensive are applauded whereas women aren’t given that kind of latitude. But guess what? We swear too, we fart, we burp, we talk back, and we might even offend you. Get over it! It’s more than possible that your shock and the negative reactions you have to women who are less than friendly toward you stem from your expectations about how we should and in fact do behave.
There’s also a lot of talk about privilege checking but not enough understanding of what it means in practice. You may think you’re a nice guy and you can verbally acknowledge your male privilege all day every day but that doesn’t cut it. If you truly understand what it means for you to have a great deal more power than women in this society, it shouldn’t surprise you that your ego will have to take a back seat. If you initiate a conversation with a woman, never forget that you’re a member of the oppressor class – that always matters. No woman owes you their attention or regard. No woman is obligated to listen to what you have to say.
A major goal of the project of patriarchy is to erode the physical, emotional, and social boundaries of women. So when a woman tells you she doesn’t want to talk to you, go away. I have an annoying habit of trying to end a conversation that’s going nowhere and then seeing a subsequent response and jumping back into the conversation. The point is when you’ve been told clearly that it’s over, leave it.
Another thing you should avoid saying is, “I’m on your side”. If you have to say this to a woman, chances are she doesn’t agree with you and I’m willing to bet she understands her side better than you do. This is another scenario where you might think you’re helping but you’re actually in the way. Rather than continue trying to convince her that you get it when you obviously don’t, refer back to my first piece of advice: ask questions.
I’ve worked hard to overcome my deeply ingrained tendency to want to please others and gain the approval of men. It’s a challenge to want to be kind and compassionate while at the same time maintaining my politics, especially when it’s clear that softening them will only leave the door open to more status quo sexism. I’ve learned that men know, at least implicitly, that females are socialized to be passive and accommodating, they know we fear the loaded slur ‘bitch’, and they take advantage of this. Because I put myself out there and can be quite mouthy, I come across men who think I should be nicer to them. I just don’t have the time or the energy to be bothered with their feelings. If a man comes out of nowhere acting like a bull in a china shop, why should I care if I’m perceived as an asshole? Emotional manipulation is one of the most common ways that men try to silence women so as time goes on I’m less and less concerned about what random dudes on the internet think of me. I do genuinely want to engage with people where there appears to be room for growth but the only way I can do that and maintain my sanity is to weed out the jerks and idiots. Self care is a feminist imperative.
Frankly, women are too damn busy getting by to make it our business to educate men about how to treat us. Those of us who are interested in getting our hands dirty and digging down to the root of patriarchy know that men behave the way they do toward us because fundamentally, consciously or subconsciously, they don’t see us as fully human. Misogyny isn’t just a synonym for sexism; it literally means hatred of women. Men and women are not valued equally in this society because men have internalized a constant barrage of messages that tell them females are inferior, less capable, less important, less intelligent, less knowledgeable, and not to be taken seriously. You may think you’ve sufficiently hedged this process but I guarantee you haven’t escaped it. Mature women who see this system for what it is are still unpacking their own internalized misogyny well after their children have grown up. What makes you think you’re not sexist?
It’s naive to expect that we can fix the problem by speaking kindly to men who know they can get on just fine being dominant and oppressive. It’s unrealistic to think we’re going to rewire the brains of grown men who are on some level unwilling to see just how bad things are. Managing men’s behvaiour is a cosmetic approach that takes up too much female energy as it is. It’s far more liberating to let men know point blank that whatever they think and whatever they believe, we women don’t care. If you don’t like it, that’s too bad. Men need to get used to hearing women say stop, no, goodbye, and shut the fuck up.
If you can deal with this, maybe we can be friends.