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Carnival of Male Privilege 3: Deliberate Misinterpretation

Yes, sorry, my internet is going wonky right now. This should have been up on Tuesday. For future reference, this series isn’t so much intended to reform men as it is to give a name and a perspective on fucked-up male-socialized behaviors to those suffering from it… giving it a name makes your reactions valid. This is always the case with abuse, but especially emotional abuse.

Today’s topic is: Deliberate Misinterpretation

Scene: As with the previous editions, we’re going to continue using Marisa and Vince to illustrate this week’s points. Marisa is a white woman and Vince is a white man. They are platonic friends who mostly enjoy getting together and talking politics but, as with most men, there are some slight problems in behavior.

Let’s assume that they’ve been meeting in a bar for several weeks. Every time Vince comes, he brings one of his (female) sex friends—who Marisa did not invite. She doesn’t, however, know how to impress upon Vince that she’s not comfortable with him bringing his friends along to their get-togethers when he hasn’t bothered to get her permission. It gets uncomfortable—especially since, last week, this woman named Amber spent about forty minutes basically witnessing to Marisa about how eating coconut oil every day saved her life, including about ten minutes of graphic descriptions of her colon cleansing. Gotta stop.

So one day Marisa asks if Vince wants to meet up, just off-the-cuff, and he shows up alone. She says that she’s been uncomfortable with his habit of bringing his friends along, especially since the whole “having sex” thing between the two of them makes her feel like a third wheel. It’s uncomfortable, could he please ask, etc.

Vince shoots back with, “If you’re going to be so sex-negative and judgmental, then I’m not sure we can be friends.”

Effect: Disorientation, Speechlessness.

Method:

– Vince has taken Marisa’s complaint and request and twisted it into a horribly unflattering interpretation—something she definitely didn’t mean. He would have expected her to give him the benefit of the doubt were the situations reversed, however.

– Marisa now has what is essentially the argument version of whiplash—Vince’s assertion is so out of left field and so unconnected to what she meant that she’s left stunned and temporarily unable to formulate any kind of response.

– Vince has set up a dynamic where if Marisa continues insisting on having her comfort level respected in their friendship, she’ll be “sex negative” and “judgmental.” At the same time, it makes any future problems Marisa has with Vince’s behavior harder to navigate for her, because any discomfort, irritation, or frustration with him will be automatically categorized from now on.

– Marisa has received a pretty obvious message from Vince that she’s not allowed to be uncomfortable with his behavior—that any such discomfort indicates, instead, a flaw within Marisa. Thus Vince has made a mirror deflection of the situation so that reality is topsy-turvy—instead of how his behavior affects his companions being very obviously his responsibility, Vince’s behavior and its effects become Marisa’s problem and sole responsibility.

– Vince has delivered an extra emotional punch with his argument: because he and Marisa are friends, Marisa has a reasonable expectation that Vince will listen to her and not simply make up shit as he goes along in place of her actual words. He’s just betrayed that expectation and her.

Discussion: Vince probably knows that the motive he’s attributing to Marisa isn’t true, but ultimately, he’s completely willing to throw away Marisa’s sense of validity (of existing as a person, with the social solidity that requires) to preserve his own comfort zone. He’s repeatedly shown that with his behavior.

The problem isn’t just that his sense of entitlement justifies attacking Marisa when the most obvious response would be to actually start asking and to take “no” as an answer, it’s that he doesn’t really want to know the real reasons Marisa is put off by his behavior. Caring about Marisa, actually understanding that she is a person, would require Vince to pay attention to why and how he’s not showing her the respect she deserves, and as with every other privilege, Vince finds it easier and more pleasant to simply let Marisa take the brunt of patriarchy; he doesn’t actually have to exert himself, so it’s easy for him to see the privilege he’s always lived with as normal and a standard of treatment.

For her part, the only way Marisa can counter that is with some variation of “you know that’s not true,” especially if followed with shameless numbering of the people she’s had sex with before. But that’s another “male socialized” behavior: men rarely actually try to argue with one another—they disagree vehemently and then talk about some various status symbol to prove their point. Of course, that’s also because being a sexual predator—a hunter who feels pride at the number of heads mounted on his wall—is a pretty big part of patriarchal male-male relations. Arguments between men, according to Aslan, usually (but not always) circle around patriarchal manliness norms to decide a winner/loser.

And in fact, Aslan brought this privilege up to me—because zie’s done it. Zie’s been genderfucky all zeir life, but largely presented as male. At one point, zie was presenting as female relatively often and zeir girlfriend didn’t like it because zie dressed in very thin, revealing clothes—in zeir own words, “All I needed were some clear heels.” But when she brought up the problem to zem, pointing out that it’s different when a boi dresses “slutty” than a gurl—it’s perceived as reflecting only on the boi when he does it, but when a gurl does it the aura of patriarchal femininity takes over—and it made her, personally, feel unsafe around zem. So could zie please not do it?

Aslan’s response was basically the same as Vince’s: “If you’re going to be such a prude then I don’t think we should be together,” or something to that effect. So zeir girlfriend said, “Okay, we’re broken up, then.”

According to Aslan, the manly thing to do in that situation is go talk to your best friend and tell them you fucked up bad, think about it a lot, then get her favorite flowers/food/etc., dress in clothes that make her comfortable, and go cry and apologize and tell her how she was right—not just that she was. (It doesn’t work for most men for very long, apparently, since they don’t put in the effort to sustain that change.) I think that’s just generally the decent thing to do, though.

Anyway, Marisa really needs to lose Vince.

Subsets: Well If You’re Going To Be Like That; Your Reactions To My Inappropriate Behavior Are Not My Problem; Why Don’t You Try Saying That Nicer So I’ll Consider Maybe Eventually Listening?; Sorry, What? I Have Privilege Stuck In My Ears; If You Don’t Agree With Me You’re Just Defensive, Angry And Confused (AKA the Lierre Keith Defense).

What You Should Say So You Don’t Ask Me, “Well, What Do You Want Me To Say (You Unreasonable Bitch)?” Try, “What would you like me to do instead?”

Carnival of Male Privilege #2: Counter-Accusations

Today’s topic is: Counter-Accusations

Scene: As with last week’s edition, we’ll use our characters Vince (a man) and Marisa (a woman). Both are white. They enjoy a platonic friendship that largely revolves around talking politics and enjoying each other’s company—let’s say they’re into progressive politics right now. However, Marisa is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with Vince’s company because of his habit of using sexist comments to deride female politicians he disagrees with.

So she brings it up with him, telling him that making sexist remarks isn’t okay no matter even if it’s directed at an “acceptable” target.

What Vince does in response is berate her. He tells her that it’s racist to defend these women because the group they’re politically affiliated with has a history of working against racial equality and that Marisa, as someone who believes in anti-racist politics, should know better.

Effect: Shaming, Silencing.

Method:

– Marisa has been positioned by Vince as the oppressor—by claiming that her criticism of him amounts to bigotry itself, because he was making sexist comments about racist women.

– Marisa has also been mortified; maybe publicly, maybe just in front of Vince—but the trick is that she still gives a damn about what Vince thinks of her, even though male privilege makes him essentially immune to really, seriously caring about what she thinks of him. Gathering the courage to confront Vince has backfired in a humiliating way, and Marisa has been emotionally incapacitated with confusion, shock and shame from being misunderstood so badly.

– Vince normalized and invisibilized sexist comments as not real oppression because they’re only important outside of the context of racism. Racism is a real concern, but sexism is only if his target didn’t do something to “deserve” it.

– He also perpetuated a form of rape culture—that some women “ask for it” or otherwise do something to deserve gendered oppression, with racism as the justification. That is, if a woman is racist or oppressive in a way displeasing to men, she deserves whatever slurs and gendered violence come her way.

– Marisa’s concerns have been more than just invalidated—they’ve been vilified by the claim that her motives are not just impure, but outright bigoted. This is also underscored by the unspoken threat that if she continues pressing the issue, Vince will determine that she is racist.

Discussion: Vince believes that when women violate a standard of “ethics” he may or may not live up to himself, his own motives in degrading them become unassailable. Even though he wouldn’t ever use racist stereotypes or suggestions to degrade a Black man who disagreed with him, a white woman is fair game. Marisa’s challenged his power and ability to engage in misogyny against what he sees as an “acceptable target,” so he’s come up with what is essentially a completely irrelevant argument—Marisa wasn’t saying those women were right; she was saying Vince was wrong for saying that kind of shit. The accusation of racism is a shield—putting the burden for action and reflection back on her so that he can retain the privilege of not having to think seriously about the fact that he is privileged, and changing his behavior to suit.

That is to say, he’s willing to use his supposed antiracism to “cover his dick” so he can appear to be speaking for magnanimous or altruistic reasons—he’s fighting for racial equality, bitch!—when really he’s just defending his privilege. They’re nothing more than tokens for him—Get Out Of Privilege Free tokens, interchangeable and useful only insofar as they allow him to continue behaving like a douche. If Marisa had been talking about veganism, Vince would have just as shamelessly brought up the Inuit to call her racist with—not because he actually values the Inuit (because if he valued indigenous peoples, why would he bring them up and ignore the many hundreds of other native peoples who do not live the way they do?), but because they justify him continuing to do whatever the fuck he wants.

Marisa has no way out of the minefield except to admit that she was wrong—and that Vince was right, which was the plan all along. If she argues, she’ll only solidify his concept of her as racist, and he will be viewed as reliable for any of their mutual friends that he decides to spout off to, whereas the opposite would not be true. If Marisa said that Vince was racist instead, the response would be, “No—he’s just not that kind of guy.”

So, Marisa’s fucked. Again. Sorry, Marisa.

Subsets: Well You Just Don’t Like [insert] People; You’re Such A Bitch, Can’t You See He’s Suffering?; We Have More Important Things To Worry About; Why Don’t You Do Something For This Acceptable Group Instead; NO U.

What You Should Say So You Don’t Ask Me, “Well, What Do You Want Me To Say (You Unreasonable Bitch)?”: Try, “Okay. I didn’t know it could be interpreted that way. What have I been saying?”

Carnival of Male Privilege #1: Demanding Justification

I decided to start a series of essays pinpointing and describing male-privileged behaviors and explaining why they are harmful. These are not behaviors that are exclusive to male-bodied people, but male-bodied people are overwhelmingly the ones who employ these behaviors, and they are also historically validated for doing so. They are all invalidating behaviors regardless of who employs them, but the impact is exponentially enlarged by the systemic social, economic and sexual power men hold.

Today’s topic is: Demanding Justification

Scene: A white man (Vince) and a white woman (Marisa) enjoy a platonic, mutually inspirational relationship. They meet in a park every afternoon at 4:00 pm to talk and drink tea and they often stay for several hours. They have enormous fun together, normally.

However, the woman has been feeling uncomfortable because her friend has crossed her boundaries several times by making very subtly oppressive comments about women in politics. They’re not very overt—just small jabs here and there, mostly sexist needles about white women, but sometimes sexist and racist comments about non-white women holding a belief he doesn’t agree with. He never calls them epithets like “skank” or “spic,” but she feels discomfited by this—he gives off this low-level vibe of contempt for these women, and worse, he expects her to agree with him and begins monopolizing the conversation if she doesn’t enthusiastically do so, as if he’s trying to convert her.

One day she gathers her courage, waits for the right time, and brings her discomfort with it up to him. She points out that, while she respects his opinions and she enjoys talking to him, she feels uncomfortable about his comments about female politicians and that she doesn’t want him to make them around her anymore.

His response is typical: “How have I made you uncomfortable?”

Effect: Silencing.

Method:

– After Marisa explained to Vince how he made her uncomfortable (sexist/racist comments), he immediately asked her to explain “how he had made her uncomfortable, implying that Marisa’s reasons are either insufficient or fundamentally invalid—erasure of her words.

– Vince called into question Marisa’s right to be uncomfortable with his behavior by erasing the reasoning behind her discomfort, thus making it “objectively” useless.

– Marisa is forced by Vince to bring up specific examples to justify her invalidated discomfort—examples which may be difficult to recall in such an emotionally stressful situation and that bring even more danger: even if she does bring up examples, he may pick at inaccuracies—”I said this, not that,”—or dismiss the validity of the examples altogether. (“No, what I meant was this. You just took my words wrong—you shouldn’t get uncomfortable.”)

– Marisa is placed at the powerless end of the equation: Vince has constructed the power differential in the conversation so that she must nicely “present” evidence to him, wherein he will decide who is right. The person who is supposed to make reparations is also the person deciding whether or not he has to make reparations. Vince is both judge and jury.

– Vince is forcing Marisa to think for him, explaining how his remarks were sexist—which, again, he can then confirm or deny—instead of reflecting on them himself.

– Marisa is situated as unreasonable if she refuses to allow Vince to decide whether or not he is sexist/racist or breaks off the friendship for her health—because she didn’t allow him to define reality, she will be seen as “not being fair,” demanding unconditional agreement.

Discussion: Vince believes that he has to admit to any kind of issue before it’s valid—that’s why he acts like it. The issues that other people have with his behavior need to have his consent before they are allowed to have them without it being “unfair” and “a misunderstanding.” As such, he expects anyone who has a problem with his behavior to present him with evidence—examples, in precise quotations, in enough quantity that he can’t argue it was only a few select times—before he decides to change.

Vince set himself up as the arbiter of whether or not complaints against him were valid. And Vince, as you might imagine, has an enormous reason to declare these things are invalid—his self-image and reputation. Even more than that, Vince won’t be held accountable if he declares all complaints against him as invalid—his opinion will be accepted as reality, and anyone who persists will be punished mercilessly.

Marisa faces an enormous threat no matter which way she goes in this game—either she gives in and allows him to control reality, trying to get him to see that he was wrong when he has no inclination to, or she withdraws and preserves her sanity and self-control. The former holds the promise that he might agree with her: the latter means that, while she comes out whole, Maris loses a friend and will be tarred forever after by anyone who knows Vince as “unreasonable,” “irrational,” “too quick to judge,” and “holding a grudge.” And even though Marisa will keep herself safe, she will be judged harshly for the social taboo of rejection—on the grounds that relationships and friendships must be kept at all costs, even unbearable ones to self and soul.

The only way Marisa could have avoided this confrontation, and all the potential dangers—of stress, invalidation, losing a friend (as well as mutual ones), social tarring—was by never speaking up in the first place.

And Vince’s behavior is designed to play off of this. His entitlement is constructed by the social atmosphere of exactly this scenariO, of anyone who has a problem with them being afraid to speak up, and anyone who does speak up being shot down. His behavior is subconsciously learned, and reinforces the lessons Marisa’s had to learn good and hard.

Within this society, the power dynamic between Marisa and Vince—regardless of their actual faces and names, since these characters were entirely fabricated—Marisa is positioned as a petitioner to a ruler. She has no right to call for redress of any wrongs done to her, and no right to have her discomfort and safety taken as inherently valid. Vince is her judge, and he determines whether she gets to be taken seriously. And, both actively and passively benefiting from the privilege this position of judge and jury affords him, Vince is unlikely to give her that validation.

Subsets: How Do I Abuse You; Well I Don’t See How You Could Think That; You Don’t Know Me; You Just Want To Feel Persecuted.

What You Should Say So You Don’t Ask Me, “Well, What Do You Want Me To Say (You Unreasonable Bitch)?”: Try, “I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. I’ll think about that.” Or even just, “Okay. I’ll think about that.”

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