An acquaintance of mine was speaking about #metoo and the Aziz Ansari story about the grey area where men pester until a woman gives grudging consent. She proferred that all men have been guilty of putting this pressure on women, and acknowledged that most men get defensive about that premise because most men are basically decent and no one wants to think of themselves as a sexual predator — and therefore most don’t want to really confront their own motives and histories to figure out where they have misstepped or caused discomfort to others. Because that is very hard work, and we are sympathetic to the fact that the patriarchy trains all men in our culture that this aggression is not only OK, but it’s actually a totally normal and proper way to pursue sex. I mean, we’re sympathetic up to a point.
Anyway, then she got this gem of a comment:
I don’t think any of us are disagreeing with you on your point as a whole, but to say that “all men” are guilty of something is outright sexist, and diminishes your argument. To follow that up with inferring men are evil and terrorists, is incredibly reckless. Our reaction is not about “hurt feelings” or “being defensive”, it’s about clarifying your original point. Don’t you see, for the most part we agree with you that there is a conversation that needs to be had, but when you classify every member of a group due to the actions of some, then you are discrediting your objectivity. It’s actually very similar to the ‘every Muslim is a terrorist’ narrative that has gone around.
I understand that these are your beliefs, and you are entitled to those, but speaking as one of the ‘nice guys’,.. you’re wrong, and I’m not going to sit idly by while you cast guilt on me or anyone else based solely on our chromosomes.
Oooof. So many fallacies! So many offenses!
At her request, and for support, I jumped in … and found myself getting more and more fired up as I went along. Here’s where my responses landed:
Personally, I think a “nice guy” wouldn’t disrespect [friend] enough to misspell her name while he intentionally misses her point repeatedly, takes her statements entirely too personally, and then over-explains why he objects to an over-generalized and inaccurate interpretation of her point of view. With allies like that, who needs enemies?
Please don’t hyperbolically say [friend] (or anyone) is blaming your chromosomes and then blithely bypass hundreds of years of cultural training that build the concepts of “manhood” in our society. Your (again, hyperbolic) rhetorical device of equating [her] frustration with patriarchal thinking by comparing it to bigoted statements like “every Muslim is a terrorist” is faulty because the “terrorist” line is demonstrably false: There are billions of Muslims worldwide and maybe a few hundred or few thousand terrorists.
But every man IS A MAN. Every man in our culture was raised in our culture. Every man in our patriarchy was promised certain gifts because he is a male. Every man who wants to undo his brainwashing has to do active, difficult work. He doesn’t have to undo his chromosomes, and no one is asking him to do that — because of course it’s impossible. So by saying “chromosomes” you render the request to do deep, difficult, personal cultural retraining work as silly, and therefore let yourself off the hook.
Here’s another framing:
White people have to actively undo their own lifelong white supremacy training, same way. So therefore, if in an essay or complaint, a person of color says “all white people,” I don’t get to respond with “stop blaming my skintone” and get off scot-free just as long as I don’t actively turn firehoses on protesters or hang up a Confederate flag. As a responsible aspiring ally, I have to understand that I’m complicit every day that I allow injustice to prevail. I’m working on it, but it ain’t over, and therefore if I want to be an ally, *LITERALLY THE LEAST I CAN DO* is listen to oppressed people rail out loud, as long and as angrily as they want, against my actual and metaphorical/collective complicity and the culture that trains us all that ongoing injustice is fine — and let them do so without my criticism or objection.
If you want to actually be a “nice guy” and not just think of yourself that way, maybe do some of these things. Certainly stop patting yourself on the back and announcing what a nice guy you are. At least try not to say “I’m a nice guy” and then have your VERY NEXT words be “you’re wrong and I’m not going to sit idly by”. There’s a little more to being “nice” to women beyond not actually raping anyone, that you know of, in your own opinion. But um, thanks for not doing that, I guess?