feminism

My feminism will be bullshit and it will be valuable

I’ve been afraid to write about feminism and women’s issues on this blog. When I’ve tried, I’ve been shouted down in ways I haven’t experienced on any other topic. (Including topics on which I’ve made serious mistakes that I’m now embarrassed by.)

And in a number of contexts, I’ve seen very vehement comments along the lines of “my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.”

And… I’ve noticed that other movements aren’t held to that standard. Especially, other movements aren’t held to that standard in terms of how they treat women. If they were, there wouldn’t be any movements left.

Everything people do contains bullshit. That doesn’t make it worthless. It means that there’s something that needs to get better.

I’m realizing now that I’ve been cowardly in not writing about feminism and women’s issues. So, from now on, I’m going to try to say more.  

As with every other issue I write about, sometimes people will disagree with me, and sometimes they will be angry. Sometimes people who disagree with me will be right, and sometimes they will be wrong. As with everything I write about, I will do my best to know what I’m talking about, and I will take the issues seriously. And I will make mistakes and my views will change over time as I learn new things.

Making mistakes is better than being silent about things that matter. Doing things imperfectly is better than neglecting them.

My feminism will (sometimes) be bullshit, and it will be valuable.

Including people who get talked over

Often, in class conversations, some students will talk over other students and not let them get a word in edgewise. (This happens a lot between male and female students. It’s not always gendered that way but that’s a common dynamic.), eg:

  • Brenda: I thought the colors were too bright because they made the background more prominent than the…
  • Bob: Actually, the colors were too bright. They made the background more prominent than the foreground. That’s a problem because you have to be able to pay attention to the foreground.

When Bob is allowed to do this, it effectively cuts Brenda out of the conversation. Eg, this is one continuation I’ve seen a lot:

  • Bob: Actually, the colors were too bright. They made the background more prominent than the foreground. That’s a problem because you have to be able to pay attention to the foreground.
  • Teacher: Yes, distracting background colors detract from the most important parts of the scenes.

When the teacher says something like that, they’re responding to Bob and ignoring Brenda. If Brenda was making the same point, then she deserves to be acknowledged. If she was making a different point, then she deserves to be heard. It’s important to listen to all the students who participate sincerely, not just those who talk over others.

You don’t have to put up with this. You can turn your attention back to the student who was talking before they got interrupted. This is one way to do that:

  • You (ignoring Bob): Brenda, what do you mean about the background being more prominent? Can you say more?
  • This lets Brenda know that you value what she’s saying.
  • And it allows her to be heard even though Bob doesn’t value what she’s saying.
  • This also sends the message to other students that you will listen to them, take them seriously, and not allow them to be talked over.

This usually works better than directly addressing Bob in the moment. If you call Bob on it directly, that can lead to derailing the conversation into an argument about Bob, eg:

  • Teacher: Bob, please don’t talk over Brenda
  • Bob: I wasn’t talking over Brenda.
  • Teacher: She was saying something, and you interrupted her.

This can backfire because it keeps the focus on Bob rather than the person he was talking over. It’s also less powerful. You don’t need Bob’s permission to pay attention to the student he interrupted. You can just pay attention to her.

Another possibility:

  • Teacher: Bob, let Brenda finish then you can make your point. Brenda, what were you saying about the background colors?

This can work sometimes because it’s not directly accusing Bob of anything, and it immediately shifts the focus back to the person he interrupted. 

I think there are other approaches that work well too, but I don’t know what they are. Any of y'all want to weigh in?

Life is not made of compelling philosophy

You don’t always have to have a coherent philosophical explanation for everything you do and care about.

Life is not made of philosophy. Philosophy can be a good thing, but it’s not a prerequisite.

You don’t have to have a coherent explanation of how God works for it to be ok to practice a religion or identify with a community. You don’t have to have a compelling explanation of where the universe came from in order to be an atheist or decide not to practice a religion.

You don’t have to have a deep and compelling theory about the nature of gender to know what your gender is. You don’t have to have a deep and compelling theory on where sexual orientation comes from and what it means in order to know which words you use to describe yourself, and who you are or aren’t interested in dating.

You don’t have to have a rigorous philosophical understanding of the mind and neurology to understand that you are disabled and that your cognitive experiences are different from most other people’s.

Or anything else. Your life is yours, and you get to have your own ideas about who you are and what you want.

You don’t have to have a compelling philosophy that convinces other people in order for it to be ok to know who you are and how you see the world. You don’t even have to have a coherent philosophy that convinces *you*.

Many philosophical questions that might be relevant to your life are unanswered, and unlikely to be answered in your lifetime. It’s ok if you want to work on solving them, but it’s also ok if you don’t. It is not a prerequisite, even if other people who use big abstract ideas want you to change.

Life is bigger than theories, and having a compelling theory is not a prerequisite for living, choosing, or caring about things. 

Don't treat a jerk problem as a conflict skills problem

Conflict resolution training only helps when the problem is that people’s communication skills are weak in ways that cause them to escalate conflicts unnecessarily. In that situation, learning better communication (and especially listening) skills can make a big difference. But, not every problem is like that.

When someone is intentionally cruel, it’s not a problem with their social skills. It’s a problem with their values.

Teaching a cruel person communication skills will not cause them to become kinder or teach them to respect others.

Similarly, teaching victims of intentionally cruel people conflict resolution skills will not solve the conflict. It just teaches both parties to blame the victim. Cruelty happens because of choices cruel people make, not because their victims lack conflict resolution skills.

Putting abusers and victims together in a conflict resolution training *especially* will not help. All that does is send the message that no one is really in the wrong, and that there is just a communication problem that needs to be worked out. 

Sometimes, conflicts are not mutual. Sometimes, one side is in the wrong in all of the ways that are important. Sometimes, people are choosing to be mean. Treating a cruelty problem as a social skills problem makes everything worse.

Note to fellow feminists

We need to stop assuming that women who are nonfeminist or antifeminist are just stupid and brainwashed by men.

They are women who disagree with us.

Feminism ought to be about respecting women. Not just women who agree with us. Feminist attitudes towards women who disagree with us can get really sexist and belittling really fast, and that’s not ok.

We don’t have to agree with everything other women believe; we don’t have to respect every opinion just because it’s held by a woman.

But we do need to respect other women as people who have opinions and think for themselves. They are not patriarchy objects. They are *people*. People who have beliefs and opinions. Even when they are wrong.

Stop blaming teenage girls for body image problems

As kids raised as girls grow up, they get tremendous pressure from almost everyone to fight their bodies: 

  • They get pressure to diet (“You don’t really need that cake, do you?” “Why don’t you start coming to Weight Watchers with me?”)
  • They get pressured to exercise to stay thin, but to avoid growing visible muscles
  • They get pressured to dress within a very narrow range
  • Show too little of your body and you get tons of ~helpful~ suggestions both from peers and adults about how to be more attractive/presentable/adult
  • Show too much, and everyone tells you that you have no self respect (and treat you as though you deserve none)
  • They get pressured to wear makeup and to have time consuming hairstyles (“You’d be so pretty!”)
  • But, at the same time, wear too much makeup or the wrong makeup, and people (including parents and other adults) will react with disgust

Some well meaning people have discovered that girls often feel bad about their bodies, and sometimes develop related eating disorders. They often address it in a counterproductive way:

  • They lecture teenage girls about body image
  • And they tell them to feel good about themselves
  • In a way that suggests that it’s their own fault they don’t
  • And that they’re just being shallow by worrying about their makeup, weight, skin, hair, and clothing. Because “true beauty is on the inside, not the outside” and “there’s more to life than beauty”
  • Or they attribute girls’ body image to peer pressure, while ignoring all the things adults do that make girls feel bad about their bodies (eg: if you talk about girls pressuring girls to wear short skirts, but not principals who scornfully send them home, you’re missing the point. If you talk about pressure from teen beauty magazine to be thin, but not the posters in the gym class and cafeteria; you’re missing the point)
  • This is not helpful. If you pressure girls to feel good about their, all you’re doing is adding just another body-related task they’re failing at

This is what I’d like to say to teenage girls, since I know some of y'all are listening

  • It’s not your fault that you’re facing sexist pressure to fight your body
  • Our culture is really hard on women in this regard
  • This is a way in which it’s really, really hard to be a woman
  • People put all kinds of pressure on you to fight yourself and your body at every turn. It’s relentless, and it’s from any number of angles.
  • It shouldn’t be that way. It’s not your fault that people are being mean to you. There’s no amount of weight loss that will make them stop. There’s no outfit range that will get them to stop. You’re being treated badly because sexism, not because of anything you’re doing.
  • It doesn’t ever get better exactly, adult women face all of these pressures too, but it’s not always as overwhelming
  • It’s harder when you’re young and just learning how to cope, and everyone is constantly yelling at you
  • Women learn strategies for coping with this sexist pressure, and they all have upsides and downsides
  • There’s a huge range of different approaches. These are very personal choices, and no one’s business but yours. Deciding that you’re going to spend a lot of time working on makeup and clothing doesn’t make you shallow. Deciding that you’re not going to do that doesn’t mean you’re lazy or immature. And there are any number of combinations, it’s not a decision you have to make the same way for every aspect of expected femininity. It’s personal.
  • As you figure out what works best for you, it can become much, much more bearable
  • It is not your fault if you feel bad about yourself or your body. It’s not a personal failing. Most women and girls feel that way at some point; many women and girls feel that very intensely for years or longer. It’s hard not to.
  • (Also, not everyone who grows up socially perceived as a girl grows up to be a woman. It’s possible that your relationship to your body and your gender is difficult for reasons other than misogyny and sexist pressure on girls. Some people who grow up treated as girls are men or nonbinary. Some people have body dysphoria that is neither caused by misogyny nor relieved by feminism. If you’re dealing with that, that’s not your fault either. It’s also not your fault if you’re unsure or confused. Some people know that they are trans; some people take a long time to figure things out; neither is your fault.)
  • (I want to acknowledge here that this issue affects trans girls, people raised as boys who are nonbinary or unsure about their gender identity, and others. I don’t know how that dynamic works well enough to describe it, but I don’t want to imply that everyone raised as a boy is immune from all pressures directed at girls and women)
  • It helps to build relationships with people you respect and who respect you.

Some resources that help some people:

  • You Get Proud By Practicing  is an amazing poem by Laura Hershey about the deepest kind of pride and self-respect
  • Body positivity blogs can help. So can fat acceptance blogs (even if you are not fat). Fat Girls Doing Things is a good one
  • Blogs by people who are joyfully into makeup and nail art as an end in itself

tl;dr Teenage girls get pressured to feel bad about themselves and their bodies, and then get shamed for feeling bad. If you are responsible for supporting teenage girls: don’t do that. If you are a teenage girl: it’s not your fault. This is hard.

A post for men about creepy men

I wrote a post a while back about how some people are very good at getting away with doing intentionally creepy things by passing themselves off as just ~awkward~.

Recently, I noticed a particular pattern that plays out. While creeps can be any gender, there’s a gendered pattern by which creepy men get other men to help them be creepy:

  • A guy runs over the boundaries of women constantly
  • He makes them very uncomfortable and creeped out
  • But he doesn’t do that to guys, and
  • He doesn’t talk to guys about it in an unambiguous way, and
  • When he does it in front of guys, he finds a way to make it look deniable
  • And then some women complain to a man, maybe even a man in charge who is supposed to be responsible for preventing abuse in a space
  • and he has no idea what they are talking about, since he’s never the target or witness
  • And he’s had a lot of pleasant interactions with that guy
  • So he sympathizes with him, and thinks he must mean well but be have trouble with social skills
  • And then takes no action to get him to stop or to protect women
  • And so the group stays a place that is safe for predatory men, but not for the women they target

For example:

  • Mary, Jill, and Susan: Bill, Bob’s been making all of us really uncomfortable. He’s been sitting way too close, making innuendo after everything we say, and making excuses to touch us.
  • Bill: Wow, I’m surprised to hear that. Bob’s a nice guy, but he’s a little awkward. I’m sure he doesn’t mean anything by it. I’m not comfortable accusing him of something so serious from my position of authority.

What went wrong here?

  • Bill assumed that, if Bob was actually doing something wrong, he would have noticed.
  • Bill didn’t think he needed to listen to the women who were telling him about Bob’s creepy actions. He didn’t take seriously the possibility that they were right. 
  • Bill assumed that women who were uncomfortable with Bob must be at fault; that they must be judging him too harshly or not understanding his awkwardness
  • Bill told women that he didn’t think that several women complaining about a guy was sufficient reason to think something was wrong
  • Bill assumed that innocently awkward men should not be confronted about inadvertantly creepy things they do, but rather women should shut up and let them be creepy

A rule of thumb for men:

  • If several women come to you saying that a man is being creepy towards them, assume that they are seeing something you aren’t
  • Listen to them about what they tell you
  • If you like the guy and have no idea what they’re talking about, that means that what he is doing is *not* innocent awkwardness.
  • If it was innocent awkwardness, he wouldn’t know how to hide it from other men
  • Men who are actually just awkward and bad at understanding boundaries also make *other men* uncomfortable
  • If a man is only making women uncomfortable but not men, that probably means he’s doing it on purpose
  • Take that possibility seriously, and listen to what women tell you about men

tl;dr If you are a man, other men in your circle who are nice to you are creepy towards women. Don’t assume that if something was wrong that you would have noticed; creepy men are good at finding the lines of what other men will tolerate. Listen to women. They know better than you do whether a man is being creepy and threatening towards women; if they think something is wrong, listen and find out why. Don’t give predatory dudes who are nice to you cover to keep hurting women.

A problem in discussing feminist issues

I don’t know a solution to this. I think it’s a serious problem, but I don’t know how to talk about it in a good way.

Feminist issues can get really, really hard to talk about.

There are a lot of forms of abuse that play out in a gendered way fueled by misogyny, that have some of these attributes:

  • They’re usually done to women by men (eg: rape; stalking; sexual harassment at work)
  • Almost all of the people directly affected by them are women or girls (eg: the overwhelming majority of people who need to have abortions are women or girls)
  • They are almost always motivated by misogyny 
  • There’s a pattern of misogyny that enables them to happen
  • Most of the culture is dedicated to denying this
  • People really, really pressure everyone to pretend this isn’t a misogynistic pattern

But, for all of these things, there’s also this:

  • Some of the abusers are women (eg: there are female rapists and stalkers)
  • The same thing, or a similar thing, happens to men (there are male rape and stalking victims)
  • Some people who are affected by the things aren’t women (eg: intersex folks who can get pregnant also need access to contraception and abortion and reproductive healthcare, so do trans men and nonbinary folks who can get pregnant)
  • Some people are taught they have no right to say no for reasons other than gender (for instance, this routinely happens to both boys and girls with disabilities)

That creates a complicated problem. Here’s one aspect of it:

  • People who are harmed by these things other than as a form of male-on-female abuse tend to be erased
  • And often even don’t realize that the things that happened to them actually happened, or that it’s ok to take them seriously
  • And often the only things that they have access to are things that implicitly or even emphatically describe this as something that ONLY happens to women and is ONLY done by men
  • For instance, most of the books about learning to have boundaries are women’s self-help books written in a way that suggests that being taught not to have boundaries is always mostly the result of growing up socially perceived as female a misogynistic culture
  • And it can be hard for trans people of any gender to get anatomically appropriate medical care without facing unbearable hostility to their gender identity
  • Or for female victims of female abusers to find supportive spaces, since many women’s spaces assume that men are dangerous and women are safe
  • This can be awful situations to be in, and exposure to some kinds of feminist discourse can make it worse for people who experience this pattern of abuse in a way that doesn’t fit this model

Here’s another aspect of the problem:

  • The pattern of misogyny that creates the male-on-female forms of the abuse is very much a real thing
  • And a lot of people don’t want it to be talked about, ever (eg: MRAs, people who want to say that women are just imagining everything and that really men have it just as bad if not worse, etc)
  • And some of them use other kinds of victims as pawns. And use them to say that it’s wrong to talk about women’s issues or patterns of misogyny, because there are exceptions
  • And that’s a seriously messed up form of derailing, because misogyny is real and so are the patterns feminism describes. Gendered patterns are real, and important to talk about, even though similar things happen in ways that don’t fit those patterns
  • And, more often than not, the people saying these things don’t actually care about victims who don’t fit the patterns – they often don’t ever talk about them except to derail feminist conversations

And another aspect:

  • Sometimes people who talk about lack of representation are totally sincere
  • They often get accused of derailing when they’re not remotely doing so
  • They’re interpreted this way by people who want to derail the conversation *and* by people who want to prevent it from being derailed
  • This can make it hard for these people to ever have any space to talk about their experiences
  • Or things that contributed to them
  • Or patterns of ways they happen
  • Or ways to fight these patterns and protect people

The result ends up being that there’s some people who tend to get overlooked or shouted down by just about everyone. I don’t know a good solution to this. I think noticing the pattern might be a starting place. I wish I knew more to do about it.

A feminist dynamic

Sometimes feminists, especially white feminists, attribute everything to patriarchy and ignore other power dynamics.

This can cause a lot of problems. One problem is that white feminists sometimes ignore racism and do racist things. I don’t know as much about that as I should, so I can’t yet write about it at length. But I do know about another issue more extensively:

Some feminists teach girls that sexism is the issue when it isn’t. For instance, this happens a lot to girls with disabilities. Girls will disabilities get discriminated against in ways that most women do not, but as they reach puberty they’re often taught that everything they are experiencing is about sexism.

That can be crushing. It can also cause problems for disabled boys, who are discriminated against in ways that most women are not. (Or ways that are similar to what women experience, but not normally experienced by boys without disabilities). Sometimes they are taught that they can’t possibly be experiencing real discrimination because they are boys. This is especially common when women who feel powerless have a lot of power over boys with disabilities. (Especially developmentally disabled boys who are going through puberty and starting to have sexual feelings.)

Sexism and patriarchy are very real things that destroy lives and hurt people in all kinds of other ways. There are also other power relationships that hurt people. Being aware of patriarchy is not enough.

About friendship

applesandporn:

realsocialskills:

seraseatscissers:

realsocialskills:

seraseatscissers:

realsocialskills:

If someone doesn’t like you, they aren’t your friend, and you shouldn’t be hanging out with them.

If someone is always telling you why you’re not good enough, they don’t like you.

If someone is always telling you how special it is that they like someone as flawed as you, then they don’t like you.

If someone consistently expresses contempt about you to mutual friends, they don’t like you.

Life is better when you spend your time with nice people who like you.

shit i wish i knew this at school

also i wish my school had even the slightest bit of provision for allowing me to avoid/stop hanging out with people that didn’t like me

Me too. School often actively prevents people from learning this, especially people who are considered socially incompetent.

That’s one of the reasons my blog is called realsocialskills.

yeah that’s very true, they keep trying to force this ‘you are going to have to get along with everyone’ thing onto vulnerable people which is fucked when half of your classmates are abusing you.

Right and also - there’s a fundamental difference between getting along with people professionally, vs considering people friends and spending time with them socially.

…And for the extra special fucked-up-ness: while the trying/pretending-to-be-friends kind of getting along is what they drill into you at school (especially if you are female), they never tell you that in actual work environments it can often be given as a reason not to promote someone (especially female someones) because they “just don’t have the necessary competitiveness.”

Huh. I didn’t know about that. 

Interacting with marginalized people who do valuable things

Sometimes people do unusual things, things that people like them are not expected to do, things that might even be taboo. 

This happens to autistic folks, men who do childcare or raise their kids or otherwise “women’s work”, women who do many things, people with other disabilities, children and teenagers who accomplish things, basically any group of people who are often not expected to do things.

And sometimes people who want to support them end up making things worse. This is too abstract, so I’m going to give an example. This is not specifically a women’s issue; I’m using that as an example because it’s one I’ve seen a lot:

Say, a woman is the first female research scientist. And that she’s overcome a lot of opposition to get to this point.

And now that she’s finally gotten to the point of being allowed to do research that other people take seriously; 90% of the time what people want to talk about is her gender. About what it’s like to be a female whatever or the first female whatever.

Even when she’s come to give a presentation on her research – people who ask questions at the end all ask about what it’s like to be a female scientist and not what she’s actually presenting on.

And it’s hard to assert boundaries about this without just being seen as an uncaring bitch.

Many of the people are just curious, sometimes in a creepy way. Some people asking about it are hostile, and want to show that they really don’t think women should be allowed.

But sometimes, the hardest thing to take is people who want to tell you how great it is that you’re a female scientist, who mean to be supportive, but who are still really intensely focused on the freaky female part rather than the scientist part. Because, then, even the people who like you aren’t really taking you seriously, it’s *always* about the thing, the freakness.

And even then, it can seem like people are assuring you that you have their permission to be a freaky female – and being treated like you need permission by supporters 

And it’s so much better to be taken seriously on the terms you care about, on what you’re actually doing.

So, be careful about that. The best way to support someone who is doing something important and stigmatized is to value the thing they’re doing, and take them seriously as someone who does it.