Men, There’s Only So Much I Can Do

Listen, I think we all have the basics of feminism down:

1.  Women and men are not better or worse than each other.

2.  Women are fully human and should be treated that way by the law.

3.  Being a woman is not inherently an insulting joke the universe played on half the population, therefore using womanliness as an insult against folks really sucks.

Okay, true, not everyone gets the third one, but we’ll work on it.  I still throw the word “retarded” around like an insult, even though reading Jeff Atwood’s blog has now made me feel very uncomfortable every time it comes out of my mouth or off my finger tips.

It’s an unbecoming habit and it inadvertently hurts people I’m not trying to hurt, so, slowly I’m learning to stop.  Not because it’s P.C., but because I don’t want to inadvertently hurt people.

I think most folks who call each other pussies or admonish their friends to stop acting like a girl don’t really think that, for instance, being me would really suck that much butt.  After all, there’s lots of beer drinking and masturbating and watching TV and who doesn’t love that?

But here’s the thing (and I know we keep circling around this, so here we go round again): If you are doing something that assholes who wish me harm also do, it’s not my job–nay it would be incredibly stupid of me–to assume that you’re an okay guy.

For instance, if I knew a man who called me a stupid bitch and a whore before he threw me into a wall, it wouldn’t take but once for me to learn that being called a stupid bitch or a whore might be a prelude to violence against me.

Now, say I’m in a group of folks I don’t really know that well and I’m the only girl.  Say one of the guys starts calling the other guys “stupid bitches” or “whores.”

In other circumstances, when I’ve heard those words, bad things have happened to me afterwards.

Why should I trust that this time is different?

You see what I’m asking?

Why do I have to make myself vulnerable to violence against me just so y’all can have your little ways of insulting each other?

If I were hiking around in the woods and I heard a rattling, I’d be an idiot to not walk away from the sound, even if, upon closer inspection, the rattling turned out to be drying seeds in a pod shaking in the wind.

I don’t owe things that give off warning signs the benefit of the doubt.  “Oh, I hear a rattling up here in the woods where I know rattle snakes live.  I should look closer on the off chance it’s a lost, but very calm baby.”

So, when my friend Kleinheider starts going on about how little kids are a bunch of pussies and the public school system has been feminized, I do take it as a personal insult–that Carter thinks so little of me that, when kids behave in ways that remind him of me, they need to have that behavior knocked out of them by as traumatic an event as folks in authority can come up with.

But that’s not why I’m writing.

Gentlemen, I’m writing for you.  I’m writing to beg you to toss out any notion of “manliness” that’s predicated on your ability to lord your power over folks who are weaker than you.

It’s not good clean manly fun to take a bunch of eleven year old kids into the forest and pretend like, no matter how briefly, you’re going to kill them.

Manliness is not about being able to force people who are weaker than you to go through terrible ordeals just because you can.

Manliness is and should always be about keeping the weak people in your care safe, happy, and healthy.  Strength does not have to be about being able to beat up most of the people around you.  It can also be about teaching others around you to be strong.

Think of it this way.  Is the martial arts practitioner a master because he can easily kick the butts of every person in his dojo or is he a master because he passes on his knowledge to others and helps them become strong?

Is the good father the one whose kids are afraid to misbehave for fear that he will beat the shit out of them or the one whose children behave because he’s taught them self-discipline and respect for themselves and others?

We equate the ability to perpetrate violence on others with strength, but this is wrong.  Violence against those who are weaker than us comes from a place of fear and weakness in ourselves.

Being strong, being manly, shouldn’t hurt the people who are in our care.

But I can shout about this all day, every day, for the rest of my life, and it won’t do any good.  I’m a “crazy feminist.”

This is work y’all have to do.  You.  You have to refuse to accept this notion that manliness is some kind of destructive force that wrecks havoc on weaker people.

Just like I go around saying, “Listen, fuckers, stop using femaleness as an insult and a sign of weakness,” you have to go around saying, “Listen fuckers, men are not monsters and manliness is not detrimental to the community.  Stop perpetrating the notion that it is.”

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32 thoughts on “Men, There’s Only So Much I Can Do

  1. When I read ACK’s post and some of the comments agreeing with him thereafter, my jaw dropped on the floor. I was speechless. I couldn’t believe that a male in 2007 could possibly really subscribe to that way of thinking. But it’s real. It’s damn scary, too.

    B., I think this post would make a great OP-ED in the Tennessean. The general population, not just blog readers, need to hear this message. I hope you’ll consider submitting it. Let me know, if it is something you’d consider, if I can help make it happen w/ the contacts I have there.

  2. The funny thing to me about Carter’s viewpoint is that some of the bloggers I kind of expected to be on his side or at least be neutral about it all have come out fully against the Scales incident. If it weren’t for the handful (key word being handful) of commenters that agreed with him, Carter’d be like the lone voice of dissent in the blogosphere.

  3. the lone voice of dissent in the blogosphere

    That would be a fantastic motto to put at the top of Carter’s blog. lol

  4. To follow your line of reasoning then, would you also say that those that posess power have an obligation to use that power to protect those that are weaker from harm?

  5. I refuse to discuss the Scales incident (sounds like a horror movie) in this context. Carter actually made a mistake linking the two. But I have a thing or two to say about masculinity/femininity.

    I’m going to be brutally (for me) honest. I’m afraid you’re going to take this wrongly, but it’s a chance I’m willing to take.

    There are two distinct kinds of masculinity that are out there for the defining: the one that is present in inter-gender interactions, and the one when it’s just us guys.

    No offense, but you don’t get a say in the latter. No more than I have a say in defining femininity.

    Now, you have every right, even a duty as a woman, to let men know how you wish to be treated, and how you feel we should treat one another.

    But to define, from the outside, what a man is? I guess you can try. But, I’ll tell you a secret: the moment a man senses he is being conditioned, or “trained”, he will run as fast as he can in the other direction. The most counter-productive thing a woman can do is tell a man what she thinks a man should be.

    There are many masculine standards I don’t love up to; but I accept them anyway. They are what they are. I’m not too crazy about the “like a girl” insult, except in the arena of athletics. But that’s a whole ‘nuther discussion (argument?).

    Now, I’m going to pop some popcorn.

  6. Carter actually made a mistake linking the two.

    If they’re linked in his mind, there’s a reason. I happen to think that reason is the standard Mythos Of The Butch Man so many guys buy into.

    Our men of this age are generally allowed more luxury for introspection than in previous generations. Man In The Gray Flannel Suit would not be revolutionary writing for our men; it’d be commonplace. In being so introspective, many men feel as though they’ve lost touch with the iconic Maleness they perceive from yesteryear.

    ACK is not Hemingway. He sits behind a desk and types all day–a twist on a job that used to be considered “woman’s work”. He doesn’t climb mountains, build railroads or mine coal. He doesn’t have ripped forearms and a dockman’s swagger. So he glorifies the idea of Toughness, Manliness and Courage. To him and others of this mindset, fear is the worst thing and cannot even be acknowledged because it’s the antithesis of Man. (Nevermind that our brains are instinctively wired with “flight” as a sound and preferable option.) The Scales Scare was the very essence of ButchMan distilled into one event. A Tough (Black–ACK glorifies the Blackness of the man at least twice that I’ve seen) Man, the stereotypical BNBG, presented a ButchMan Challenge to kids that ACK perceives as weak. How dare they not seize that brass ring! Schooled in Tough Blackness By their very own Tough Black! It’s like a themepark ride for growing your own balls in three easy steps!

    What man, scared of his own weaknesses, wouldn’t idealise that situation?

  7. Exador, I don’t know.

    In some cases, clearly, yes. If you saw somebody beating on my kid, I’d want you to break his face on the sidewalk.

    But there’s a danger in that strategy in that weaker people often manipulate strong people. Like if a girl came up to you in a bar all crying because she was afraid her boyfriend was going to beat her up, you might be tempted to go step in and teach him a thing or two about beating up someone weaker than him. But say that she’d neglected to tell you how she’d spent the afternoon shooting at his dogs and eventually killing them, just for fun. Not that he should beat her (I think he should call the police), but I think you’d feel manipulated into defending someone who’s done something you find indefensible.

    I fall into this trap all the time, but part of what I’m trying to get at here is that we’ve associated “strength” with “immoral behavior,” which then equates “weakness” with “moral behavior.” Well, just as I’m arguing that we can come to understand that strength can work for the moral good, we’ve got to be cautious about weakness, because weak people are not, by definition, always good.

    Does that make sense?

    Slarti, I don’t buy it. Neither do I believe that you buy it. There are not two distinct kinds of masculinity. A man is who he is, especially when no one is watching.

    Please, would you argue that there’s some moral distinction between the shoplifter who steals right in front of the cashier, using sleight of hand and distraction in order to keep her from realizing what is going on and the shoplifter who waits for the cashier to leave the register in order to help a customer? Would you say that the man who only beats his wife privately, where no one can see it is different than the man who beats her out in public?

    Private actions are still actions and they are still actions that have consequences for the community.

    Worse, from my perspective, though, is this part of your comment: “the moment a man senses he is being conditioned, or “trained”, he will run as fast as he can in the other direction. The most counter-productive thing a woman can do is tell a man what she thinks a man should be.”

    Can you see how you’re actually talking about two things? One, manipulation–which, as I’ve discussed (and touch on again in my comments to Exador)–I find to be a way for weak people to get what they want from strong people without having to challenge the basic power structures that keep them weak and others strong. Manipulation is cowardly and wrong and while it’s understandable why women resort to it, it’s not right. The second is argument–If I can’t manipulate you into doing what I want (which I won’t, because I consider it to be immoral), the only moral recourse I have is to speak honestly and from the heart about what I see to be problems men face and hope that I can convince you to take action.

    You’d cut me off from both. You advise that men respond poorly to manipulation (and rightly so) and poorly to being confronted with a woman speaking frankly to him. Well, then, how shall we reach you?

    Would you rather be fed lie after lie about what it means to be a man than to hear from a woman, “Hey, men are not all monsters and it is an evil to go around perpetuating this idea that they are.”?

    I honestly don’t know what to say in the face of that.

    Just that it breaks my heart to hear you say that there are masculine standards that you don’t like, but you accept. Why?

    To me, if I see that someone is being hurt by something and they don’t move away from the thing that hurts them or try to stop the source of the hurting, I believe that they must feel that, for some reason, they deserve that pain.

    My task, when I see someone I care about being hurt and just taking it, is then two-fold–to convince you to, at least, move away from the source of the pain AND to try to help you see that you don’t deserve to be treated like that.

    If you won’t hear me because I’m a woman and you’re a man and I’m just not allowed to talk to you about man-things because that’s just the way things are, that’s a tragedy, not something to just accept.

  8. Now, you have every right, even a duty as a woman, to let men know how you wish to be treated, and how you feel we should treat one another.

    Slarti, you contridicted yourself in the next paragraph:

    The most counter-productive thing a woman can do is tell a man what she thinks a man should be.

    If how a man treats a woman isn’t what a man “is” (i.e., “what a she thinks a man should be.”), then are you saying there is a difference? To me, that is saying that holding a man to a standard in how he treats women is not truly the standard that he holds for himself. Yikes.

  9. Slarti, we are told “in a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.” Women do not tell you what manhood or personhood is; other men do not tell you. You are responsible for defining what manhood is, for you. All the rest is bullshit commentary.

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  11. Chest-thumping aside, I love the way this discussion makes me think. The following is more stream of consciousness than coherent argument:

    I have a number of women in my life, and with one of them (my wife) I am intimate in any number of ways. My wife’s definition of manhood, in the context of our relationship, is a conditional one. That definition includes Aunt. B’s construction; I am defined as a man by how I treat my wife. In a sense, I am defined as a man by how I treat all women in my life. That includes how I respond to them verbally (whether or not they are around). If I refer to a woman as a “bitch” where I would refer to a man as an “asshole,” then I am assigning a different status to women. If I refer to a man as a “bitch” as a way of denigrating him as ‘feminine,’ then I am assigning a different status to women. In either case, the implied status is one of inferiority. While I would not likely engage in an act of physical aggression against anyone (female or male), using language that collectively denigrates women contributes to an environment where such aggression can be justified, if not encouraged. It is similar to a predominantly white environment where I would be called “nigger” or “boy” with impunity. In such a place (e.g. the old Jim Crow South or any northern sundown town), I would rightfully feel physically vulnerable. So I understand Aunt. B’s point well.

    I feel this principle extends beyond the specific issues of verbal and physical aggression. To answer Exador’s question in this context, my manhood depends on my willingness to defend those who are vulnerable against predators and aggressors of greater physical strength. This principle applies to such issues as a woman’s sovereignty over her own body. If I do not defend a woman’s right to control her own reproductive faculties, then I am allowing others to assign her to an inferior status. I am saying that she is a slave to another’s peculiar morality, and therefore subject to sanction and violence for not conforming to the wishes of others. My ancestors suffered in that condition for generations; I was born at the dawn of that condition’s legal abolition.

    In a society that has based so much of its social structure on the denigration and subjugation of women, it is difficult to train oneself to thinking of women as equal beings. It is easy to react negatively to the very suggestion.

    If for no other reason, I try to avoid the misogynistic default because I look at my little daughter and know that one day she will be a woman. She is at least as valuable to me as I am to myself, so why would I accept a world where she would be treated as less than that, just because of her gender?

  12. *** The most counter-productive thing a woman can do is tell a man what she thinks a man should be. ***

    I have heard something along the same vein as this. My husband has admitted that if I ‘TELL’ him what to do, his initial reaction is to balk. Sort of like a teenager will do when his Mom tells him to put on his coat or clean up his room.

    I realize that Slarti is probably really just saying that, since I am not a man, I dont really have the ‘wherewithal’ to tell him how to be one. But maybe, he is saying that he doesnt want to be ‘mommed’.

  13. Hmm. I wonder if “mom”ming men isn’t another form of manipulation. It’s not “oh, I am so weak and helpless that you must do what I want because weak and helpless people need to be helped,” but it is “You must do what I want because I said so.”

    I don’t see where I’m trying to mother anyone in this post (I think that’s why the criticism got under my skin the way it has). I appreciate and agree with the idea that women should not manipulate men, but if men perceive everything I do as manipulation, at some point, that’s not my problem.

  14. But maybe, he is saying that he doesnt want to be ‘mommed’.

    Why does that have to be a gender thing? I don’t like to be told what to do either. Penis, vagina–it doesn’t matter. I don’t respond well to nagging.

    Turning it into a gender thing perpetuates the Castration Mystique that many men use to quell dialogue about gender equality.

  15. OOPS!

    Aunt B, I didnt think you were ‘Mom’ming’ at all! And I didnt bring it up excuse Slarti, but to perhaps hook into a motivational factor for his response. I should have explained further that perhaps its an anti-authority thing…and Mom’s were the authority and Moms ARE female…so it could get twisted into an anti-female authority thing.

    I suppose by doing so that I am in effect enabling the Castration Mystique Excuse.

    As RosanneRosannaDanna used to say…”Nevermind”.

    Its just that his comment reminded me of my husbands, which at the time I took as a railing against being told what to do by a female. It caught me by surprise and I remember thinking that he wanted me to manipulate my requests in such a way so that he would think it was his idea. I thought it was ridiculous. But how could a man I trust and respect think along those lines? He is otherwise a very open-minded and fair person, and he loves and accepts me because I am his equal (and sometimes even better) in intellignce and aptitude. So why would he want me to deal with him in a more submissvie manner?

  16. You do realise I have been told several times on this very blog that this or that conversation was aimed at women; that it was an internal discussion, and that I was free to look in, but I was not the ‘target audience’?

    Men have those, too. That’s all I’m sayin’.

  17. Slarti’s original statement is an attitude I’ve run into many times before. It’s something I’ve spoken to Mags about several times. I can think of hundreds of situations in which I was in a group of men and immediately different attitudes and language usages surfaced. It’s always rubbed me the wrong way.

    I knew a guy in college that I would frequently talk to while I was eating lunch between two classes. I also knew his girlfriend. They were both great people and they loved each other very much. That didn’t stop him from referring to her, and other women, as bitches, hos, and generally making incredibly nasty comments. This was, in turn, fueled by the positive reactions of another guy (Who I believe to be seriously socially maladjusted. But that’s another story). I would sit there, every day of every week of the semester, and listen to their comments. I finally said something about it, near the end of the semester. The responses I got from the more rational man were alright, but the more maladjusted fellow proceeded to flip out because I was ‘unfairly forcing my moral standards on him.’ He spent nearly twenty minutes yelling about it before I left.

    Now, I was brought up to be extremely familiar with manipulation and deception. There have been many, many times when I used those skills to guide someone else’s life in a direction I felt it should go, based totally on my own arbitrary wants. I have struck out against people in spite and malice. I’m even pretty sure I qualify as a sadist. It still rubs me the wrong way to use certain types of language like that simply because it’s so accepted. Not one of us even makes enough of a stand to not laugh at the damned jokes and snide remarks. It seems to me to be peer pressure in one of it’s most powerful and least acknowledged forms, and something that I, personally, am trying to no longer participate in.

  18. Heh, more than just not commenting on “internal” discussions – there’s a qualitative difference between “letting down one’s figurative hair and not qualifying every statement” and “saying awful degrading things about people, even (especially) if they’re not around to hear it.” While the two can blur together in conversation, they’re not actually the same thing.

    And there’s a distinction between pointing out how conversational types differ based on audience and participants (“what we say when we’re alone” versus “what we say in public”) and pointing out constructions that are harmful no matter where they are espoused. Some language might be okay within the confines of your group of friends, sure … but using “well, that’s the way my group of friends talks” as an answer to “hey, this kind of speech kind of sucks” misses the point.

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  20. About the only thing I’d add (since it seems the current discussion is heavily weighted to disagreement with Slarti’s comments) is that we may have different ideas of … how to say this … of what it means to be a gender. Even that characterization makes assumptions. So let me throw mine out there, caveating that I know it is just mine.

    “A man is who he is” … this is true, but I disagree with the implication as I understand it.

    A man is who he is, in the sense a rose is a rose. X is X. But a person who anatomically is male (i.e. a man) may choose to self-identify with or conform to the corresponding gender role in his culture (masculinity) or not. A man is who he is, but that doesn’t make him masculine. Or, more to the point, his own sense of identity and morality does not define the culture’s gender roles.

    He can of course believe what he believes and act accordingly, and call himself masculine, or Democrat, or Christian, or Feminist. But if language and reason depends on agreed-upon names for concepts, a man is masculine only to the extent he conforms to the agreed-upon gender role. Just as I can disagree with a law, and can lobby for a change in the law, and can ignore the law, but cannot usefully proclaim the law is what I personally say it is.

    Why does the distinction matter? If I disagree with the law, and want to be law-abiding, I will tend to break the law where I feel it hurts someone unfairly. I will lobby for changes. But I also have to decide, as every reformer does, whether to work for change from the inside or out. Choosing the inside means toeing the line out of respect for others’ opinions and in hopes of winning influence. It also sometimes means shushing friends who would declare axes of evil.

    Of course there are lines, and sometimes resistance is the only option. But it’s not as simple as being who you are, because there is more at stake than who you are.

  21. Choosing the inside means toeing the line out of respect for others’ opinions and in hopes of winning influence.

    This approach sounds very sensible, Jebbo. It might be sensible in an environment where one party hasn’t declared open warfare on everything that doesn’t fit into its ideological framework (such as that is). Since the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the mid 60s, the Republican Party has methodically and relentlessly built its base of power around the politics of demonization, fear, and every negative ‘ism’ it can conjure.

    The abortion debate is a good example of this. As Aunt B. and others have ably demonstrated, this debate is not about the ‘sanctity of life’ so much as it is about controlling women and limiting their life options. Though ‘pro-lifers’ will argue ’til breathless that it is about saving teh babiez, keep them arguing long enough and you’ll inevitably hear demonization of contraception, too. As Amanda Marcotte often says, to the ‘pro-lifers,’ pregnancy is God’s punishment for all the little harlots who want to enjoy Teh Sex.

    ‘Respecting’ such viewpoints is as easy for me as ‘respecting’ unreconstructed neo-Confederates (and their many apologists) who try to argue that their treasonous flag (which wasn’t really in vogue until the Civil Rights Era) doesn’t represent a pining for the good old days when I would have been strung up, tortured, and burned for so much as kissing my wife, and my lovely little child would be sold off.

    Again, when someone’s viewpoint entails relegating me or anyone else (e.g. all women) to second-class citizenship or worse, then no respect will be forthcoming. They have effectively declared war on the objects of their viewpoint, and mutual respect will only come when they accept the error of their ways.

    It also sometimes means shushing friends who would declare axes of evil.

    I thought this bit of condescension deserved its own tangent. As I expressed before, the axes of evil often have already been declared, and people are left to take sides. I tend to oppose the construction of axes which demonize people (gays, immigrants, women, minorities, etc.). I tend to encourage the construction of axes that demonize harmful behaviors (bigotry, misogyny, mass murder, etc.). It must feel high and mighty to imagine oneself above the fray, but eventually all of us must decide whether or not we’ll be Good Germans. For the umpteenth time, I repeat that you can not expect reasonable and respectful discourse when one side has made a practice of relying on the politics of demonization. That expectation leads to centrism, which in turn has facilitated the shoving of our republic toward the brink of self-immolation.

  22. I in principle reject any argument that declares there is no room for reasonable discussion and all that is left is to take sides in the coming war. I don’t believe war (with guns or otherwise) ever solves anything. I cannot point to one example of any person I know ever having their mind changed by someone shouting at them that they are evil.

    If in fact, half of all people are evil and there is no hope for reasoning with them, all that is left is to not convince them but rather to (in some way) destroy them, then this is the way of every war.

    Lest this be interpreted as saying everyone needs to smile and get along, that’s not the implication at all. I would argue (and some will disagree) that bigotry was overcome by a civil rights movement that defanged the demonization through active counterexamples of dignity and respect. Ditto for India. Any substantive progress depends on winning the middle. Once you’ve won the middle you can try to win the next piece over.

    But rejecting the Al Gores of the world in favor of the Naders may give moral satisfaction, but it also empowers the George W’s.

    It really comes down, I think, to how we treat those with whom we disagree. The framework I hear you embrace is one where we have no respect or compassion for those we believe are wrong, because we do not just believe they are wrong, but we believe they are bad people. Who knows, they may be. But I think we reap what we sow. You may call it the Good German, I see it as turning the Christian cheek and loving everyone, in the belief that such love is powerful enough to change hearts. Looking at all the wars around the world where people think that compromise is treasonous, that some races/ethnics/religions are just evil and must be destroyed, the only hope I see for the world is one where hearts are changed. I do not believe that taking sides against axes of evil changes a single heart, and thus it cannot lead to a better world.

    Some moderation, and then I must run to work (I’m late). Does this mean war is never justified? I don’t think that. If something bad is happening to someone, I am morally obligated to do what I can to help stop it (with some caveats). But I can do that without demonizing. If you are about to abuse your kid, I can stop you. I can talk to you, try to understand why you think it is okay. But I must stop you. But the question for me is, what next? Do I lock you up forever? Do I let you take the kid away? My only real hope is to sto pyou in such a way that you want to stop, that your heart is changed. I don’t believe demonizing or declaring individuals as enemies is an effective way to do this. But absolutely, this doesn’t mean you do nothing.

    Also, I should be clear that the reason I think one has to be politic about this is not that there is something inherently bad about righteous rage. I think it is a noble instinct, and I wish to God I thought it was effective. In my experience, though, I don’t know of that righteous rage leading to good things unless it is used in a spirit of understanding and love.

    I (believe that) I get it, I just don’t think it leads to a good ending. (One last example: someone is abusing his kid, you beat the crap out of him, you think you taught him a lesson, but he goes home and takes it out on his kid. You felt righteous in your rage, but the result is just more violence.)

  23. Well put, Jebbo, and thanks for the illumination. I guess we agree up to a point, or maybe it’s just a semantic thingie. I’m all for the compassion and turning the other cheek stuff, too, but there is sometimes a point at which turning the other cheek will get you decapitated. It does not have to reach that point, though, and this is perhaps where I have not been clear.

    When faced with eliminationist energy, one is foolish to respond with platitudes and daisies. One must face down that eliminationist threat with the understanding that one may have to respond with violence. Hopefully a display of willingness to such a response is enough to convince your would-be antagonist to back down long enough to listen to reason. When that antagonist is convinced that he will face no obstacles other than his own willingness to spill your blood (literally or figuratively), though, what good will your kind-hearted intentions be?

  24. By the way, what empowered George W. Bush (a figurehead of right-wing extremism) was not support for Nader (painted as a figurehead for left-wing extremism). Gore won the election; Bush was empowered by an easily corruptible electoral system, a partisan majority in the Supreme Court, and a complicit corporate media system. Also, the lion’s share of Gore’s alleged supporters empowered Bush by tacitly and ‘moderately’ accepting a fraudulent electoral outcome. I submit that the successful election thieves– thus empowered by the moderate response of the majority– carried their sense of impunity into every corner of our government that they have thus far been able to reach.

    We’ll be paying the price for that moderation for decades to come.

  25. Does this mean I have to stop calling Sting a pussy for the music he puts out nowadays? ’cause I will…but I’ll still be thinking it…

  26. “there is sometimes a point at which turning the other cheek will get you decapitated”

    …or even crucified. I struggle with this. There are two problems. One is that when you, my assailant, attack me you are harming both of us. My willingness to accept it softens your heart, as it shows I am unselfish and do not wish to harm you. It makes peace possible. On the other hand, you harm yourself when you attack me. You alienate yourself from your better self, you carry the guilt of doing wrong and must lock your conscience more deeply away to live with yourself. So in allowing harm to come to me, I also allow harm to come to you. In seeking peace and understanding I may give you rope to hang yourself. I don’t know how to answer this.

    The other problem is that even if I decide the greater good is served by my sacrifice, what happens if I see someone else in the same situation? Do I intervene? Would I want someone to intervene on my behalf? My best answer here is, if you ask for my help, saying you do not want to sacrifice yourself, I must help you. You are not mine to sacrifice.

    This I think leads back to the original problem of this post (and Slarti’s comment). Say I believe in the transformative power of willing sacrifice, and others do not. From my perspective, my willingness to suffer attacks does not harm anyone, because the person witnessing the turned cheek is less likely to strike someone else. But those who don’t feel the same way about sacrifice may see it as tacit encouragement. I believe we all do what we think is right, but our actions inevitably affect others, and when they disagree it can seem callous. I only hope for understanding.

  27. My willingness to accept it softens your heart, as it shows I am unselfish and do not wish to harm you. It makes peace possible.

    While I’m a fan of communication and nonviolence, the way this is phrased strikes me as a really good way to get a lot of people killed. Getting hit by your (bigger, angrier, drunker) partner? Just take it! After all, s/he’s hurting too. Having angry slurs yelled at you for being visibly transgendered in public? Don’t worry, they’re being alienated from their better natures, and will suffer eventually.

    I get that you’re actually implying that too much forgiveness is a bad thing too. My problem with these kinds of formations is that they’re the exact same thing that’s used to keep weak people in vulnerable positions.

    Your willingness to take abuse is admirable, but it is not harmless to me. Especially in the context of conversations about language and power. Whenever somene speaks up with “but I didn’t find that offensive!” or “well, people send me death threats, and I don’t think it’s a big deal,” it hurts those who really were hurt/offended/scared/threatened… both by trivializing what happened to them and by letting other people think it’s okay to do.*

    That latter bit is my big problem with it. Yes, you may be strong enough, wise enough, secure enough to take whatever is being dished out. But if you don’t at least say “hey, that’s not cool,” then you are letting the other person think that they can get away with treating others like shit. And the next person they target might not be as strong or as well protected as you.

    Which brings me to my other point… it’s difficult to have this particular kind of discussion because of the differences in power and privilege. What may be “getting called names” for a person with a certain level of privilege may be a precursor to danger for a person with less privilege (as Aunt B. points out above). And a lot of this power dynamic leads to / contributes to / flourishes in environments in which there are no true analogues.

    Ahem. To tie that in… you can talk about turning the other cheek, but you need to keep in mind that the consequences change based on who else is affected. You might have resources others don’t. You might have tolerances others don’t. And if it really, truly doesn’t hurt you to take it… well, that’s fine. But if you don’t say anything, or do anything about it, then you are hurting people who are less privileged than you are. Bullies don’t stop being bullies because they’re not provoking reactions; they just shift targets.

    —-
    * Which is not to say that you can’t productively talk about not being hurt or offended by something, or even express disagreement. Of course you can. But you can do it in a manner that isn’t dismissive and doesn’t contribute (as much) to the problem.

  28. Fair call. I’m mixing things together loosely and it’s open to misinterpretation. Instead of “my willingness to accept it softens your heart” it would have been better to say “when Jesus was willing to die on the cross, the result wasn’t that everyone suddenly thought crucifixion was OK, but rather than they figured he must have something pretty amazing going on if he could suffer that and forgive.”

    I think I agree with where you are coming from, and I understand why the line of thinking you describe is troubling. And I need the caveat again that all this is what I feel I need to live by, and not what I feel is reasonable to expect from anyone else.

    What I hear you are concerned about is that someone may be willing to endure bad behavior (of whatever kind and for whatever reason), but if they choose to defend, apologize for or dismiss that behavior, that can perpetuate it. I absolutely agree. There is a moral duty to speak out against bad behavior. What I am arguing against is allowing that righteous indignation to burn the bridges of communication that will eventually have to be crossed.

    You mention that “just taking it” gets people killed. I’d argue that what gets more people killed is people who demonize those who have hurt them and blindly perpetuate hatreds. I realize it is exceedingly easy for me to say that, so I don’t take any kind of moral pride in it. But with Shiites and Sunnis killing each other, Israelis and Palestinians killing each other, Serbs and Croats and Bosnian Muslims, Hutu and Tutsi, Indians and Pakistanis, Somalis, you name it… the bigger problem seems to me to be people who go beyond “not just taking it” into giving as good as they get, on the assumption that if they hit hard enough the other side will stop hitting back.

    We are currently hitting people very hard to make sure the world hears that we aren’t going to just take it.

    It seems those cycles only ever end when one side kills enough of the other, or finally people stop being controlled by their anger long enough to channel it into a constructive dialog. Either people talk rationally and reasonably, or they exhaust their anger enough to talk rationally and reasonably. Often the only difference is how much additional damage is done along the way.

    Back to the agreement: It is never ever helpful to allow someone to hurt you and not challenge them. Every person should feel entitled to defend themselves physically against harm, and entitled to the help of others in that regard. Nobody should feel entitled to dismiss the hurt and harm others feel merely because they would feel or react differently.

    The powerful moral act isn’t saying that those injured are not entitled to respond. The powerful moral act is in having every justification to lash out angrily, and choosing not to do so. In holding a mirror up, showing the harm done to you, saying you are hurt and it is not OK, but then saying you want to understand their anger and hurt and help make it go away. Encouraging repentance and forgiving. Powerful moral acts aren’t easy and can’t be expected of others. I do not expect them from people. But I believe they are generally constructive and I try to practice them when I’m in a position to do so.

    I think that some of you may see a world where some people without power are expected to go quietly to their crosses and you want them to fight back. I see a world where people hurt each other by perpetuating cycles of violence handed down through generations and I want them to break the cycles through respectful resistance and occasional willingness to risk sacrifice in the name of peace and understanding.

    Maybe it’s all this living in Texas, but I hear way too much ‘some people just need killing’, and the logic is too familiar. We can be dragged into all kinds of wars in our lives, we can’t always stop them, but we can always try to keep diplomatic lines of communication open because if there is ever to be peace there has to be diplomacy. Otherwise it’s just “us versus them” and “we don’t talk to terrorists”.

    ———–
    I know this is oversimplistic. I can think of difficult counter-examples. But just as most religious people seem sure their religion is The True One, and most patriots know their God smiles on their Homeland, it seems history is writ large with people who believed the only thing blocking heaven on earth was a big fight where we teach the bad guys a lesson. I fear such certainty even when I feel it, and prefer the simplicity of understanding and forgiveness to that of righteousness and anger.

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