I guess this is kind of an inside baseball post if you don’t follow the feminist blogs. I’m trying to think how to bring you up to speed without taking a million years. Let’s play it like this. Jessica bought a puppy. Some folks didn’t think that was very feminist of her (because they make the mistake of believing that feminism is a moral position) and, pertinent to our discussion, folks started getting pissed because she didn’t answer them and then didn’t answer them in a way that made her seem contrite enough or something.
Zuzu’s post about the matter is awesome and, if you care about the bigger issues, you should read it.
But between that post and this post over at Pandagon, I’m starting to suspect that there’s a larger issue here. I think that we, yes, even we feminists, still expect women to be “nice.” I use the scare quotes because I don’t think that being nice is a bad trait. I wish there were more nice people in the world.
But I mean “nice” in that way we’re told to “play ‘nice'” or “she’s such a ‘nice’ girl” or all those ways we have ingrained in us that our job is always to put others first and to tend to their needs and to consider their feelings above our own. What makes this so egregious is that, if everyone is playing that way with other folks we know, there’s not really a problem–in other words, it’s easily sold to folks as a proper way to conduct one’s self, because it does smooth social interactions.
But we women are being groomed not just to put the needs and feelings of people we know above our own, but to put the needs and feelings of people we don’t know above our own. How the hell are we supposed to do this without a.) being paralyzed into inaction because we can’t actually know what needs and feelings people we don’t know have or b.) being imperialist assholes who assume we know what others need and are feeling in order to put them first?
In other words, putting the needs and feelings of folks we don’t know above our own is bullshit, but it’s bullshit we can’t let go of and bullshit we rarely interrogate.
But look at both of these discussions, how Jessica is being scolded (what a good use of that word) for not putting the needs of dogs she doesn’t know above her own and for not putting the needs of her commenters–their desire for her to feel beholden to them–above her own. See? Jessica’s transgression is that she’s not putting the needs of strangers above her own.
And I think the same thing is going on in the comments of Amanda’s post. It’s not that Amanda is saying something all that new or revolutionary about Ben Folds. A lot of people think he sucks and for the reasons she mentions. It’s that she’s not putting the feelings of Ben Folds or the imaginary narrator of the song before her own.
Check out those comments and see if you disagree. I mean, I could imagine a man writing exactly what Amanda wrote and not getting this same kind of grief. It really seems like folks who should know better are viscerally offended that Amanda isn’t putting the feelings of Ben Folds above her own.
I hadn’t noticed this dynamic before, but seeing both of these things erupt in the past few days has brought it into focus for me and I’ll be keeping an eye out for it.