If you told me several years ago that I would be accused of being an “oversensitive feminist”, an “embarrassing liberal”, a “lesbian man-hater”, or “self-righteous” to the point of ignoring dissenting viewpoints, all simply because I unapologetically stand up for what I see as right and wrong, I would have laughed at you. Of course, back then I thought all people, except for ones who wanted to hurt others, were feminists and believed in equality of the sexes. What can I say? I was, and still am to a large extent, a naive idealist.
Sure, I can be sanctimonious. Sure, I’m self-righteous. But when did it become a crime to passionately believe in ideals? Why does my criticizing an organization, idea or belief, or espousing my own personal view on the matter translate into me telling everyone that they must believe as I do or die? Why is it okay for other people to dehumanize a group I belong to, such as the GLBT crowd, but ridicule me when I ask them to give me some consideration because the pejoratives make me uncomfortable? And why, oh why, do people feel the need to engage in a divisive discourse simply because they personally think the arguments are extreme? I’m not telling you what to do with your time, bodies, minds, or anything else, people! I’m just asking you to respect mine.
While this post was inspired by some recent events in the blogsphere, I don’t want to specifically name them because I don’t want the posters involved to feel that I’m targeting them. This isn’t about any one poster, this is about the common divisive discourse that critiquing anything from a company to a set of beliefs is tantamount to attacking the individuals within. And, again, if any Shrub.com readers see this and want to discuss/dispute their potential part it in, feel free, but my point is not to single out any individual; I’ve gotten this not only from the blogsphere, but from my ex-WoW guild, my friends, and even my family.
Under this discourse, if you say “[group y] did bad thing [x]” then they tell you how “not all people who belong to [group y] do [x], so stop attacking them!” Does this mean that people shouldn’t voice their opinion on things because someone might think that they’re unfairly targeting an individual? Do we all really need to put a disclaimer up every time we talk negatively about a group to assure people that “not all [group y] are part of [x]“? If someone is talking about male dominated areas, are they attacking all men? What about speaking out about homophobic hate crimes, are they accusing all straight people of hating gays? Is it hard to see the difference between criticizing an idea or practice and engaging in an ad hominem attack?
Another argument I’ve come across is the “[group y] has done some really good things, so lay off them already.” If I do something good, then, does that make me exempt from criticism too? I have no problem with someone saying, “I hear your point, but don’t ignore the good things that [group y] has done.” To use a specific example, Anika, on the American Apparel thread, called me out on ignoring that AA had some good practices, like employing 60% women in their upper levels. I acknowledged this point, although I argued that it didn’t negate the gender relation problems that they had. It is important to note that, just as doing something good doesn’t mean covering up the bad, so does doing something bad not mean covering up the good.
Yet another aspect of the divisive discourse is dismissing an argument simply because one has not seen the criticism in action. We all should step back and recognize that our own privilege will shelter us from things. Yes, I realize the need to make sure that the argument isn’t accusing all people of [group y] of holding [x] stance. All conservatives don’t hate gay people, but it’s still a valid thing to discuss how the conservative stance often marginalizes the rights of people in the GLBT community. All feminists don’t think male abuse victims are faking it, but it’s a valid thing to discuss how the feminist stance has in the past, and in some ways continues into the present, marginalized the experiences of men who are victims of abuse. All Men’s Rights Advocates don’t hate women, but it’s a valid thing to discuss how the MRA position can sometimes marginalize the rights of women. It is not helpful to derail a conversation about oppression/privilege/exploitation/etc. by implying that the subject isn’t worth discussing because you’ve met people who aren’t like [x]. Bring it up, sure, but in a way that acknowledges the validity of the original argument while emphasising that the criticism should remain confined to the idea, not the individuals who belong to the group espousing that idea.
And, finally, another tool of this discourse is to distance oneself from one’s opponent’s position by ridiculing their beliefs as so extreme they’re laughable. In this case I’m going to pull from a comment I made on a thread discussing this discourse in the feminist community. Sour Duck actually recommended that I make it a post in itself, although I’m not sure this is what she intended. It’s certainly not what I thought of when I said I would do it. Heh.
Anyway, pertaining to a conversation I was having with Darth Sidhe, I said:
I may not agree with spellings like “womyn” and whatnot, but I do understand their underlying point. Words have power.
The negative conntation to the term “politically correct” is also rooted in conservatism. I have no problem discussing the merits (or lackthereof) of using certain words, but to dismiss the arguments (and the women using them) as merely trying to be “politically correct” is offensive. It’s the same tactic used on us to try and shut us up any time we step outside the box that the men in power have tried to shut us in. Think reproductive freedoms are important enough to challenge the dems support of “Democrats for Life”? You’re just one of those PC, humourless, women’s studies types, aren’t you?
I guess what I’m saying is that you don’t have to understand, or agree with, everything these people say. I, certainly, don’t agree with the feminists who believe that all (female) homemakers are brainwashed zombies. I have run into some of them who, in other areas, are quite sane. But that does not mean that I’m going to use the stereotype that they fit to defend against women-haters, or even sit by and be silent while other people use the stereotype.
My example of disagreeing with an assertion without belittling an entire group is not limited to feminist stereotypes. In the Great Parent Debate (yes, I’ve given the kerfluffle a grandiose name) that I blogged about, part of what I was trying to convey was that agreement, or full understanding, of a point is not necessary for respecting the other side and their argument. Just because non-parents can’t understand how hard it is to raise a child doesn’t mean we should belittle the job that parents do. On the flip side, parents should also not belittle us because we non-parents don’t have, and sometimes don’t want, kids. If we cannot respect those who have differing opinions from us, how can we expect anyone to respect us?
What do we gain by pointing the finger at others who may share similar values as us and go, “At least I’m not like hir. Sie’s crazy!”? All we’re doing is adding fuel to the fire of our ideological opponents’ ad hominem attacks against our blanket movements, and making enemies where we should be forging alliances based on our common goals. It does not always have to be an either/or argument! We can disagree with each other and still work together. We can debate points back and forth without dismissing and belittling the other side.
What I’m trying to say is that if we don’t enter into arguments with respect and the intent to understand, then all we’re doing is pissing each other off.