You're a dude. That's okay. Nobody's perfect, least of all me. But you're trying. Well, those of you who read the title of this and felt like reading on are trying, anyway. You're making an effort. You read blogs, you took a Women's Studies class, you try and be sympathetic even though your lived experience makes it hard to imagine that of many of the women you know (and even more you don't know). It's tough. I get that.
So I want to give you a set of simple rules, something to hold onto and use every time you walk into a discussion on feminism. Navigating feminist discussions is really easy when you keep these in mind.
Rule #1. Listen first, then talk
Okay. Think about how school works for a minute. We don't let children just talk when we want them to answer questions or have a discussion. Instead you raise your hand, wait quietly for your turn, and say your piece. When you let children go without taking turns, it turns into a shouting match and the loudest voice wins.
Women have been told to be quiet, to listen and not speak, for a long time. Feminism is called feminism because it concerns issues that have disproportionately affected women over men. That's not to say that you, dude-friend, have not been affected. But think about the context of the situation.
You are a dude. You're in a space at a time dedicated to talking about what we might term "women's issues." Listen. Hold off on the instinct to talk right away. Women should have the opportunity to take the floor and steer conversation - this is about them, first and foremost. If you take the floor first and steer discussion, it's not unlike being a white person talking to a group of black people about what it's like to be black, or a straight person telling a group of queer people what it's like to be queer. That's just not something you do.
You don't have that lived experience. So listen, learn. Spread the word to dudes who aren't there - be an ambassador to the other dudes out there. You're trying, and you're needed. You just need to do the favor of listening first. Then you can speak. But when you do speak, please follow rule #2.
Rule #2. Stay on topic
Seriously. Keep to the topic at hand. Don't do like the first dude croguesberg describes asking a question at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo.
After a panel about inclusivity in geek spaces (which among many topics touched upon the way women, both creators and fans of sci-fi, comics, and fantasy, have to deal with rape threats), this guy chimes in to tell us how his penis feels and derail the conversation.
I'm attracted to trans people, and I'm upset the LGBT community doesn't talk about or include people like me.
Croguesberg has given me a slightly more detailed recollection of the trajectory of this guy's comment via email :
So Guy #1 started with "I'm multiracial and I feel like I'm never enough to be included" then twisted over to "and I like trans people so why don't they include me in their community more", ending with "I feel really hopeless about all this." It was tangentially on topic, WRT creating more inclusive communities. But it had little to nothing to do with nerd communities.
Take note, dudes (and ladies too - straying from topic is something we're all prone to do, so pay attention). We're going to walk through every aspect of why this is not a thing you should do.
First of all, in a conversation about inclusivity in geek communities, it's a good idea to stick to the broad topic of geek communities and inclusivity therein. Yeah, who knew, right? Broadening the topic to inclusivity in general can be nice, but only if it actually comes out of a place of making suggestions that can improve inclusivity in the domain specifically desired.
If it's only tangential to the topic at hand, it's not very useful. It's like we're talking about problems with the writing in the Superman and Wonder Woman book, and you want to talk about the state of the comic book industry as a whole. That's nice, and it might include some salient points, but we're talking about Superman and Wonder Woman specifically. The fact that the best selling comic in March sold just under 120k units and there was a steep drop off from there is mostly irrelevant. The fact that the book we're talking about ranked #36 on the list, that might be relevant. Maybe.
While our guy's concerns are totally valid and worthy of discussion, this was not the time or place for discussing those issues the way he brought them in. This was the time and place for discussing inclusivity within geek culture, not inclusivity at large. This was about being geeks who face exclusion, not facing exclusion broadly. If you keep to the topic at hand and avoid derailing it you'll do quite well.
Furthermore, here rule #2 bleeds into Rule #3 - It's not about your penis.
When a discussion is partially about about rape threats (or really anything to do with rape), it's generally kind of crass to turn the conversation from that to what makes your bits happy. I mean, I love thinking about what makes my bits happy, as I'm sure most people do, but I also know when it's appropriate.
Times it is not appropriate to talk about things that make you happy in the pants include, but are not limited to: when talking to your children, in the middle of a business meeting, when the topic of conversation is rape, at the auto mechanic, while getting your teeth cleaned.
Times it is appropriate to talk about things that give you pants feelings include: when you are engaged in sexytimes activities with one or more consenting partners (note: it is also about their parts as well during those times, not just yours), when you're talking to your therapist because it's relevant and on topic to your therapy, when you measure your junk in the locker room and compare it to your buddies' junk (does this really even happen, and even then why would you talk about what makes your junk happy while doing it?). Talking about your penis when it's not appropriate makes you look this silly:
It's especially not about your penis when rape is or is part of the topic at hand. It's like having a serious discussion about witch burning and butting in to explain why propane and propane accessories make for such clean burning. Or interrupting a MADD meeting to announce your favorite brand of vodka. We know you love your propane, Hank. But think a little before you try to sell us some.
Rule #4: Don't mansplain
This sort of stems jointly from rules #1 and #3. As a man in a space dedicated to talking about "women's issues" (remember: they don't only affect women, but women get the brunt of it and they affect men differently), you have a responsibility to not assume that the women you encounter don't understand what they're talking about.
Women can and do put time into studying things, just like men do. On an intellectual level, there's no reason to treat any woman as if she knows nothing of the topic at hand unless you actually know for a fact that she has no knowledge of the topic at hand. I don't do physics. Please explain physics to me. I know high-school physics basics, but that's mostly it. On the other hand, I'm working on my PhD in medieval English literature and my MFA in translation. If you're another scholar in those fields, sweet. Let's talk; we're both pretty close to the same level. If you're not and you try to explain to me what translation is or how to read Chaucer or particulars of Old English grammar - you're too busy living your fantasy of a conversation to notice that I've already got that info, thanks, and this conversation is boring and where can I go get a milkshake around here?
So listen. Know your audience. It's not mansplaining to explain something to a woman while you happen to be a man. It's mansplaining to explain something to a woman that she already knows because you know and are a man and she clearly doesn't because you gave no thought to finding out what she knows before you started explaining. Don't do that second one and you'll be doing just fine.
And for god's sake, when trying to figure out how to ask women out, ask other women for advice. PUAs are practically mansplaining how to ask out women for you. They do not have the experience of being a woman to tell them what makes women interested in you (also women are not monoliths and such). To quote NYCyclist:
They are MEN and they have therefore never been a woman on an online dating site, so how the fuck would they know?
They don't. They're 'splaining so hard they don't even need a woman to 'splain to anymore. That's next level 'splaining.
Rule #5: Do not "Not all men..."
If you've made it here and you're wondering "well I don't do this, so why are you talking as if all dudes do this?" then you aren't really paying very much attention.
If I write up a post about water skiing for women and someone chimes in "not all women water ski!" as if it were a valid point, I would laugh and then tell them that if they read the post they would know from the context that I am clearly talking about and to women who do water ski or are interested in trying.
Likewise, when I make a post giving guys a guide on how to be well-behaved in feminist spaces, I am clearly not addressing those who are well-behaved (except insofar as they might be happy to read a reminder and maybe have a laugh at the various jokes I've put in here).
Saying "not all men mansplain" or "not all men make it about their trouser titans" (seriously, you call it a trouser titan?) or any variation of "not all men..." pretty well says that you are bad at reading. It says that you think yourself better than what I've described - and you may well be, right up until you got defensive.
Being feminist is not about rending the menz apart until they bleed to death. It's about striving for equality. If striving for equality makes you feel defensive or oppressed because not all men are like those knuckle-dragging boors you associate with inequality, then you need to take a good hard look at yourself and examine whether you're actually being feminist. "Not all men..." is a distraction, a way to focus things back on you and away from the issue - it's a way of violating rule #2 while pretending to stay on topic. It's not a very good one, and it's not a valid point.
These rules are not that many and are easy to remember. They don't involve going out of your way to do anything extraordinary. They merely require you to treat the people around you with a basic level of human decency. No, following these rules will not get you a feminist cookie.
That's just not going to happen. If you're Mick Foley, sure, you deserve a cookie - you went above and beyond. You need to go above and beyond for a cookie because it takes work to earn a cookie. So delicious, with chocolate chips and... Damn it. Now I want cookies.
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