Monday, June 17, 2013

You don't know the whole picture...

[Content note: street harassment, misogynistic slurs]

I was recently listening to NPR's Tell Me More (as I am apt to do) and I heard something that struck a particular chord with me. The topic was street harassment and Holly Kearl, founder of the nonprofit group Stop Street Harassment, shared how when she's running, the catcalls, carhonks, etc, can reach 10 times or more each jog--that it's not just one small, isolated incident. It was clear that it's a network of horrible experiences in the street that has shaped her view.

While very different topics, I deeply related to this experience, for me in the context of being an online feminist.

It goes like this... something I write is found by a man or boy who is totally unfamiliar with feminism and/or actively opposes it so he takes issue with my perspective. Ok, fine, whatever. He then writes a comment/reblog/tweet dismissing my perspective or he believes he can correct/teach me and is then surprised, outraged, and offended when I have the audacity to come back at him, usually dripping with sarcasm. (Here's an example.)

I also frequently point out how he's operating from a specific, privileged position in these discussions, that this isn't my first time thinking about these topics, and that one might say he's a mansplainer.

At this point the dude often decides I'm a bitch and sometimes outright says so. But if he doesn't take that path, even on the high road, there is usually some tone policing and the whole, "Jeez, we can't talk about this if you're going to be so angry," song and dance.

What these men fail to realize is that just like with Holly Kearl and her jogs, these types of interactions are not isolated incidents for me or many other's literally one of dozens of such interactions that I will have in a week. Everywhere I turn, a man is trying to share his oh-so-superior knowledge on gender topics with me. And that's just the nicer ones...the more hateful ones come onto my blog and leave me comments calling me a stupid cunt and saying they hope I die.

So what these men do not know, because they are not me, is that the more innocent interactions I have with men online invariably operate within this larger system of anti-feminism, attacks, dismissals, insults, threats, etc. It is impossible for me to ignore the full picture as I approach each individual interaction. I mean, feminism is not some a random theory for me. Gender oppression is a fact of my everyday life and feminism is my life's work. I live it and it cannot be separated from the lens through which I view things.

I wish that men could see the full picture; the network of oppression--but that's the trick of privilege, isn't it? It means that you think your experience is the the only one and the systems around us actively cater to that erroneous belief.  One could say that I'm also not privy to their individual "full pictures," and that is, of course, true. But another aspect of privilege is that there is inherently more safety from random attacks for men who operate in online spaces (take a look at the comments on a man's YouTube video over a woman's, for example.) When the male experience is seen as the default the patriarchy inherently teaches us more respect of it than the female. So the chances that a straight, white cisman is facing the level of harassment that I am from online strangers any given day is slim.

And while I'm talking about men and sexism here, this same effect happens along all other sorts of oppressions.

The only way to actually see the full picture is to listen to others and try to learn, but it seems like that spirit is sorely lacking in this bunch. So, I try to remind myself I don't owe random people who approach me online anything. As a rule, I don't go into spaces that I am not welcome and demand attention, but if I did, I certainly wouldn't expect to be catered to, so why should they?

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