This post is going to be the first part of at least two entries on what basically boils down to the derailing techniques I most frequently encounter in feminist debate, and why they need to be brought to a screeching halt. Many of these are easily applied to any privileged person ‘splaining away to any marginalized group, so it is valuable to recognize that as you read through. Still, since misogyny is the oppression that most actively affects my life, and because I don’t think it is my place to talk for marginalized groups I am not a part of, I’ve decided to focus on how men do this in discussions of misogyny. I’m addressing this to you mansplainers out there, specifically those of you who think you never mansplain, so listen up, okay?
‣‣‣ “I know you are, but what am I?”
When faced with a reasonable feminist holding up reasonable arguments, there’s only really one solid place to find refuge: The rubber-and-glue approach.
WOMAN: You’re being a misogynist. Here is how the things you’ve said/done are misogynistic, and how they negatively affect me and all women.
MANSPLAINER: You’re just a man-hater.
WOMAN: This isn’t about me, it’s about you and how you’re being a misogynist. How I feel about men doesn’t influence the reality of what I and other women go through, or how you’re oppressing us.
MANSPLAINER: Nothing you say has value because it’s all based on your misandry, and that invalidates all of your experiences and arguments.
It’s the perfect trap. A woman is asking you to recognize how you are contributing outright to her oppression, she is asking you to acknowledge how you are demonstrating disrespect, derision, and maybe outright hatred of women. The best possible response? To plug your ears and shout about how you don’t have to listen to the big meanie-head woman with her big meanie-head objections, because you’ve made a judgment call about her that doesn’t actually influence anything, except your self-righteousness as you declare yourself above the conversation at hand. This is usually best handled with a good dose of the tone argument.
This is virtually the definition of derailing. The conversation is making you uncomfortable, so rather than actually deal with the issues put forth within it, you find a reason to completely ignore it. You don’t even need to use a reason in any way related to the subject at hand, you can just toss out your impressions of the speaker and declare that it invalidates everything they do. This is the same logic that had Republicans swearing Bill Clinton was a horrible president. It didn’t matter that he’d changed a record national debt into a record national surplus, nearly halved the rate of unemployment, and left Americans in the best financial position we’d been in for decades, he was still deemed a failure as a president because of his sexual activities. Critics took something that had absolutely nothing to do with the subject at hand, and used it to dismiss all of his very valid accomplishments. This is what you do when you take a conversation about the realities of misogyny and turn it into a huffy judgment call on the speaker’s perceived hatred for men. It doesn’t matter if a feminist hates men–we’re desperately asking you to stop making it all about men for once. We don’t have the power to oppress you, therefore our hatred or lack thereof is in no way relevant to the topic of oppression.
‣‣‣ “I don’t have to listen to a name-caller.”
If a feminist is actually making cracks in your mansplaining veneer, this approach can usually convince misogynistic onlookers that you’re taking the high road by ignoring all of her legitimate criticisms.
WOMAN: You’re being a misogynist.
MANSPLAINER: Oh so we’re just name-calling now?
WOMAN: Calling out prejudice is not “name calling,” it’s acknowledging reality. If you don’t want to be called a misogynist, stop being misogynistic.
MANSPLAINER: I don’t have to listen to somebody who calls me names.
This concept is based foremost on the idea that there is nothing worse than being called prejudiced. The privileged person is so used to being treated delicately by society that they don’t acknowledge how painful it is for the marginalized person. Your pain at being called misogynistic is magically worse than the pain endured by a woman actually suffering at the hands of your misogyny, because you’ve not been suffering all along. Your first dose of discomfort takes you utterly by surprise, and thus knocks the wind out of you, and convinces you that no one else’s pain could possibly be so excruciating. But really, it’s like telling someone who suffers from fibromyalgia that they really need to stop complaining about pain, when you’ve got this agonizing splinter in your toe. You can pull out the splinter, you have control over your pain, you can fix its cause by simply ceasing misogynistic behavior. We have no such luxury, and to be quite honest, our pain was a hell of a lot worse to start.
And seriously, stop it with that Jay Smooth video. Personally, I do tend to follow his model, just because I usually try to be diplomatic, but do you want to know a secret? You guys almost never care how we phrase it. If we say, “What you just said was misogynistic,” 99% of the time, you’re going to reply with some form of indignant, “How dare you call me a misogynist!” Demanding this approach as if it would actually make you consider being less of a mansplainer is grasping at straws, trying to excuse your inexcusable behavior.
Justifying prejudice requires some pretty basic failures of both logic and communication, and often, you are so blinded by your privilege that you simply aren’t paying enough attention. Marginalized people who fully acknowledge our marginalization tend to be more effective at recognizing subtleties in language, because we’ve trained ourselves by recognizing the subtleties of our oppression. One of the biggest benefits of privilege is that it allows you to look at the world through a wide-angle lens, because the little details aren’t hurtful to you.
And the simple fact of the matter is, after a lifetime of being oppressed by men, we should not have to hold your hands and delicately walk you through the realities of your prejudice. Take some personal responsibility and stop making us do all the damn work.
‣‣‣ “I can laugh at your oppression, why can’t you?”
This is pretty much a play on the “you’re too serious” objection. It’s often slung about with the insistence that you’re only laughing ironically, because you recognize how the joke is misogynistic, so it’s subversive to laugh at it.
MANSPLAINER: Look at [this blatantly misogynistic thing], isn’t it hilarious?
WOMAN: Um, no. It’s dripping in misogyny, and I don’t find my oppression funny.
MANSPLAINER: But that’s why this is so great! Think how many people don’t understand it like I do. I totally get why it’s ridiculous, so it’s alright for me to enjoy it, ’cause I like it ironically! You should learn to do that.
There is nothing “subversive” or “edgy” about laughing at an old joke. And that is precisely what every single prejudice-driven attempt at humor is: The oldest joke in the book against the longest-abused victim. And even if a minority did choose to find some sort of humor in such a thing, that doesn’t make it automatically acceptable and “ironic” for privileged people to laugh. A minority laughing about their oppression is in no way comparable to a privileged person laughing about how they oppress a minority.
I’ll give you a personal example here: One of my not-so-secret weaknesses is a love of pointless action flicks. I’ll happily settle in for a night of popcorn-crunching to machine gun fire in the Rambo movies. This has shit-all to do with any legitimate feminist objection I make about such films or how they’re presented and marketed, and does not give you the right to hold my own enjoyment against me, or use it to justify your own prejudice.
Here’s the thing: If women never enjoyed any media that was misogynistic, we’d be left with almost nothing to watch, read, or listen to. Yes, misogyny is that heavily ingrained in our culture. And every feminist has her own tolerance level, and her own guilty pleasures that she indulges in at her own discretion. None of this invalidates her right to call prejudice out when she sees it, whether it’s in something she’d not touch with a ten foot pole, or something she’d really be able to enjoy more if her favorite genre of movie/style of music/variety of comic book/classification of whatever would treat women with more respect. On a related note:
‣‣‣ “Flip the feminist switch.”
This is specifically when a man makes a woman feel guilty for having a feminist opinion, like she’s the wet blanket smothering every bit of fun anyone ever manages to have in the world.
WOMAN: Yeah, I like [thing], but wish it was a little more inclusive of women.
MANSPLAINER: God, can’t you ever just turn it off? We all know you’re a feminist, but do you have to reply to everything with a feminist critique? Can’t you just reply like a normal person for once?
Funny, we can’t just “turn off” being female. We can’t just flip a switch and magically not be oppressed anymore. And once we’ve realized how pervasive misogyny is, how it infects every aspect of our lives, yeah, it can be hard to shelve it and play ignorant for everyone else’s sake. And while we may not always have the energy or drive to make such critiques, we are not obligated to stifle them. Don’t want to hear feminist objections? Then work to actively dismantle the patriarchy, so women will have that elusive ~equality~ we’re always blathering on about and we won’t have reason to raise feminist objections in the first place. Problem solved!
So many of these things boil down to a basic objection to male behavior in feminist discussion: You need to stop thinking that your voice is the one that matters in minority issues. We hear you, we’ve been hearing you our entire lives, and society hears you every damn day; that’s why our oppression still exists. Now it’s our turn to be heard, and you need to learn how to sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up every now and then. It won’t kill you, honest.