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Rape and derailing [Jun. 7th, 2009|04:30 pm]
John
There's been some talk about "derailing" rape conversations, and as a previous derailer, I'd like to talk about that a bit.

Rape was always a crime that horrified me, and the thought of it brought up strong emotions within me. I don't just mean anger - anger is there, and it's part of it, but there was also a protectiveness and a fear and a whole bunch of other things. One of the biggest things was, I really, really, really wanted to say that I wasn't the kind of guy who'd rape anyone. I wanted to express my revulsion for, and separation from, the guys who'd do such a thing.

And there were times when I'd see angry, strident women attacking "men" as a class[1], and I'd feel it was unfair.

This was before it was common to see phrases like "rape apologist" thrown around - i.e., the kind of person who "explains" rape by suggesting it maybe has to do with clothing styles or unwise behaviors. I'm not sure how I would have handled having such a fearsome phrase thrown at me... but I do know that it's entirely possible it would have been a fair accusation, depending on what I'd just said, and so forth. (Keep in mind that it was never true as a generalization, but it's possible that I have said something stupid enough that being called a rape apologist in return would have been fair - which is different from being true. It's fair to accuse a reasonable suspect of a crime; unfairness comes about when you refuse to believe the exoneration, or stop looking at the evidence once the accusation has been made.)

What changed?

Well, first off, I realized it was not my job, or my responsibility, to police conversations about rape for unfairness to men. No one said I had to do it; if I did it, it was to serve my own interests.

Now, someone might point out that some unfair, unjust, and truly nasty things are said in some of these discussions. Isn't it our duty to speak out against unfairness and injustice? Well, that depends on who is talking. Are we talking about policy makers who are writing laws, or are we talking about an online discussion group? Is this online discussion going to change our lives? Or is it maybe going to hurt some feelings?

If we're talking about a few hurt feelings, let's put this in perspective. It'd be wonderful if meaningful social change occurred without hurt feelings, but it doesn't tend to happen. And rape, and the pervasive ideas that lead to it, require meaningful social change. So, I had to ask myself, which was more important to me? Policing discussions about rape, and challenging anything that hurt my feelings, or seeing the meaningful social changes required to reduce rape? And, did I trust the overall set of human beings not to take any discussion point too seriously, if it really was way out there?

That is: if someone says something truly nasty, and I don't participate in shooting it down, do I trust that people, being people, might therefore accept it? Or did I trust that the vast majority of people are sensible enough, and even-keeled enough, that the really nasty ideas would drop by the wayside?

Remember: we're talking about discussions here. We're talking about blog posts and response threads, we're talking about LJ entries and comment threads, we're talking about Usenet threads, and so forth. I'm talking about the kinds of places where someone jumps in with "not all men are like that!" and are accused of derailing the discussion. Starting a new discussion, in an appropriate forum, is not derailing the current discussion.

Do I really think stupid ideas will survive "in the wild"? No.

But there are many times when derailing a discussion, or trying to make people feel guilty for being angry, or shouting them down for being too "strident", can rob ideas of momentum that they need in order to generate change. Oh, those ideas will get out eventually - common sense works both ways, in killing nasty ideas and eventually promoting good ones - but there's always a strong set of forces holding on to the status quo. And ideas about social change need passion, and passion is not always pretty and certainly not always precisely accurate.

As I said, I realized that it was not my job to police discussions about rape for possible unfairness to men as a class. If I did that, it was to serve my own interests. And so I had to decide which served my interests best. Jumping into a discussion to explain how I wasn't like that, or that not all men were like that, and thereby protect my own feelings about the issue? Or walking away if I couldn't bear to read it without jumping in? Or, better yet, learning not to take it personally, and learning what is actually useful, and productive, to say? (Note: learning what is productive and useful to say can include saying the wrong thing, and listening to, and thinking about, the response it generates. It's not necessarily pleasant.)

If I was going to make a mistake, which mistake did I want to make? Letting someone rant in an unfair manner, knowing that the rant won't really do anything? Or shutting down or side tracking what could have been a valuable discussion?

If I despised rape and rapists, which was most important to me? Which truly served my own interests best?

I hope it's clear I'm not writing this to condemn anyone, nor to comment on any particular thread, or any particular posting, etc., but the idea has been going around, and these are thoughts that I've thunk about the matter. I hope someone finds some value in them.

I also hope you realize that, if you read this, and are the type who might jump in to a rape thread with an "I'm not like that" or "all men are not like that," and you feel a strong, complicated mix of feelings, that's perfectly normal, and maybe not too far from what I felt. But that, going back, and re-reading those discussions, I realize that it was never quite as important, and never quite as necessary, as I'd imagined at the time. Don't get me wrong - sometimes I raised good, valid points. But they were often points that could have waited for a better time, or a better forum, for presentation.


[1] Keep in mind that sometimes, we all "see" things that weren't actually there. I know that sometimes I saw such a thing when I was misunderstanding the main point being made.

Edited: clarified "jumping in" line.
linkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: supergee
2009-06-07 11:45 pm (UTC)
Very good post.
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[User Picture]From: griffen
2009-06-07 11:51 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I still dislike the fact that men as a class are being attacked in That Post, and that nobody who likes That Post seems to be willing to admit that that's what's going on, but your perspective has helped me decide that this is a fight I'm not going to participate in anymore. Fairness is intensely important to me, as is accuracy, and seeing the unfairness and inaccuracy going on in That Post has me so angry that I want to scream, so you're right: it's better just to ignore it and all requests to look at it and links to it and just say "Um, no. Not for me, thanks anyway."

I've already lost at least one friend over this. I have no desire to lose more.
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[User Picture]From: kathrynt
2009-06-08 12:31 am (UTC)
I don't want to hijack the discussion in John's LJ, but I didn't see men being attacked in cereta's post, either as a class or otherwise. I saw a suggestion for what men could do to make the problem better, and I saw some comments from men that they didn't think it should be their job to make the problem better.
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[User Picture]From: griffen
2009-06-08 12:44 am (UTC)
What I saw were unworkable and unfeasible suggestions about how to make the problem better, and then attacks when the unworkability and unfeasibility of those suggestions was pointed out.

What I saw was women holding up their husbands as examples of "this is a guy who would never rape and who stops men who try" and being told that they should also shut up, sit down and take it.

Sorry. If you didn't see it, I can't help you see it. But it's absolutely there. I'm not going to go back and dig through it to find examples, but two I remember: Try reading any comment thread involving box_in_the_box, or any comment threads which contain eleri's responses.

What was obvious to me was that cereta was not interested in having a conversation. She was interested in attacking the men who are supposedly her ALLIES in this fight. We were expected to sit down, shut up, and take her abuse for the actions of people who were not us.

If you don't understand how her language was an attack, there's nothing more I can talk with you about. I'm done here.
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[User Picture]From: kathrynt
2009-06-08 12:51 am (UTC)
Fair enough; you're clearly angry, and I respect your decision to be done with it.
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[User Picture]From: juliansinger
2009-06-08 08:04 pm (UTC)
I was going to try to talk about this with you, but reading this, I realize I don't think either of us could hear the other person.

So, just... Be well.
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[User Picture]From: griffen
2009-06-09 02:21 am (UTC)
No, I don't think either of us could. Which saddens me.

Be well as well.
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[User Picture]From: calpatine
2009-06-08 12:43 am (UTC)
It is a tendency of nature that when faced with any kind of generalization people demand that it become specific -- "not all men are like that," "not all Christians are like that," "not all white people are like that," "not all heterosexuals are like that."

And while it is true that not all people are evil or horrid, as long at it can be surprising that a member of a privileged group can in fact not act like an evil douchebag, there is a problem, and focusing on the things like "but saying men are pigs is so unfair" is contributing to the problem.

It helps, a little, when people I respect can see the forest for the trees, so to speak.
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[User Picture]From: firecat
2009-06-08 01:19 am (UTC)
But there are many times when derailing a discussion, or trying to make people feel guilty for being angry, or shouting them down for being too "strident", can rob ideas of momentum that they need in order to generate change.

This comment basically sums up the entire Internet since January. And the whole post is great. Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: beaq
2009-06-08 01:37 am (UTC)
That seems fair.
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[User Picture]From: anansi133
2009-06-08 05:21 am (UTC)
Wow, that is exactly what I needed to read just now. I was kinda-sorta getting to that place on my own, but you pretty much nailed it for me.

In particular, I was noticing the uncomfortable feeling I was getting, just trying to track the thread. And it was beginning to dawn on me that I can feel uncomfortable about an issue without needing to *do* anything with that feeling. Sure, some women will have plenty of 'helpful suggestions' on how I spend my time, those are worth every bit as much as any comments I have about how men are not a big club that meets in a smoke-filled room where we decide how to treat women.

On-line, we're a preselected group: we jump into the fray because we care about an issue. But no matter what the issue is, it's a fair bet that the people causing the worst of the problem, aren't part of whatever forum that's discussing the issue. But there's no way to know without jumping in, just who is and who isn't in the forum. I can see why so many women feel they need women-only space to talk about some stuff.

Something else I've learned over the years, that if I make a total ass of myself, I'm far more likely to have learned something useful than if I manage to sound calm, cool, and collected, saying things no one will disagree with. With this latest thread, the insight I've gained more than makes up for the raw, bruised feeling I get talking about things so far out of my experience.

In this particular issue, I don't have a lot of ideas about how to reduce rape. But I am stuffed full of ideas how to reduce bullying in general. If any of those ideas work out in the wild, then they will also help improve the environment in which rape occurs.

(oh, that didn't come out right, but I hope you will understand what I meant to say)
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[User Picture]From: tigerbright
2009-06-08 05:04 pm (UTC)
I adore you.
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[User Picture]From: kightp
2009-06-08 11:40 pm (UTC)
What she said. (-:

(And all the more for having been around you long enough to observe the transition you're describing here.)
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