How (Not) to Respond to Writers Who Decry Sexism

Strategy number one:
Refuse to accept that the writer’s experience of the world can be different from your experience as a straight white guy. Demand proof of their assertions but only from sources that you deem credible. Focus on details and find flaws instead of looking at their overall argument. Redefine terms until they mean what you want them to mean. Explain why the writer’s experiences don’t mean what they think they mean. Generally rationalise and explain and squirm until you’ve made the uncomfortable idea of prejudice disappear. Be ostentatiously reasonable and rational. If the writer resists, tell them they’re being unreasonable, unlike you. Do this repeatedly and at great length until you’ve smothered the life out of the conversation and all the other commenters give up, thus allowing you to claim that your superior powers of reason have won the day.

Strategy number two:
Explain that you’re a straight white guy and you’ve experienced prejudice/oppression/violence/whatever, so therefore, the writer’s claim that the abuse/aggression/harassment they’ve experienced is different in kind or intensity or frequency from your experience is invalid. Assert that we’re all victims here and that women don’t have it any worse or different than men.

Strategy number three:
Say that you’re a straight white guy and you’re not a sexist jerk so why are all the women picking on you. Demand praise and affirmation for your goodness from the writer and other commenters. If you don’t get it, claim that straight white guys are the true victims here.

These tropes turn up with depressing frequency any time anyone posts about what it’s like to be a woman on the internet, at work, in the world generally. The conversation inevitably turns into howls of anguish from assorted men doing whatever they can to deny that sexism exists, that women’s experiences of the world differ from theirs, that the world is not the same for everyone, and that straight white men get to be the norm from which the rest of us deviate. It’s tiring.

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4 Responses to How (Not) to Respond to Writers Who Decry Sexism

  1. David says:

    “Refuse to accept that the writer’s experience of the world can be different from your experience as a straight white guy.”

    He could be doing that. Or he could be suggesting the world is different from what you say. I suspect you would disagree with some of their experiences being representitive.

    “Demand proof of their assertions but only from sources that you deem credible.”

    He could have an unrealistic standard of evidence. Or he could have en excellent standard of evidence.

    “Focus on details and find flaws instead of looking at their overall argument.”

    That is what most disagreements sound like to the argument holder. Even if they refute the main point and offer an alternate view, you know you’re right so they must have just not got your overall argument.

    “Redefine terms until they mean what you want them to mean.”

    Disagreements over term meanings are inevitable in an argument between different people. Most people have their own definitions. They’re not redefining, their subculture just has its own meanings. Yours won’t always be the best ones, neither will theirs.

    “Generally rationalise and explain and squirm until you’ve made the uncomfortable idea of prejudice disappear.”

    If you disagree with someone, you have to rationalize and explain to put your point across. For example, one popular feminist belief is that we should have quotas for female politicians so more get to the top. It sounds prejudiced against men. Unless you rationalize and explain and squirm you can’t really do much with that argument.

    “Be ostentatiously reasonable and rational.”

    The norm for an argument.

    “If the writer resists, tell them they’re being unreasonable, unlike you.”

    You yourself are implying that the above arguer is not being reasonable. So you are doing this too.

    “It’s tiring. ”

    It’s the norm for any argument. You always feel that it’s the other person being unreasonable, not understanding you, focusing on trivalties that don’t matter, using flawed reason, not accepting your totally awesome ideological sources that just say it like it is. They feel the same way about you.

    You feel you’re better than them, I suspect. You’re almost certainly the same. This is why when you post it’s best to avoid prejudices.

  2. Janettes says:

    Behold a very nice example of strategy number one. It gets bonus points for the snark in the final paragraph, which reminds me of a point I missed in the post – claim that while everyone else is partial, biased, and subject to prejudice both conscious and unconscious, you are a bastion of common sense and impartiality with no axes of your own to grind.

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