Joanna Schroeder wants people to hear and be heard. And it doesn’t always happen on Twitter.
It’s been an interesting few weeks for those of us who are deeply involved in The Good Men Project. We watched alongside all of you, and most of the gender theorists on the Internet, as a very important relationship tail-spinned and brightly fell to Earth, meteorically. Yes, I’m talking about what you’re all so sick of hearing: Hugo Schwyzer and Tom Matlack.
Just yesterday I told my friend Marcus Williams, a fellow writer and one of my co-moderators here at GMP, that I believe this Tom vs Hugo conversation was actually done. I said that if I were to have any editorial selectivity over this site (which I don’t), I’d put an end to any pieces regarding this battle. The world is sick of reading it, people’s points have been made. Mostly, I was just being complain-y because I’m tired of it.
Marcus disagreed with me, as he almost always does. All along I’ve been firmly entrenched with Hugo in the “Rape Culture Exists” camp, and Marcus has identified more with Tom. Because he’s a man and I’m a woman? Maybe. Probably not, though. Marcus is awfully open-minded to hearing me talk about feminism and has even said to me, “Feminists like you make me believe I could possibly someday be one,” (I swear you said it, Marcus!). He probably followed it with, “But not likely.” And then I’m sure we both laughed.
And now what am I doing? I’m writing another Tom vs. Hugo piece. Throwing some gasoline onto a fire! What changed my mind? This:
This summarized for me exactly what I believe is wrong with gender politics and the debate over “Rape Culture” on the Internet: It’s the way we’re talking about it. Not the back-and-forth articles by Hugo and Tom in the special section Justin Cascio and I curated called The Presumption of Male Guilt. All the articles these two men exchanged were important. I agreed with Hugo, but I mostly agreed with Tom, too.
All well and good.
But then Amanda Marcotte, Jenn Pozner and a few others joined in this row with Tom and Hugo in a now-very-famous Twitter war where I believe a lot of people acted in ways that were not productive, or even healthy. No, I didn’t like what Tom said, but I believe he was asking an honest question.
Despite proudly calling myself a feminist, some of the feminists employed derailing, shaming tactics right back at Tom. I think that’s dirty, and I think our politics have stronger legs on which they can stand.
And Tom became defensive. I can’t blame him, as that type of “challenge” can bring out the worst in people. We often feel mocked when someone attempts to shame us instead of meeting us eye-to-eye on an issue. Shaming is a way of dismissing their point and shutting them up. It’s derailing. Above all, I believe Tom felt deeply not heard.
This is all speculation. Despite being a contributing editor and one of the mods of this site, I have never had a heart-to-heart with Tom Matlack. Yet I think I know his heart, his intentions. I think I know his goodness. And I actually have had heart-to-hearts with Hugo and I feel strongly that I know his heart, which is good, and his goodness runs deep. Both of these men are rich with goodness.
That’s why the December 31st Twitter exchange really made me sad. Sad enough to finally say something:
And sad enough to write to Hugo the next day and tell him I’m starting to hate Twitter. People, 140 characters is not enough space to explain your heart. It’s not enough to compassionately debate what is a very painful issue. Rape and guilt are just too big to be discussed this way. Some may say they’re just too big to be discussed at all, but most of us here at GMP disagree. We believe the discussion will heal us… Or at least start the process.
Men, friends, feminists, MRAs, humanists, whatever you call yourselves, Twitter is not the place for a true friendship like the one Tom and Hugo clearly had to be hashed out or even resolved. You guys—Tom and Hugo—are allies. You want equality for the sexes, you want to end rape and sexual abuse for both males and females, you want to expose the big issues and not be afraid of them. You both want men to be able to exist in a huge variety of sizes, shapes and flavors. You want men to speak their stories without shame.
You have the same long-term goal. Even if you’re on different paths to get there.
When we go into these conversations, the big ones, the painful ones, the ones where people are probably going to hurt when they read them, for any number of reasons, we need to enter with caution. We shouldn’t tiptoe around our points, we don’t need to muffle our voices, but we need to choose our words carefully. That’s our responsibility as writers.
Our responsibility as readers is a little different. We need to enter the conversation with a thin skin. Thin Skin? you ask? I think you mean thick. No I really do mean thin. Be permeable, be open, and hear what others are saying. You don’t have to give up your position, but you need to hear the human behind the argument. If your position is strong, it won’t be damaged by (truly) listening to someone who disagrees with it.
If you’re willing to hear the heart behind the words, you won’t be as hurt when you do disagree—as long as what they’ve written wasn’t intended to insult, shame, manipulate or embarrass you. I realize that’s subjective, but most of the time someone’s intention to do actual harm is apparent. We know it when we see it in the comments. People go from disagreeing to angry to hurtful to vengeful to even being downright cruel, and they often go there fast. And once that spiral starts, the message of the speaker is lost.
That brings me to our commenters here at GMP. For weeks we’ve been debating what to do with our beloved commenters (Yes! You guys are important!). Do we moderate every comment that comes in? Do we silence you? Do we let you have free reign over GMP and to define us with vitriol? None of the above. Lisa Hickey has led the way for us to take a new approach: we want to hear you. Just as Tom, in that original debate on Twitter, wanted his initial confusion to be heard and met eye-to-eye and not with snark or shaming, we want to hear our commenters with open hearts and minds.
Hugo wanted the same thing in his initial piece that started the fire we’re still trying to find a way to safely corral (not extinguish). Hugo was asking men to hear how women feel. He wasn’t asking men to be ashamed, though I understand how it may have seemed that way. More importantly, I understand how it may have felt that way. Hugo was asking men to realize that often times, women are afraid.
Now I know you guys are getting ready to jump down and comment! And I want you to—but in a minute! Don’t be hasty, hear me out. Hear my heart.
At Good Men Project we’re going to give you more than 140 characters. We hope you’ll return that favor with thin skin. With open minds. With respectful voices. We want to hear you. We want to understand. I want you to tell me how what Hugo wrote hurt you. I want you to tell me how what Tom wrote on Twitter to the feminists hurt you. It hurt me, I’ll tell you right now with an open heart that it did.
I want to tell you, and have you hear me, when I say that I was sad the other day as I watched Hugo and Tom try to explain how hurt they each were over this all. I was most hurt by the fact that the conflict ended badly, once again, and in my mind maybe even worse this time. Why? Because 140 characters is not enough to mend a relationship. You two are men, strong men, you two are capable of wading through your hurt and repairing this.
Funny thing is, that most recent Twitter debate made me much more sad than any outright attack I’ve endured, personally, as a writer or moderator for GMP. You can tell me that I’m a moron, you can call me just another dirty feminist, you can say that as a part of GMP I am back-stabbing feminists (or men, either one, I’ve heard both). You can even tell me you’d leave me in the snow to die. Go for it. But all that accomplishes is making me less likely to hear you.
You are saying important things. Don’t let them be muddied by wild extrapolations or nitpicking tiny elements of my position in order to discredit me.
Just talk to me. I want to hear you.
photo by tydence / flickr