Nathalie Schoenauer comments on the conversation on gender that started here and spilled all across the Internet.
Over the past week or so I’ve been following the heated online discussion between The Good Men Project’s Tom Matlack, Lisa Hickey, and feminist writer Hugo Schwyzer (who has now formally resigned from his position as editor and contributor to the website). The debate started after an intense Twitter back-and-forth which was posted on GMP under the title “The Wrath of The Feminists”. Schwyzer wrote a response to this title and the content of the tweets arguing that the language and arguments used by Matlack unnecessarily hindered an otherwise thoughtful discussion about gender. Soon after, Schwyzer formally resigned from GMP and posted an article explaining his decision on his own website, hugoschwyzer.net. While Schwyzer claims it was due to a brand-censorship issue, it seems the resignation has two sides with Hickey commenting that Schwyzer refused to have a discussion about the matter before resigning. Whatever the case may be, the whole debate seems to epitomize the very nature of gender discussions today.
If I may be so bold and (for point’s sake) use just the two categories of men and women, I’d have to say that this debate highlights the most common up-in-arms characteristics of gender debates. It’s nothing new to see women (and male feminists) pointing out a way in which they are socially slighted, in turn provoking a defensive response from men (and women who support men’s views) who argue that feminists are far too egocentrically positioned, which in turn stokes this supposed ‘wrath’ of feminists who feel they must adamantly defend and repeat their positions to get the point across (and so on and so forth). But why does this happen–especially among such informed and knowledgeable people?
Picture this: two people are having a conversation. One of them says something to which the other counters. There is a brief pause as both recognize that this conversation has just turned into a debate. Eventually, both people begin to raise their voice, repeat their point, and accuse the other person of not listening. And then, when both parties are on the edge of throwing their hands in the air and calling the other stupid, there comes this unexpected and usually very awkward moment where they both realize that they have been arguing the exact same thing all along. They stare at each other, thinking hard how this heated debate came to be if, as it turns out, they shared the same views the whole time.
In the end, this confusion can usually be explained by miscommunication. And that miscommunication is often the result of two different perspectives trying but finding it hard to reach the same conclusion. At least to me, this is exactly how I see the ‘Gender’ issue today and maybe even the aforementioned GMP debate. There may be some legitimate differences in arguments, but there is such a common thread among everyone who actively engages in gender discussions that it can be so unbelievable confusing when debates spring out of the smallest of miscommunications.
In an older contribution to the site, Hickey writes that she had always considered herself a feminist and that she looked to feminism to ‘solve her problems with men’. Pointing out a problem with feminism, Hickey writes “I was taught to believe that the plight of women was so difficult that I failed to see that men had problems too”. I personally think this is an excellent point to be made. It seems almost silly that it has to be made at all, but nonetheless, it deserves recognition. The one issue I have with it is that it seems to suggest that feminism is one solid ideology, that every feminist makes the same mistake of assuming only women are victims and mostly men are to blame, and that, as a whole, feminism is an outdated concept. This is where I believe many feminists begin to defensively argue back. As with any ideology, feminism cannot just be dismissed as a solid entity with defined lines and arguments. My own view (which I share with countless other feminists) is that feminism itself has evolved far beyond a sole concern for women and includes any ‘group’ or ‘identity’ that is in any way slighted because of their association with that ‘group’ or ‘identity’, including men. Yes that still includes women, yes it’s a very broad definition, and yes it could be argued that ‘feminism’ may no longer be an appropriate title, but nevertheless, I am not surprised when like-minded feminists stomp their proverbial feet at such a sweeping dismissal of what they believe in. And this is not just about feminism.
I have been in countless conversations where someone will discredit a man’s opinions simply because he is a man and “doesn’t understand what women go through”. To be completely honest, I have uttered that phrase myself (usually followed with a bout of guilt, even in certain blatantly sexist situations where it seemed quite appropriate to say). I am not immune to over-generalization, so I can’t exactly blame anyone else for doing the same thing, but I do understand that accusing a man of being wrong before he even has a chance to speak is the worst kind of hypocrisy that any self-ascribed feminist could commit.
Both these situations amount to the kind of miscommunication described above. The sometimes vicious debate between feminists and their counterparts is simply the result of poor communication. And I do not say that to insult any of those involved; rather, I mean to point out that a very real issue and a ‘common thread’ that exists among those involved. That thread is the fact that while there are still very clear and pressing issues within the separate perspectives, identities, and plights of men and women, both are trying to redefine and reaffirm what it means to be a ‘Good Man’ and a ‘Good Woman’. Instead of seeing these discussions as dichotomous debates about who’s right and who’s wrong, we need to be more open to understanding them as conversations about the same thing, being a ‘Good Human’, from two different (although, sometimes similar) perspectives.
Both perspectives have valid points and insightful opinions and both perspectives need the space to express them. But just as much as girls are constantly learning and redefining what it means to become women, and boys are constantly learning and redefining what it means to become men, humans collectively need to educate themselves on and redefine the gender conversation. The ‘gender issue’ today is full of rich and varied content on the changing roles of both women and men; however, people are forgetting to recognize that the way men and women have previously communicated with each other must change as well. We cannot expect to reach any new ground if we automatically assume that the ‘other’ is directly opposed to us. It may be easier said than done but that is, after all, the essence of social change.
As for me, I will continue to read and take in as much content as possible — from sources like Good Men Project, and from feminist writers like Hugo Schwyzer. But what’s more, I will continue to actively engage my male and female friends in discussions about gender and call out behaviour that I find repressive to either in the hopes that these conversations will become easier and more self-evident over time.
image by inacentaurdump / flickr