A few years ago, in the early days of my interactions with feminists and feminist allies on Twitter, I used to be saddened by situations I thought could have been handled with more patience and tact. Very often I would take my friends to task for taking the aggressive route in their interactions with people of opposing views.
“You’re not going to win anyone over if you’re not willing to help them learn.”
“Anger isn’t going to make the ignorant see reason with your point of view.”
And then the good old “Feminists should be the best people” trope.
“I thought you said you were a feminist, yet here you are insulting this person rather than teaching.”
As you can imagine, I’m writing this post because my thoughts on the matter have changed a fair amount.
Before I drill down, I would like to give some personal context. In a past life I was a teacher. I like to think that part of the reason I was great at my job was because most times (NOT all) I could muster patience even when I wasn’t feeling very patient. I believe this is my natural disposition, and over time I have honed this trait as I have navigated through the plethora of cards life has dealt me. So, for the most part, when I am faced with what I believe is ignorance, my tendency is to first act with the belief that “This is someone whom I can present with facts/truth, and they will listen.” But, as I have had conversations with more women and listened to people of different minority/oppressed groups, I have learnt a few important things. While these lessons apply across almost every “oppressor — oppressed”, I will base most of my conversation around women — men interactions.
Women should be allowed to be bad people.
Expecting people of an oppressed group to be better human beings than people in the oppressive class is hypocritical. It is ridiculous to hold women to higher standards than men just because they are fighting for the right to be equal. If we’re going to keep it a buck, equality also means that they should have the same freedom to be not only mediocre, but even bad. I may say this tongue-in cheek, but the fact remains that too often we try to bring women — as a group — down by the failings of single individuals, while holding men to an entirely different standard. For example, detractors of women in Nigerian politics always cite the examples of the ministers and politicians whose corruption was public knowledge as reasons why women aren’t suitable for public service. What these people never do is mention how if a comparison was made of corruption by men and women in political office, the men FAR outweigh the women. In the sage words of @Cuntosaur…
“Not everytime women excellence sometimes women mid.”
Women do not owe you lessons.
While it may have come from a good place, expecting my female friends to be teachers to strangers of opposing (often malevolent) views was at best naïve and at worst wilful ignorance. While there are people on the internet willing to be convinced that their arguments are incorrect, the vast majority of people are not; ESPECIALLY on Twitter where nuance is hardly ever recognized. This is even more apparent when the conversation is between a woman and a man. First off, men react very differently to things being said to them by women. While the onus lies on the oppressor to listen to the voice of the oppressed, it is NOT the job of the oppressed to teach the oppressor about their oppression. Essentially, as men we need to be intentional in our quest to unlearn the misogyny that we have been steeped in as a result of growing up in a patriarchal society. It is the responsibility of men who are further along in the journey of unlearning to engage with my other men to teach those ones willing to learn. (Sidebar: that’s the inspiration for this blog actually)
Patience is not a right; it is a gift.
While I caveat this point with the fact that I still believe that we should generally be a lot more understanding of the fact that unlearning is a process not an event, I do acknowledge that not everyone will have the patience to help me in my process. And no matter how I feel about that, I must accept it. Women do not owe men a cuddling or even politeness. Politeness is borne of privilege, the oppressed do not have that privilege. If someone was stepping on your neck and you knew the person was doing it with intent, you wouldn’t say to the person “Would you mind removing your foot from my neck?” No. You would do whatever you could to get that shit off your neck. That’s pretty much what it is like when we ask women to be patient with people who are intentionally saying things that justify and promote the oppression of women. So, if you say something ignorant and a stranger on the internet chooses to be patient with you in pointing out said ignorance, be grateful. Be very grateful.
I would like to close this by quoting a person who in his later years exemplified what cordial relations with your oppressor can look like. He had something to say about his life as a revolutionary freedom fighter for his people, something that I feel all men should remember the next time we feel some type of way about women being “aggressive” with us when we’re being obtuse, wilfully or otherwise.
“When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.” — Nelson Mandela.