I’ve had the misfortune of interacting with strangers on the internet ever since I went public with my profiles in 2017. Even more so because I choose to post about subjects that are important to me.
Every time I post about my experiences as a woman or talk about anything remotely feminist, a sudden buzz begins, like insects beginning to swarm around a carcass. Men who hate feminists have come to make their point.
The arguments and conversations usually go like this.
- Woman/Feminist makes statement or presents facts about their experience with patriarchy and how it harms them.
- “But feminists are the problem”, the buzz begins. “Feminists are man haters.”, the buzz claims.
- Okay, but do you know why? Because historically, and even if you just ask around, most women have been victims. Most of their abusers/harassers were men. Of the men who have been victims, most of their abusers/harassers were men. Literally just ask 10 men and 10 women you know. You can gather the data yourself.
- “Okay but not all men. It’s only some men.”, the buzz replies.
Having run out of ways to present data, anecdotes, and personal experience in order to make my point, I shall now turn to analogy. Hopefully this will help.
Imagine you really love pizza. Like you really love it. You love trying new pizza, new toppings, new restaurants. Pizza is your favourite. But every time you eat pizza you get sick. You think to yourself, it might be the toppings, or a specific ingredient. You try different toppings, or different ingredients. Sometimes a combination is good and you don’t get sick. But almost every other time, you find yourself in pain after eating. But you can never really figure out what combination of toppings and ingredients makes you sick.
So you are now forced to proceed with caution. You are careful about which ingredients and toppings you choose. You get closer and closer to figuring out which combination doesn’t hurt you. But it’s taken years of trial and error, lots of pain, and lots of time in the loo. You also can’t stop loving pizza. So you learn to be more and more careful to make sure you can enjoy it, without ending up with severe abdominal pain.
Now let’s say you have a friend who loves sandwiches, they’ve never even had a pizza. You tell them the problem you’re having with pizzas. How they most often make you sick and how you’ve become more and more cautious about how you choose your pizzas. You tell them about your other pizza lover friends who have the same issue. It’s not just you. It’s really tough to love pizzas and still have them hurt you.
Here are two options for how your friend reacts.
“Yeah man, it must be tough to love pizzas and still get sick so often. It must be difficult having to really scrutinise the ingredients and combination of toppings. I hope you find the right combination for you.”
Sandwich Guy: “Bro, come on, it’s not all pizzas right. It’s just some pizzas.”
You: “Yeah man but it’s most pizzas. I have to be careful”.
SG: “Wow dude. Just because a few pizzas made you sick, it doesn’t mean that all pizzas will.”
You: “Yeah, but you don’t even eat pizza, how would you know? This has been my experience, why don’t you believe me?”
SG: “Bro I also had a bad sandwich once. That doesn’t mean I hate all sandwiches. And clearly not all pizzas are hurting you so what is your problem?”
You: “Dude that was 1 sandwich out of 100. I’m talking about 95 pizzas out of 100! Don’t I have the right to be careful? AND I’m not the only one with this issue. My other pizza lover friends have said they have the same problem. It’s clearly an issue with most pizzas.”
SG: “MOST pizzas dude. Not all. Why are you assuming that ALL pizzas are out to get you? It’s not the pizzas’ fault that you keep falling sick. Maybe you’re the issue. You constantly talking negatively about pizzas is the reason pizzas hurt you. It’s all in your head. Maybe if you learn to be more open minded, you’ll have few issues.”
This second kind of argument is problematic for multiple reasons, across multiple conversations. It is applicable to gender, caste, race, sexuality, income disparity, oppression, discrimination or power imbalance of any kind. For example, a woman talking about a negative experience with a man. An intern talking about a negative experience with a boss, or a gay man is talking about a negative experience with a straight man. You get the drift.
Let’s use the example of a gay man and a straight man. Let’s say a gay man is speaking about the negative experiences he has had with homophobia. Let’s say, 9/10 homophobes he encounters are straight men. As he makes his statement, a straight man comes in and says “Not all straight men are homophobes!” This is problematic for many reasons.
- It shifts focus away from the gay man’s experience and makes it about the straight man. When this gay man is talking about his experience, it is not the place for the straight man to begin defending himself and other non homophobic straight men. This conversation is not about those people. This straight man is shoving the gay man off the stage to declare that his own problem of being unfairly targeted needs immediate attention. If you want to talk about being unfairly targeted, please do it on your own time, straight man. Not while someone else is talking.
- It compares mountains and molehills. It focuses on the straight man feeling targeted. Feeling uncomfortable during a difficult conversation is not the same as being repeatedly discriminated against, targeted, and harassed. If the straight man is feeling the itch of a mosquito bite, the gay man is feeling the agony of a bullet wound.
- It erases the victim’s lived experience. Telling the gay man that he needs to drop years of trauma and always assume the best of people who have repeatedly harmed him is asking an impossible thing. Over the years, he has learned that any straight man could be homophobic, even if not all of them are. He needs to protect himself accordingly. Why is that so difficult to understand?
- It shifts focus away from talking about the guilty to defending the innocent. But no one is attacking the innocent at all. If an innocent person knows they’re innocent, that’s the end of the story. The victim is speaking about their experiences with those who are guilty of homophobia. If you are not homophobic, why are you making the conversation about you? It was never about you.
We are all too quick to make the conversation about ourselves. We have a hard time admitting that maybe our lives are easier than someone else’s. Yes, our problems are real to us, but that doesn’t mean we erase the problems of others. Especially those whose problems are far worse than ours.
It is cruel to tell someone who has a four digit yearly income that you are upset about your six digit monthly salary. Especially when they are talking about their financial trouble. Yes, perhaps you deserve to be paid more for the work that you do, but now is not the time, and this person is not the one to talk to.
I have written a separate post about unlearning bias which outlines how to recognise your bias, acknowledge your privilege and self correct. We can do better. Please, let’s try.
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