Wherein I apologize, but not fully

As I said earlier, Jill over at Feministe responded to my two posts from Wednesday, and she deserves a response. First, I want to say that I was wrong about the abortion study. Reading her take on the studies, as well as re-reading the abstracts (I didn’t read the actual study, as I don’t have a Lancet subscription), I realized that her case was persuasive, and that I too hastily dismissed them. It probably didn’t help that I read Matt’s and Megan’s takes on the study before reading the abstracts, and that probably skewed my initial reading somewhat. That’s not an excuse, however, I should have known better. In any case, I now disavow my original objections to the study and find its conclusions persuasive. Mea culpa.

Second, I want to disagree with Mike and agree with Jill regarding the propriety of her criticizing me when she’s such a bigger fish than I am. Part of the responsibility involved when putting your opinions into a public forum is accepting that those opinions are fair game for criticism, regardless of the traffic of those doing the criticizing. If I didn’t want anyone disagreeing with me, I shouldn’t have put my thoughts on a blog in the first place. Additionally, I’m posting under my full name, so it’s fine to refer to me by it (although I am attempting to foster some mystery as to whether it’s real or not). I’m not sure if Jill was pulling punches or just didn’t notice, but my name isn’t Soberish, the blog’s is.

That all said, I disagree with much of what Jill posted, and to some extent think she gravely misrepresented my positions. Since this could get somewhat lengthy, the rest is below.

Jill’s post is infuriating for ability to conflate the specific and general. Let’s take a look at a few of things she wrote about me:

It’s a classic example of how concepts like rationality and logic become gendered, with men automatically assumed to be exercising them when they’re challenging women, and women automatically assumed to be bypassing them when we challenge men or widely-held assumptions.

It’s almost funny to see what lengths these guys will go to in order to prove that us identity-politickers are totally tied to ideology above all else, while progressive dudes are the height of logic, reason and fact-based analysis.

Feminists are not saying that the fact that legalization has no impact on the abortion rate is the only argument for keeping abortion legal. Not at all. And if that’s what Soberish thinks, then I would encourage him to actually read a feminist blog or two.

That doesn’t excuse sexism, but it does mean that when someone points out that it’s a little odd how you rail against identity politics and automatically characterize feminists as irrational and anti-intellectual when we seem to be the only ones providing actual facts and data points, you might want to actually listen for a minute.

What’s happening here is that Jill is taking things I wrote about the arguments of specific feminists and assuming I feel this way about all feminists. It’s an easy way to make it seem my opinions are the result of a massive generalization, to be sure, but it’s also a complete misrepresentation of what I actually wrote. I don’t automatically characterize feminists as anything, and in fact I take care not to generalize. Jill apparently does not do likewise.

As Mike stated earlier, Jill also subtly puts words into my mouth, mostly through implication, in an attempt to create a massive strawman. I have never said nor written nor hold to the following statements:

  • that Jessica Valenti is a crazy bitch
  • that zuzu is any sort of whore or “castrating bitch”
  • that feminists are always ideological, while males are always rational
  • that feminists are automatically anti-intellectual and irrational

I also take issue with these paragraphs:

He also criticizes Jessica’s response to the Feminists Do It Better study which, come on. Does he really think that feminists read that study and went, “YES! This is totally and undeniably true, always!” No. Of course we didn’t. It was a small study and it doesn’t prove a whole lot, but it was fun and interesting to read, and led to larger discussions of how gender equality influences relationships. Most of us posted on it in a tongue-in-cheek way. I can’t speak for Jess, but I know that I don’t take that study nearly as seriously as the WHO/Guttmacher study. So I’m not going to bother addressing that one, because, in my humble opinion, it’s a non-issue.

Here’s what Jessica wrote about the study:

I knew it all along, but I’m glad that I have some smarties to back me up.

Here’s what Ezra Klein wrote:

The Science backing us up.

And my humor cells might be broken, but I certainly didn’t see anything tongue-in-cheek in Jill’s post on the subject. I’m not implying that Jill or anyone else is lying when they say they didn’t take the study seriously, mind you, but it certainly isn’t ridiculous that I got the opposite impression.

There’s more to be said in my defense, of course, but I’m tired and I think I’ve made my point. Instead, I want to move on to what I really is at the crux of this entire disagreement with my blogpals and some feminist bloggers. Jill concluded with:

Mike has pointed out that when he writes about race or gender in any sort of thoughtful way, he gets attacked. I can see where he’s coming from — I’ve felt the same way when writing about race issues and LGBT issues. And so I don’t mean for this to come across as condescending or lectoring, because I’ve had to learn it the hard way (and I’m still learning it). I’ve been at the point where I’ve said, “Gosh, they say they want me to cover [whatever issue] and then when I do they rail me for it. What do they want from me?” And I’m realizing — and it’s taken me a while, and I’m still working on it, but I’m realizing — that “they” want me to listen to what they’re saying and to take what they’re saying, and their experiences, seriously. They want me to realize that when they talk about whiteness, or heteronormativity, or racism, that it’s not about me. That when they talk about white privilege, it’s not about me. Even when I’m the person they’re criticizing for racism or heteronormativity or ableism or whatever else, even when my post was the example or the jumping-off point, it is not about me. It is about a larger system of which I am only a very, very small part, but which I am unconsciously helping to perpetuate. I am still not the best ally I could be. I am making a very sincere effort to work on that.

Now I admit I could be completely misunderstanding things here, but taken with other interactions I and others have had with the feminist blogosphere, there’s simply no other way to read this other than as saying that I can’t even begin to engage you until I already agree with you. I have to listen to what you have to say, but I have to come around to your way of thinking after doing so. I’m sorry, but this is in no way position I’m willing to take. If this doesn’t make me a true ally, well, then so be it, but I think it’s wrong to make people a priori agree with you before you’ll even honestly address their arguments.

This is also why what I described as the “privilege defense” is not in any way an acceptable line of argument, nor is my opinion automatically invalid because I don’t share your personal experiences. Crying “privilege” and letting loose the dogs of war is an ad hominem argument, pure and simple. This isn’t to say that I don’t believe in privilege, or that my life experiences aren’t often easier because I’m a white male, it’s just that this isn’t a logically valid retort to anything I might opine. This is exactly why, contra Jill, her response to me on the WHO abortion study was so different than zuzu’s response to Matt on the same topic.

Like Jill and Mike, I don’t want to get into a flamewar about all this. I think I’ll shy from commenting on feminist blogs for a while, as obviously we can’t seem to have a constructive conversation about anything. This is sad, as I think there’s much we can learn from one another, but until we can sort out some of our disagreements, this is probably for the best.

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6 comments so far

  1. Mike Meginnis on

    Just to be clear, I don’t think she shouldn’t criticize you or myself — as the comment thread shows, I think, I’m open to realistic criticism. It was the specific way she went about it that I found infuriating and wrong.

  2. Sheesh on

    Do you really think that you are going to understand what it’s like to be a minority/a female/a gay/lesbian person better than a person in that group will? I’m honestly curious about what kind of standing you think you have that enables you to tell a member of one of these groups that their opinions in relation to their life experiences as a member of that group are invalid.

    We aren’t saying you always have to agree with us. We’re saying you sure as hell had better have some strong information at hand before you try to discount our life experiences (and that you would be ill-advised to do so at all, since you truly and honestly do not know what it is like to be us and never will). You think you’re outraged? How dare you assholes discount a respected and fact-heavy study without even reading the fucking thing because it doesn’t fit YOUR worldview when you have NO idea what it’s like to live through such experiences. The absolute NERVE to whine “Oh poor meez, the mean feminazis attacked me!” after showing such unmitigated gall is staggering. The more you argue that you weren’t being typical privileged white males in your sexist and dismissive response to the report, the worse you look. The more you keep trying to make this all about you, the worse you look (you did realize that you were and are still turning it into being about you in the typical “I’m a white male and the world revolves around me” way, didn’t you?).

  3. occhiblu on

    there’s simply no other way to read this other than as saying that I can’t even begin to engage you until I already agree with you.

    No, there are many other ways to read this. I would say: You can begin to engage with other cultural groups about issues that directly related to those groups’ experiences only after you’ve realized that you’re coming at these issues from a particular cultural viewpoint yourself, and that viewpoint colors your own interpretation of reality, and you’re willing to acknowledge that others’ experiences are not only as real as your own, but possibly more informative on these particular issues.

    Which means that your engagement should come from a place in which you realize your knowledge (like all personal knowledge) is limited, and you’re willing to expand that knowledge through engaging respectfully with other people’s experiences.

  4. Sangfroid826 on

    Totally lame digression here. But I thought Soberish was your blog name, too. It’s not featured too prominently on the header and you don’t see it at all when you’re linked to just the post itself.

    Additionally, I’m posting under my full name, so it’s fine to refer to me by it (although I am attempting to foster some mystery as to whether it’s real or not). I’m not sure if Jill was pulling punches or just didn’t notice, but my name isn’t Soberish, the blog’s is.

    I thought there were some implicit rules concerning blog names. If your aim is blogspheric influence you go by a pseudonym (ie. Atrios, Instapundit, Digby). If it’s a group blog, you either go with a hybrid (DailyKos, Balkinization, HuffPo) or something on-topic (Feministing, RedState, Sadly No!) But if your main goal is to be treated seriously in journalistic circles or the wonkosphere, you title the blog with a byline (Yglesias, Malkin, Buetler). I guess the idea is that you water down your brand with anything that can’t be read seriously from a telepromter. (Whippersnapper is still in high school, so he’s forgiven the breach of etiqutte.) Which camp are you in, John Soberish Cain?

  5. harlemjd on

    “there’s simply no other way to read this other than as saying that I can’t even begin to engage you until I already agree with you.”

    I have to disagree with this one. Having been on both ends of the “privilege argument,” I think it’s more about making sure you really stop and hear what someone is telling you about there life experiences and ask yourself honestly if you’ve missed something because it wasn’t directed at you.

    A person, to use your phrase, “cries privilege” honestly isn’t trying to call your opinion invalid. They’re merely pointing out how it might be limited by your lack of certain experiences. Everyone’s views are limited to some degree because no one has unlimited experience. Given that, it makes sense to take seriously the views of people who have had experiences that you haven’t, particularly when those experiences are relevant to the topic under discussion. Jill didn’t say she had to agree with people who called her privileged, she just had to make sure not to dismiss their experiences because they didn’t match the world as she knew it. (and also not take their frustrations as accusations of some personal moral flaw)

  6. Matt Zeitlin on

    Where would Kevin Drum’s blog fit in? It has a title, “Political Animal”, but it’s clearly Kevin Drum’s blog. Or Majikthise? My blog is mistakingly refered to by others. I clearly write by name, Matt Zeitlin, and the title is “Matt Zeitlin: Impetuous Young Whippersnapper” So, it’s morein the Yglesias-Butler realm, with just a tad more flair to emphasize my only unique characteristic in this part of the blogosphere.


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