It’s Not Always About You, White Dudes (You’re Just Not Used to That)

So last week some friends and I–women I dub my “feminist fight club” as we argue with people on social media for fun–had a convo about one member’s brother. Said brother is conservative and a frequent sparring partner. In a conversation about something regarding the fight against racist and sexist discrimination, he said, “the fact of the matter is that the middle class white men vote in large numbers and would be on your side if only the message was tailored differently.” This week, kittens, we’re going to tear that quote apart. It’s resonant as it reflects an unwillingness on the part of many people to understand our current historical moment.

TL/DR: It’s not about you, assholes, but you need to listen.

The conversation had gone like this: the brother argued that liberal messages were “exclusionary” in nature and thus, by default, made white men reluctant to take part regardless of whether they agreed with the message (say, that people face racial discrimination) or not. He felt liberals (for sport?) “railed against the white man” and ruined their own missions because such white men wouldn’t get on board…because they evidently feel discriminated against.

Implicitly, the brother’s argument is that messages should be tailored to white men, even if they’re not about white men, and that if they aren’t, white men will (deliberately?) resist, even if those messages make sense. So when we talk about racism or sexism, then, we need to make it about white men; or, at the very least, we can’t suggest white men are somehow keeping this racist/sexist system in place.

Essentially, he doesn’t want us to think about how privilege works and that if we do–and if we challenge what privilege does–we have to do so without threatening those in privileged places.

I have a newsflash for him, as my dad would say: insisting or expecting messages about racism and sexism be tailored to what white men want to read and hear is part of the problem. He’s grown up, as we all have here, in a culture where the overwhelming majority of messages are tailored to white men. Conversations that suggest otherwise–see films about women or by women, or about and by African Americans–are nearly always pitched as niche, because conversations about white people and particularly white men dominate.

Perhaps you’ve seen conversations online about the Golden Globes?

In one corner, we have those who are angry and frustrated to see women snubbed for the eight millionth time in the major category of best director. And in the other, we have those (cough, white men, cough) who insist that the selections are about TALENT, duh, and women just haven’t shown enough. They’re also saying that women are only 7% of film directors because of that reason–certainly not because of systemic sexism and an old boys club that limits women’s access to directorships.

Exhibit A.

That unwillingness to grasp the message and to make it about them–here, “white men are the best directors” is implied as normative fact–echoes what the brother above was saying. A corollary is that men’s stories are normative and women’s are “chick flicks” or “chick lit” (books have the same problem as film in terms of perception and coverage, like in the NYT’s book reviews). Another corollary shifts the lens from sex to race and finds the same thing.

And I’m just a voice among many, many people who have made this argument particularly in the last couple of years: we’re asking men like the brother above to listen to our points and our stories, and they then make it about them. We argue it’s always been about them, let’s hear it be about us, and they flap their wings like startled chickens:

“How could such a thing be? We mustn’t tolerate it! How confusing for us!”

And you’ll forgive me for being glib there, but here’s the thing: maybe these messages, white men, aren’t ABOUT you or FOR you, but you need to hear them so that you consider how you operate in the world. We need to work for a world in which white and male are not the default, normative assumption about quality in anything–stories, acting, directing, teaching, leading the nation, you name it. You need to believe us that that world will be better, because white male mediocrity isn’t inherently the best.

And to that end, white dudes STFU about Oprah.
Exhibit B.

Just stop. Her speech wasn’t for you. Whether or not she runs for office is her business at this point, and putting the focus there minimizes the incredible words she spoke at the Golden Globes. It was for women. It was for people of color. White men need to hear it, but they don’t need to offer running fucking commentary. PARTICULARLY, we don’t need the comparisons of what she has that Hillary Clinton didn’t: stop pitting women against each other. If mediocre white men by the hundreds can all be part of leadership and power, then guess what? More than one woman can, too. And those women are two of the best.

{here’s a link to a transcript of Oprah’s speech, which inexplicably has a photo of Meryl Streep at the top and no photo of Oprah…wtf… }


Please follow and like us:

Bret Stephens, Shame of the NYT

Oh, New York Times, you’re killing me.

Mid-April the long-esteemed Gray Lady hired Bret Stephens to join its staff of opinion writers. Stephens hailed from the Wall Street Journal and his hiring served as an addition to the Times’s conservative lineup, featuring don’t-even-get-me-started-on-him David Brooks and “I flew with kids, which is worse than being beaten on a plane” Ross Douthat. Given the Times’s coverage of the Clinton email debacle and their unwillingness to condemn 45’s pro-fascist leanings during the campaign last year, I’ve all but bailed on the Times’s coverage of nearly anything. The addition of Stephens feels like the last nail in that particular coffin.

Bret Stephens, in his Twitter photo

To wit, check out Stephens’s interview with Jeff Stein at Vox. Here, let me paste for you:

Jeff Stein

You wrote one column for the Wall Street Journal about the imaginary enemies of the liberal mind, and one of the ones you named was the “campus rape epidemic” —

Bret Stephens

Focus on the word “epidemic.”

Jeff Stein

You wrote, “If modern campuses were really zones of mass predation — Congo on the quad — why would intelligent young women even think of attending a coeducational school?”

My question to you is: Isn’t it necessary for women to attend these coeducational schools for their economic and educational advancement? Isn’t it possible that’s why they’d be there even if there’s a higher risk of sexual assault?

Bret Stephens

Of course it is.

But if sexual assault rates in, let’s say, east Congo were about 20 percent, most people wouldn’t travel to those places. Because that is in fact — or, that would be, in fact, the risk of being violently sexually assaulted.

I am not for one second denying the reality of campus rape, or sexual assault, or behavior of the sort you saw from that swimmer at Stanford — that’s inexcusable and should be punished.

I’m taking issue with the claim that there is an epidemic based on statistics that, when looked at carefully, seem to have a very slim basis in reality. So what you’re transforming is horrendous, deplorable incidents into an epidemic — and that’s not altogether supported by reliable data….

they should go to institutions of higher learning. But I guess my point is this: The statistic that one in five women is sexually assaulted on college campuses is a highly dubious statistic.

If it were a true statistic, it would probably create a very different environment. My sister went to Mount Holyoke. I don’t think single-sex education has been thriving in recent years, but there would be more of a movement to single-sex education if in fact this epidemic were as epidemic as that statistic suggests.

(Jeff Stein, “The NYT’s new columnist defends his views on Arabs, Black Lives Matter, campus rape,” Vox,

Wow. Just. Wow. There’s so much to unpack.

Here’s Stephens’s theory, in a nutshell: Women mustn’t be raped/assaulted on co-ed campuses as often as they’re saying they’re being raped/assaulted, because if they were, why would women go to co-ed campuses? (full disclosure: I went to Mount Holyoke).

The logical underpinnings of his theory are that:

  1. Women are liars. Women lying about rape is a dogwhistle, disproven over and over and over again. With very few exceptions, women do not lie about assault because even mentioning being assault starts a sequence of scrutinization usually accompanied by cross-allegations, violence, and verbal/emotional abuse by peers. But women lie, evidently, so as to create this false statistic.
  2. Everyone knows this statistic is false, which is why women continue to attend co-ed institutions. This approach, of course, lacks consideration of the trends in education which suggest most women, despite the numbers that Stephens thinks would encourage them, do not want to attend a single-sex school. It lacks any understanding of the gendered nature of secondary ed, the ways that women are taught from a young age to see each other as competition rather than support. I live in a state with an enormous flagship university with a huge sexual assault problem. I see women flock there. There are days I don’t get it, but I at least try to understand the multiple components at play. Further, big state schools are often less expensive for residents than private schools (Mount Holyoke wasn’t cheap). And additionally, Stephens seems to imply here he sees little reason why a woman might chose, for example, Stanford, despite its known history of protecting rapists. Maybe because it has programs Smith doesn’t? It’s in California? It’s none of Stephens’s goddamn business? Oh, ok.
  3. Relatedly, in his construction of co-ed campuses, Stephens is clearly imagining them, whether he realizes it or not, as male spaces. His logic goes like this: if he’s wrong about the statistic—if it’s as bad as we know it is—then these spaces SHOULD be all-male, because women shouldn’t go there. Let that roll around your noggin a bit. He’s not suggesting that if this statistic were true (it is) that the campus cultures should change—he’s sure as hell not touching the issue of rape culture here because I suspect he doesn’t believe it’s a thing—women should avoid those cultures.

That’s some old-boy network shit right there.

And don’t even get me started on his metaphor of the Congo. It’s so laden with implicit undercurrents of campus-rape-as-race-problem, that someone smarter than I should take it apart.

In short, shame on you, New York Times.

Please follow and like us: