A personal challenge to allies
(Blows off dust. Taps mic. Uh… hi! It’s been a while…)
Over the last couple weeks, I’ve shared a lot of really great and assertive articles about privilege and feminism. I do this a lot. I really enjoy signal boosting writers who say things better than I can, especially about topics that tend to bring out the trolls like feminism and privilege.
There are two articles that really resonated with me lately. The first, from Guerilla Feminism was titled “Please Shut Up About ‘Not All Men.’” The second was a Jezebel response to the Princeton kid who refused to “apologize for his privilege” called “To The Princeton Privileged Kid.” Both were great! Both had some great points! Both were a little snarky and wry, but addressed things that I’m usually not capable of discussing without wanting to set things on fire because they make me so angry!
What I haven’t enjoyed are some of the really disappointing comments from some friends on those threads I started. I watched people, overwhelmingly male friends, sift through entire articles to pull out one or two lines that might have been overly snarky or, at worse, mildly condescending. Whole articles, rich with commentary and insight, getting dismissed as “navel gazing,” “othering,” and “hostile.” All because of “aggressive” one-liners that wouldn’t even get a second glance if they appeared in an article about literally any other topic than feminism.
The easiest way to undermine someone’s point is by attacking their tone. It doesn’t actually matter if you’re making this criticism with the intention of making their argument more accessible, because when you do (especially if you do it publicly with an audience) you are inarguably shifting the focus away from the importance of what they are saying and making it about them and their failing to make activism accessible to you.
This is especially true when it comes to discussion about feminism, where there is limited space and men’s voices are disproportionately amplified by default. Even the most well meaning criticisms of tone are unhelpful at best because they, once again, shift focus away from the issues at hand and onto men’s feelings about feminism, which is absolutely not the point.
So, I have a personal challenge to the men I know who think of themselves as allies, but who still tend to derail discussions about inequality with tone arguments. Consider it a dare, in two parts.
1) Do you feel the urge to share an article about feminism, racism, or unpacking privilege, but feel put off by the writer’s tone? That’s OK. Instead of using your platform to criticize or undermine someone’s writing, find an article whose tone is more accessible to you, and share that instead. Worse case scenario is that you might end up reading more things that make you think, and at best you don’t end up using your platform to amplify an article you can’t stand behind *or* perpetuate tone policing!
2) Can’t find a replacement article whose tone you agree with? Write and publish your own!
I have to admit, Anil Dash’s article titled “The Year I Didn’t Retweet Men” kept on popping up in my mind while I was writing this. So in the grand tradition of “someone said it better than me,” I’m going to end this with a quote directly from his article:
“Try being mindful of whose voices you share, amplify, validate and promote to others. For me, it was giving a platform to women where I wasn’t able to mansplain the things they were already saying, but instead just sharing out their own thoughts in their own words.”
Yep. That. That right there just about sums it up.