So yesterday I wrote a blog post which I worked very hard on. I tried to compassionately ask that men please just listen to the women sharing their stories right now, and then I told my OWN story in order to illustrate a culture of misogyny that I had experienced. I only had one sentence in the entire blog post which made a generalization about the male experience, and it was “and men are trained that it is okay to blame us, because their privilege is more important than our rights.”
Did I say that all men abuse women?
Did I say that all men are evil?
Did I even say that all men are complicit?
What did I say? I said that society, as a whole, has a different attitude towards men than women. Men are given license, by society, to blame women for the way in which women are treated by men. I was very deliberate in not having gone any further than that and stopping my claims there. Partly, because a blog post should only ever be so long; but, mostly because I understood that no matter what an individual writer says, when you’re writing about an issue which is broadly in the media people tend to react to the issue itself instead of your words.
I immediately received a personal backlash.
The thrust of the arguments which I had with several men, both privately and publicly, is that it is wrong for women to make generalizations about men. Making those generalizations weakens women’s argument, puts men on the defensive, makes dialogue impossible, and so forth.
I was forced, then, to make a choice: To either continue to restate my actual argument which necessitated a generalization, or to capitulate.
Why does the argument necessitate a generalization?
Let me take you to a moment in Guadalajara Mexico,when I was cornered by a police-man on a motorcycle. My gut clenches and I am looking for any avenue of escape, but there is none. Why am I looking for an avenue of escape? Because the woman I am staying with, a native of the city, says that police men are known to rape white girls when they are on Spring Break.
She made a generalization, didn’t she? But she made one because the generalization was necessary. Sure, she could say, “some policemen have”, but that is still general. Or she could say “there are a hundred known cases of”, but that is actually too clinical to be effective. The problem that she is addressing, that she is trying to communicate to me, is one that is endemic in the way the policemen of that city operate. To address an endemic injustice, one MUST use language that encapsulates the system. The system of police, in that case, which is based summed up in the statement “policemen are known to rape.”
Or, let’s look at the civil rights movement. In his infamous “I have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, said, “Instead of honoring this obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back marked ‘insufficient funds’.” This is literally the first of many generalizations that the good Dr. made in his speech.
Okay, men, go dig him up from his grave and explain that making generalizations weakens a person’s argument.
Sometimes, when you are talking about systemic injustices that are institutionalized in the very way in which society operates, generalizations are all you have left. When a black person talks about their experiences, generally, with white society, do we accuse them of being prejudiced against white people?
See, the #YesAllWomen movement has been characterized as being sexist in the way that generalizations against race are racist. There’s a difference, though, between being racist and addressing systemic injustices that are based on race. When someone says “all black people are lazy”, they are being a racist. When a black person says, “white people are better rewarded by the academic system”, they are simply pointing out an injustice which society ignores, an injustice which is documented and undeniable.
When women say, “men are given permission to silence women who speak up about abuse by slut-shaming them or making them responsible for their own mistreatment”, women are simply pointing out a systemic injustice in society which, guess what! Is documented and undeniable. Sociologists have been puzzling over issues such as these for decades, and it is undeniable- empirically, scientifically undeniable-that there is a double standard in society.
So I will ask again that men listen to women address these injustices with open ears, open eyes, an open heart, and a closed mouth.