After a few wonderful years on MetaFilter, I think I've picked up on a frequent thing that we tend to do when discussing power inequalities, i.e. sexism, racism, class and wealth, etc. I'd like to propose a 2x2 model for describing the possible perspectives that the analysis of the problem can take. Based on this model, I believe I have discovered something that MeFi "doesn't do well" - all possible conclusions are shot down as talking about the wrong thing. Hopefully, as a community we can recognize this and either "solve" the problem presented by the model, find alternative conclusions when using it, or at the very least stop using the model in the future.
posted by rebent to MetaFilter-Related at 1:17 PM (362 comments total)
8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm going to use this thread
about men bothering women in a coffee shop as an example, because it's what helped this idea coalesce in my head. I know my examples may not be perfect, but I think the rubric I will propose does exist.
We start with a simple conversation about how women are, in this case, frequently molested by men. Everyone agrees that this is a problem (or at least let's assume this is the case), including me.
This model is used when we try to investigate the cause of the situation, so that, by finding the cause, we can put a stop to it happening in the future. The examples I will use are not exact examples, but more reflections of common responses I have seen.
The model I propose is this: there are two actors - women and man - and two stances - active and passive - giving four possible combinations.
The idea that women cause the problem. Commonly described as "if she didn't want to be bothered, she shouldn't be in public."
Common response: "women should be able to do whatever they want. Saying that it's the women's faults is bullshit and victim-blamey. Men are responsible for controlling themselves, so stop going around talking about what women should and should not do."
Summary: "active women" is not the source of the problem, so stop talking about it.
The idea that, while women are the victims, they need to stop playing into patriarchal systems. This is two-fold: it's both "women shouldn't go into a snakepit and expect not to be bit" and "well, maybe if women don't like snakes, they should stop breeding them." A good example I saw in the Coffee thread (but can't find now) was a story about how a woman's friend told her "You have to be nicer to guys when they harass you. It's not their fault, that's just who they are."
Common response: "This perspective is victim blamey. Women should not go outside feeling afraid. They should not have to wear armor just to walk down the street. While some women may uphold the patriarchy, that doesn't mean the patriarchy is beneficial and desirous to women."
Summary: "passive women" takes away agency and power from women. They are not powerless or weaker than men, so stop talking about it.
The idea that men cause the problem. Commonly described as "Men harass women because they are predators, because they have no respect for women, because they think women are playthings."
Common response: "some men are like that because there is something wrong with them, but it's not all men who are like that. You should not be turning this into a discussion about men and men's problems and men's unfulfilled needs."
Summary: "Active men" paints all men as evil, and takes the discussion away from women's problems. This is a conversation about women's problems, not men's problems, so stop talking about it.
The idea that men are merely products of the environment that encourages this. Commonly described as "Men harass women because they are raised like THIS, and they see the world like THIS, and their biology is like THIS."
Common response: "Men's upbringing does not excuse them for harassing women. Once again, we see a topic about women's problems turning into a discussion about men."
Summary: "Passive Men" takes the discussion away from women and focuses it on men. This is something they are doing that is bad, regardless of the cause, so stop mansplaining excuses for men and stop talking about it.
As you can see, all four possible topics end with "Stop talking about it." I can draw a few different conclusions from this:
- We should not be attempting to investigate some mythical "root cause" of the problem. The problem is broader than a single element, and, as such, an investigation will reveal a solution that synthesizes all four elements, i.e. men and women are both active and passive causes of this situation.
- All four of them can't be wrong, so one of them must be the cause. The most likely intersection, in my opinion, is the "Active Men." It is those who are privileged with power who have the responsibility of not abusing that privilege.
- Ceasing a line of discussion just because it is "Wrong" is the wrong thing to do on metafilter. Ideas have a home here, and although some may be less valid, none are invalid, because even the least-supported ideas still reveal insight into the mind of the poster, and speculation can be made about why a portion of the world incorrectly holds that position.
Finally, I'd like to remind you that I believe this conversational focus matrix appears in many, many discussions on metafilter, any time we investigate the problems that arise when there is a bifurcation of power; that is, this is not just about men harassing women, but rather is about how metafilter talks about it.