Don't tell me about my own life March 7, 2017 8:01 AM   Subscribe

The specific is not the universal, and when an article is posted about the specific experiences of a specific group, especially if it's about traumatic experiences, it is really alienating to have people come in and try to zoom out so they can shoehorn it into their favorite construct of the moment. It blots out the ability of members of the group in question to discuss their reactions if there's a constant need for "Actually it's more complicated than that."

I'm specifically talking about this thread, in which an article about the specific experiences of gay men got turned into a debate on whether men don't know how to do emotional labor. I'm just going to quote a comment from disclaimer:
I guess what I'm trying to say is that there are people in this thread who are clearly relating their own experiences to the article, and identifying with the issues talked about in the article. We are doing so emotionally, psychologically, and quite personally. Our own experiences are being related in that article.

When those issues are brought here, people (of all stripes, whether or not they have any personal stake in the conversation) want to (a) define a societal or systemic problem to which it relates; (b) discuss in excruciating detail the exact ways that the societal problem hurts everyone, not just the people to whom the article affects; and (c) ensure that everyone knows that if we could just fix the huge, over-arching patriarchal issues around it, things would be MUCH better. Without ever getting close to the "here's how to fix it" part of the conversation, because that's the hard part, isn't it?

You know what would be helpful? If people would reflect on the relationships they have with the people in their lives, see if any of the points brought up in the article and in the discussion here relate to those relationships, and talk about the article with those people.
So I'd like to ask the community to think about what conversations you're stifling when you just jump in and say "oh, it's just like this thing I know about." I was really excited to see that article show up on MeFi, and while the thread has mostly rerailed, I can't help feeling like an opportunity got missed. It's really upsetting to feel like an outsider in a conversation that's about how you feel like an outsider.
posted by PMdixon to Etiquette/Policy at 8:01 AM (37 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

I saw that thread, thought "but what about straight men?" and decided I should probably nope away from it. I think I made the right call.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:11 AM on March 7, 2017 [14 favorites]

Thanks for posting this. I don't have much of anything else to say except that I agree.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:05 AM on March 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

OTOH getting to hear from people who focused on how the article was or was not reflective of their lives was one of the most deeply enriching experiences I've ever had here.
posted by mittens at 9:15 AM on March 7, 2017 [10 favorites]

Yeah I should say this was composed a couple of days ago and since then I've been really pleasantly surprised at the extent the rerail has stuck, which I guess points to the amount of investment people had in there being a discussion there. I'd also like to thank cortex for his responsiveness and intervention there.
posted by PMdixon at 9:20 AM on March 7, 2017 [8 favorites]

I saw that thread, thought "but what about straight men?" and decided I should probably nope away from it. I think made the right call.

Also, while patting myself on the back over this is nice, I think that at some point this qualifies as common sense so probably the back pat isn’t worth it.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:22 AM on March 7, 2017 [9 favorites]

Yeah there is a value to just letting people have a space to discuss without worrying that maybe the straight man's point of view isn't being heard. Value in quiet.

Thanks for calling this out PMdixon.
posted by French Fry at 11:25 AM on March 7, 2017 [10 favorites]

At least the straight man knew to stay out of the thread.

We had the gay men just need to do emotional labor comment from a woman, the comment that included a paragraph about how shittily women bodies are talked about by cis gay men from another woman, and now the thread is turning to establish just how horrible cis gay men are to trans and queer people.

I mean, I get what they're talking about, I've read it repeatedly here in any number of other threads that are specifically about women's emotional labor, and the shit trans people go through, and how diverse sexuality and gender is, and how so much of our society is actively hostile to that. I get it.

What I don't get is why people here, and in my meatspace life, insist on making any conversation about the cis gay male experience into a lecture on what shitty people cis gay men are.

How many times, over how many years, have so many people here on MetaFilter and elsewhere said "if it's not about you, SHUT UP", and how many of those people refuse to take their own advice when it comes to posts about the experience of being male?
posted by conic at 1:46 PM on March 7, 2017 [28 favorites]

now the thread is turning to establish just how horrible cis gay men are to trans and queer people.

I recognize I'm not the arbiter of this but I would say this is qualitatively different from the other pieces you mentioned - trans gay men are still gay men, and there was nothing about the piece or discussion that centered on cis-ness.
posted by PMdixon at 2:09 PM on March 7, 2017 [12 favorites]

I drafted a comment taking severe issue with the first "emotional labor" comment, the one about men not knowing what to do without women to take care of them. because the problem, laid out very clearly in the article, arises (for reasons considered in said article) when you want men to care for you, and to let you care for them, and be in community with you, and it's a problem women have, too. we have it extremely. every word of the original article was highly relatable for me, as articles about men always are, because I am a woman and articles exclusively about subpopulations of men are the ones most likely to say things that are true about women. So if inadequate "emotional labor" is the problem that gay men in this situation have, I guess women are just terrible at emotional labor too. That, or "emotional labor" is a concept of extremely restricted utility and applicability.

anyway I deleted it with extreme prejudice because I figured it wasn't the time or place for a couple of women to argue about what men are like and what men expect from women. good decision or what. I do not think I could say that that article was "not about me" but I do think that women who read carefully and see much of it that is about them are the ones most able to restrain ourselves from autobiographing about it at length.

sometimes. sometimes we are able.

but my point, I guess, and my reason for saying this here when I successfully prevented myself from saying something there, is that I think that there is a maybe a false dichotomy between talking about stuff that's about you and humbly shutting up about stuff that's not about you: so, not a very literalminded calculation of whether your demographic is exactly in line with the demographic under official consideration, but discretion, maybe, is the ideal. discretion and tact. (And I do think exactly the same thing when the situation is reversed and men wonder whether or not they should comment on women's issues.)

in the end, I agree with you, whether it sounds like it or not. it is meant to sound like it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 2:32 PM on March 7, 2017 [14 favorites]

I saw that thread, thought "but what about straight men?" and decided I should probably nope away from it.

If we all nope away enough we will never have to read the bad words again.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:10 PM on March 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

so, not a very literalminded calculation of whether your demographic is exactly in line with the demographic under official consideration, but discretion, maybe, is the ideal. discretion and tact

Yeah pretty much. If I may be forgiven for playing off my own thread title, I'm perfectly happy for the generic you to ask me about my life.

If we all nope away enough we will never have to read the bad words again.

I literally have no idea what this means or what reading of the first comment it is based on.
posted by PMdixon at 3:24 PM on March 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

I saw that thread, thought "but what about straight men?" and decided I should probably nope away from it.

If we all nope away enough we will never have to read the bad words again.

Rather, pace James Thurber, “He who hesitates is sometimes saved.”
posted by Going To Maine at 3:29 PM on March 7, 2017 [9 favorites]

If we all nope away enough we will never have to read the bad words again.

As far as I can tell it's one more reminder that straight men don't really have a place on metafilter.
posted by bswinburn at 4:03 PM on March 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Metafilter contains multitudes.

I'm not sure why or how one thread on gay men's experiences is an indicator that straight men aren't welcome here. I guess that's one more multitude...
posted by disclaimer at 4:34 PM on March 7, 2017 [24 favorites]

As far as I can tell it's one more reminder that straight men don't really have a place on metafilter.
That's silly enough that I propose we not let it derail what should be a productive discussion.

For what it's worth, I thought the article and the discussion were both thought-provoking and am really grateful that people here didn't let it get totally thrown off track by some bad early comments.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:05 PM on March 7, 2017 [27 favorites]

As far as I can tell it's one more reminder that straight men don't really have a place on metafilter.
And yet you admirably persist!
posted by listen, lady at 5:34 PM on March 7, 2017 [50 favorites]

..."emotional labor" is a concept of extremely restricted utility and applicability.

Thank you.
posted by griphus at 5:47 PM on March 7, 2017 [15 favorites]

I think that we have a tendency here to latch on to an idea here, often a good and important idea to start with, and turn it into the hammer that makes every problem look like a nail, where it must be brought into every discussion where it's at all relevant. Sometimes that's harmless enough - I don't always agree with the way that Ask vs. Guess culture gets schematicized onto things, but I don't really think it hurts anybody to break that one out.

Emotional labor is a pretty damn tricky concept to begin with, though. While they've been very valuable, I think even the totally on-topic emotional labor discussions here that are in the context of cishet relationships veer a lot closer to the lazy gender essentialism of incompetent husbands in cleaning product commercials than we always acknowledge.

I wouldn't want jump too far into that in one of those threads, because people clearly find the discussions incredibly cathartic, and also I wouldn't want to lump myself in with the "Nobody should send Christmas cards! Problem solved!" assholes. When we break EL out without careful interrogation as this general zeitgeisty touchstone, though, things can get really ugly, as they did in that thread.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 6:26 PM on March 7, 2017 [46 favorites]

..."emotional labor" is a concept of extremely restricted utility and applicability.

Thank you.

you are welcome

but will you still thank me if I clarify that I think it's largely useless because it's toothless because the original point of it was not to install a permanent convenient peg to hang unrelated though generally valid feminist arguments on, but rather to seriously, but as a joke, but also seriously, demand real compensation for real work? and because compensation cannot actually be gotten just by demanding it, to stop doing the uncompensated labor?

if so, that will be five dollars for the explanation. if you are not thankful anymore, that will be ten dollars.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:19 PM on March 7, 2017 [31 favorites]

I was one of those early emotional labor comments, and I apologize for my contribution to the derail. From the responses in that thread and here, I'm realizing my understanding of the concept is much more amorphous than how it seems others interpret it, and it resulted in my causing offense without intending to do so. Sorry about that, y'all.
posted by Anonymous at 7:34 PM on March 7, 2017

Quick reminder: this thread is for discussing how we focus on the "specific experiences of a specific group" on the site, and not to re-hash or create yet another thread all about emotional labor.
posted by taz (staff) at 11:29 PM on March 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

(not a response to you, schroedinger)
posted by taz (staff) at 11:30 PM on March 7, 2017

Really quick, I'm really glad AFABulous contributed to the thread and his experiences were absolutely 100% relevant. I think (and apologies if I'm putting words in anyone's mouths) that some of the contentiousness near the end wasn't hostility but the result of miscommunication centering on whether the word "queer" was being used as an umbrella term for a group of people vs. as a schema for viewing human relationships.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:01 AM on March 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

I apologise for contributing to the derail. I think there are differing understandings of what is meant by "emotional labor", but that thread wasn't the place to investigate it and neither is this one. I'll try to be more thoughtful in future.
posted by harriet vane at 1:08 AM on March 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

bswinburn, I think an FPP with stories about how straight men get fucked by the patriarchy would play just fine on the Blue.

I don't think there's a news hook for it right now, given that straight white (conservative) men are winning politically for the moment, but you could do one of those "I Googled for a few hours to find the 20 good articles in the past few years about this that weren't written by MRA concern trolls; here they are with little blurbs I wrote" FPPs. I'd favorite that.
posted by radicalawyer at 7:42 AM on March 8, 2017 [11 favorites]

Really quick, I'm really glad AFABulous contributed to the thread and his experiences were absolutely 100% relevant.

Seconded in less hedged terms than I did up thread.
posted by PMdixon at 8:07 AM on March 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

One of the things I've been looking into lately, as in obsessively collecting articles that cross my RSS reader, is the issue of minority stress aka internalized oppression. That was something I saw as a central theme of the FPP. In this context, focusing on something that wasn't directly discussed in the FPP felt very much like intrusive self-help advice, "have you tried meditation/Atkins/exercise?"

And maybe I'm frequently a big ball of nonbinary survivor anger right now, but the last few FPPs in this area have not gone especially well in my opinion.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:18 AM on March 8, 2017 [12 favorites]

As far as I can tell it's one more reminder that straight men don't really have a place on metafilter.

This statement's ludicrousness is rivaled only by its offensiveness. Of course I have a place on MeFi, thank you very much, but unlike you, I am not threatened by the idea of allowing others to have a place as well.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:51 AM on March 8, 2017 [36 favorites]

I don't want to drag this discussion off track, but I gotta say: bswinburn, that's a load of horseshit. It's such an astonishingly ill-thought out thing to have said that I can't imagine what you thought you'd accomplish by saying it. As one straight man to another, if you're not comfortable here, perhaps the problem isn't metafilter.
posted by Ipsifendus at 12:32 PM on March 8, 2017 [9 favorites]

straight men don't really have a place on metafilter.

I'm a Straight White Male who felt guilty about my privilege before I joined MeFi and this place helped me understand why. In fact, when I applied for Disability, I found several others on a MeFiSemiAffiliated chat who had also done so. None of them were SWM, and they all had horror stories of delays and obstacles and appeals... and my application was approved in record time, no problem. That was how I settled on the realization that I am absolutely unfairly advantaged, but being disabled with a weak heart and depression, I'm not going to have the chance to be anybody's savior. I'd already played the White Knight once, a lo-o-ong story, but one that showed me that the Partiarchy can be pretty cruel to straight males IF they step out of their accepted roles.

Anyway, I am still very comfortable here, even though MeFi's crack moderating staff has been deleting more of my comments lately and those that survive have gotten less favorites. A sure sign that it's not you, it's me.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:36 PM on March 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

I feel there's a balance to be struck between mounting a critique of the author's framework, or ideas, or research approach, while being respectful of and engaged with present company and allowing a conversation about the lives and experiences that the the subject matter is supposed to be about.

I can see that maybe some of the people who introduced/imported their ideas about emotional labor into the thread assumed that it's an accepted idea now, but what seems to matter is how the idea is introduced, given present company. I can totally envision an inclusive conversation where for the same identical article, users do have interesting conversations about "emotional labor" x gay issues, or any other topic where the relevance may not be immediately obvious to everyone. But that requires high-effort commenting so that what could be thought of as complex, intersectional, conceptual tensions don't just result in making individuals fighting and stressing out. In my case, I saw the thread late at night when it only had maybe 10 comments, and decided it would be better to cancel my comment and not have to read the ensuing arguments.

I think a better example of a critical type of response is the Slate article that linked in the same thread. That one too offers a different take (West European author, so more politically left, etc.), that is constructively critical of the OP's article. So it is demonstrably possible. You know it's a good convo when you want the two articles to get together so their lovechild is the synthesis of their ideas.

As a gay person, I'm even willing to extend a conceptual olive branch—maybe as gays we don't do "emotional labor" good enough in certain respects, but in other ways we're already performing "emotional labor" manifest directly as the examples of alienation described in the article. So that's an example of how I might re-work the conversation to be more inclusive.
posted by polymodus at 3:46 PM on March 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

So, I read that article, and only now just read the first 50 or so comments closely.

This is something that I've heard my gay friends talk about, especially older ones, and it was interesting to see it limned out more fully, and I liked reading some of the stories from other members there.

I can definitely understand why comments about emotional labor and reframing the issue as gay men's lack of stereotypically female social relationships was galling, and it really did highlight a pretty stark fallacy in the overapplication of "emotional labor" as something men must, by default, be lacking.

The article used two kinds of evidence to make its claims: That of interviews where gay men talked about their subjective experience, and mental health studies to imply the consequences.

From there, the arguments that these things happen because the (gay) men lack women to do emotional labor (over-simplified) — that gay men are less happy and healthy because they're unpracticed in emotional labor.

But the comparisons were mostly between gay men and straight men. When you compare lesbians or bisexual women to heterosexual women, you see pretty much the same thing: Fewer social relationships, more stress, more self-harm, more depression, more suicide attempts etc. For many of those, the rate is pretty close to that of gay men.

It's hard to argue that lesbians have those outcomes because they're not trained in doing emotional labor. And one of the areas where lesbians stick out in mental health treatment and outcomes is that they are the group disproportionately most likely to have gone to a therapist (mentioned in-thread as an example of "paid emotional labor"), with something close to 90% of self-identified lesbians having sought therapy compared to about 25% of self-identified heterosexual women.

The article is about how specific social problems apply to gay men, so it didn't expand outward to talk about commonalities in all the LGBT communities. Not only that, but many of the stats compared gay men to straight men for outcomes. Because of that, any "emotional labor" thesis would implicitly argue that gay men are worse than straight men (who have the general advantage of social privilege in outsourcing their emotional labor).

Because of all that, I can understand how repeated insistence on shoe-horning a gendered emotional labor thesis into the thread about someone else's experience with loneliness would come across as pretty insulting and offensive. It's not well supported by evidence, and it reinforces the stereotype of the misogynist gay man, while denying them the ability to present their own narrative and talk about common experiences.
posted by klangklangston at 6:17 PM on March 8, 2017 [16 favorites]

In threads like the one referenced, when talking about articles like the one from the FPP, there's some inevitable commenters and comments that appear at least once:

The generaliser/s - 'but all men are this way'. Sometimes this is well-meaning but clueless. Sometimes.
The user/s whose attempts at empathy look suspiciously self-serving the more they have to say.
The commenter/s who would undoubtedly have liked a comment referencing how the patriarchy hurts everyone, and so see nothing wrong at dismissing or belittling every discussion about the specifics of that hurt.
The commenter/s who somewhere between imply and flat-out state that people who look or present a certain way can't have the problems of those who do not.
The commenter/s who will use intersectionality to belittle and/or dismiss the problems of everyone who doesn't fit exactly into the various social axes they themselves fall into.

These usually, to a greater or lesser extent, receive pushback, both in-thread or (as here) on MeTa. Which is good, and you really have to worry when they don't. But in my experience, based on a number of these threads over the last few years, there's no way to stop the comments being made in the first place. It's not even that I'm sure they should be deleted, though I know for me I'd like them to be because they are very, very good at instantly rendering a thread useless.

But they don't get deleted, and the pushback each time doesn't seem to discourage commenters new or old from doing the same thing every time. So while I appreciate the effort, I do not have high hopes in this MeTa effecting any real change in how a topic like this gets discussed.

I'd like to be wrong, though.
posted by gadge emeritus at 10:03 PM on March 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

I guess I'm more hopeful. Because it's a different group of users making at least some of those comments. A few years ago it would have been mostly men blundering about making a mess of things and insisting that they be heard in threads on the experience of women or POC or trans people. But that behavior has been significantly reduced since then. And in this case and a number of others recently it's been a lot of women who have succumbed to the temptation to comment inappropriately. And I'm sure that it's a weird thing, because if you're a woman who's been fighting her whole life to be heard, the notion that the right thing do is to be quiet, because (gay) men are talking, must feel really wrong.

The article and the thread here have had a really big impact on me. If this had come up 3 years ago, I would have noped out that thread so fast, because it would have been just a bunch of people arguing about who can speak for whom. But we've learned enough here over the years to let a real conversation start this time, and we've seen apologies for bad comments. That's why I'm hopeful.
posted by conic at 3:14 PM on March 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

I actually think this MeTa went pretty well so far, especially compared to a lot of similar MeTas in the not-too-distant past. Many of the people who made comments contributing to the derail this time around actually took the objections of the group under discussion into account and apologized, which I think was actually really gracious and admirable. On the flip side, people like PMdixon did a good job making it clear that their frustration was with a specific derail, not with specific users or groups of users. And the original thread even ended up re-railed by the end. Yeah, it would have been better not to have the derail at all, but I don't feel that frustrated or pessimistic about how the process ended up playing out.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:06 AM on March 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

Sure. This was pretty good. If it were an isolated incident I'd be a lot more optimistic.

But this has happened before, repeatedly, and I doubt this will stop it from happening again, repeatedly. Again, I want to be wrong, I just don't see this one non-contentious MeTa changing how these threads go, because I don't think enough of the users involved in the repeated comments I see actually think they are doing anything wrong. Stopping the derails altogether would be ideal, but feels bitterly unrealistic.
posted by gadge emeritus at 9:18 PM on March 15, 2017

Stopping the derails altogether would be ideal, but feels bitterly unrealistic.

These days I've been trying to take the attitude of the stupid guy throwing stupid starfish into the stupid water one at a time.
posted by PMdixon at 4:45 AM on March 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

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