Own, Apologize, Repair: Coming Back to Integrity

There is a variation on ‘Not All Men.’

It is called ‘I Feel Bad When You Say That.’

My godson Kyle is six. He is fairly emotionally perceptive for his age, as his grownups have been working with him to create an emotionally responsible and self-aware boy who we hope will grow into an emotionally responsible and self-aware man.

He knows at six that when you hurt someone, you go back right away and own, apologize, and do repair. For him that can mean if he hurts his friend while playing, he (ideally under his own initiative) is expected to promptly name what he did, apologize sincerely and lovingly, and ask his friend what he needs, or how he can help make things right between them: a hug, a high five, an offer to play. He is taught to listen to the needs and feelings of the other and act in a responsive way.

He is being encouraged to develop and express his empathic capacities, capacities he will need as a man. Whether with his parents, his friends at school, or his baby sister who cannot even speak yet, he is being taught to hear and notice how other people feel, to empathize and connect, to watch cues, and to act like someone aware of and able to embody his relational responsibilities.

He is also being taught that he is not shameful.

When he does something wrong, his adults show him how to make it right and they also let him know they love him and he is good just as he is. He is loved and good, he did a thing that hurt someone, and he has to make it right. These are not mutually exclusive, but connected.

As he learns, sometimes he mixes things up.

Sometimes he can’t tell the difference between him feeling bad because he hurt somebody, and feeling bad because someone hurt him.

Kyle and his dad are at the table. Kyle is restless and grouchy about having fruit for dessert when he wanted ice cream. He is kicking. He is six, he has a lot of energy, when he gets frustrated he still sometimes flails and needs help knowing how to express his anger in good ways. His mum tells him, “are you feeling angry because you wanted ice cream? It’s ok to feel angry. I hear you. All of your feelings are good. It’s not ok to kick people, though. If you feel angry you can say ‘I feel angry!’ You’re always allowed to feel anything you want, but kicking is not ok.”

Kyle, still flailing, kicks his dad on the shin.

At the end of his rope – but still modelling for his son how to handle anger – his dad says “You know what Kyle, my feelings are hurt because you kicked me. I don’t want to sit next to you right now.” And he goes to a different room. Because this is a securely attached family, he is still available if Kyle wants him, and he is not going far and not going for long. Kyle runs off to his room.

Meanwhile, Kyle’s mum says “Kyle, you kicked dad, come back and say sorry and make it right.”

Kyle comes back to his mum, crying, and says very intensely, his cute six-year-old face expressive and utterly for real:

You said I kicked dad! You’re saying I’m bad! That hurts my feelings! You have to say sorry!”

This moment is a kind of hilarious moment, for the adults. He is using precisely the language we teach him to use (name hurtful action, name your feelings, ask for repair), except…

It is a good learning moment, for Kyle.

We can’t laugh. It’s tempting, but we don’t.

This logic is impeccable. Impeccable like a… like something snarky I can’t repeat.

Let’s slow this down, sports-replay style:

 

Kyle kicks dad.

Parent says: “Kyle, you kicked dad.”

So far so good.

 

Kyle says: “You said I kicked dad!”

That hurts my feelings!

You have to say sorry!”

 

oy.

 

He is kind of getting the point? Except kind of not getting it at all?

He actually thinks that his bad feeling at being told he kicked his father is the same thing as the kick itself.

The thing is that Kyle is absolutely genuine in his distress, upset and crying. He really means what he is saying.

He hasn’t made this connection yet, and we have to make it for him.

He is glowering intensely, crying, genuinely needing to be heard and his great big eyes expressing his fury, fear, and confusion, as only a six year old can do.

What is the appropriate response here?

He is growing, and we guide his growing, like a young tree.

His mum, suppressing a mix of bemused laughter and exasperation, hugs him, and says, carefully:

“Kyle, it is true that we teach you no one is bad.

I love you and you are good.

But you did kick dad.

It is ok for you to hear that, and I do not need to apologize.

Now go say sorry and make it right.”

She is absolutely firm on this. She does not apologize for naming his actions or their effects, and she corrects his mixing up of one thing with another. He has to learn this at some point if he is ever going to be an accountable man.

What if Kyle had not had such emotionally skilled parents? What if instead, they had actually shamed him by telling him he is bad, as many of our direct ancestors often have done? What if they silenced him, or coddled him and gave in, or all of the above? Kids need safe, sturdy, unbreakable and loving containers to grow into in order to grow up whole, emotionally healthy and accountable human beings.

What happens if no one helps him grow out of this? He comes from a family of physically big men and he is already a head taller than the other kids his age. He will be full grown early, and he already is ‘big’ to the kids his own age.

gollum-not-listening

What if he had made it all the way to adulthood with this confusion intact? This may sound absurd, but I see this same confusion play out among adults, particularly when we begin to pull back the veil of unearned privileges that mask power in our society. I see this play out in masculinity, in whiteness.

As a white person who does antiracism education in the university classroom I am not unfamiliar with this phenomenon.

My impression, based on what I have perceived directly and based on what I have learned over time from IBPOC organizers about what is seen and unseen, is that this same attack posture is present in most white people when we encounter the fact of colonization, race and racism, and our complicity in both of these.

If we cannot feel ‘comfortable’ while grappling with the reality of colonization, or if we cannot have our bubble of ego preserved and coddled while we learn the hard facts about racism, we expect that it is somehow normal that we can go on the attack, and expect the people experiencing harm to coddle and apologize to us, rather than being responsible for our own feelings and making ourselves accessible and available to finally come to hear and see things that are happening every day to human beings all around us that our privilege lets us ignore.

When Kyle is 20, or 30, or 40, or 60, and harms someone by action or omission, where will the ‘parent’ be who can say “you are good and loved and not shameful, and you did this thing, now stop acting like an ass and go make it right.”?

I ran into this again recently when a group of people close to me called in a man who was acting in psychologically abusive ways towards me. He recognized on some level he had done this harm, and expressed massive amounts of guilt that seemed to make him resentful and angry, but showed no empathy, and took absolutely no ownership or accountability. He left it up to everyone else to do his emotional work for him as he resentfully (and barely) went along. Instead of owning, apologizing, and offering repair, he continually centred himself and his intentions.

Stuck in guilt and resentment, he seemed to have no inner guide that would lead him to want to empathize with the person he had harmed, or to own, apologize, or make it right – all the ways we come back into alignment with our integrity when we have acted outside it.

Instead, after pretending to do process for a bit, sabotaging it by making it clear he was ‘standing near the exit’ about to bolt at any time, and didn’t really have any desire to hear, he went on the attack and told us all to stop talking, even to one another, or we would be “hearing from his lawyers.” Not because anything we had said was untrue, but because he “felt so bad” at hearing himself “described in this way” that when he could no longer control the narrative, he needed to silence the person he had harmed and all those around her. Never mind his lauded ‘ally’ identity and his many books about organizing: when push came to shove, he could not initiate or actively step in to wanting to do accountability simply because it made him too uncomfortable to try to understand or grow from what he had done.

There is a quality in guilt that paralyzes. Worse, it leads those who feel it to lash out, like pythons or like some kind of wild animal guarding a nest of self-loathing. Do not look at the man behind the curtain, says the guilt, or I will attempt to destroy you just to stop you from getting near the core of my shame.

This is the demon that I feel arising in my classroom around week three as we talk about the hard facts of colonization, of our collusion with it as settlers, and that it has not ended but is ongoing. This kind of wild serpent of fear and danger arises in the back of the room and – since I am white and a settler – if I have done my job well, the students having these inner demons will come talk to me during office hours, saying wildly racist and historically inaccurate things as I listen and listen and help them identify reality and where it diverges from their inner wildlings of shame. I do my best to siphon their demons out of the classroom but I am aware that (depending on the topic at hand) Indigenous or POC students in these classrooms are often asked to feel perpetually, extremely uncomfortable and to get traumatized by having to be in these spaces, just so my white students don’t have to experience even momentary discomfort. I see it as part of my job as a white person to notice this massive discrepancy is happening, that it is naturalized. I see it as my job to empathize with, hear, and to the best of my ability guard the safety of those whom the classroom is not designed to serve and whose safety is somehow not seen as a priority. This is surprisingly challenging as my own subject position conditions me to notice the needs of the students from dominant backgrounds, who don’t even realize everything and everyone is centered around them.

As a white woman I can do this with white people about racism or colonization because I am not paying the personal cost in my body of being attacked by them as they work out their shame and guilt over beginning to actually understand reality. I can coddle and placate (cough… empathize) and then find their edge, what they are willing to hear, and then offer a wider lens, because I am not in my body personally bearing the brunt of the violence.

I cannot do it with men.

As a woman I cannot ignore my body’s deep, deep awareness of men’s potential to explode, attack, or flee if I pipe up about a thing they did that caused harm and that may as a result invoke guilt. I have been raised to sense that shit by the microsecond and act preemptively to coddle and placate and soothe the guilt before it can become a poisonous snake about to lunge at me, or an abandoning friend about to leave when I need them most.

The cost to my body of coddling a scary, angry, fragile ego – coddling it to make sure it does not attack or abandon me – is so incredibly great that I actually cannot do this kind of coddling any longer. I realize I have been doing it instinctively for a long time.

If you harm someone and then make it so that they feel afraid to tell you about it, be aware that women are likely coddling you constantly day in and day out in ways that exhaust them and that you take as normal and do not even notice. If you do this as a white person to people of colour, be aware of the same. As Black feminist thinkers such as Audre Lorde have long observed and articulated better than I can, it is so taken for granted in our culture that those with marginal subjectivity will constantly placate those who are dominant that this is seen as perfectly  unremarkable by those with more power, while those doing the placating have silence – and exhaustion, and trauma’s many bodily impacts – as their shelter and companion.

You can live your life unaware of this. But do you really want to continue to live so oblivious to the emotions and experiences of the people around you? Is that who you are?

If you harm someone and then when they tell you about it, you are more focussed on the fact that your feelings are hurt than on the fact that you have caused harm, can you stop and ask yourself if that is an adult response?  Do you have your own inner desire to understand when you harm others?

If your answer is yes, then what do you do to live that desire and make yourself available for it? Have you let those around you know how you would like to know when you have caused harm? Is the answer, I want to know in theory, because I like that people think of me as a great feminist, but I have not actually developed a good way to help people speak up or to hear it, in real life?

If you want a good concrete thing you can do right now, here is a wonderful Pod Mapping project from the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective. It asks you who your people are who you would want to call you on it if you behaved in an abusive way. If you can’t think of anyone you would want to call you on abusive behaviour, or your response is ‘I don’t need that, I would never cause harm,’ than this is for you. If you consider yourself a feminist, ask yourself why you haven’t already initiated something of the sort, and fill this out. Make it available to every ex you have, and to any current or future partner/s: https://batjc.wordpress.com/pods-and-pod-mapping-worksheet/

This is the meaning of the phrase “Your allyship is meaningless if it isn’t accountable.”

If you are the kind of person who likes to know when you have caused harm, then there are some valuable questions about how to make that real: how do you invite this information, how do you welcome it, how do you thank those who help you grow this way, if they have to tell you because you have not figured it out for yourself? Do you realize just how scary it can be to tell you, before they know how you will react? Do you mix up their fear of you for anger? Is their fear in any way justified? How can you make sure it is not?

If your focus is more on the fact that harm got named than it is on the harm itself, does this strike you as at all peculiar?

Depending on the severity and longevity of the harm, and the body’s silencing effects when trauma occurs, do you make it the responsibility of those you have harmed to tell you ‘in a nice way’?

Is it possible they have tried to tell you in a nice way, and you have clapped your hands over your ears or made it hard for them, and eventually they lose the capacity to be ‘nice’ while they are getting harmed? If you think back – really think back – how long were they trusting you and quietly asking you for help and empathy and support and compassion and honesty before they lost their buffer of capacity to speak kindly while drowning?

How long did you hear those requests and not-really-hear them? Imagine how it feels to speak and find it is as if you haven’t spoken. Not that people don’t ‘believe’ you but that they actually can not hear you, as though you are speaking gibberish or not speaking at all. As though in a nightmare where you ask for help and everyone answers as though you have said something else, where you say “help I’m drowning” and those around you reply, “Oh, yes I see, I like oranges also, have a nice day!”

Put yourself in those shoes: how long, how many days and weeks and months, would you retain your sanity while speaking kindly and asking for help and having it seem as though you had not spoken at all?

leibowitz-politeness

Coming up from underwater into speaking up isn’t always pretty. What if one of the effects of trauma is that after naming and naming calmly without being heard for so long, or after having the words get trapped in the still waters of their body, they can no longer speak, and can only scream?

Just as Indigenous students and students of colour in my classes on racism are somehow expected to be quietly, constantly unsafe and deeply out of their comfort zones just to make sure the white students do not experience a moment’s discomfort – and the white students actually think everyone is having the same experience they are – if you make it hard for people around you to let you know you have caused harm, you’re going to invoke survival strategies in your friends and colleagues when you think you’re just having a regular hangout with your friend.

This is the block to accountability that leads many of us to quietly placate men in ways they take for granted and think are normal. With certain men who have not owned that this guilt script is inside them, this placating others do for them is so continuous and so normalized that they seem to take as a given that women around them will handle their emotions for them, and they don’t even see it happening. I have recently understood that men I have to do this for are not actually men I can trust. Because if they harm me, they expect me to remain silent about the harm, and they expect me to remain silent about the fact of remaining silent, so that they don’t have to feel bad, so that I don’t feel scared of them. This is given as the normal state of affairs. When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.

Here’s another example. When I was a little girl, my father would have random multi-hour rages for what he perceived as slights or insults. Later I learned there is a word for this, but at the time all I knew was confusion. Outside our family he could be charming, charismatic, friendly. He reserved his true self for behind closed doors.

An insult to him could be anything from how we sat in our chair, or how we moved our bodies, to not coming to the door late at night to greet him with a kiss when he arrived home, even if we were already in bed – or asleep.

He could feel personally insulted by things he witnessed between my friends and me while we were playing, that had nothing to do with him at all. What he would perceive as an ‘insult’ was completely random, and completely unpredictable.

He was a large man. Once he had been ‘insulted,’ he could scream, full volume, uninterrupted, for several hours. Sometimes two, sometimes four or five. Uninterrupted screaming. It was impossible to predict how long a rage would last once it began. His face bright red as he swelled up like an enormous, angry balloon.

While this was happening to us we had to sit perfectly still, not moving, not making any facial expressions. We did not go to the bathroom or drink water or eat while this was happening. We had to listen, and agree – but agreeing with a wrong facial expression, nodding the wrong way, could get him to expand and blow up further, so the safest thing to do was to stay perfectly, perfectly still, with the perfect neutral but agreeing expression, for however many hours until he was done. He did this regularly, all the years of my childhood.

I learned to keep a very smooth expression in his presence, to be very still, to have whatever body language or emotion he wanted. Mainly he liked when his daughter acted happy. His idea of how a girl ought to behave is pretty and happy and subservient and devoted.

If I felt afraid of him, he would scream he felt ‘bad’ that I was afraid. Somehow this was supposed to make him a good person.

There was probably guilt, in there, somewhere. Shame, certainly, deep down.

That didn’t help us.

Guilt is not empathy. Neither is shame.  In fact, when people feel overwhelmed by their own inner feelings of guilt, they are more likely to attack the people around them rather than act empathetic. Feeling guilt does not make you a good person.  Empathy and responsiveness make you a good person. Guilt blocks empathy.

Sometimes he would say he felt ‘bad’ that I was telling him he was a ‘bad father,’ and I had to say ‘no, no, you’re a wonderful father,’ to make sure he would not attack me.

He would scream things like “children all love me! I am wonderful with children!” or whatever other narrative he intended to terrorize us into accepting as real. And he was good with other people’s children – charismatic, playful, childlike. As long as he was having fun, and not responsible for their physical or emotional safety, he was good with children. Just not with us.  But wait, no, he was. Or was he. I couldn’t tell. He terrorized us until we demonstrated complete internalization of his fantasy structure.

And we did. Whatever he said. His control over reality was absolute. I became foggy, dissociated, not-there, and whatever he needed me to do or feel, I did or felt until I could get away. But it was impossible to get it right. The paranoia over ‘insults’ was a thing in him. It had nothing to do with me. No matter how hard I tried, there was no way to get it right.

Afterwards my mother would explain in a foggy, spacy voice that when we are afraid of him, we hurt his feelings. He felt, she said, that we don’t love him enough.

I would have to find a way to ‘make it up’ to him. I would actually apologize to him for having felt afraid. Because my hurt and fear hurt his feelings.

In the world he created, his fantasy structure – loving, devoted, happy and well-cared for daughters – was the only one that was allowed, and deviation from that fantasy structure by any of us created terror and raging until everyone fell back in line.

I left at 20 years old and while I am close with the rest of my family, and tried for many years to set workable boundaries that he inevitably crossed, eventually I have had to accept that with him there is only the fragile narcissist’s ego, and there is no repair that can be done.

After explaining healthy relating to him for decades, I eventually had to accept there is no reasonable person in there who can empathize with another human being. I have had to accept that with him, I have left, and I have not looked back.

I can no longer manage or coddle fragile male egos. I can no longer come to the door to give my angry father a kiss, in my incredibly vulnerable white cotton nightie and my bare feet, the sleep half-rubbed out of my six-year old eyes, feeling the secret tremor of fear stiffen and shake my body as I paste a smile on my face (hoping it is convincing as my true self exits my body and floats somewhere up near the ceiling) and kiss his cheek, because if he notices my fear, if he feels disrespected, he could pull me out of bed in the middle of the night to make me demonstrate how much I honour him by screaming into my tiny face until I do.

I have run into this – ‘I feel hurt that you are scared of me’ – with cops, and it struck me how similar it was. At a demo about police brutality once where the cops were detaining people and beating people up, a cop in full riot gear, with his viser up, said to me ‘What about me? You hurt my feelings when you’re scared of me. My feelings are hurt. That is as important as your feelings, isn’t it?’ when I said he was scaring me.

How do we get here, with adult men unable to differentiate narcissistic injury from actual harm? How do we get here where an adult man – a lover, a friend, a parent, a partner – can cause serious harm, and when that harm is named, can clap their hands over their ears and say “I’m not listening! I feel angry because you’re saying I hurt you! It hurts me too much to hear what I did to you! Go away shut up stop talking La La La Not Listening!”

Thankfully, I don’t have to do this with most of the men in my life, the ones who take their ally work seriously and are thirsty to learn, the ones who understand what accountability looks like, and who make it their business and do not wait for others to drag them along into it.

I do have to do it with guys who have not taken ownership of their own reactions. If a guy has not realized that women are doing this emotional management for him, I no longer feel safe alone with him.

I have run into it when I said “I am asking for empathy” from the person who did this to me, in front of several of our mutual friends, and instead of acting empathetic, he glared as he said “I feel lots of empathy.” As though he was more concerned with maintaining a narrative of himself than he was with actually responding in an empathic way. Saying the words because you feel guilt over a missing capacity does not make the words true.

Empathy can trump guilt.

It looks like this:

Own. Apologize. Repair.

Say, “Here is what I did. I did this thing, and that thing, and this thing. They’re fucked up because …”

Imagine replacing guilt with curiosity. Imagine saying “wow, it is so cool to recognize what I did. I’m excited I can hear you and grow. I did this, I did that, here is why it is fucked up, I’m so excited to learn how to come back into integrity with you, I’m so happy I can do this, that it is ok to fuck up and say sorry and learn together. This owning warms my heart.”

Own. Completely. Do not hide what you have done. Then ask “Have I got you? Do I understand?” and let the person clarify. Mirror until you get it. Give this the time that the person harmed feels is needed.

Say, “Wow, thank you for sharing that with me. I know how hard it can be to share something like this, I’m really grateful you took that risk, and I’m taking it to heart. Here is what I’m going to do – concrete practical things – to make sure I get better about this in the future. Does that address the need?”

For some, empathy may take effort, focus, or concentration. True empathy is not theoretical or abstract, it is a physiological relating with other human beings, stepping fully and deeply into experiences that are different from yours. If you find that empathy takes focus, then accept that you may have to cultivate this capacity within yourself, and do not lay this responsibility at the feet of anyone else. You can own that your empathic capacity is currently still limited, and develop a daily practice of expanding it in demonstrable ways as part of being accountable to those you have harmed.

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PLEASE SHARE THIS POST 🙂 If this post speaks to you or makes you think or reflect, please help out: share as widely as possible.

Read the original viral posts The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture
and On Gaslighting

I love this Bay Area Transformative Justice pod mapping worksheet so much that big, dramatic, hyperbole feels called for. ie I wanna shout it from the rooftops and say it again and again: if you consider yourself a feminist man, or you allow others around you to let you walk around with this identity and you enjoy having that reputation, or if you find you get laid or get dates or partners because of this reputation, and if you have not yet mapped out your pod of people who you would want to call you on it when you act in abusive ways, then do this right now. like today. like right away. Because it is everything, it is wonderful: https://batjc.wordpress.com/pods-and-pod-mapping-worksheet/

For a world in which everyone can feel safer, including those who harm and those who cause harm. Thank you.

This video from Everyday Feminism is also great, and I highly recommend you watch it and take in carefully what she is saying about her own experience of fucking up and then being fully accountable. Owning doesn’t centre you. It is not about your intentions or your emotions or your reasons for the fuckup. It centres the other person, the one you have harmed. Name fully your acts, take the time to fully get and own how they caused harm, and express in a responsive way how you intend to address them, and check if what you offer actually is effective for repair of the harm you caused. You can also have compassion for yourself of course but that’s not the owning part. That’s it. Nobody has to be perfect but you have to know how to do repair if you want to be part of social justice movements, because you’re going to fuck up and you have to know how to hear it and fix it without flipping out.  http://everydayfeminism.com/2013/11/how-to-apologize/

Addendum: Readers have asked if Kyle is being forced to eat the fruit, and/or if dinner was food that he liked. Nobody is making him eat anything here, just to be totally clear. He has dessert regularly and they have kid-friendly food he likes at supper. He’s actually a really adventurous eater with an amazing cook for a dad and he eats as much or as little as he likes as long as he eats something reasonably healthy. They offer him food he enjoys at dinner all the time. This is just a dinner where they’re not having ice cream for dessert because they are trying not to have sugar every day, and so sometimes dessert is fruit. For those who wondered.

Have also had a bunch of questions about ‘why Gollum?’ The picture is so uncomfortable to look at. I think I was trying to capture the discomfort of shame. Gollum is a kind of shame-hobbit. He once was a hobbit, like any other hobbit, but his discovery of the ring changed him, and sent him underground to a watery cave where he lives in the dark, like a secret, living off greed, loneliness, and raw fish. He is often discussed as the mirror of the Hobbits, their secret shame, or what we become when we are, or feel, unloved.

For more on working with shame and hope, here is a piece that looks at how the fear of being ‘not good enough‘ can be self-fulfilling

Do you love speculative fiction and social justice? I’ve written a speculative fiction novella that explores the transformations our planet is undergoing and the undoing of cultures of domination. Cipher is currently exploring agents and publishers. Help finding its wings is welcome! Learn more about Cipher here.

 

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69 thoughts on “Own, Apologize, Repair: Coming Back to Integrity

  1. You have again “named” something that I felt, reacted to and accommodated in my life without being able to describe it, or even truly, identify it. I feel like I have been bumping around in a dark room; I have a basic idea of the layout but I couldn’t replicate the room. You have turned on the light.

    I see so many places that this applies. We are, scarily, playing out this scenario in the US politics. I see this with the women at work (I work in a very male-dominated engineer company). I see this in my service club.

    The article really makes me pause and question why / how I figured it out when others around me have not. I can’t say that I learned it at home. If anything, growing up, I was struck by the contradictions. I think about the debates with friends, in some cases, former friends who tried to enlighten me (I suppose the succeeded but at a pretty high cost).

    I also thank you for showing the path to acknowledge some past wrongs. I know my actions were wrong and they hurt someone I really cared about. I wanted to acknowledge them and apologize. I just didn’t know how. (wow, that sounds lame).

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for this insightful piece. I have been thinking about the Trigger Warnings that are so prevalent and controversial these days. When we talk about Trigger Warnings, we think of the Marginalized, and how to make a safe place for them to process their awareness, and to share. This is a good thing. I think we also need to think about warning the Dominants, that they WILL feel uncomfortable. That their guilt and defenses will be triggered. That this is OK, but that they are responsible for learning ways to own their feelings. Is this coddling? As you point out, direct confrontation leads to avoidance. Boundaries with understanding can lead to a willingness to open up. At least, this is my hope.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. yes, I think that’s useful – the thing for me is who holds the responsibility to do that work. it feels very different as a white instructor to work with white students about dismantling racism – where I have privilege to move in and out of the experience or the conversation – vs in my actual life where I am in experiences with men who take out their learning experience in ways that directly affect my safety. in other words I would find it a lot easier to see men doing this work around gendered violence so I did not have to. I don’t enjoy it and don’t want to have to do it, but I also don’t want to keep having to deal with abusive unself-aware men.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My experience (as a man who tries to do what he can), is that in order to succeed at assisting self-awareness (which is the first and most important step), I need to promote the benefits to the man that I’m talking to. “Be good at self awareness because it’s good for you,” is my message, not “Be good at self awareness because it’s good for women.” The fact that self-awareness reduces violence towards women is something that I don’t normally emphasize.

        The more I distance myself from feminism, the more acceptable I become in the eyes of those who are at risk of being perpetrators. This saddens me a great deal, but I have not been able to find a better alternative. I’m horrified by the connotations associated with “Men’s rights” and by the fact that there are good reasons for those connotations. But the violence will not end until men understand how to be peacefully assertive.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I can understand why it’s easier to leave out the way that their behavior affects women to focus on how changing their behavior can affect men positively, but the fact that you feel like you still have to center the conversation around male comfort seems like it is never really going to change how they treat women.

          At some point, men have got to understand that their behavior has a negative affect on women, and they have to take responsibility for changing that behavior. And maybe you, as someone who seems to see himself as a male ally, needs to work a bit more more intentionally about pushing that. I get that there’s a certain amount of fragility and push-back that you’re going to have to deal with, and it is uncomfortable, but you also have the privilege of not needing to be fearful for your safety in the way that women often are when they speak out against patriarchy/rape culture/etc.

          I am also hearing a division between yourself and the men that you’re talking about, that sounds a lot like “I’m a good guy, and THOSE GUYS are at risk of becoming perpetrators”. However, the decision to code switch and frame your argument around making “THOSE GUYS” comfortable is a really privileged choice, that has the impact of, at least for now, allowing “THEM” to continue business as usual why they “cultivate self-awareness because it’s good for THEM”. So by framing the conversation around what is comfortable and good for them, you’re still upholding the status quo.

          Stop apologizing for being a feminist, or avoiding the label. The more people own that label, the better off we will all be.

          The point of this article is that people need to stop dividing people into the categories of “good people” and “bad people” and focus on recognizing the impact of your own behavior, acknowledging it, and then making amends. And part of that process is taking the shame out of the conversation, yet also allowing someone to feel uncomfortable with the fact that they hurt someone. I get that it’s uncomfortable, and there is a tendency to lash out or to avoid discomfort. Acknowledge the discomfort, yet encourage people to work with it. Dig into the discomfort. Acknowledge that it’s hard.

          I can forgive people for making mistakes, or even for making really bad intentional choices, if they are willing to take responsibility for it and try to make things right.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. I’m sorry that I was confusing and crap in my initial comment. Thanks both Nora and Jessica for saying what you saw.

          Jessica, you’re right that I was artificially distancing myself from violent men. I stopped hitting my (ex) wife in 2003. The way that I got there was pretty much by doing what Nora advocates in the post above – learning to apologize rather than make excuses and deflect blame, to own what I had done. The frustrating thing is that I did it despite a lot of the things I was being told. There were (and still are) a lot of people who believe that shaming people harder is the way to deal with the problem, and when they got their teeth into me, I got worse: not only was I blinded by the pain at home, but also I was being hurt by the people who were supposed to be helping me get control.

          I don’t disagree with anything in the original post, it all makes sense. I’m sorry that I’m blundering in as a confused mess, when that’s pretty much exactly what you said you didn’t want. I think maybe I’m trying to prove to myself that I can be disoriented, scared and hurt without being dangerous. Except it’s easier to acknowledge those things in someone else than in myself.

          I agree that it’s safer (physically, and in other ways) to talk about these issues with men when you’re a man. I agree that men are the ones who can have the most effect on men. I also know that the path that led me out of the woods was not based on recognizing the harm I was doing; I had sworn never to raise a finger against anyone years before, and was completely aware that I was doing the wrong thing. What I lacked was an alternative way of dealing with angry feelings.

          I want very much to have a real conversation about these topics, and to have help sorting through my confusion. I also suspect that I’ve already overstayed my welcome.

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        3. Thank you, I was beside myself with fear. I’ll take that as permission to continue! I would not have been able to risk that level of vulnerability with most others; my experience is that it’s not just vulnerability that feminists want, but a certain level of skill in communicating the issues. It seems to me that your skill and attitude allow you to have a lower ‘minimum skill’ requirement on my part. I want to do better at talking about this stuff, and I think I might be able to learn a lot through exchanges with you & the people you associate with.

          A thought that I’ve had, as a person who has said “Not all men” on many occasions, is that when I say “Not all men”, what I mean is “I feel bad when you say that.” It’s not as straightforward as “I feel bad,” and is a pretty negative predictor of my ability to engage, because it’s a form of disassociation from the problem. A tactic to consider when hearing “Not all men” might be to engage compassionately with the feelings (as Jessica did with me), rather than pursuing the rabbit hole of whether the generalization can be justified.

          But onto the really scary stuff. My personal experience shows me that many people would much rather humiliate violent men than help them to change. I have examples, but talking about them would continue a cycle of violence. In cases where people have changed, they don’t deserve to have me repay humiliation with humiliation. In cases where they haven’t, I still don’t think it’s beneficial enough. And the reality is that some offences are worse (and less justifiable) than others. I’m in no position to be offended by a microaggression if my response is physical violence.

          That’s something that offends me, is people who don’t seem to have a sense of proportion (not you, others). Yes, it does hurt to learn that someone is frightened of you; but to scream at them while charging forward in riot gear betrays a failure to understand the situation. Not all hurts are equal, even though all hurts are real. I encounter people who don’t seem able to separate my frustration with aspects of feminist theory from some secret desire to hurt people. (Naturally, my biggest objection to feminist theory is the idea that all male violence can be attributed to a desire to keep women in their place.)

          Let’s take a fictitious example. A man is at a bar with his girlfriend, and another man insults her. The ‘defender’ takes offence and escalates: first with the threat of violence, second with acts of violence. I use the word ‘defender’ with scare quotes, because that’s the honest self-assessment that he would make. A feminist would be correct if they pointed out that this behaviour reinforces a denial of female agency and maintains an oppressive power structure. However, use of the word ‘misogyny’ and the less subtle accusation ‘you secretly hate women’ (the less subtle version does happen) is a discredit to the complexity of the situation. The ‘defender’ acts because he loves her, and has a horrifically stunted vocabulary for expressing that love.

          The answer is not for women to do what we have always expected in the past: to learn the language that he is speaking and judge him on his intent instead of his actions. Nor is it to pursue the approach I perceive as misguided (to judge his intent based on his actions, without taking the twisting into account). The answer is far simpler: it’s for him to stop hitting people.

          To the extent that it’s useful to understand intent, it’s to trace it back and then find an alternative expression. The desire to protect can be expressed without violence in most cases. If you’re hurt by something she said, then the words “I feel hurt” do a lot less harm than “Shut up you bitch!” in most cases (tone and body language are important, and can overshadow the words).

          It seems to me that women have been doing a great job of organizing themselves and recruiting allies. Men with hurt feelings have done a terrible job of organizing in their own best interests, and I can count my effective allies on this matter on the fingers of one hand. I was absolutely delighted to discover you existed a couple of weeks ago, and was trying to work out how to introduce myself as a potential collaborator. Interpreting the post above as an ally quitting the fight, I felt really really bad.

          Thank you for your patience with me as I say “I feel really bad when you say that.” Given the context and the confused mess that I’ve been, I’m extremely impressed, and I doubt that I’m alone in that respect.

          Liked by 1 person

        4. Jessica or Nora, can you clarify something for me? At one point Jessica says to stop apologizing for being feminist (and I agree), then goes on to say to stop dividing people between good and bad. Is Jessica not saying that feminists are good and non-feminists are bad? There’s a nuance there that I’m missing, I think.

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        5. the larger thing is that this culture uses shame and guilt binaries rather than working from the deeper well that is available. if you haven’t stepped into the waters of the deeper well it may not make any sense yet. it is a paradigm shift.
          not a theoretical thing, a physiological experience of what else would be / is possible outside the constrictions of an inherited guilt/shame culture. ie there are other ways for humans to be, and western culture has inherited a whack of ancestral crap we need to compost in order to know how healthy humanity would experience reality.
          one way in: ‘acceptance is not the opposite of rejection. acceptance is much bigger than rejection. ‘
          something someone said to me when I was struggling with ‘am I good or bad.’

          Liked by 2 people

    1. the Gollum image? fair. Gollum is a sort of shame-hobbit. he was once a hobbit and he was altered by finding the ring, became a kind of abject representation of the unconscious. living in watery underground caves nursing his ancient emotional injuries, etc. he is in some ways the perfect image for a core of shame that can’t hear or own or apologize even though he would like to. was going with the ‘geek’ theme of the blog (Star Trek, etc…) I’m totally open to other images!! and yeah that gif is pixelly. it was hard to find something that captured that feeling of abjected core self that drives this kind of behavior. what else would do it? (whee, brainstorm!)

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  3. this is a really good article but please dont use ’empathy’ as a measure of someone’s worth as lots of autistic people have low empathy and struggle with putting themselves into someone else’s shoes. instead a better measure would be ‘sympathy’?

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    1. hm. i take your point. it’s funny in particular as the boy in the story is actually on the spectrum (as is like a sizeable chunk of this coming up generation apparently). can’t the capacity be developed nonetheless? i definitely am not intending (there’s intent again) to measure anyone’s worth – the whole point is everyone has inherent worth. and yet empathy can also be cultivated, no? My godson definitely expresses empathy, not just sympathy, even if he does it in his own particular way and sometimes we have to work harder as adults who love him to recognize his ways of feeling and expressing.

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      1. Autism & low empathy can be “co-morbid” but a lot of autistics can also be hyper-empathic — if they learn the ways neurotypicals manifest emotion. (It doesn’t always come naturally. Sometimes it does. It’s a spectrum on many axes.) I was reading an article days ago that the whole “low empathy” thing is very orthogonal to autism; I suspect people on the spectrum are less likely to fake social empathy, is all.

        I know this is kind of a “not all autistics,” but the presumption of low empathy is *extremely* harmful as a default. (My spouse & kid are on the spectrum. Spouse imprinted on Vulcans to manage his emotions (crying at sad stuff included); kid always the sort to save earthworms, etc. Now she’s very social-justice oriented. Which is why I have to post, ’cause if she found I hadn’t, I’d get glared at. >_> ) Learning the signs of neurotypicals’ emotions may be harder (or anyone’s, depending), but that’s different from *lacking* empathy. Likewise, learning how to react can be harder; my kid had to learn a lot of social scripts, to use consciously. “Here’s how to express sympathy/empathy at the correct mode for the relationship you have with this person” kinds of things.

        Performing “social” consciously is complicated. Going “Vulcan” can be protective, as much as an actual deficit. (I would say *probably* not at 6, but then again, not sure my spouse was much older when he imprinted on Spock.)

        (found via Twitter link; sorry to momsplain; seriously, my kid would castigate me if I didn’t, though.)

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        1. yeah this is really interesting! as an auntie to a kid on the spectrum i’m learning as i go and he teaches us in a lot of ways! he definitely empathizes! he does miss cues and he needs extra support (his parents are lavishing tons of extra care and support and he has access to incredible resources) but he has a sweet heart and he feels for people. doesn’t mean he always notices every cue but when he is aware of someone’s feelings being hurt he is really aware. he already has a sense of loyalty and of how to be a good friend.

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        2. …earthworms are cute, okay? :p

          I wouldn’t castigate you for not engaging—I know you have limited spoons too—but I will thank you for engaging. *hug*

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  4. You have a lot of good things to say about guilt and empathy, but the basic case you take is just not the reality of what happens. The hurt that is constantly caused to feminist men is not people saying “Kyle, you have hurt me by kicking me in the shins.” It is caused by people saying “All kids kick me in the shins.” The hurt is not caused by saying “1/6 of drivers run people over”, the hurt is caused by saying “All drivers run people over.”

    I would encourage you to reconsider your examples in light of this, and address how people should feel and act when in fact they’ve just walked in the front door of a house for the first time and are accused of kicking their host.

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    1. I think I have an understanding of what Tkolar is trying to say – if I’m wrong about that, I’d like Tkolar (only) to correct me. I also think I have an understanding of what Nora is trying to say, and I’m happy to hear from a variety of voices on that front (given that the regular readership is probably more familiar with Nora’s specific views than Tkolar’s specific views).

      One of the reasons why I don’t call myself a feminist anymore (note my comments above) is because I’m tired of addressing pre-emptive accusations. It exhausts me to be doing my best to address the problems in society and to feel accused of various crimes I didn’t commit every time I look at a feminist blog or hear a feminist speak. I’ve done a lot of good (despite the harm I’ve admitted to), and it often feels like nothing I do will ever be good enough for a great many people; especially a great many feminists.

      So I have a lot of sympathy for Tkolar’s objection. It hurts when people talk about stereotypes (‘men’ as opposed to ‘some men’ or even ‘many men’) in ways that exclude your own experience. It’s confusing when the people who are complaining about how stereotypes are hurtful (feminists) use stereotypes in ways that hurt.

      Nora has made several points, and I agree with many of them. When it comes to the “Not all men” comment, I suspect that it’s shorthand for a frustration that feminists (perhaps ‘not all feminists’) have:
      1) Feminist raises a point about a pattern of male behaviour that they have observed.
      2) A man (perhaps a man who feels pre-emptively accused) replies “That pattern doesn’t always happen” and describes the commentary as unfair.
      3) Feminist, not wishing to be perceived as unfair, diverts energy to addressing the problem of fairness.
      4) The pattern of male behaviour that the feminist was hoping to analyze is not analyzed, because everyone is exhausted at the end of the ‘fairness’ conversation.

      Over time, the recurrence of this pattern has led to a shorthand and a hashtag (#notallmen) that feminists use to express their frustration at feeling forced to have a conversation that they don’t want to have (the fairness conversation) as opposed to the conversation that they do want to have (the analytical conversation).

      I think that the question raised is an excellent one: If I arrive at a party, and the moment that I arrive, I feel accused of something I didn’t do, how should I feel? How should I behave?

      How should I feel? – This question is actually irrelevant; the myth that we are capable of feeling the way that we ‘should feel’ is quite harmful. If I perceive myself as pre-emptively accused, that perception will lead to disappointment in the accuser and/or anger about the accusation. I don’t get to choose how I’m going to feel. (I can train myself to perceive differently, I’ll come back to this.)

      How should I behave? This question is really important, and there are a number of choices available.

      I can engage directly with the perceived accusation, which is a waste of everybody’s time. It perpetuates the frustration on both sides – by having the argument at all, we lose.

      I can engage with the host’s perceived rudeness, which is rude. You don’t go to someone else’s house and tell them how to live their life, it’s intrusive and offensive.

      I can go to the party and politely insist that nobody does the things I don’t like. And I can watch all the other guests get restless and resentful, waiting for me to leave so that they can express the emotions that they need to express.

      I can take it on the chin (‘like a man’?) and focus on the parts of the party that I enjoy. This can work for a while – a long while, if it’s a really good party. But you can’t suppress the hurt forever; suppressing things leads to an accumulation, which can become an explosion.

      I can go to the party across the street. You know, the one where there’s a bunch of drunk guys chanting “Feminists are evil bitches who hurt men.” It’s possible to feel better about being hurt by a feminist at that party, but they’re taking some really toxic drugs and getting into nasty fights. It’s an unattractive party overall.

      I can stop going to parties. But that gets lonely.

      I can try starting my own party, and say “I got hurt by feminists and want to talk about that for a bit,” but I found that the (metaphorical) police came around and wanted to know where I was hiding all the really toxic drugs and when the fight was going to start.

      What I’m actually doing right now is trying to work out how to get that last option to work. I’d love it if I stumbled across a party I could go to where I feel like my feelings are treated as ‘worthy of care’ while also acknowledging that my feelings are not the only thing that matters. Nora’s party is one of the best parties around from that point of view, but it’s not a perfect fit for me; it takes effort.

      So, what I figure we need to do is to work out how to say “I love it that you’re a feminist. I’m not a feminist. It doesn’t mean that I’m a bad guy, and it doesn’t mean that I don’t want you to get the things you want. What it means is, I need a space where I come first, just like you need a space where you come first. I want these spaces to be connected, but I think we need to recognize that they’re different.”

      Thank you for your comment Tkolar, and thank you for this space, Nora. I am (as I hoped) finding ways to express myself that feel a bit more coherent, and a bit less confused.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Tkolar: What’s wrong, logically speaking, with your claims is that nobody says that. Well, OK, maybe a few S.C.U.M Manifesto type extremists, but they’re not taken seriously by anyone. We say “1/6 of drivers run people over” and we get a reaction as *if* we’ve said “all drivers run people over”.

      (And FFS, this is actually literally happening in the “safe streets” community right now — it’s not just an analogy! It’s the same damn thing! I know, definitely #notalldrivers, but can we please do something to make the streets safer for pedestrians rather than worrying about the feelings of the good drivers!)

      Look inside yourself to see what you’re mishearing… mishearing is an unhealthy emotional response. If you’re mishearing, look inside, figure out what’s going on with you and try to fix it so that you can hear what was actually said.

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  5. A real interesting post (and the same thing applies to this whole site really). Am a little conflicted about it all to be honest. So what follows is just one guy’s opinion. I’m not pretending for absolute truth, you’re entitled to make whatever you will of it.

    On the one hand, I think avoiding sexism and racism should be a no-brainer really. If there is a behaviour which is considered to be oppressive, then I’ll better avoid it, full stop. Then on the other hand, I must admit that a lot of my frustrations about feminism seem to be about having dissenting opinions. Sometimes feminists come across as incredibly dogmatic and intolerant of any opinion deviating from the party line and I find that really hard. I am certain that I have to think for myself, instead of blindly believing in any ideology. So I guess my ability to be a decent (feminist) ally is directly limited by my propensity to disagree with certain aspects of feminist ideology. Behaviours is one thing, opinions is quite another!

    So when you write about bad men (like your father) and accusing them of their tendencies to preserve their male privilege in extremely violent/intimidating ways and how they can never be trusted as a result, does it also mean you distrust anyone who disagrees with you in terms of ideology? Or does it maybe depend on whether they can express their disagreement without lashing out or expressing resentment? But I do realise that a lot of disagreement can be vitriolic by nature and actually for me, “Not all men” quite explicitly means: “You sound too anti-male and I resent that! Stop demonising us!”. Which leads me to the next point:

    Have realised I can’t escape the conclusion that it is damn near impossible for women to do feminism without coming across even just a little bit anti-male. Whatever feminists are going to say about men is going to be an affront to men. I mean, if you talk about engaging with other white people about racial oppression and then turning around to say: “I cannot do that with men”, that does sound a bit anti-male. Just a bit. But then things like that have to be said if a lot of ways men are socialised to be men are going to threaten women.

    At least intellectually I quite accept that in case of a lot of anti-woman bias, women need the intellectual space to be a bit anti-male in response. Sure many suffragettes seemed anti-male at the time, but looking back they were totally right to push for the female voting rights and their biggest failure was actually leaving out the WOC. Today’s anti-male screed can be tomorrow’s common sense. So if any feminist is sounding too anti-male today, let’s see how she holds up in the future.

    Then again, whatever your own personal definition of “anti-male” is, a lot of what you’ve written about guilt, shame, nurturance, integrity etc. kind of resonates with me. It really makes me think. Like the best writing of bell hooks, it communicates, it gets under the skin. Makes me think there is an alternative to the usual male bullshit. So for now, I at least appreciate the originality and the intelligence in your writing. Definitely a lot more density and nuance than in your average “anti-male screed”. 😉

    What I suspect is that this whole feminist project can only reach its full potential if the oppressed people have plenty of courage to come forth with criticism and the privileged have enough integrity to deal with criticism constructively and it balances out nicely. Without that, feminism becomes nothing more than a political pressure group. Against which there could easily be an anti-feminist pressure group. So it’s just a battle of wills, rather than (or at least, lacking that element of) co-operation to create a new culture aimed at rising above violence and domination. I’d like to hope there is a way forward other than it being a contest of who shouts the loudest and is lobbying for one’s agenda more aggressively.

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    1. Are the only two options really ‘think for myself and have my own opinions’ or on the other hand ‘blindly follow an ideology’? hullo? is there a third thing that is ‘get that my opinions are not disconnected from my life experience’ and use empathy to get deeply into another person’s life experience?
      I hear in your words the kind of abstract ‘it’s all a market of ideas’ that is disconnected from the body and from other human beings who clearly aren’t making this all up and are talking across a gulf in life experience that often seems uncrossable. can you cross it?

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      1. There is that third option. Now, it’s really funny for me I have to admit, on the one hand I definitely like to champion the idea that things aren’t so black and white and there are loads of gray tones in between. But then even I can get pretty stuck on the binaries. Guess it depends on how dramatic things seem to be. And there’s definitely loads of drama in the narrative of a freethinker finding himself in opposition to dogmatic ideologues. So yes, I am owning that, if only to own the fact that I sometimes tend to over-dramatise the issues.

        A market of ideas? In a way, yes. I definitely think a competition of narratives exists. There’s the liberal narrative, there’s the conservative narrative and then there’s narratives steeped in radical politics. Everybody wants a meaningful story. And it’s natural to want to believe that one’s own story is the most evidence based, the most compelling and the most explanatory of the realities of life. And with regards to feminism itself, I would say I’ve generally preferred the angle of rationalism to it.

        Which means, you don’t have to be nice to reactionaries nor the privilege blind, but it would be good to consider the myths they spread and explain how things really are. I mean, pissed off female students could protest against Warren Farrell’s appearance in Toronto and yell: “Rape apologist, fucking scum!”, whereas I would be searching out what the critics have actually written about his writings. So that I would have strongly argumentative grounds to dismiss Farrell’s reactionary views. MRAs are using every evidence of a feminist losing her cool to show that feminists are a crazed man-hating cult. Whereas intellectual argumentative texts for me is evidence that there’s still reason to support feminism.

        Lived experiences is a funny thing too. The most recent anti-feminist to go viral was the guy that wrote a hit-piece on feminist women, calling them undateable. The backlash was intense, perhaps predictably so. Then some journalist interviews him and it was the usual patriarchal pity party: “Question feminist dogma and you’ll be ostracised”. Beside the fact that it is quite possible to go against the party line a little bit and still come across as a decent guy, the one thing that really got me was this: “I’ve been bullied before”.

        So I guess he’s been a school bullying victim. I’m a school bullying survivor as well and I’ve got to say that even though it wasn’t completely obvious at the time, in retrospect it’s evident that school bullying is steeped in toxic masculinity. Not everyone sees it that way as there was this one guy at school that regularly got bullied by the bigger kids. And…he could be a total arsehole to me. Called me names and whenever I got roped into fighting him he always managed to outdo me, I even ended up with my left hand in a plaster cast for two weeks once. What I fucking should have done is that I should have refused fighting and I should have told him to fuck off whenever he pleaded me to help him do his homework as he was scholarly quite inept to the point he actually got called “retarded” on a regular basis. If that guy would have stayed behind in school I would have gotten rid of this entitled brat in one year instead of putting up with him for four.

        So yes, funny thing. Lived experiences can make you a righteous social justice warrior, but they can also infect you with reactionary mind viruses. Like homophobia and misogyny. Or just make you an arsehole. So there’s a challenge for the feminists working in school education: how to help girls survive the horrors of school as well as how to make sure that the more vulnerable boys would not turn out to take out their pain on girls, gays and people of colour. As a white male, I would have definitely wanted more privilege in terms of brute strength back in the days, but if I were a woman, maybe one of my bullies would have been my rapist. Perspective is everything.

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      2. I project that Tucker is feeling lonely. As per my response to Tkolar above, it’s a bit like the feminists are having a really cool party, and I want to join in, but I keep getting a lot of signs that I’m not really welcome.

        Once you get to a point of considering other people’s feelings and experiences, you recognize that taking control of the feminist party isn’t the right way to go; and that’s all that feminists really need from us. However, for ourselves, it’s sad and lonely to recognize that there’s a really cool party, and nowhere else to go.

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  6. it’s all about finally centring someone else. centring. not about you welcome or not welcome; if we didn’t beleive in the capacity to change there would be no writing of this sort.

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    1. Your optimism, your belief in the capacity to change, is very clear for all to see.
      tl;dr for the below: “You called for men to centre someone else. Men are talking about the difficulty they have in achieving the goal of centring someone else.”

      In your post, I read that it’s difficult for you to consider someone else’s feelings when that person is a riot cop who is very actively being extremely intimidating. I read that you’d prefer a world where the riot cop had a bit more awareness of what they were doing. I read that your experiences have told you that (not all) men will always put their own feelings first, and to reinforce that priority with violence. I read that you’ve worked long and hard to help men to regulate their feelings, and that you’re exhausted by it. I read that you’re feeling like you ‘need a turn’ as it were – that you’re appealing on behalf of women to say “Men, please put the woman’s feelings first for a change.”

      In my replies, I’ve tried to say that what I’ve read is one of the most positive, well-considered and compassionate things I’ve ever read. That it hurts to see someone so wonderful talking about quitting, and it’s confusing to know what to do with that hurt. In my reply to Tkolar, I tried to say “Yes, it is hard to pay attention to the content when you feel slapped in the face. I’m trying to find a way to cope with those feelings that doesn’t increase the burden on women, but it gets difficult sometimes.”

      I’m unhappy that I ‘led the charge’ of men bringing you their emotional burdens in reply to this post; in this context, it’s appallingly ironic. I’m grateful that you’re being your consistently compassionate self in response; and I’m sad that your call for help with carrying other people’s burdens has brought more people with more burdens.

      I want to help. I also want to be seen as helpful. I want everybody to be able to care for others, and also to be able to care for themselves. I don’t want patience (yours or mine) to be taken for granted. I feel that this conversation is bringing me closer to what I want, and I’m grateful (and a bit sad).

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      1. glad it’s helpful. I guess all the conversations are helpful. for me it is the subjective experience ppl describe of ‘when you feel slapped in the face’ by someone else’s very factual and straightforward experience of structural violence that always reads to me as an utter inability to centre someone else. it is some sort of failure of the imagination. if I say ‘my body cannot coddle any more men’ is it possible, is it *possible* to step outside one’s own subjectivity to actually get what is actually being said there, which is *not about you.*
        it seems nearly impossible to jump that divide sometimes. easier to face the brick wall of I comprehension as a piece of writing than as an actual physical human being.
        thanks for the words here, nonetheless. and thank you for reading and thinking together.

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        1. There is trouble to being a male feminist and it’s not even about being welcome or not. Rather, when a male is a feminist, he may find himself in a bit more limited role, as he definitely has to – in order to not be excluded – take cues from women, yield first in disputes and toe the party line very carefully. Also, some men might want to retain sympathy for feminism and they’d accept women are disadvantaged, but they’d also be interested in the male issues.

          And while it’s certainly true that patriarchy hurts men too and men can benefit from feminism, men who also care about men’s issues might face considerable amount of pressure within the movement to forget about the male issues and instead be confronted with the uncomfortable expectations radical feminists are placing on them. So I can see why people like Ally Fogg in the UK have chosen a bit more of an independent, non-partisan route. For Fogg, a broad sense of social justice is king, not any political ideology. http://freethoughtblogs.com/hetpat/2013/05/28/why-i-am-not-a-feminist/

          If there is a third way to feminism and MRA movements, then it could definitely be some kind of a men’s movement that can easily coexist as a complement to feminism. After all, while patriarchy denies women full personhood, it also only promotes some men and throws the rest into the gutter. That is also quite something to consider.

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        2. oh for god’s sake, 1. this already exists, it is called feminism, 2. men who ‘have to toe the line to not be excluded’ have not got the point and are not actually doing their own emotional work or seeing what is right under their noses 3. the idea of a ‘middle ground’ between ‘feminism and MRAs’ sets up a false dichotomy. MRAs are their own freak world of their own freak issues and are not relevant here, they are not my audience and they have nothing to do with this. there is not a binary or two ‘sides’ or two ‘poles’ – there is a rich and complex and widely varying world of feminism that is beneficial to and as you say about helping men women and people of all genders and MRAs are just delusional and disconnected from reality. they honestly are completely irrelevant to me and there is no value in ‘halfway’ between a rich, complex,nuanced world that already has its own inner debates and big complex relationships, and some far-flung outlier that is locked in its own paranoias. it’s not a see-saw with feminists on one end and MRAs on another and needing ‘balance’, it is an ocean of knowledge and conversations and learning and arguments between us that are valuable, with a teeny tiny desert island somewhere far away where the MRA dudes loook at their own belly buttons and stamp around growling at everybody beause they haven’t bothered to look in the water at all the cool fish. i posted this because you have the point that these ideas are about how patriarchy hurts men as much as anyone else. that’s true.

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  7. Dearest Nora, I suggest you file Tucker’s response under “case in point” and stop perpetuating this circular, defensive argument.

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    1. I agree with you, Carmen.

      Which is not to say that I disagree with the point that Tucker is making, it’s more to say that I don’t think he’s paying any visible attention to what Nora is saying. This renders his point ‘badly suited to the circumstance’ and ‘not really very constructive’.

      I think that there is a viewpoint that isn’t being explained well, that isn’t feminism and which does support equity. I’d like to think that it’s the viewpoint that I’m coming from. The challenge that I’m going to need to address is to explain it – it’s a bit rich to expect others to understand it when it hasn’t been explained.

      Christians tend not to be able to separate their concept of ‘good people’ from their concept of ‘Christian’. I have a huge amount of respect for many Christians, but there are aspects of those teachings that I find offensive, so I reject the label. It’s the same for me with feminism. (In order to stop myself from telling feminists not to offend me, I need to not be a feminist.)

      I’ve been trying to work out what to say regarding ‘welcome’ vs ‘not welcome’ and ‘excluded’ vs ‘not excluded’. It’s tricky. I can see the absolute truth of your statement that the point being made is not about those things. At the same time, it’s clear that there are men who don’t feel welcome, and are (in differing ways) finding it difficult to cope with that feeling. As a man, that’s an issue that I care about solving. As a man, I do find it confusing that the movement which seems to want me to join (with statements like ‘stop denying that you’re a feminist’) doesn’t seem to care whether I feel welcome or not.

      To the (limited) extent that it matters, I do feel very well-treated (welcomed) in this space.

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      1. Nick, there is a point at which feeling unwelcome is about what you’re perceiving instead of what is being communicated.

        I read an essay a little while ago on the internet, something like, “Stop using your anxiety as an excuse to be an asshole,” where the author – an anxiety/depression sufferer in recovery – expressed concern that maybe some people are taking “self-care” too far and actually using it as a cover to give in to their worst, basest instincts and make no attempt to be socially decent to others because their anxiety demanded that they take care of themselves first. It was a critique of this no-holds-barred version of self-care where you don’t show up to plans and don’t call to cancel because you were too anxious, where you hear a friend share a problem and respond by talking all about your own problem instead.

        I struggle with severe anxiety and agoraphobia and her article resonated with me – there’s a fine line between letting social conventions destroy your mental health and letting your mental health cause you to flout all social conventions, and finding that line is something that has always been a big part of my recovery. Knowing when staying in on some nights is important to allow me time to recover and recharge vs when staying in for 4 weeks straight is being too self-indulgent and putting my relationships at risk of withering.

        But the comments section were full of people saying, “Hey! I have anxiety and I’m not an asshole! How dare you malign people with anxiety this way. Anxiety isn’t the same as being an asshole.”

        Which is exactly what the author was saying. She was writing about the overlapping section of the Venn Diagram of “People with anxiety” and “People who act like assholes.” People in that overlapping section reduce their own assholishness to an unavoidable consequence of their anxiety. The people with anxiety who aren’t assholes? It wasn’t about us. Nothing in her piece ever said that anxiety makes you an asshole or all people with anxiety are asshole. She was writing, “I used to use my anxiety to excuse my asshole behavior,” and “I know these people today who use their anxiety as an excuse for being assholes,” and they heard something slightly different in their minds, like, “Anxiety is a fake thing used as a cover for being an asshole.”

        Was it her fault that they read something she didn’t write? Should she have had to spend time putting a disclaimer on her post that of course this isn’t about ALL people with anxiety, just a particular subset of them who were also assholes and using their anxiety as an excuse? If anything, their need to defend the behaviors she described made them the assholes she was talking about, because unlike her, they seemed to be arguing that those behaviors were unavoidable for anxious people and should be forgiven in light of their anxiety – whereas she believed that most anxious people avoided those behaviors just fine and thus the ones who didn’t were just being assholes.

        When a woman says, “I’m so sick of men doing X to me,” she’s not saying, “All men do X to me.” She is saying, “People who do X to me are always men.” She’s talking about “Men who do X.” These are similar but clearly distinct concepts. It’s not her fault that someone is hearing “all men do X,” and she doesn’t have to make a separate disclaimer, “If you don’t do X, this isn’t about you.” She is not making you feel unwelcome. You are making yourself feel unwelcome. That is work you need to do yourself.

        As someone whose anxiety perpetually made me feel unwelcome, learning to feel comfortable at parties wasn’t about what people at the party did to make me feel welcome or unwelcome. It was my own social paranoia that made me feel unwelcome, and it was me working to get rid of that social paranoia that made me able to feel welcome.

        I say this with the kindest intent to help: It is your social paranoia that makes you feel unwelcome around feminists when they talk about what men have done to them. If you are not a perpetrator of the behaviors they are discussing, they are not talking about you. The fact that you have been invited to the party and feminists are speaking openly about harms perpetrated on them in front of you means everyone implicitly understands you are not a perpetrator of those harms, or else no one would even feel safe discussing it in front of you. The way for you to feel welcome is to stop being paranoid.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for your authenticity! This article was refreshing. It showed clear examples, meaning and substance. I would love to learn more techniques/skills in healthy relating. Getting all the junk (ego/self-agenda) out of the way and directly to the ownership/issue/resolution.Do you have a podcast?

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  9. Kyle is being trained to be a slave to other people’s nervous systems.

    He figured out it’s all hypocritical bullshit—some animals and their nervous systems are more equal than others. When Kyle kicks his dad’s shin, that’s “wrong.” When Kyle’s Dad kicks Kyle’s nervous system with words, that’s OK. This hypocrisy is inherent in all systems of social control, all class systems. You cannot get rid of this, all you can do is come to peace with being a vicious hypocrite.

    The real danger are people who act like there are rationalistic or empirical grounds on this to condemn Kyle for noting the hypocrisy in the system.

    The fact is that all notions of right and wrong are mere perceptions, pretty much hallucinations. These hallucinations have an evolutionary value, in that communities of people who hallucinate the same way will be able to regiment themselves, secure resources, ostracize people who do not hallucinate the same way, etc. etc. So there’s a clear evolutionary psych. account of these things. That doesn’t mean they’re anything less than hallucinations.

    Empathy is a form of hallucination, whereby one experiences something that is not happening to oneself. It reflects a poorly structured ego and lack of defensive capability. If one wants to breed a slave, the best thing to give it is empathy. That way, when Master whips one slave, all of the other slaves feel it and fall in line.

    Accountability, responsibility, they’re simply occult ways of talking about slavery. And I am not saying slavery is right or wrong, only that we have a perfectly good language for talking about the subjugation of men and requiring them to be empathic: it is the language of slavery, the dominion of other people’s nervous systems (the nervous system being the biological entity responsible for all perception, feeling, etc. Unless you’re religious, then God did it, but then you’re psychotic, so…).

    It’s easy to use propaganda, which is what “empathy” is, to control male nervous systems, especially if the child is dependent upon its parents for love, affection, food, especially if they can withhold these things in order to shape the nervous system to conform to their own, or their desire of what it should be. But these are simply the tools that masters used historically to control slaves. You wouldn’t go right to whipping the slave, first you might reduce its ration of affection, food, etc.

    At bottom, the real issue here is one of neurodiversity. People who lack empathy are not “broken”, they simply have different sorts of nervous systems. Totalitarians hate neurodiversity, they want everyone to be a cog in a machine. It doesn’t matter that different totalitarians want differently shaped cogs; the hallmark of a totalitarian is the idea that there is “one size fits all” and that tall poppies/those lacking empathy/free people/etc. need to be stomped into the shape that the totalitarian sees fit.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What an incredible piece. Thank you so much. Your section about your father lands very close to home for me (as does all of the piece..cause #patriarchy). I did want to ask about your choice to use the word “paralyzes”, as in, your sentence: “there is a quality in guilt that paralyzes”…I think it’s ableist, insinuating that being paralyzed is automatically a negative thing. Can we talk about this?

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    1. thanks, good point. i meant it descriptively rather than holding a positive or negative connotation – literally the fact of paralysis. but this raises an important point. how else could i describe it that was neutral and didn’t make that supposition?

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      1. I hear that, I also struggle with finding something more neutral. I’ve tried using stuck….to evoke the feeling of not knowing how to act and to avoid the connotations of paralyzed meaning a specific kind of disability…but, maybe stuck has the same issues. What about…overwhelmed, frozen, stunned? I’ll think on this more. Thanks for being open to discussion 🙂

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        1. of course! thanks for pointing that out. lol i just realized i was about to write ‘we all have blind spots.’ how about ‘we all have things we don’t notice.’ 🙂

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  11. So complaining about feeling sad because an accurate accusation equals pointing out one’s innocence when part of the accused group of an entire gender? Just being a man and doing nothing wrong is equivalent to kicking someone in the shins? Are you really saying that pointing out the fallacious nature of YOU blaming an entire gender for actions of individuals, which stopped being cool when christians used it for the same guilt-trip trick centuries ago, is the same as someone guilty of wrongdoing crying about being held accountable for actions they DID do?
    Men are harming everyone by just existing as a man and should just continuously apologise for being born wrong, is that it?

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  12. Who is your audience, Nora? Because if it’s men, I can tell you it’s insulting and not constructive to compare them with 6-year-old children.

    It’s also myopic to suggest women don’t engage in their own kind of emotional surrogacy. While men might let women “take care of their feelings for them,” women often use men’s stoicism* in a similar fashion. That is, women unload their emotions on men expecting no reaction, and become surprised, shocked, or even fearful when there a reaction occurs.

    The message is clear: Men, embrace your emotions… As long as they’re the emotions WE approve of.

    * Whether that stoicism is biological or cultural is up for debate.

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    1. I’ miss always fascinated when soreaders can read a piece about gendered and racialized violence that describes massive social power structures, and come out having heard something completely other than the actual words or meaning of the piece. can you show me where this article says or indicates anything about “women don’t engage in their own kind of emotional surrogacy.” I just don’t see it here – curious where you do. feel free to tell me where i wrote that.

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  13. Every piece I read from you just blows me away. I had childhood experiences much like yours, only it was my mother losing her shit, not my father — he just walked away and left me to deal with it. So I learned that it was my job to deal with abuse and illogical anger, and to deal with it “gracefully,” in much the same manner you described.
    This is probably why I’m so good at what I do now, which is deal with folks on the worst day of their lives, and why I much prefer the other half of my job, which is hard physical labor with a lot of hazardous chemical exposure. (I’m a funeral director and embalmer.)
    I feel at home in the prep room, where I get to be alone with another person, and still really very much alone. I know them intimately, and they can’t possibly hurt me. It’s very serene, even when it’s very unpleasant, if that makes any sense.
    I feel a great sense of triumph after making arrangements or directing a funeral, because I got through it. Everywhere I’ve worked, they’ve sent me the difficult cases — the homicides, the auto crashes, the incredibly dysfunctional and sometimes violent families. (I’ve had to duck a thrown urn, and calmed down the thrower afterward.) I’m good at putting people back together and holding a situation down.
    I’ve only lately begun realizing that although my skills at handling unstable and frightening people are useful, I should never have had to develop them in the first place. And they may be contributing to the problem at hand.
    I know a lot of women who grew up with borderline or narcissistic parents, and it’s weird, how we tend to go into fields where we do the same thing that we did as kids — mental health care, funeral directing, social work.
    I don’t feel right, calling people out and forcing them to take accountability when they’ve just lost someone they love.
    But maybe that’s part of the problem. Everyone around them makes excuses for why it’s not the right time.
    You’ve given me a lot to think about, and I sincerely appreciate it. You do good work, and I’m grateful for it.

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  14. Your blog is not ad free. It says “Date Asian ladies online” both above and below the article, with a picture of a person with short shorts on smiling on a bed… just in case you didn’t know; your tip jar bit implies that you don’t know. It’s really incongruous and I would advise trying to change it.

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    1. jeez that sucks. i don’t have any say over whatever that is – it is not funding me. it’s either wordpress doing something i didn’t give permission for, or creepy ad spam program on your end? (is that possible?) I have long ago turned off wordpress ads because i don’t want ads on my writing. thanks for letting me know that is there – i already turned off ads so i don’t know how else i could change it. wordpress might do this without us agreeing – they do say sometjhing about that they might have some ads. i assumed it was just wordpress ads (on my end when there is anything in those windows it just says ‘make a blog on wordpress!’ basically). but this sounds awful. it doesn’t show up on my end. if you have a mo if you felt like checking whether it’s something that pops up on your end vs something on this end i’d be happy to know. beyond turning it off or completely changing platforms i’m not sure how else to stop them. 😦 but thanks for the heads up. whatever is coming up does not connect to me or fund this work in any way.

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  15. Reblogged this on Invisible Autistic and commented:
    “When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

    I realize now that the reason I never brought up the issue of race when I was attacked was simply this: the majority of the people I worked with were white, and I did not know who to trust. Just because a white person is dating an Asian does not mean they’re open to hearing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. This….this actually explains some weird things that happened to me recently. I had been bullied, and one of my friends, who happened to be white, seemed to expect me to be okay after that. I could not understand why he’d expect that until I read your post. Indeed, he was trying to avoid his own feelings of guilt.

    Liked by 1 person

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