Feminism 101: Helpful Hints for Dudes, Part 10

Following is a primer for men who are genuinely interested in learning about how to be a more feminist-friendly dude. Most of the information in this piece is, as always, generally applicable in terms of being decent to the people around you, but this has been written to be most accessible for men in keeping with the objective of the series, which is responding to commonly emailed questions from privileged men (here, generally meaning straight cis men) seeking advice on how to interact with the women in their lives.

[Content Note: Misogyny; misogynist slurs.]

Here is something that has happened to me countless times in the ten years I've been blogging: I share something about my lived experience reflecting some part of my individual experience of womanhood, and a dude who I don't know and with whom I've never interacted before but who assures me he is A Feminist Ally will pop up in comments, or on Twitter, or in my email in order to "discuss" it with me.

I put "discuss" in quotes, because "discuss" often really means play devil's advocate, or demand proof, or ask for personal education, or offer a tiresome contradictory observation as though it's thoughtful and helpful.

I then respond with all the kindness I can muster in that moment. Which sometimes isn't very much. Sometimes, I just ignore them altogether, because I can't say anything I wouldn't regret.

If I ignore them, they often continue to pester me. If I continue to ignore them, then I'm a bitch. Oh, you're too good to have a conversation with me? Don't be on Twitter if you don't want to talk to people. I'm trying to learn and you won't even help me. Bitch.

If I say, politely, that I'm not going to have that conversation right now, then I'm a bitch. You don't have to be a rude bitch about it. Bitch.

If I tell them to fuck off, then I'm a bitch. GEEZ, I was ONLY SAYING. You don't have to tear my head off. Bitch.

If I engage with them, but then draw a line under it if and when I realize it's not going anywhere, despite their protestations that they are definitely totally for sure my ally, then I'm a bitch. So you won't talk to anyone who disagrees with you? Bitch.

If I point out that auditing and/or disbelieving my lived experience isn't disagreement, then I'm a bitch. BITCH.

Basically, the way this always works out is that if I do not immediately capitulate to a man whose objective is telling me that my perception of my lived experience is wrong, then I am a bitch.

And these are the men who are ostensibly engaging with me because they are feminist allies. Not even the trolls. These are the men who imagine that acting as an ally to feminist women means assuming the role of authority on our lives and diminishing our agency.

Of talking at us, rather than listening to us.

I've watched this scene play out over and over, watched men doing the same thing to other women. "Helpfully" offering an observation that they believe is truly original and trenchant, but is in actual fact condescending as fuck, and then becoming deeply aggrieved when the woman to whom it was offered fails to appreciate their insights.

Sometimes, the way we are called bitches is by clueless men acting like kicked puppies, because of our insufficient appreciation.

And I get it. I do. I get that they were full of good intentions and really care and are only trying to help and all that crap. So it stings when their Shiny New Attempt at Feminism gets dinged by the disdainful ingratitude of a feminist.

Here's the thing, dudes: You're not the first guy who has offered whatever observation it is you think feels like the best new thought ever in your head. You're probably not even the first guy today.

And I know it feels like a personal slight when a feminist woman does not take time out of her day to personally educate you on why what you said is not nearly as helpful or supportive as you think it is. But try to keep this in perspective: If I stopped what I was doing to personally educate every hapless dude who was too lazy to invest the time it takes to be an ally who doesn't say stupid clueless things, I would literally never do anything else.

In a moment when you feel that sting of indignation for our failure to be kind in the face of your unhelpful comment, don't make it about you. If you want to be a real ally, empathize with the "bitch" who doesn't have time for your nincompoopery, unintentional though it may be.

Try to imagine what it feels like to have heard the same nonsense a dozen, a hundred, a thousand times, and understand that you are not a special snowflake to us: You are part of an avalanche we are constantly trying to outrun.

Don't be hurt, and for chrissakes don't turn on us and call us bitches. We don't owe you. You're not entitled to women's time and energy and kindness. That is lesson number one in being an ally. If you're stealing energy from the person to whom your ostensibly trying to be an ally, you're failing.

Take your licks and move on and don't make the same mistake again.

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