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For Teh Menz

sabonasi has an interesting post in feminist about A Feminist Man's Guide To Interacting With Women in Public. [Reposted with permission.]

It's a good list, but it's another "what not to do" list. In the wake of the latest glut of complaints by "nice guys" that there aren't enough (a bit more about this later), is there more "positive" advice out there? The best I've been able to come up with is to recognize that is keeping these guys from the meaningful interactions they presumably want isn't the feminist message of "don't be a harasser" so much as it is patriarchical assumptions about sexuality and agency.

Comments

What are the latest glut of complaints by nice guys?

I've always been averse to the idea that "guys have to act this way and girls have to act this way", whether it's in the old form of patriarchy or some newer set of rules. The women that I've had relationships with have had much the same ideas as me in that much of gender can be stripped away. There are lots of sleazy guys out there, fact. There are also lots of girls that buy into their preconditioned roles. I don't have to be a part of that, in fact I get edgy around men or women who unthinkingly run with the assumed mating rituals of yesteryear.

There are two issues for me here - the first is that I like to (and do) make random friends. If someone isn't interested in talking to me then I back off. I don't see anything wrong with that so long as I remember my manners. The second issue is that attraction compels us to make contact with those that we're attracted to. Many men do play some kind of aggressive numbers game, but I don't get along with those sorts of people so I haven't had much opportunity to assert my problem with that kind of approach. To some extent we are societally conditioned be the social instigators of sexual interest. This is a notion that I reject outright.

I do not have a lot of relationships, due to reasons beyond this discussion, but the ones I've had have been mutually respectful and have developed naturally through friendship first. I acknowledge that as a man I am not harrassed to the extent that women are, but I don't lay the blame solely at patriarchy, because I specifically think that removes the relative freedom and very real agency that we have in our Western societies to live as best we can outside of them.
Here's my lengthy attempt at more "postive" advice: How to be a Real Nice Guy.
That is a fantastic article.

I picked up on the issue that you said you had the hardest time with: Is it always true that the priviledged can only sympathise and cannot empathise? I would assume that empathy is exactly what is being strived for.
It's a fine line, I think. The problem with empathy is that assuming you can have it for another person/group of people can lead to colonizing their experience. With sympathy you still can fight the injustice without feeling entitled to be "equal" with those who have a personal stake in the issue.

Does that make sense?
I'm a psych major so my definitions may be a bit different. Generally we refer to Empathy as more of a "hot" (ie emotional) form of attunement, whereas sympathy would be a "cold" (ie. rational) form of attunement. If I really wanted somebody to understand what I was going through I don't know that I'd be happy just for them to acknowledge that they understand the pathology of my plight, I would hope that they could "feel" for me as well.

Also, I tend to insinuate sympathy with pity, whereas empathy is a shared experience. I don't know if this is a good example, but I'll give it a go: When we were teenagers my close friend got diabetes. I had no idea what it was like to have your entire life changed so dramatically, but I spent a fair amount of time with him until I got the the point that he and I felt we had shared his pain. I would call that empathy, and that feels appropriate to me.

I guess feeling that one has empathy is not the same as truly sharing an experience, but woudn't the problem only be if a man felt empathetic without gaining any feedback to support his belief that he was sharing a part of an experience?
I guess feeling that one has empathy is not the same as truly sharing an experience, but woudn't the problem only be if a man felt empathetic without gaining any feedback to support his belief that he was sharing a part of an experience?

No, that's missing my point entirely, I think. The section head, when it comes down to it, is a shorthand. It's not where my point begins and ends.

Let's look at the meat of what I said:
This is probably the hardest one for me, personally, to wrap my mind around because I’m all about drawing links between oppressions. But, no matter how strong the link is, the facts remain that no two oppressions are the same. And it’s you, as the privileged party, who needs to be extra careful about when and how you draw links. While the intent may be to show solidarity, the result is all too often that you come off as defensive, trying to one-up the minority groups and appropriate their oppression. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever try to make connections, but rather that you should think about how the connections you’re drawing will come off to others.


The important point I'm trying to make is that if you try to link your experience too closely (the whole "me too!" thing) then you're colonizing the other person's experience.

For instance, a black man can never know what it's like to live with rape culture. He can approximate it to his own experience of "living while black," and there are some connections, to be sure. But if he constantly brings it up in a minority discussion to "prove" that he "gets it", then he's colonizing the minority discussion. Which means that no, he so does not get it.

I would also suggest you follow the two links in the original piece, as they explore this point in more detail.

January 2008

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