- One basketball team owner makes racist comments; another says
that he can't judge the first one, because "if I see a black kid in a
hoodie, and it's late at night, I'm walking to the other side of the
street"; a furor erupts
- A rabid misogynist sets out to murder women in the Santa Barbara area, and succeeds in killing a couple of them along with four men; women post messages on Tumblr and other social networks saying things like "All men need to stay away from me forever"; they are applauded
I had thought that it was a consensus, at least among progressives, that making generalizations about people was morally wrong. I had also thought that it was a consensus, at least among intellectuals, that making generalizations about people was logically wrong. I knew from personal experience that having people make assumptions about you based on generalizations sucks. But, fairly recently, objecting to one particular generalization has become taboo among a swath of people I usually consider right-thinking individuals. In my post, I asked people to help me understand why it was that "not all black kids in hoodies are dangerous" is still a legitimate and even necessary corrective to statements like the basketball team owner's, but "not all men are dangerous" is a statement that has been singled out for scorn.
My conjecture was that it had something to do with a concept I've heard a lot of people talk about in the past few years in relation to comedy: "punching up" vs. "punching down". The concept stems from the observation that an awful lot of what passes for humor is really just cruelty directed by more powerful people at less powerful ones. For instance, when I was in ninth grade, almost every one of the boys in my classes, from the preppies to the nerds, made a regular practice of mocking the special ed kids — sticking their tongues out, slapping their own shoulders with flailing limp wrists, bellowing "I'm thpethul!", the whole routine. Online, the popular boys competed with each other to find fresher and cleverer ways to call the unpopular ones fags. This is "punching down", both in the selection of targets and the selection of epithets. Does that mean that comedy is out of bounds if you want to be a good progressive? By no means, say the adherents of this concept. Just find a target more powerful than you and deserving of the ire that fuels so much comedy; "punch up". George W. Bush lied us into a war that killed tens of thousands of innocents — if you get to headline a White House dinner, like Stephen Colbert did in 2006, stand a few feet away from Bush and roast him as best you can! It's a good rule of thumb, but life is complex. Here's a Youtube video that has received millions of views and plaudits from all over the Internet. It simply takes a flamewar from a Youtube comment section and puts it in the mouths of two elderly, aristocratic British men:
Much of the humor here is the product of harmless incongruity: we see the haughty faces, hear the supercilious voices, and expect lofty words to match, but instead we get middle school squabbling, and that upending of expectations makes us laugh. The characters are also put forward as the immediate object of ridicule: "Check out these old fools! They're making asses of themselves!" But to the extent that this video has a primary target, it's the teenage girls who unwittingly supplied the dialogue. By plucking their petty taunts out of an Internet comment section where such things are commonplace and placing them in a new context, the filmmakers allow us to see with fresh eyes just how far short of acceptable conversation this exchange falls, which encourages us to feel contempt for the original authors. As teenage girls aren't a particularly powerful demographic, this would seem to qualify as "punching down". But I don't feel particularly guilty for laughing, because no subject position makes it okay to go around telling people to "go eat a shit" and "die under a tree", and it's that behavior, not the demographic category to which those exhibiting that behavior belong, that is being mocked. On the flip side, consider the defunct comedy site "Stuff White People Like". The creators basically just took a page from the Wally George / Rush Limbaugh playbook and mocked liberals as a bunch of Volvo-driving arugula eaters, but with a twist: they labeled their downward-punching liberal-bashing as upward-punching denigration of whites. Few of the posts were funny to begin with — whether it's "Har har, liberals like hummus!" or "Har har, white people like hummus!", it's pretty much indistinguishable from "Har har, Ned Flanders has paint cans in his garage! Ol' Painty-Can Ned!" — but the switch turned many of them into non-sequiturs as well. ("Har har, white people like Barack Obama!" Right, except in 2008 he got 43% of the white vote and 82% of the non-white vote, and in 2012 he got 39% of the white vote and 81% of the non-white vote. Otherwise, uh, well observed I guess.) But it worked! The site gained a huge following among people who would never have laughed at the identical jokes on Redstate or Free Republic. If that was really due to the "punching up" window dressing, that's pretty depressing.
Anyway, the most common response to my article was that, yes, my hypothesis was correct — though some respondents framed that confirmation as "yes, it is widely believed that it is wrong to generalize about members of oppressed groups but okay to generalize about members of privileged groups," and others framed it as "yes, it is wrong to generalize about members of oppressed groups but okay to generalize about members of privileged groups!". But many replies added useful elaborations on or reframings of that basic concept. Some recommended looking less at the direction of the punching than at how each statement fit into the history of public discourse on the topic. The notion that black people are, for whatever reason, more dangerous on the whole than white people are, is an idea with a long and ugly history behind it — it's been used for centuries to keep blacks in a subordinate position. The notion that men are, for whatever reason, more dangerous on the whole than women are, is an idea without such a history; to the extent that it's ever been articulated, it has generally been in order to continue to keep women in a subordinate position! ("The public arena is no place for a lady" and similar paternalistic blather.) Others pointed out other dissimilarities between the two cases. Consider the deployment of state power, some said. The bias against blacks that leads some to cross the street rather than pass them on the sidewalk is the same bias that makes it pretty likely that the "black kid in a hoodie" has already been stopped and frisked by the police any number of times on flimsy pretexts. A bias against men, by contrast, has no such corresponding support — quite the opposite, as when women go to the police to report that they've been raped, the police very often react with skepticism and subject them to contemptuous cross-examination. Another dissimilarity that some cited is that while in some cases women resort to broad-brush statements in order to impress upon men what day-to-day life is like for a woman in our society, it is ludicrous to think that a white person would ever have to explain to a black person, "You have to understand — a big chunk of the population is going to be wary of you just because you're black!" Black people already know this. But many men don't know the corresponding fact about themselves, because they don't have to. (I've heard it said that being able to go through life not knowing how others perceive you is the very definition of privilege.)
Regarding the question of why "blacks are dangerous" and "men are dangerous" are not parallel generalizations, the point over which respondents differed most sharply was the role played by biology. Pretty much everyone agreed that any suggestion that there is any intrinsic correlation between arbitrarily defined "races" and how menacing the members of those races are is just white supremacist bullshit, and that higher crime rates among blacks can be ascribed to their increased likelihood of living in poverty, which in turn is the product of racism. Some said much the same about gender: that the reason there is so much more male violence than female violence is not due to biology in and of itself, but rather to cultural factors, such as the way that males are socialized to believe that resorting to violence is permissible for them, and females aren't. One respondent went so far as to claim that the labels of "man" and "woman" were not inherent to individuals and that "in the world to come we will forget they ever happened." (I think I understand what this person meant: no, you can't just wave away the fact that different people have different bodily organs, but it's also true that some people's blood is Rh+ and other people's blood is Rh-, and we don't go around thinking of ourselves as "pozzes" and "negs".) But others disagreed. They contended that one of the clear points of distinction between "blacks are dangerous" and "men are dangerous" is that in the former case biology isn't important and in the latter case it is. Reverse the social positions of blacks and whites, and whites will be the ones responsible for a disproportionate percentage of violent crime; reverse the social positions of men and women, and men will still be the ones responsible for a disproportionate percentage of violent crime, because they'll still have radically higher amounts of testosterone sloshing around in their bodies. One respondent suggested that, where sexual harassment and sexual assault were concerned, I might not be able to relate to the public conversation because, since I suffer from sexual anhedonia, I don't really understand the experience of normal male sexuality. If I did, it might be more obvious why "not all men" was such a hollow objection.
This is something I've alluded to in previous articles, but haven't gone into at length. I'm not going to go into it at length now. But, yes, in 2012 I abruptly lost the ability to feel any type of sexual pleasure. This is purely a matter of feeling, not function — from the outside, you wouldn't be able to tell that anything had changed. The difference is that I might as well be on the outside too. I'm just watching, unaffected, as my body reacts to what is happening to it. Naturally, since this happened, I have tried any number of avenues in search of some sort of treatment. The physiotherapists think that it's a matter of muscular hypertension leading to nerve entrapment, but physical therapy hasn't helped any. The physicians think that it's a matter of dysfunctional brain chemistry, and I've been put on a wide enough range of powerful drugs over the past year and a half that I can no longer really claim to be a straightedger — but they haven't helped either. The psychotherapists think that it's psychosomatic, and given that my initial sexual anhedonia has widened to a more general anhedonia — it has been many months now since I felt any sort of pleasure or happiness — this currently seems more likely than the "nerve entrapment" hypothesis. Psychotherapy has also produced no positive results so far, but I guess it's been interesting to get another take on my life story. For instance, I have always ascribed my sense that I am invisible and don't count for anything with anyone to my adolescence. When I was a kid — as I've also mentioned in some previous articles — I skipped a bunch of grades, which meant that when seemingly everyone else in my class started pairing off, I was left out. That's not so unusual, of course. Lots of people don't date in high school. But in my case it wasn't that I was merely unpopular, or that I simply didn't meet anyone who wanted to pair off with me — it was that I was not viewed as belonging to the class of creatures with whom one pairs off. 17-year-old girls don't scout out the elementary schools looking for boyfriends. Even outside the realm of romance, I was so far out of the loop that I didn't even know that there was a loop to be in: it was only several years after I graduated that I learned that there had been a whole social world of parties and other extracurricular hanging out that everyone I knew was involved with and of which I had been totally unaware. When the people I went to school with thought of their classmates, I was in that mental picture, but when they thought of their peers, the picture was the same except that I was edited out. I didn't count. But the therapist I've been working with most recently says that self-image doesn't get set that late in life. She argues — perhaps unsurprisingly, given the clichés about psychotherapy — that it must be rooted in my upbringing, and has tended to steer sessions in that direction.
I think that to the limited extent I've talked about my upbringing in these articles, I've described it as "mildly abusive." My mother used to grab me by the throat and slam me up against walls, but she's not exactly a bruiser so I never thought of that as a really big deal. A substantially bigger deal in its long-term effect on my psyche, though physically harmless, was the time when I was eight years old and my mother completely snapped and announced that my brothers and I were being kicked out of the house and would have to live on the street. "WHY AREN'T YOU PACKING?!" she screamed repeatedly as I cried helplessly. "YOU DON'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE! GET OUT!!" (In retrospect, I can understand why these sorts of things happened — my father had never taken an active hand in the child rearing and by this point was rarely even around, so she essentially had to raise three boys on her own, three thousand miles from everything she knew, and I imagine that's more than a little stressful. That said, to this day I don't have any idea what I or my brothers had done wrong to trigger that incident, or any of the milder blowups that happened from time to time.) But my current therapist has suggested that my father's behavior, while lending itself less to melodrama, might actually have had more impact. In the past I've talked about how I would sometimes have to wait six, or eight, or ten hours for a ride home from school after debate club meetings and the like — I'd call every hour or so, and he'd say, "I am leaving right now!", and an hour later I'd call again to find him still hanging around the house. I counted for less than whatever was on TV. (Later he waved away this complaint, saying, "You were under shelter!") Actually, there was one incident that was as dramatic in its way as getting kicked out of the house: before I had my braces put on, I needed to have four back teeth extracted, and since our local dentist charged $25 per tooth, my father decided that, being a surgeon, he could do something as simple as extracting a few molars himself. But it turned out that he didn't inject the Novocain correctly, so he wound up digging three teeth out of my skull without anesthetic. I was wailing in pain with tears pouring down my face the entire time, but he dismissed this as just me being a wimp as usual — and I assumed that this was the case as well, until I went to the dentist for the one tooth that wouldn't come out, and I discovered what an extraction with anesthetic felt like, or rather didn't feel like. I was in that chair at my father's office for upwards of an hour, showing every sign of being tortured, and what mattered more to him was the $75 he was saving. (Later he waved away this complaint, saying I was being narcissistic.)
Again, I always figured that I got off pretty light compared to most. I wasn't beaten. I wasn't molested. Those two things in and of themselves would seem to put me well ahead of the pack. And while it's true that in my house there were no hugs and really no affection of any kind, and while it's true that my father didn't really make any serious attempt to bond with me and showed no interest in anything I cared about, I imagine that he considered himself very much an active, involved parent compared to his own father, based on the tiny bit I've heard about him. Like, one time I randomly decided that I wanted to go to a hockey game and he took me to a hockey game (though he then slept through it). But my therapist says that all these defenses show is that I was made to feel so unimportant that I came to feel that my experience of abuse and neglect was also unimportant. She also says that another part of the autobiographical narrative I've been carrying around in my head is inaccurate. I have long said, even in articles on this site, that after I graduated from high school and went off to college, I was finally exposed to what everyone else in my class considered normal social activities, and that it struck me as shocking bacchanalia. People were gathering in dorm rooms, and drinking liquor! My very first day in the dorms some guys invited me to come eat with them at the dining hall, and I said I couldn't because I didn't have my school ID yet, and one of them tossed me his roommate's ID and told me to just use that. I was appalled — you can't just use someone else's ID! That was beyond the pale. I had always defined myself by my academic achievement, but at this point what became even more central to my identity was that I didn't do these kinds of things. No fake IDs, no underage drinking, no cheating in my classes, no crossing against the don't-walk signal… I didn't even curse until I was well into my 20s. But all of this, my therapist says, came too late in life to be the real story. She has pointed out that even with the age difference working against me, I had plenty of opportunities to misbehave when I was a kid, and I didn't. It must have been years earlier that I had decided to be as good as I could possibly be, in hopes that it would be enough to keep my mother from lashing out at me or throwing me away, and in hopes of maybe someday getting some kind of crumb of approval from my father. And I guess there's something to that. My father had a running "joke" when I was a kid that he had a second family back in India, and that his eldest son there, "Bodam", was superior to me in every conceivable way. And I could never figure out why he thought I was such a bad kid, when so far as I could tell I was the sort of child most parents would wish for: I never did anything that would get me in trouble, my grade point average was way over 4.0 even though I was years younger than everyone else, I was reasonably creative, I didn't demand much in the way of material possessions — I even brought in my own income through my TV appearances, and when it came time to go to college, I chose to go to a state school where I had a full scholarship so he wouldn't have to pay my way. None of it was good enough. None of it mattered.
Which brings me to the next set of responses — those that addressed why "not all men" has become such a reviled phrase. Apparently a lot of women encounter the "not all men" objection being deployed in an illogical way. Specifically, there are cases, I've been informed, in which a woman will be talking about the extent of the harassment she encounters from men in her day-to-day life, and a man will object, "Not all men do that!", as if that somehow disproved that she experienced harassment to the extent that she said she did. And, yeah, when that happens, of course it's not only illogical but also an infuriating attempt to suggest that he knows more about what goes on in her life than she herself does. It seems that even some of those who do acknowledge that they can't wave away someone's personal experience may still jump in with a "not all men do that" to mean, "Maybe the men in your life do, but the type of conduct you're describing isn't really a widespread problem." This in turn would explain why "yes all women are affected in some way by at least the threat of male violence" was put forward as a rebuttal to "not all men are violent", while to me, they both seemed like obviously true statements. It also helps to explain why so many view "that's irrelevant" as a logical response to "not all men do that". Consider:
"Cats have fur."
"Not all cats have fur. There are hairless breeds."
If the question at hand is whether having fur is a defining characteristic of cats, then the existence of hairless breeds is absolutely relevant: it disproves the claim. The same is true for the following:
"Men harass and assault women."
"Not all men do that. I don't."
If the question at hand is whether harassing and assaulting women is a defining characteristic of men, then the existence of a man who doesn't do that is absolutely relevant: it disproves the claim. But if the initial statement is shorthand for "enough men harass and assault women that every woman is directly or indirectly affected by male violence," then "not all men do that" is irrelevant. Furthermore, if "not all men do that" is shorthand for "nah, you're wrong, this isn't a problem in our society, so shut up," then it is relevant but incorrect, and the speaker is an asshole. So how do we tell when people are saying what they mean and when they are using shorthand? The responses I got to this question seemed to be shorthand for "by not being a fuckin' Aspie like you".
Several people pointed out that, particularly in cases like the unequivocal "I want all men stay away from me forever" posts I mentioned last time, the authors are clearly taking a page from Jon Kyl's book and saying things that are Not Intended As Factual Statements. Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook are not platforms for deep conversations about complex issues. When people post to these sites, they're not trying to open a discussion; they're engaging in a form of social signaling, looking to make connections in the form of follows and retweets and likes. "Hello out there: this is the team I'm on. Who else is on my team?" To these people, "not all men" is reviled on sight because it's the flag of the opposing team. And the opposing team is certainly not the team I want to be on! But social networking has never been one of my strengths. I've never really been able to assemble a circle of close friends, for instance. The nearest I've ever come was probably back in the late '90s when I hung out on ifMUD a lot, but I was periodically reminded that the connections I made there didn't quite count. Example: at one point a few of us decided to start a band. I bought a bunch of equipment and scouted out apartments in the area we had all agreed to move to… and then the other primary songwriter abruptly decided to back out, stating as his reason that he had realized that remaining in the band would mean riding in a van with me on concert tours, and that that struck him as the opposite of fun. Which I have to concede was probably fair. It does seem that an awful lot of social bonding in adolescence takes place over shared rule-breaking, and as discussed above, I wanted nothing to do with that. Which means that not only did I never develop a comfort level with what a lot of adults consider standard social activities, but I never really got the hang of unstructured socializing with more than one person at a time, period. I do my best, on the rare occasions that I find myself in such situations, but I expect that my discomfort is apparent enough that people are annoyed by the bad vibes. In any case, my social circle has shown a marked propensity to collapse down to one person — occasionally two (separately), and sometimes zero, but usually one. In this regard I've been quite lucky: for many years my one person was Elizabeth, who is the most wonderful person I've ever known. In all the years since our friendship began, she has never done a single thing to hurt me, even as fragile as I am — she's unstintingly kind, superhumanly considerate. And brilliant: long after you would have thought that we had said everything two human beings could possibly have to say to one another, I kept being dazzled by how some passing remark of hers would be the most insightful thing I'd heard that day. Elizabeth is also an uncompromising feminist, and gender theory figured heavily into her M.A. thesis — but she's made similar observations to those of the respondents I mentioned at the top of this paragraph. When she first started her doctoral program, before she switched her area of specialization to digital humanities, she took a number of courses that were squarely in the gender studies wheelhouse, only to discover that her classmates tended to be content to recite shibboleths from Women's Studies 101 at each other and bond over the fact that they were all on the same team. Great, she thought, I'm on that team too — but when do we stop making sweeping generalizations and start digging into the issues in all their complexity?
But again, what's appropriate for a graduate seminar may not be appropriate for a Tumblr post, and that was another response I got from some quarters — that insofar as the conversation here seems to be proceeding according to rules I don't understand, it may be because I have an academic temperament that is at odds with what is not an academic discussion. For some people, participating in this debate is an effort to change the world; many more are attempting to position themselves on the teams with which they want to affiliate themselves; and then you have people like me in ivory towers (or studio apartments) asking, "Hey, wait, is that strictly true?", chasing accuracy for its own sake, when that totally doesn't matter and is effectively doing the work of the enemy. To which my reply is, to borrow from Carl Sagan, "…Maybe." It's not like I don't affiliate myself with "teams", at least mentally: I've tried to be a good feminist, and I wouldn't be spending so much time pursuing this if not for the feeling that people on "my team" have been saying things I don't understand. And it's also not like I don't want to change the world. If I could wave a wand and radically rework society so that it was no longer organized along patriarchal lines, I'd do it in a heartbeat. Instead, I've tried to change my own behavior where I've come to see that it's been falling short, and to use whatever platform I have to try to make some sort of positive difference. So I don't think the issue here is solely that I'm some sort of absent-minded professor worrying over the truth of logical propositions while the world burns. I think it has more to do with the last objection to "not all men" that I'm going to discuss in this article.
The very first response I received to my original post argued that I had come closest to the mark when I talked about sidetracking: women talking about how exhausting it is to spend virtually every moment of their lives having to take into account the threat of violent men — and then in jumps some man, imposing upon them again, badgering them to drop everything in order to reassure him that they didn't mean him personally. Other respondents expressed disgust with how the public conversation in the aftermath of the UCSB shootings, including my own article, focused not on how the deep misogyny that has infected vast, vast numbers of men had shown itself to be a literally murderous force in our culture, but rather on the comparatively insignificant question of whether women's generalizations were hurting men's delicate feefees. There's an early episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that captures this pretty well. Our heroes are in English class, and the teacher is talking about The Merchant of Venice. "Shylock should get over himself," Cordelia opines. "People who think their problems are so huge craze me. Like this time I sort of ran over this girl on her bike. It was the most traumatizing event of my life, and she's trying to make it about her leg! Like my pain meant nothing." As prophetic satire of the "not all men" issue, it's pretty spot-on. But…
…it actually is crucial to a person's psychological well-being that there be someone in the world who cares enough in cases like this to ask, "Oh no, are you okay?" I've written about how Carl Sagan's Cosmos is pretty much the foundation stone of my brain, and there's a bit in the third installment that seems apposite here. Sagan is talking about the lack of a mechanism by which astrology could possibly work, and asks, "How could the rising of Mars at the moment of my birth affect me, then or now? I was born in a closed room. Light from Mars couldn't get in. The only influence of Mars that could affect me was its gravity. But the gravitational influence of the obstetrician was much larger than the gravitational influence of Mars. Mars is a lot more massive, but the obstetrician was a lot closer." It is important that there be someone in your life, possibly even multiple someones, on whom the tiny "gravitational pull" you exert actually has some influence — even more influence than the objectively greater magnitude of the "gravity" of others' problems, just because you're closer. And at the moment I have fucked up my life to the point that I'm not truly close to anyone. I know that there are a couple of people out in the world who care about me, but my relationships with them are poisoned enough that we can't even see each other. When the ongoing crisis that has been my life for the past couple of years was at its most acute, my therapist stressed that I needed to talk about it with people who weren't directly involved — and the next closest person I could come up with was someone I went to grad school with two decades ago and whom I'd spoken to a grand total of three times since 1997. It reminded me of an exchange I've seen on a number of political blogs that goes like this. Someone will put up a post about the woes of living in a red state, anything from the governor blocking a Medicaid expansion to loud racist comments about Barack Obama at the local diner. Someone else will reply, "So why don't you just move?" And a third person will jump in, "Don't you realize how privileged you sound? Not all of us can just up and leave our support networks!" And every time I see this I can't help but think, "Don't you realize how privileged you sound? Not all of us have support networks!"
In my previous article I asked whether "to the extent that men who oppose patriarchy are wounded by being lumped in with those who support it, they kind of have to suck it up because it's one of the few drawbacks of being a member of a privileged group", and those who answered said that, yup, that was about the size of it:
- "I personally think it's wrong to say 'all men are dangerous.' But it's
a minor wrong; I'm a bit hurt but I can handle it."
- "Let women talk. If they're unfair to men, just eat it."
- "Men can afford to step back a bit, be thicker-skinned."
I've also seen a number of white women explaining this point, saying things to the effect of, "As a white woman, I've been on both sides of the divide. When people of color talk about the oppression they've suffered, I just listen respectfully and try to be less oppressive in the future! So when men hear women talking about their oppression, that's what they should do!" And white women aren't alone in their subject position: pretty much everyone is privileged along some axes and subaltern along others. I grew up in a fairly affluent household by U.S. standards and a scandalously affluent household by global standards — that's some pretty staggering privilege right there. On the racial axis, I'm subaltern, but other than some nasty comments and annoying questions, it hasn't really been a big issue for me. Disability? I can see (with a lot of assistance from my local opticians), I can hear (though I will ask "What?" after everything you try to tell me), I can walk… but when I see 99.999% of the population talking about sex being pleasurable as if that were something that could just be taken for granted, it makes me want to both put this broken body out of its misery and curse the universe for making me subaltern on an axis most people don't even realize exists. And as for sex: yes, I am certain that the happenstance of being born male has bestowed a lifetime of privilege upon me, given me benefits that came at women's expense, opened doors for me that I might not even have realized were doors. I grew up in a culture in which, in the words of one respondent, "we teach our boys and men, in myriad big and little ways, that they are worth more than women". I am sure that I was awash in those messages growing up. But in my case, they had a harder time taking root, because of another axis on which I was not so privileged: at home, I was constantly told both implicitly and explicitly that I was worth less than everyone else on the planet and also several imaginary people. And this has shaped the way I interpret things. Consider exchanges like this that I've had from time to time:
"Men are so hypocritical! They
freak out and sneer about how gross it is if a woman's legs or
underarms aren't perfectly shaved, but they think it's fine if they
go out in shorts and a tanktop looking like Sasquatch!"
Me: "Not all men are like that. I do think body hair is pretty gross, but I don't want to be a hypocrite, so I stay shaved too, legs and everything, for that very reason. You know that."
"Oh yeah. But that's irrelevant! I wasn't talking about you."
When someone says, "That's irrelevant", what I hear is, "You're irrelevant." That, once again, it doesn't matter how hard I try to be good, how much I try to be what people want — I will never, ever be good enough, not even good enough to be exempted from a disparaging generalization. When someone says, "I wasn't talking about you", what I hear is, "You are such a non-entity, so invisible to me, that when I say 'men', your membership in that category doesn't even cross my mind." That here is yet another person to whom I'm not nearly as close as I might have thought. To go back to an example I used earlier: when someone says "cats", don't you automatically think of some cats? I think of Ditko and Crango, and some cats we had when I was younger like Milly and Bort, and some of the cats I see around my neighborhood, and a pretty generic gray tabby, and a striking orange cat I saw on Wikipedia once. Similarly, when someone says "men", don't you automatically think of some men? And in that mental image, aren't the men who are most important in your life up in the front row? I know that after the stupid life I've lived and all the mistakes I've made, I can't expect to be in anyone's mental picture at this point… but, surely, when people make generalizations about men, or any group for that matter, there must be people in that mental picture to whom that generalization doesn't apply, no? And of those to whom it doesn't — surely not all of them are psychologically resilient types, with a healthy sense of self-worth, who can "just eat it" and cheerfully go about their lives?
This is the last paragraph, so in theory this is where my point would go if I had one. In my first article I asked some questions, and people supplied a bunch of answers, and they were full of set phrases that suggested that these issues have already been litigated to death a trillion times over; all I can really contribute is my own data point. Like, I could say that most of us have been through and probably are going through a lot of shit that other people may not be aware of — a traumatic breakup, a child with cancer, a genetic condition that causes debilitating joint pain, and that's just a few people I see on the first screen of my Facebook feed — and that maybe we could all stand to err on the side of not being cavalier about hurting people who may be feeling vulnerable… but I guess that sentiment is liable to be tagged as "tone policing". Certainly unacceptable behavior should be called out and not overlooked in the name of being nice or sparing the feelings of the perpetrators. That goes for me too, of course. There are myriad big and little ways in which I suck — enough that it is depressing to contemplate and makes becoming a worthwhile person seem like an impossible task. But I want to. I'm trying. So it is dispiriting to find myself grouped in with my entire gender and charged with offenses in an area where I have made a particular effort to suck less — and then to find the very notion that maybe there ought to be exceptions made to these sorts of generalizations under widespread attack.