The reason why I don’t participate in the #mencallmethings campaign that collects nasty names that male readers call female bloggers is that I don’t think this is a gender issue. I’ve been called names, insulted, stalked, harassed, and bullied by readers who are both male and female. I’m a feminist blogger but I honestly can’t say I see any special viciousness that male readers address to female readers. The anonymous commenting format of online communications brings a lot of nastiness out in people. There is no gender difference in how vile, threatening, and annoying online commenters can become.
Of course, when you cull out of discussions comments that men address to women, you end up with a very scary picture. But when you add nasty comments that women aim at women, women aim at men and men aim at other men, you immediately realize that this is not a gender issue.
Here is another example of what is essentially a non-gender issue that has been transformed into a feminist cause. One of the commonplaces of feminist discussions (if people need links, I can look for them but this has been discussed so often that I feel there is no need to make a separate search) is that women are socialized to please men. As a result, even in professional settings, women rarely dare to contradict men and formulate their objections in the form of questions. Often, they leave their sentences unfinished or use interrogatory intonations to avoid displeasing their male peers. This was even discussed at length in gender studies classes I took in college.
I was present at an intellectual discussion among fellow academics recently and I decided to observe people carefully to see if this was true. I’m not very observant by nature and usually just listen to myself speak during discussions, so here I decided to make a special effort to see if the theory about women trying to please men was true. Almost immediately, I noticed that it was. Female scholars of impeccable academic and intellectual credentials did, indeed, seem very eager to please even those of their male peers who didn’t have nearly the same kind of renown as they did. The star of the gathering, a female scholar who was light years ahead of all of us in terms of publications and scholarly recognition, addressed every response she made to male academics, even those who were beginning graduate students, in the form of questions. The men would sometimes say something completely silly, but she would invariably respond, “That’s very interesting. But don’t you think that. . .?” In her communications with female scholars, she was a lot more blunt and never used the question format.
“Hah!” I thought. “I guess all the theory I read on the subject was right. Women (of course, women from cultures other than mine because we have a very different history of gender relations) do try to please men to their own detriment.”
I was planning to write a post about that but never had the time to do so. And then I attended another gathering of academics. Once again, I decided to remain observant and see whether women were especially eager to please men and to avoid antagonizing them by being too argumentative.
The intellectual discussion in question consisted of two very strong, argumentative and aggressive women (yours truly being one of them) and six male academics. I immediately noticed that these male academics (several of them in a much higher standing than the women in question) were very eager to please the women. They worded their objections in the form of questions, allowed their sentences to trail off, and were inordinately pleased when women offered any kind of agreement with their ideas.
And then I had a valuable insight. Some people are more interested in pleasing others, I realized. There are also many people, however, who are not familiar with the concept of pleasing anybody. This is not a gender issue. This is an issue of personal psychology.
There are really crucial issues feminism still has to address. However, by transforming things that have nothing to do with gender into feminist causes, we dilute the power of feminist activism and serve no useful purpose.