Why the Words We Use in a Conversation About Feminism Matter

Posted on Posted in Daily Rants

This is going to be a long one. It started out as a response in a discussion on Facebook, and then I realized that it was much bigger than I first realized. As I worked on it, I saw more stuff going on in other posts I’d made that needed addressing, that were tied to this same issue. So, rather than scramble around on Facebook, stomping on fires individually, I decided to put it all in one place. That, and it’s been a while since I’ve gone off on a good rant, so I guess I’m due for one.

Recently, I’ve been making posts to my various social media outlets about my support of Feminism. The tone of these have ranged from the cute to the silly to the serious to the controversial. Yeah, to those of you who know me, I’m sure you’re shocked that I would say something controversial on social media. Warning: this is a long post. I ramble, and I’m probably going to be repetitive in some places.

So, let me give you a little bit of the timeline of my posts, and I’ll address things as the came up, so that we have a little continuity in my thought processes, and why I think the words and rhetoric people choose to use or not use in a conversation about feminism is absolutely important. Or any other cause of social equality, for that matter.

My first post of this nature was:

“I am a feminist because I believe my daughter should be able to laugh like Dr. Horrible, while wearing her ballet clothes, while wielding her pink Lego foam sword in one hand and baby-doll with the other, while looking through that Pathfinder bestiary to recruit for her army to take over Equestria as the first female incarnation of The Doctor.”

“And yes, this scenario played out in my living room today.”

I got a bunch of nice comments and good support on this one. Nothing negative at all. And the same when I posted this:

“I am also a feminist because two moms in ballet class can piss the hell off with their judgmental looks while I plié in high 5th position right next to my daughter. I probably have more dance experience under my belt than all of you put together.”

And, this:

“I am a feminist because I believe that a woman can wear whatever the hell cosplay she wants without having to justify her nerd/geek cred.”

With those posts, we were all good. No drama. Everyone happy and getting along. Then, I dropped this bomb:

“I am a feminist because when someone uses terms like “Schrodinger’s rapist” and “I’m tired of the white dude parade” they have missed the point. Building one group up at the expense of another is not equality. True equality in diversity is only possible if we can all be awesome together.”

The tone of the conversation changed. While I got a decent amount of support for this post, I also received some criticism for this. Of the two most vocal, one was a friend and one was from someone I don’t know at all. Both posted responses justifying why these terms are acceptable and justified in a discussion of feminism.

Ruth G posted a reply, which pretty much sums up all the other dissenting views, in response to my “Schrodinger’s rapist” and “white dude parade” post. Now, I don’t know Ruth G. She doesn’t know me. She’s a friend of a friend on Facebook. I make all my posts to Facebook public because I like the expanded views and discourse conversations draw from doing so, even when those views don’t agree with my own. Well, here is Ms. G’s response:

“Why do you object to the term “Schrodinger’s rapist”? Being afraid of unknown men is a very real fear most women deal with all their lives. The term was created in an attempt to explain, rationally, this fear to people who do not have it. If you really understand the term, you’d realize that it’s not saying all men are rapists. It’s saying that, as with the unfortunate cat, a woman doesn’t know whether an unknown man is a rapist or not. If this analogy doesn’t work for you, try the Russian Roulette analogy. Not ALL of the chambers of the gun have a bullet in them, so why not put the gun to you head and pulled the trigger. Not ALL men are rapists, so why not allow any random unknown man to get in close?”

“As for “I’m tired of the white dude parade”–I think I hear a little irrational petulance there. When my wife–who is Black–comes home and says “God, I am so sick of fucking white people” I don’t immediately make it all about myself and say “but I don’t suck!” We both know she doesn’t feel that way about me. The productive thing for me to do is say is…well, in most cases, nothing, because I don’t know what it’s like to be Black and have to face racism on a daily basis. I like to think I’m a good ally as well as a supportive spouse, so I’ll listen to her. And the, if I think it’s appropriate, I can say that I’m sorry this particular micro-agression occurred and ask if there’s anything I can do to make the rest of her day better. When a woman says she’s tired of white men, has it occurred to you that this is not about You, Random White Dude? Has it occurred to you that she puts up with shit you have never once had to deal with and that maybe if you listen to her talk about why or even let her vent a little, you’re a far better ally than if you immediately make it about you?”

I started this post as a rebuttal. I didn’t even begin writing in until more than a day later, because I didn’t want to come off as being completely reactionary and defensive. I wanted to make sure that my language and tone only worked to serve the further the discussion of feminism as a whole rather than start an argument where tempers start rising and it becomes more important for one side or the other to be “right” than it is to come to some mutual understanding.

First, let me first say that I am a firm supporter of the “He For She” movement. I agree completely with Miss Emma Watson’s address to the United Nations. In it she talks about why feminism has become something thing people shy away from, even women, because the whole movement is seen as “man hating,” and in Miss Watson’s words, “This has got to stop.”

Here’s the video of her speech. It’s worth watching.

So, let me address the term, “Schrodinger’s rapist.”

First, I understand why women must be cautious with men, especially men they don’t know. I am not trying to diminish the number of men who treat women as inferior. We do not live in a society of gender equality. I support equality for all, regardless of ethnicity, race, gender, or religion. My point is not that the issues that have spawned these terms shouldn’t be discussed so that we as society can deal with them. My issue is with the language and tone of these terms. English is a rich language of over 600,000 words. Surely we can have these conversations that do not demean or degrade anyone involved in the conversation, and with these issues, EVERYONE should be involved. If everyone is not involved, then everyone, no matter their perspective, should be able to say, “This word, term, or phrase offends me,” and give reasoned justification of why, and have the other participants in the conversation respect that. If not, then we don’t have equality, and then the conversation is pointless.

Another reason why I object to the term “Schrodinger’s rapist”, aside from my already afore mentioned reasons. The term doesn’t really work as a comparison to Schrodinger’s original thought experiment, but I’ll get to that in a minute. As it’s used poorly in the context of this conversation, women use the term “Schrodinger’s rapist” as a survival mechanism of dealing with men. The reason being is that a woman doesn’t know if a man is going to turn out to be a rapist or not, because you just don’t know. Here’s the problem. With that logic, everyone is Schrodinger’s thief. Every parent is Schrodinger’s abusive parent. Everyone in a romantic relationship is Schrodinger’s adulterer. I just read a study that one out of twenty five people in the U.S. is a sociopath. So, I guess that means that everyone you meet is Schrodinger’s sociopath.

The other reason I don’t like “Schrodinger’s rapist” is because the way it’s being used in this conversation doesn’t fit with Schrodinger’s original thought experiment. First, Schrodinger created the thought experiment to illustrate a problem he saw in quantum mechanics. In the experiment, Schrodinger’s cat is not either alive or dead. It’s alive and dead at the same time. So, in keeping with Schrodinger’s original thought experiment, calling a man “Schrodinger’s rapist” means that he both is an isn’t a rapist at the same time. It’s not about what his behavior may or may not be in the future. Also, in the thought experiment, the cat is both alive and dead based on factors completely outside of its control. In fact, in the thought experiment, the cat has zero effect on the outcome of the experiment. Taking that portion of the experiment into account means that calling a man Schrodinger’s rapist, means that he cannot control whether he is or is not a rapist. And that is absolutely counterproductive to the conversation of gender equality. Only be teaching men to be accountable for their choices and actions can we begin the elimination of rape culture.

We already have a problem in our society with young men dealing with handling desire versus rejection in an acceptable manner. This needs to be addressed. I’m doing my best to raise my sons to be part of a better generation, especially when it comes to their interaction with girls and young women. When this huge issue gets condensed into a buzz word like “Schrodinger’s rapist”, it alienates a group who should be involved in the conversation. Probably, the most important group that should be involved in the conversation, because if men aren’t engaged in this conversation, how can we expect the behavior to change? The other thing this kind of language does, is creates an image of feminism that alienates some women, who want equality, but don’t want to look like they hate men.

Now that I’ve beat the whole Schrodinger’s thing deader than the horse, let me tackle the response to “I’m tired of the white dude parade.”

Fist I want to address Ms. G’ claim when she wrote:

“I think I hear a little irrational petulance there.“

She doesn’t. She’s completely inferring that tone based on information I’m pretty sure she doesn’t have. The context of this particular gem was from a woman who was unhappy with an organization’s choice of a host for one event. I support diversity in all things, business, education, especially the arts in which, as a writer and a former dancer, I am involved. I believe we should celebrate and promote fresh voices and varied perspectives in the arts. It’s a conversation that needs to happen, and everyone involved needs to participate in. However, as soon as people start throwing around language like this, it stunts the conversation. In the greater scheme, I know this isn’t about me, the random white dude. Yes, I know that the woman saying this has put up with shit that I never had, because I am a white male as a fortunate accident of birth. That’s not the point. The point is, just like with “Schrodinger’s rapist” using wording like “I’m tired of the white dude parade” only serves to push away the group of people that need to be in the conversation if we’re going to change things in any meaningful way.

In the case of Ms. G’s wife coming home and saying, “God, I am so sick of fucking white people,” she’s venting to her spouse, in private. It’s a much different context than when engaging in public discourse and trying to effect social change for the better. Were Ms. G’s wife engaged in public discourse about racial, ethnic, and/or cultural equality, and she said something like, “We need equality because I am so sick of fucking white people,” she’d be crossing the line and her comments aren’t doing her cause any favors. I think this hits home for me particularly today over other days, as it is Martin Luther King, Jr. day here in the United States. He stood for racial equality without disparaging anyone. He used rhetoric and language to bring people together, rather than language and rhetoric to drive people apart.

And that’s the biggest reason I object to these terms in the context of feminism the same way I object to the term feminazi. All are degrading, insulting, and serve no other purpose than to dilute the conversation, rather than enhance it. Feminism is about equality for all genders. If someone decides to use terms in the conversation of gender equality that can be construed as derogatory, offensive, and/or volatile, then the people who are affected by these terms get to say, “Hey, that bothers me.” The English language has over 600,000 words. I’m sure in these important and necessary discussion we as a culture need to have, we can be a little more eloquent than “Schrodinger’s rapist,” “I’m tired of the white dude parade,” and other terms like them. If someone uses language like this, and tells me that I don’t have the right to be offended, or that I just need to suck it up for whatever reason, then that person has missed the point of feminism. That’s not equality.

Now that I’ve taken on that massive can of worms, here’s an image I posted a few days later.

feminist

I captioned it with:

“I am a feminist.

If you argue to be able to define yourself by any other term besides “feminist” in support of feminism, you are proving the point of this image.”

Here are some of the comments from men that followed:

Ariel G. – I am a humanist
Scott B. – I am egalitarian
Johnny J – So sad to see so many men buy into this stereotype of what Feminism is and isn’t that they avoid a basic word of concept like it’s the plague.
Bryan L. – While I too would term myself as a feminist, I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea that we’re basically telling others that they have to define themselves exactly how we want them too, or they are the enemy. I see that as doing more harm than good.
David H. – I can’t take feminism seriously while Gloria Steinem is still counted as a major figure.

These comments are not from men against the cause of feminism. Rather, they support the cause, however, because the loudest voices in feminism seem to be the man-hating fringe of the movement, using language and rhetoric like discussed above, it is pushing men, and even some women, away from supporting the cause of feminism. I have fully embraced feminism and calling myself a feminist without fear. I want my daughter to grow up into a world where she has the same rights and privileges afforded her two older brothers. I want her to grow up in a world where she doesn’t have terms like “Schrodinger’s rapist” bouncing around in her head. I want her to judge people by how awesome they treat her. Yes, she’ll understand that she’ll have to be careful with people, both men and when, before she gets to know them, because some people are mean and spiteful, but that’s a universal trait of the human condition.

Now, on the other side of that, I have a challenge to the men I know who support gender equality, yet won’t identify as a feminist because of whatever reason. Stop beating around the bush and being non-committal. Be a feminist already. The world has enough God damn douche bag men in the world fighting against feminism and gender equality, that we should absolutely step up and say loudly and clearly, “I am a femisist.” If you’re unwilling to do this because of some of the man-hating fringe of the feminist movement, I ask, “Why are your letting anyone from a crazy fringe element of anything dictate what you do and don’t align yourself with or identify as. Please watch Emma Watson’s speech, and understand that feminism is not a female cause, it’s a human cause. If you think that you have a better term like “egalitarian” or something else, that’s fine. Call yourself that too. However, in the context of this movement of gender equality, feminism is the word at the heart of the cause. When anyone starts using other terms, we stop being sure if we’re talking about the same thing…and thus…again, we dilute the conversation. This particular conversation is diluted enough with hyperbole and destructive rhetoric; we need to do what we can to strengthen it with our support and strength of character. Only by doing that can those of us prepared for rational discourse meet together and have an honest conversation for positive change and drown out the crazies on both the man-hating and woman-hating extremes.

Whew. That was a lot longer than I anticipated, and I didn’t even get to some of the posts on my feed, but I think I’ve covered the bases of my thoughts on these matters. I hope I’ve given everyone some things to consider. Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. day. I’ll leave you with this last one thought:

Yes, I know that male privilege exists. I know that white privilege exists. That being said, it serves no purpose to cut down an individual just because of an accident of birth, whether they are male, female, or somewhere in between. Same goes for race or religion. I want to live in a world where everyone is privileged enough to rise to whatever position in life he or she is capable of based on a combination of their desire, physical capabilities, intelligence, charm, and strength of character. However, I want that world to come about by raising everyone up, not by cutting people down.

I want a world where we can all be awesome together.

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