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Not Social Disapproval!

Among the various things that are apparently more important than condemning rape jokes and threats aimed at a young woman on Reddit–besides the precision of Rebecca Watson’s language and whether a deeper understanding of Reddit might make it possible to deflect the blame onto someone else (answer: no)–is this:

While I have compassion for others… their statements are not my responsibility to police.

It’s progress, actually. Consensus is growing that something should be done about situations like these. Now we must instead debate about just what that should be–and who should do it. The refrain has changed from “What’s the big deal?” to “Why me?”

Many of the reasons why “Not me” are variations on a theme. From:

Empathy is involved, certainly, and there’s a straightforwardly empathetic bit of the dynamic here that makes perfect sense. Someone out there’s being treated like shit, and you don’t want that to happen–perfectly understandable.

However, there’s a funny little jump from “I feel empathy for this person” to “you ought to feel the same empathy”. I am deeply suspicious of that little jump. It immediately twists empathy from an emotion one has for others into a prescriptive social norm and a tool for judgment.

To:

See, I do this by striving to be more informed and intelligent than they are. Not by saying people aren’t allowed to communicate their views with me, even in ways I find distasteful.

I’ve even seen a couple of people say things like, “Social disapproval is a technique used against atheists by theists. We shouldn’t be doing that ourselves.” All told, the consensus among those feeling challenged for doing nothing is that doing something is dangerously repressive–when that doing something is registering that one simply does not approve.

They’re even a tiny bit right. Social disapproval is indeed a potent force. It strongly shapes our societies and our interactions with each other. Being outcast presents a form of stress that is bad for us all on its own.

However, where these folks are a tiny bit right, they’re also a whole heaping lot wrong. The problem with this sort of social pressure isn’t that it is inherently wrong. As I mentioned, this is a big part of how we add order and structure to our societies. The problem is when we use to enforce pointless conformity, when we shame or cast out those who are doing nothing wrong, nothing that will harm our society.

For the record, sexism, misogyny, objectification, normalizing rape through nudge-nudge-wink-wink humor, threats to bodily autonomy–these are all doing something wrong. They all hurt a substantial portion of our society, and I don’t just mean women. This is not comparable to not believing in a god.

Those behaviors are all also prevalent in our society, though less than they used to be before we started confronting them. They are being held in place by a narrative that, while it can no longer claim that nobody at all is concerned by this behavior, the only people who are concerned are “thin-skinned pussies” and “irrational cunts.” That means that if you–yes, you–don’t speak up when something like this happens right in front of you, you feed that narrative. This is what “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” means.

The only thing that can really cut through that narrative is more voices that come from within the groups where this behavior happens. No bullying or questing for bad behavior required. You don’t have to be any more eloquent than “Dude, don’t go there” or “It’s only a joke if it’s funny” or “I’m with X on this” to back up someone else already taking the heat for standing up. Or you can just use the brilliant line that should become a meme as of yesterday: “I am also the internet and I don’t want to see that shit.”

That’s it. Social disapproval 101. It’s remarkably simple to do, it has a much-needed place in both society in general and this particular issue, and beyond that–people who are arguing against the idea are already employing it. What does anyone think talking about why they shouldn’t be asked to apply social pressure is anything other than applying social pressure?

Now it’s time to take those skills and put them to work where they can do some good: against the people who are making the problems instead of the people who are pointing them out.

Comments

  1. Pteryxx says

    *cheers*

    For the record, sexism, misogyny, objectification, normalizing rape through nudge-nudge-wink-wink humor, threats to bodily autonomy–these are all doing something wrong.

    By putting down another group, all these are ALSO instances of social disapproval. They’re just aimed (usually, ostensibly, theoretically) at some general Other (who doesn’t count) instead of anyone right there listening… such as those of us insulted and silenced by such comments.

  2. karmakin says

    I do think that’s THE issue here. And to be honest it’s larger than feminism or atheism or any other individual subject. There’s a certain bit of non-confrontationalism that tends to be pretty common in decent people. It’s probably one of the reasons why they are more decent in the first place.

    So how do we clear that out?

    Personally I do think that’s easier said than done. I’ll give a good example. Most of us are very wary of protesting outside of misogynistic religious institutions (including myself). It’s hard for us to really apply that sort of social disapproval, especially in real life. Mainly because more than likely our disapproval will be disapproved right back, and hard.

    That’s what happens with these things. That’s not to excuse it, of course, I think people tend to be way too passive with this sort of thing, and overestimate the amount of social disapproval they’ll get right back. The question is how do we encourage people to strike the right balance.

    Because you can go too far, I think. The reason why all this is on my mind isn’t so much this issue (but it definitely fits), but it’s actually the old wounds that the whole NDAA issue brought back. It reminds me of the old computer game Populous right now. One of the ways of ending the game was casting the spell Armageddon. All of your people would all group up and all of the enemy people would all group up and they’d bash the crap out of each other and whoever had the higher population would win. End of game. That’s what I feel that some people on the left want, even if they lose. They want to fight that good fight.

    Not that I think anybody is advocating for that on this issue, of course. But it’s just how fighting the culture wars..which is really what you’re talking about here..can potentially go too far. But it’s all about making small gains here and there, then eventually we’re the majority.

    I don’t think deleting the problematic content fixes things myself, however definitely speaking up to it may, where we have a chance.

  3. SallyStrange, Spawn of Cthulhu says

    Indeed, social disapproval. Evid3nc3 at his blog seems to think we need to be concentrating on uniting with people who make sexist remarks despite their professed allegiance to egalitarianism. He thinks that “us vs. them” is inherently bad. I disagree. I think there is a place for an “us vs. them” mentality, and it is precisely when there is a “them” that is determined to degrade, alienate, and discriminate against a group of people that has done nothing wrong (i.e., be female, not believe in gods, have a different color skin, fall in love with people of a certain gender).

    I understand that people’s dander gets up when we say “You’re with us or against us,” but in cases like these, it’s true. We live in a sexist society and there are many, many misogynists, mostly male but some female as well, who sincerely believe that women are inferior to men, and act accordingly. Right now, our culture gives them a lot of cover for those beliefs. You can either go with the flow, which, since the culture at large is sexist, is a sexist flow, or you can resist and start changing the culture for the better.

  4. karmakin says

    Does it address that? Maybe I’m just blind or stupid but I don’t really see where. Outside of telling people to just do it, of course.

    The problem with just doing that is that the social disapproval of social disapproval makes social disapproval difficult for people who actually care about social disapproval.

    But at that point if you tell people to just ignore the social disapproval then any social disapproval you can muster will basically be ignored because well..who cares?

    (Please note. I’m really not trying to be cute or snarky with the last two paragraphs. I simply don’t know how else to say it)

    Now there might be something for biting the bullet and making it more normative. And that I definitely agree with. But in the beginning that’s going to come with a relatively thin edge, I would think.

    Most progressives (assuming that progressives are going to be the primary feminist audience right now..don’t think that’s unreasonable..but again, it’s more than just feminism or atheism here) I do not believe are really up for the idea that the problem isn’t with some elites out there, but with their friends, family and neighbors, and that using social disapproval on them is where they can do the most good. At least that’s been my experience.

  5. Pteryxx says

    The problem with just doing that is that the social disapproval of social disapproval makes social disapproval difficult for people who actually care about social disapproval.

    But at that point if you tell people to just ignore the social disapproval then any social disapproval you can muster will basically be ignored because well..who cares?

    1) If nobody else speaks up, try being the first. “Not cool.”

    2) If someone else DOES speak up, try backing them up. “Same here… not cool.”

    The point is for quiet, non-troublemakey but also decent people to consider letting their decent-ness outweigh their desire to get along instead of the other way around, by emphasizing how important and helpful it is to actually say something. Even if it’s just one passing counterpoint, odds are there’s someone silently listening who’ll take hope because *somebody* bothered to say “That’s not cool.”

    Also, it’s proven that when one person in a group is the first to dissent, others are more likely to dissent as well (as long as THEY didn’t have to be first).

    Most progressives(…) I do not believe are really up for the idea that the problem isn’t with some elites out there, but with their friends, family and neighbors, and that using social disapproval on them is where they can do the most good. At least that’s been my experience.

    Y’know, people keep using the excuse “Those are just anonymous jerks on the Internet who’d never say such things in meatspace.” If that’s even true, why wouldn’t they? Because their friends, family and neighbors might disapprove?

  6. says

    But at that point if you tell people to just ignore the social disapproval then any social disapproval you can muster will basically be ignored because well..who cares?

    When a theist expresses their social disapproval of me – whether by asserting I am heading for hell, or claiming I’m a fucking bastard, I don’t think twice. Doesn’t even occur to me to care. For that matter, when some fuckwit who believes that misogyny, racism, gay rights – whatever bigotry isn’t a problem disapproves of me, I couldn’t possibly care less.

    On the other hand, when people I am otherwise generally in agreement with on many fundamental issues express social disapproval of something I said or did, I tend to seriously consider whatever behavior caused said disapproval.

    For my own part, I think expressing social disapproval is absolutely the best way to go – unless the person is a moderately close, to really close friend, in which case, take it to a whole different level. Then you can really get in there and have a good heart to heart about their being an ass.

  7. karmakin says

    Indeed. I’m not in disagreement. I’m just asking for ideas on how to best to ask people to do that. To get people to stop seeing “go-alongness” as a virtue.

    @DuWayne; Very well said. I guess the way I look at it is similar to how I see a lot of success for atheists over the last few years, in being more personally vocal about our non-beliefs, in that we see “X is an atheist, X is a good person, so I guess atheists can be good people too”. In that I see, “X says that even passive sexist language is wrong, X is a good person, so I guess I should watch what I say” as being a powerful thing as well, and probably the most effective path for progress. Not that other paths are not effective, of course. (And yes, some may be negatively effective, or anti-effective)

  8. Pteryxx says

    This was to me?

    I’m just asking for ideas on how to best to ask people to do that. To get people to stop seeing “go-alongness” as a virtue.

    Um, okay… if you’re asking how-to get people TO speak up, themselves, when bigotry happens, ways include: speaking up yourself; discussing examples of bigotry to aid quick recognition; discussing examples where people DO speak up, to provide a mental blueprint; emphasizing the value of speaking up in both factual and emotional terms.

    If you’re asking how-to get people to see dissent as a virtue AT ALL, that’s a much bigger topic (mainstream media, Fox news, satire, blasphemy…) but one simple way is just what you said about atheism.

    I guess the way I look at it is similar to how I see a lot of success for atheists over the last few years, in being more personally vocal about our non-beliefs, in that we see “X is an atheist, X is a good person, so I guess atheists can be good people too”.

    I think that generally when a person is vocal, others will think “X is outspoken, X is a good person, so I guess good people can be outspoken, too.” How gentle or blunt they are in the process is really up to the individual, IMHO.

  9. Pteryxx says

    Y’know, I should also point out that people in general are more willing to be outspoken about their opinions and views when they are part of the accepted group. Thus, reducing the incidence of bigoted statements will, in and of itself, tend to encourage outspokenness by everyone who isn’t privileged or fronting. (see chilly climate, etc.)

  10. Juniper Shoemaker says

    Thank you, Stephanie. From someone who regrets not speaking up more often and being too quick to back down when she gets snapped at for speaking up.

  11. Stacy says

    It immediately twists empathy from an emotion one has for others into a prescriptive social norm and a tool for judgment

    And the problem with that is…?

  12. dizzlski says

    I’ve been watching all this unfold, constantly and for years. I fucking love it! I honestly wake up sometimes thinking I’m in a a dream world where actual issues are being addressed. It never feels bad calling someone out on their bigotry or delusional thinking. At a christmas party two years ago my grandfather used a derogatory term describing a minority in these united states, I called him out on it. He uses a proper term now. He told me it was because, “you don’t want me to say that”, and he’s fucking right I don’t want him saying that. I was very surprised because he is a very stubborn old typical grandfather many people are used to dealing with, and not even his daughter (my mom) tries to change him at all. That was a huge victory for me. (I’m ranting, sorry. I’m also drinking)

  13. says

    I think this goes along with the whole “being called a racist is worse than having something racist happen to you”, or to describe the general principle, privileged people feel disproportionately attacked when they are challenged. So when some asshole makes a sexist comment, it feels really harsh (to average people who have not examined societal sexism) to condemn the comment because it’s likely that the asshole will feel disproportionately condemned, and many people will also see the condemnation as harsh because they are also privileged in the same way. So it can seem like a big risk to condemn the sexist comment openly if you think there are a lot of privileged people in the group.

    Not that that excuses people from letting sexist comments slide (or FFS promoting them).

  14. screechy monkey says

    I’ve even seen a couple of people say things like, “Social disapproval is a technique used against atheists by theists. We shouldn’t be doing that ourselves.” All told, the consensus among those feeling challenged for doing nothing is that doing something is dangerously repressive–when that doing something is registering that one simply does not approve.

    Sounds like Geek Social Fallacies #1 and 2 at work.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] This week is full of commitments and deadlines. Rather than try to meet all my blogging commitments with new work and failing, I’m pulling out some old posts. Given how my audience has grown, most of you won’t have read them at the time. This post was originally published here. [...]

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