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Rewriting “The Rules”

Below the fold, I will attempt the challenge as presented by Greg Laden, to rewrite Comrade PhysioProf’s “Handy Dandy Guide for d00dly Commenters“. The guide was originally presented as a numbered list of suggestions on how to not engender the rage of basically everyone on seemingly any feminist blog, but came off as a list of rules on what would not be tolerated and what would be considered trollish behaviour on Isis’ blog specifically, no matter how earnestly posted, to all but the most sycophantic of his boosters.

Please note that I don’t personally believe in these rules, though many of them are good suggestions on civility in public discourse with people who may have pre-existing hostility to your masculinity for various, and very good, reasons. Also, any number of them should probably be stripped of their gender assignments and applied to everyone equally. The point CPP was driving at is de facto wrong-headed, in that it purports to be applicable to all feminist blogs, when it most certainly is not. This is ONLY an attempt at rewriting the message for clarity, inclusiveness and coherence (though definitely not succinctness), and to explain why each of these suggestions might have been made. Additionally, I feel that they bring out nuances of each point that are missing in CPP’s profanity-riddled tirade.

Compare with the original list, and note that because the numbered format lends itself to being interpreted as hard and fast rules that will be referenced later (e.g., “see #4″), numbers will not be used below. Two points were combined into one, in keeping with my “suggestion then explanation” format.

See, CPP? Was this so hard? I hacked this out over lunch, and revised it on a coffee break later in the day! (It helps that I’m a phenomenal typer, and wasn’t really providing much original thought.)

(EDIT: Plus I’ve made a few more edits, to both the above description and the rules themselves below, as of about 9pm AST — to fix some things that were nagging me, and to clarify my original intent in posting this to begin with.)

***

You’re male, either self-identified as such or your gender has been constructed for you throughout your life, and you have since accepted that assigned gender role. Everyone since birth has allowed you free reign in sharing your thoughts, opining on topics far and wide, and generally being proactive when faced with problems that can be solved with directed action, specifically by virtue of your self-accepted male-ness.

You have just visited this blog, which has a particular feminist bent; you have read a post and/or some other comments, and have decided that with your unique experience, you have insights to share with the participants in this conversation. Will your comments be poorly received by the readers and bloggers on this blog, considered trollish behaviour, and/or earn you their enmity? Or will you be a tolerated visitor? Not to worry, as Comrade PhysioProf, with a small bit of assistance provided by some Canadian d00d, will share some advice on how to avoid drawing the ire of everyone here!

- If you are leaving the first comment to a post, and have not already posted and earned some measure of respect with the locals, then you will likely be ill received. You’re well advised to lurk a while, get to know the flow of the conversation, then test the waters for a while before posting first on any particular thread.

- If you focus on male gender roles, or refer mainly to masculine figures or use mainly masculine pronouns, you will likely be ill received. As this blog is generally considered a safe haven for women, for whom the male point of view has been thrust upon them all their lives, that male point of view is generally useful only for comparison’s sake, and will only be well received by figures that are already trusted and considered “safe” themselves.

- If you are making prescriptive suggestions or admonitions with forceful words like “should” or “useful”, you are denigrating all other suggestions as being “less useful” than yours, and will likely be ill received.

- If you suggest that people venting about problems is acceptable but demand that they also take direct action in combatting these problems, you will likely be ill received. Not everyone is in a position to take aggressive action, nor is such aggressive action always merited or even useful, and you don’t know the circumstances behind their inaction, nor do you know for sure whether they are actually inactive. Besides, venting about a problem is a different way of being proactive about a problem.

- If you complain that people who are perceived as “mean” might cause potential allies to back away from the cause, you will likely be ill received. Everyone has their own reasons for being “mean”, and your behaviour in this case is generally considered “concern trolling”. True allies will work for a cause no matter how abrasive some of the other combattants might be, and yours is not the place to cast aspersions on others as you are new to the conversation.

- If you post with the intent of asking what actions you can personally take to help alleviate a negative situation or problem, you will very likely be well received. While it is unacceptable to demand that others take action, it is perfectly acceptable to volunteer to take action yourself.

- If you are told that something you have said is unacceptable or offensive, and immediately react defensively by claiming innocence or oversensitivity on the part of the reader, you will definitely be ill received. Again, this is a safe harbor, please attempt to respect that the participants in this forum have any number of reasons to avoid overt hostility or offensiveness, and that if you have been informed that you have crossed a line, you should accept that fact and apologize rather than attempting to argue the point. In doing so, you will likely be well received, despite the initial offense.

- If you focus on how important any number of female figures are to your own personal life, without any sort of insight into their lives proper, then you will likely be ill received. The point of the discussion is likely not to focus on what women mean to you unless this is specifically delineated by the original post, or how important it is that you keep them safe as though they were so much chattel — that blog is very likely not an appropriate forum for such self-interested introspections.

- If you focus on the physical appearance of a woman, declaring them to be attractive/unattractive to you, you will likely be ill received. Even in the context of flirting with a woman face to face, comments on their attractiveness are usually unwelcome unless there is a directly correlated attractedness on their part to you, no matter how hard-wired the behaviour might be. This forum is not an appropriate outlet for these behaviours, and in fact most internet fora or social situations are also not appropriate outlets for these behaviours unless there is a pre-accepted norm (e.g., social interactions at a bar). Please refrain from any such comments, as they are unprofessional, demeaning to women as being merely objects of desire (whether your comments are derogatory or complimentary), and will color anyone’s view of you regardless of your intent.

- If you are presenting anecdotes you have collected from women you know, and using those as counterpoints or as a means of debating the experiences of women that have posted on this blog, then you will likely be ill received. You are very likely not in any position to refute or temper the experiences of any other women as you yourself are not a woman, and any information you have gathered from the anecdotes presented to you are likely altered from their real forms by virtue of the human condition, as with the game “Telephone” — you cannot explicitly and in full detail “know” what someone else has experienced and therefore do not have access to the nuance of the situation.

- Everyone possesses unearned privilege, therefore arguing that a particular privilege is unearned is irrelevant and counterproductive. Any civil liberties movement in general concern themselves with equality of such unearned privilege assigned to each social group, as with the feminist movement and privilege assigned to women by the societal constructs in place presently. There’s no point in suggesting that all privileges must be earned, as everyone is born with some degree of freedom or autonomy. When this freedom or autonomy is stripped by a third party, that is when you should argue. Therefore, the only relevant questions regarding unearned privilege are, “what kind of privilege does each party possess”, and “how much?”

- The fact that you are not intentionally exerting your unearned privilege does not mean you aren’t doing so. For instance, if you are paid more than a woman for an equivalent job, or if you are given a job over an equally qualified woman, the privilege is being exerted on your behalf with or without your knowledge. Bear in mind that you do have unearned privilege over women when you post on this blog, and therefore your posts will be viewed through that lens. If that means they are ignored or denigrated, accept it.

- If someone explains to you that your being male provides you with privileges that are not afforded to females, this should not emasculate you, nor should you take offense at the assertion. Accept it as well.

- Ultimately, your input or self-described valuable insights aforementioned, are unnecessary in this conversation, and no insight you can provide is so important that you absolutely have to post it. This blog is considered a safe haven for the women who post here, and as such men will generally only be tolerated in the conversation if they are particularly entertaining. If you are male, don’t enter conversation on this blog expecting to be well received, regardless of your intentions.

UPDATE: I would like to clarify that my use of the phrase “will be ill received” was intended to mean “people will consider you to be a hostile entity in the conversation”. My own privilege prevented me from seeing that my intention was not well executed by virtue of my near illiteracy, and that the original wording had the effect of making this post sound like a guide book for males to navigate the curious, bizarre customs of “those wacky feminists”. I apologize for that. This problem probably comes from the fact that I originally proclaimed these rules as appropriate for all feminist forums or blogs, when really it only applies to this particular forum, and only because its forum members agree with me that it applies.

This post was not intended as a guide to disguising your hostile intentions in order to fool women into believing you are a tolerable person. Rather, it was intended as a partial guide on how to actually be a tolerable person in the eyes of the . Remember, these aren’t really rules — they are suggestions on how not to undermine your own efforts at open dialog with the other participants of this specific blog.

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Jason,

    I found your post via much traipsing through links, and I hope that you won’t mind my (feminine and feminist) interpretation of your rewrite. You have used nicer words in your rewrite than CPP, that is for certain. However, your rewrite does not correct the inherent patriarchal tone of “The Rulez”. It comes off as a field guide to doodz visiting feminist forums…as they are some kind of exotic animal or uncivilized tribe, in which a d00dly dood must come prepared with pacifying gifts and offerings…and a good pair of binoculars. CPP’s version had the same problem. See the takedown here. I hope that makes sense. It’s not about the excessive use of  “fuck” – it’s about out-grouping women (particulary feminist women) and using patriarchal privilege to do so. Yet again. Cleaning up the language is missing the point completely.

  2. says

    The inherent patriarchal tone, I think, comes only from the fact that we know the gender of the author.  If a woman, say Isis herself, had written it, I don’t think the patriarchal tone would have bled through as much as it does even in my rewrite, but what really surprises me is that someone as staunchly feminist as Isis has not pointed this flaw out herself.

    The thrust of the argument is that if you are a man, you’re probably not welcome, and at best you can be tolerated, not actually included in the discussion — in essence, it’s outgrouping its intended audience, as opposed to the blog denizens, e.g. “you are ‘others’ by definition, and this is what you can do to ‘pass’ and not get eaten alive”.  The fact that it does read as a “field guide to feminist blogs” is inherent in the whole concept of the post, and I doubt any amount of rewriting could fix it and still stay recognizable as derived from the original.  In fact, it would probably read more like a warning sign posted at the perimeter of said “uncivilized tribe”.  Complete with shrunken heads on pikes.

    I suspect the major problem is that a man has no inherent privilege to define what is a women’s movement. Nor do I have any right to say that feminists should adopt my own version of it over CPP’s. But at least my version presents the rules in such a way that they are less rules and more forewarnings about what behaviour will be considered trollish by default. Either version could be posted on a site as its rules, though, so I don’t think I even succeeded in removing the “rules-ishness” of the post.

  3. says

    Your point brings to mind another question — if a male is sympathetic to the feminist cause, and wants to say so, and would like to discuss it with other feminists, is he allowed to do so?  He already has privileges that he’s asserting (or others are asserting on his behalf), that he can’t abstain from asserting.  So every male is de facto tainted.  Therefore, only women are allowed to be feminists.  At what point can men ally themselves to this cause?  What name do they get instead?

    And is it possible for a feminist blog to have a set of rules posted about what is acceptable, and what is trollish, behaviour, if it is written by a woman?  What would those rules look like?  Would they not (since they are rules for the group, and posted to warn people about what behaviours will get them lynched) resemble greatly this set of rules?

    Is the only thing that’s really necessary to fix the “patriarchal tone” of this set of rules, to make each one and the post as a whole gender-neutral, posting it as guidelines to be followed by all participants?  If someone points out that the behaviours codified in them are mostly only male behaviours, is it then still a patriarchal field guide, or is applying each rule to both men and women sufficient?

    (Incidentally, rewriting this post for palatability was not on the agenda when I wrote it — Greg’s challenge was merely to rewrite it such that it didn’t sound like it was coming from a gibbering lunatic on a street corner. And these questions in this reply are asked earnestly and I realize some of them contradict my first reply, indicating I have actually changed my position on what makes this post inherently patriarchal to reflect the new knowledge your linked thread has imparted on me. For what it’s worth, I consider myself a humanist, where I want equal rights and equal privileges for everyone as I’m sure most feminists do, however I am not focusing in my fights on either misogyny or misandry specifically, as I hopefully made clear in the comments on my Oprah post earlier.)

  4. says

    AA, I totally get that feeling as though one is being explained is damned annoying. On the other hand, I see this as an explanation of a cultural difference rather than a personal difference–talking about the space rather than the people. To put it another way, are we “othering” academia when we tell new college students what to expect from their schools and what their schools expect from them, or are we recognizing that a selection of people that doesn’t match the demographics of society as a whole may develop different cultural norms than are found in society as a whole, particularly if those differences provide enough incentive for this selection of people to congregate?

    Jason, can you do something about the “feminist blog” wording I’ve already objected to in CPP’s usage? Or is that too much of a minefield for you at the moment?

  5. says

    Yeah, kinda minefieldy, but I love a challenge.  Your objectives are understood and I did consider them while writing this, however as  I couldn’t think of an adequate substitute right off the bat, I left them as is.  I’m a bit annoyed with myself on rereading that I ended up including many new instances of the phrase in my additional explanatory content, in fact.  I’m going to make a bunch of little edits, though I’m not sure really what to replace “feminist blog” with.  I definitely don’t want to say anything derogatory about the particular subculture for whom his rules would work best, and I do realize the rules as rewritten still exclude Almost Diamonds and Skepchick in their ability to squelch any kind of dissent.  Maybe I should go with “this particular blog which happens to have a feminist bent”?  We’ll see how they look in revision and I’ll post what I like best.

    Though to be quite honest with you, the content of this exercise is a bit galling to have to defend, and I’m definitely not going to rewrite for palatability.  As far as I’m concerned, my only rule is if you comment here and make any assertions, you post evidence or you get slammed bigtime.

  6. says

    Jason – Of course men can and should discuss feminist issues on feminist blogs. The difficulty lies in determining at which feminist blogs men and their opinions are welcome. Some are “safe” spaces for women to vent about all kinds of crap and they really are not there to entertain any “oh dear god, what about the men?” attitudes (I realize of course that this is not the only contribution that men might make). It is important to note that however well-intentioned or supportive or whatever a male commenter might be, in some of these “safe” spaces the mere presence of men makes them less safe. Please don’t ask me to explain that – I really don’t want to get into it. I think it’s great if men read those blogs and learn something from it…and generally it’s good if men can comment and contribute something that isn’t man-centric (there are plenty of other places for that). I don’t want to put words in CPP’s mouth, but I think that these are the sorts of blogs he is calling “feminist blogs” where the “Rulez” might apply (the fact that not all feminist blogs fit this category is another issue). Otherwise, I read the rules more as guidelines for being a decent human being to an oppressed class of people: it’s NOT about you and your privilege and if you can handle that position then show up and listen more than you talk. (In spite of the objections I raised to the “field guide” issue, having interacted with CPP a fair bit I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that that wasn’t how he meant for it to come across.)

    I think that it’s a very fine line for men to walk and I don’t envy them that position. Sometimes it’s easier (for me anyway) to ask myself “if this were about something other than gender, how would it be read?” If it were rules about how white people should/should not interact with black people for instance, would the “rules” still be good advice on how to be a decent person and not make it white-privilege-centric? Generally in the US, we’re more sensitive about race relations I think than we are about gender…but that’s just my personal opinion. I think that it’s very easy for any of us to get defensive about attacks on our privilege, so I try to imagine a reversal of that role for myself and determine whether or not it still sounds OK. Not a perfect system of course but better than nothing.

    Stephanie – Exactly. Othering vs. helping someone navigate a cultural transition is really tricky. I don’t have a good answer other than do your best to put yourself in the “other’s” shoes first, be sensitive, and listen more than you talk. We all fuck up. A lot. So you take that criticism and try to do better next time. That’s the best I think that anyone can realistically ask of any other person.

  7. says

    Though it was obviously CPP’s original intent that his “rules” be applied to all feminist blogs, Stephanie rightly pointed out it shouldn’t, and despite the original challenge being only to rewrite so it doesn’t sound like a lunatic wrote it, I have rewritten the rules to apply only to “this blog” (by which I mean Isis’, where CPP is enforcer), everywhere I had originally written or transcribed “feminist blogs”.  It does change the intent of the original significantly, but I’m willing to make the change if only to reinforce Stephanie’s point.

    I understand the “safe zone” idea.  No explanation necessary.  From battered women’s shelters to even just trying to escape men’s pervasive opining (I mean, hell, I’m doing it right here!), there’s plenty of reasons women might need to get the hell away from us.  Likewise, there are plenty of reasons for men to want to get away from women now and then, but much fewer of them being because of omnipresent matriarchy (“the real meme”‘s conspiracy theories notwithstanding).

    As for giving CPP the benefit of the doubt, well, I have often agreed with his points, but my Canadian nature overrides my love of swearing when trying to make a serious post so the whole putting fuck in every sentence thing gets old real fast.  His points are often overwhelmed by the vitriol.

  8. D. C. Sessions says

    AA:

    It is important to note that however well-intentioned or supportive or whatever a male commenter might be, in some of these “safe” spaces the mere presence of men makes them less safe.

    Part of the “minefield” effect is that the “safe spaces” are often not labeled as such, so someone who would never willingly intrude on one can suddenly find “intruder alarm” going off. Isis’ blog is noteworthy in that (unlike e.g. IBTP) the topics are usually pretty free-wheeling — and then the enforcers show up.

  9. D. C. Sessions says

    Stephanie:

    AA, I totally get that feeling as though one is being explained is damned annoying.

    Pardon me, but I confess that I utterly can’t parse that. Please explain?

  10. says

    DC, I took it as, “I totally understand that ‘feeling as though your position or social group is being explained to an outsider’, can be annoying.”

    I could be wrong though.  Maybe Stephanie left out some words?

  11. D. C. Sessions says

    Maybe Stephanie left out some words?

    That was my guess (I botch edits all the time, though, so maybe I’m projecting.) However, it offends me no end when people read meanings I didn’t intend into my writing [1], so I refuse to do that to Stephanie.

    [1] Hanlon’s Razor is far more likely.

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