The CBC’s The Current had a story on #metoo and sexual violence/harassment prevention this morning. One guest was carefully talking about the tradeoffs between eradication strategies and harm reduction strategies. The other was firmly ensconced within the loving, anti-feminist embrace of Chill Girl tradition, raging against the demonization of men, portraying all women as fragile victims, and the conflation of bosses non-consensually massaging their employees and strangers kidnapping women to rape and kill them in an isolated farmhouse. Predictably, CG denigrated the tone of the people speaking out on #metoo and the public presence of actual outrage.
Now, I could critique the segment in general. The Feminist Guest certainly made a couple statements with which I could quibble (though in general I thought FG was very good), but the Chill Girl delivered so much wrong it would be easy to make another Crip Dyke-Patented, Lengthy, Ranting Post™ dissecting the conversation and especially CG’s contributions. But this isn’t that post.
No, I just want to use this occasion to discuss just the phrase “men and women”. Men and women as an English-language phrase has long been used synonymously with “everyone”. However, anyone educated enough to be invited onto a prime-listening-time news segment for the purpose of discussing gender and sex related issues has been given the information over and over again that “men and women” does not cover everyone, and not even all adults. So one might hope that this CBC segment might do a fair job of at least specifying when less than the whole population is being discussed, if not actually trying to incorporate the importance of everyone in the discussion.
Let me take a breath: hahahahahahahahahahahahaha.
Okay. Okay. I think I’ve got it together now.
In this radio segment, men and women were frequently discussed. I kept waiting for someone to acknowledge that “men and women” doesn’t cover everyone*1, but that didn’t come until the very end, when FG was discussing wanting to create a better world for men and women “and all genders”. There was nothing about particular vulnerabilities of adults who aren’t men or women, no acknowledgement that adding “all genders” was different from how she had spoken during the rest of the segment, and no reaction at all from host or CG that this was in any way important.
So let me just say, this is wrong. If you use “men and women” synonymously with “everyone” you are part of the problem. You may think that this is some convenient shorthand that is worth the imprecision because of its comfortable familiarity, but it’s not. When we trans* people hear that you care about “women and men” who have been sexually assaulted, or injured by compulsory gender, or come to some other harm, we actively think, “what about us?”
There is something about law-enforcement discourse that seems to attract activists against law enforcement abuse and violence to the language of citizenship. Perhaps it’s a way of attempting to stress the Contractarian principles which permit law enforcement to be granted their extraordinary powers in the first place. But whatever the attraction, the intent is clear: the activists who are tempted by the language of citizenship want to stress that we are not merely people, but people with rights. The problem, of course, is that non-citizens also have rights and when we citizens criticize police for attacking a citizen, the implicit statement is that the behavior would be acceptable, or at least more acceptable, if only police would restrict themselves to beating, raping, illegally searching, falsely imprisoning, denying representation to, coercing statements from, and sometimes killing the non-citizens among us.
There are many examples, but one high profile example is this one, from the Guardian. The message about police accountability in that piece is important, but the headline is frankly sickening. And we have been told, again and again, that phrasing our warnings to cops similarly to, “Do not abuse citizens,” is both dangerous and dehumanizing. We need to cut it the hell out.
For reasons that I hope are apparent, while we are changing our language around police abuse and police accountability, we also need to take a serious look at why and when we use the language “men and women”. If you honestly don’t care that trans* people’s rights and safety are protected, if you honestly don’t care if trans* folks are served by anti-violence organizations or campaigns, if you honestly don’t care about how gendered boundaries play merry hell with the lives of trans* folk, the congratulations. You need not perform any further introspection and need not spend any time seeking to change your language: men and women perfectly communicates your contemptuous dismissal of our needs and even our existence. However, if you do honestly care about one or more of these things, then when discussing #metoo and myriad other gender-related issues, you’re going to need to put in that work if you want to actually communicate what you want credit for believing.
BTW: Yes, yes. I know exactly who was on the segment and the editorial which apparently sparked having CG on The Current. It’s just that’s not the point today. I expect that Shiv or David Futrelle might have comment on that editorial soon. It’s unlikely I’ll bother.