A Response to Evening Sends’ “When Feminism Goes Too Far”
I’m not going to paraphrase this – if you haven’t read the article in question, read that first.
There are a few things I want to say about this, and I will try to be concise, fair, and articulate.
The first is, I think this is a really good stab at an important piece of conversation, and I commend the author for it. The girl is 23, and is likely to get an enormous blowback of angry comments, perhaps personal emails, demonization, and people throwing ad hominem attacks at her. I can barely handle that sort of thing now, and I’m 32. I appreciate her bravery to confront that, and to take what was sure to be a stand that is unpopular with some.
The second is, I sure hope Andrew Bisharat paid her, because I imagine this is going to give him more hits on his site than probably anything Not-Dawn-Wall related he’s written there in years. What he’s allowed this girl to open up is an enormous can of worms, and I don’t believe for a second that he’s not clicking the update button on his site analytics by the hour. In digital media, clicks = money. This article also feels to me like a thinly veiled attempt to allow a woman to push an agenda that he has quite openly espoused in the past. AB gets to have a woman promote a viewpoint that he’s been basically castrated for taking himself, and his site goes bonkers all at once. That’s called killing two birds with one stone, and I just sure hope he paid the girl who is helping him for doing the dirty work. To be frank, I am not, altogether, opposed to his agenda (giving men the benefit of the doubt, giving women who don’t feel oppressed space to express their beliefs, and figuring out a way to make men feel comfortable in this discussion). Still, I think it’s worth recognizing that this article (and, more importantly, the site that published it) is inherently one-sided. I would be really impressed if AB released a follow-up piece taking the other side. To me, that’s what objective journalism looks like – either presenting both sides of an issue in a single article, or presenting op eds from both sides separately but equally. The goal of journalism, of course, should not be to persuade people of your beliefs, but to present an issue without bias to the best of your abilities, and allow the reader to decide for his or herself where the truth lies. I don’t always do this – it’s a hard ask. But I try, and I have done it in the past on this very issue. You can see one side here, and the other here.
The third is, in spite of what I just said, I don’t think Andrew is a bad guy, and I don’t believe he or the author of this article is intentionally gas lighting. “Complaint Feminism” and Dr. Sommers are both Breitbart talking points – but dismissing them on those grounds alone is no different from dismissing climate change because it comes from a liberal. Furthermore, I would agree that as a white middle class male, I find it very hard to say something like “why is the term Flash Foxy ok, but Beta Babes isn’t?” I will honestly say that I fear the rhetoric and dialogue that would follow that question. Nobody likes to feel stupid, much less be told they are a latent sexist. I feel equally befuddled by the fact that my biological response to seeing women in tight-fitting clothes is not precisely compatible with what I perceive to be a feminist ideology (namely, when I see a fit woman in revealing clothes, without any intention, I often first have what I would describe as a kneejerk sexual response to that woman, before I think of her in any other capacity). I wouldn’t stand up for that, I’m certainly not proud of it. But I also don’t really feel comfortable apologizing for it. I neither invented the hardware (the human body), nor thought up the software (the socially conditioned human mind) that I’m working with here. If I could turn that response off, I would. But so far, nobody has given me solid beta on how to do so. I certainly DON’T feel comfortable admitting that openly. I’d go and erase this whole paragraph and rewrite it in a less revealing, less honest way if I hadn’t already done that five times. In short, I consider myself a feminist – at least I want to be one – and even so, I feel like I’m walking on egg shells when it comes to talking about these subjects. I don’t blame an individual, an ethos, or a movement for that – I’m just saying, there’s work to be done. If people who consider themselves your allies feel alienated, you need to work on your inclusiveness – whatever the platform you’re pushing is. And I think what this author has written is a brave and fruitful way to begin that work. I commend her.
The fourth thing is, in spite of commending the author, I think her argument is extremely problematic. I remember Shelma Jun’s article, and I remember the outcry of defiance about her survey responses being inherently biased (as they were). But at least it was a sample set. The only thing the author of this piece has produced is a sample set of one (three if you include a couple of friends). To try to refute or bring into question the validity of feelings espoused by a massive body of individuals (even in a biased sample set) because you have not had the same experiences yourself is patently absurd. It would be like one black man saying he doesn’t buy the whole racism thing because he’s never felt it, and neither have two of his friends. I also don’t feel it’s productive to dismiss one kind of oppression (micro-agressions, in this case) universally, simply because others in the world have had it worse. I also find that patently absurd. To continue with the incredibly loaded race comparison, that would be like saying “who cares if African-Americans are disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system, systematically disenfranchised, and routinely denied equal opportunities in the US, there’s genocide going on in Africa as we speak.” That simply doesn’t make sense, and it’s definitely not productive.
What I’d really like to say, in conclusion, is that we routinely reduce truth (or reality) to a facile monochromatic monofaceted oversimplified hoax in this country. It’s not just the Breitbart effect, it’s also the Huffington post effect. It’s any new outlet that has a predisposition, a political bent, a predictable spin. In reality, though, I have always found truth to be paradoxical and complicated – a coin consisting of two sides – a photograph and its negative. It is a human pointing at the moon from the northern hemisphere, and a human pointing at the moon from the southern hemisphere, and even though they see two different moons (and can hardly believe the other individual’s notion of the moon) they are still pointing at the same moon.
In the case of gender equality (or inequality) in climbing, I think anyone with a voice, a feeling, or an experience on the subject is worth hearing out. I think all experiences are equally valid. I think there is a case to be made for “look how far we’ve come”, as well as “look how far we have to go.” There’s room for “women don’t have the same opportunities as men in climbing because of their gender” (a case I have made before), and there’s also room for “women have better opportunities than men in climbing because of their gender” (a case a woman who contributed to Fringe’s Folly has made before). I think it’s there’s something fucking fishy about the fact that I – and many others like me – see rampant sexual objectification in almost every photo of a woman we see in print. And I also think it’s true that strong passionate women are in major positions of authority for all of the American climbing magazines, and that they all work their asses off to celebrate women in climbing (and not remotely for their bodies).
What I really think is that this shit is complicated, multifaceted, difficult, often embarrassing, and scary to talk about. And yet, I believe it is absolutely imperative that we DO talk about it.
But before we do, we need to become much better at managing the way we engage with people we disagree with. This isn’t just a women in climbing issue, it’s a whole fucking America issue. And if we’re going to make any headway at all in this country we’re going to need to learn how to come together instead of polarizing, and how to give the person across the aisle the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t a complete fucktard, or an asshole, or a terrible person.
That’s on all of us. It’s one issue that I can say, without a doubt, is completely bipartisan.
Again, you can (and should) read the Original Article Here. I would recommend reading the comments thread as well.
I would also recommend considering a comment I found on Facebook, written by Georgie Abel, that offers a strong counterpoint. That comment follows below.
“The question is: what do we do when Evening Sends publishes an article that personally attacks women who write about feminism, that manipulates women into thinking that sexism is all in their head, that reinforces harmful gender stereotypes such as men are super chill and women are overly sensitive, that uses phrases like “complaint feminism” that was coined by Christina Hoff Sommers (who is widely supported by hate groups and often quoted by Breitbart news) of AEI (a conservative “think tank” that recently gained attention for trying to hire scientists to deny climate change), that claims women “cry wolf” in sexist situations, that insinuates women should use sexism as inspiration, that brutally questions the validity of the female experience, that uses extreme outlier examples such as the fact that Lynn Hill freed the nose (didn’t I already make fun of this?) to claim that women are equal to men in climbing, that defines feminism in a way that’s harmfully oversimplified and outdated, and that claims women believe in sexism because they harbor some sort of internal resentment towards men and have fallen victim to a “tribe mentality”. What else?
This is reality, this is where we are, and the question remains—what do we do?
1. We read this article and articles like it carefully. It contains valuable information about the exact places where more work needs to be done.
2. We tune our ears. We use this as a way to practice seeing manipulation and gas lighting.
3. We trust our own experience. We do not allow these articles or the support of these articles to make us question our own reality. You know what’s real.
4. We refuse to be shamed. We do not allow these articles or the support of these articles to silence us.
5. We accept reality and use it to guide us. Prominent media outlets and athletes in the climbing community do not believe in modern and widely-accepted feminist concepts such as the danger of victim-blaming. We accept these things and use them to inform our work and behavior.
7. We keep going. This article is evidence that all of this is a much bigger problem than we thought.
EDITORIAL NOTE 1: It took me approximately 15 minutes to start having doubts about what I wrote in the second point, much of which were assumption-driven ad-hominem attacks against AB. I could have contacted him to ask about some of those assumptions, and didn’t, and that’s shoddy journalism. In the end, I don’t know if he paid her or not, or if he would publish an article with a different spin or not. So, my apologies to the readers (and to AB) for that.
EDITORIAL NOTE 2: I keep calling “women” “girls”. It has been brought to my attention that that is an offensive term. I apologize, I didn’t intend it as such. I will try to learn not to use. (I have also been reprimanded before for using “Female” to describe anyone identifying as a woman, since people of a variety of different genders (not just genetic females) can identify as such… And I have tried to quit using that term, as well.)