(3) Don’t make a big deal about it, he just did what any decent person would do.
Let’s slap some context on this bad boy ASAP.
This statement usually comes in response to a cis male who says something like “Well, I never wolf whistle at women on the street,” or “I saw a drunk girl at a party and made sure that she got home safely,” or “My coworker was sexist toward me and I called him out,” and the response that often comes is “So what? You managed to make the minimum standard of decent human being and you’re proud of yourself? That’s dumb.” The real quote I’ve often seen repeated in blogs and comment sections and by acquaintances is “I’m so tired of men who meet the bare minimum of decent behavior and expect us to throw them a fucking parade.”
Now, this kind of negative response to the bragging feminist male is a little bit insidious because it contains a good point: it really is just the minimum standard of decency to help other people and not be a sexist dick and it is disappointing that this is not the standard that most people live by. In fact the people who don’t acknowledge this often portray serious things like harassment or sexism as endearing lapses rather than dangerous, decency violating behaviors.
On the other hand, put-down statements like the parade comment punish good (or decent) behavior in the worst possible way. Not only do they give negative feedback to perfectly reasonable behavior, they paint feminists in this hypocritical, sour light. Our little would-be feminist reads all the material that he’s told to and stops saying those sexist things that people in high school or the people in his frat house taught him and he takes drunk girls home instead of molesting them and he’s so proud of himself; so, he posts on a feminist forum and brags about how feminist he is…and the feminists say, “We don’t care, we’re still not happy.”
Of course, that’s reasonable. I don’t expect to see learning stop at the “okay human being” stage either. People who are unimpresse by basic decency are correct, in an ultimate sense, but consider this situation: imagine you met someone taking a literacy class and they bragged to you that they had learned to spell the word “unusual,” – and your response was, “You think that’s something to be proud of? Jesus. I mean, welcome to the world of the barely literate.” What would that accomplish? That response might be the honest one, but it will probably not send the receiver back to class with fresh verve. “Oh yeah man, I just wanna learn to read so I can be like that asshole.” Feminists tend to fall into this trap a lot.
People, on the whole, are pretty rational when it comes to feedback. If they brag about their progress and feminists complain or insult them, they will say, “well, that was socially unpleasant, maybe I’ll try something from the MRA side of the buffet.” Now, there may be mitigating context, like the person bragging is doing so to “prove” that they are not sexist or retract a previous statement. Sometimes the full conversation will go:
Joe Sexist: “Ha ha, what about dem sluts.”
Feminist Fatale: “That’s messed up and sexist.”
Joe Sexist: “What are you talking about, I stand up against sexism all the time at work when my boss is being a prick to the secretary.”
I really do understand the impulse to respond, “Yeah, so what? That doesn’t mean anything,” in this case, but the fact is that, practically speaking, it doesn’t really matter where Joe Sexist is coming from or what the context around that statement is. You can make any assumption that you want about Joe’s worthiness as a human being, but insulting him will still drive him further from the truth, not closer. It is good that Joe stands up to his boss regardless of what other transgressions he might have perpetrated. We want to reinforce good behavior like speaking out, and punish bad behavior, like slut-shaming. “Joe, it’s great that you stand up for your coworkers, labeling women sluts is still really messed up, though.” I am a big fan of the comment, criticism tactic online because (1) it mitigates tone and (2) it really throws people with big egos for a loop; the compliment makes them feel good about themselves and they are reluctant to let that feeling go just to avoid constructive criticism (it is very difficult to label a speaker insane or ignorant if you agree with half of what they say).
I am always on the fence when I hear statements like “feminism is the minimum needed to be a decent human” or “feminism is easy to learn,” because, while it is true that learning feminist theory is truly vital and not as difficult to understand as all the weird terminology makes it look, it is not easy to learn in one day. It takes some time and dedication and you have to talk to some women/feminists/bloggers some time during that process, maybe even when you are still kind of a jackass by their standards. If I had my way we would throw a parade every time some convert from the MRA blogosphere (or wherever) did something decent. Goodness knows, the other side has enough positive reinforcement. I have never seen a wolf whistle that wasn’t followed by laughter and hi-fives and all kinds of reinforcing social interaction. There are thousands of rape supporters on Reddit just waiting to tell rapists that what they did wasn’t rape and was such a sympathy provoking ordeal for both sides of the encounter.
I understand that sometimes these people stumble on Feminist safe spaces and it is hard to deal with them. Not everyone has to be a teacher, but the problem remains that we can talk all we want about how bad patriarchal culture, MRA blogs and mainstream politicians are, but we will never get anywhere unless we create positive spaces for our members and are able to direct new initiates there. This doesn’t mean that you have to coddle every nut job who thinks he is a hero, but gently directing ignorant people to written resources or to people who will walk the baby steps with them is definitely more productive than shouting at them. People who come to feminist blogs (even the ones who come just to pick apart arguments) are in a vulnerable place (whether they realize it or not); If we aren’t willing to teach them we should at least not ruin someone else’s chance to do so.