Feb 27, 2013

Heads I lose, tails he wins

I felt this Lindy West piece on "sexism fatigue" so, so hard today. Especially the bit where she talks about how doggone exhausting & demoralising it is to have to "prove" that sexism exists and is real over, and over, and over again:
 I am tired of being told to provide documentation of inequality in the comments sections of a website where a staff of smart women documents inequality as fast as our fingers can move. Like, you might as well write me a note on a banana peel demanding that I prove to you that bananas exist. I am tired of being asked to "cite sources" proving that sexism is real (that RAPE is real, even!), because there is no way to concisely cite decades and decades of rigorous academia. Allow me to point at the fucking library. We can't cite "everything," and our challengers know that. It's an insulting diversionary tactic, it's an attempt to drag us all backwards, and fuck it.
It's frustrating to the point of self-harm to have to sit there and seriously try to convince some man that the sky, no hear me out, seriously, I'm not making it up, it really is, just look at the evidence, blue.

I gave a talk last Friday, to a local group of philosophy enthusiasts in my town. The talk was titled "Are women human?", and the whole drive of it was to basically catalogue the litany of injustices and atrocities against women that mean that, in practice, we treat women as if they are less than full citizens, persons, and human beings. Not exactly earth shattering stuff for most of the audience, and even though it's very middle aged white guy heavy, the questions at the end were mostly thoughtful, my answers were accepted respectfully and we had a good and interesting dialogue.

But this one guy. This one guy started quoting statistics at me from a book he'd actually brought along, about how awful and hideous it is to be a man. And even though I was able to quote some counter-statistics at him (e.g.: yes, more men die in the workplace, but mostly in professions from which women are either barred or discouraged, and the research doesn't take the home as a workplace so women are just not counted), he simply wouldn't let it go until I said yes, men have it rough too, yes, you're right, patriarchy is bad for men as well, yes, OK, you got me, not all men are terrible human beings sitting on the top of the pile.

That was a mistake. I should have brazened it out & shut him down instead of trying to do the respectful thing and engage. Because once he knew he had me on the whole "rebut my evidence" ride, he came back for another go - this time with some evo-psych bullshit that I don't even properly remember. What I remember is this:

Being a fan of prehistorical studies and having some training in archaeology, I was easily able to bring examples that refuted his run-of-the-mill assumptions/misinterpretations from things like primate studies and ancient remains. I just said well, you know, we know that certain things in the past and in tribal societies don't really work how we maybe thought they did in the 50's, and we have some evidence to show that actually blah blah blah. It was a good, solid answer based on actual knowledge of the subject (as opposed to second hand quotes from pop sci blockbusters), and I thought I did well.

And then he went in for the killer blow. He said - get this - "but how do we know these things?".

Hang on a minute. We're talking about epistemology now? You want me to give you an impromptu systematic review of the literature, with reference & publication dates? So that you would believe me that I really did read the words of some real scientists who really know their shit? Chapter and verse?

He. Said. Yes.

So. When you, Mr Man, challenge my facts with counter-facts and assertions, you expect me to take that as a good faith inquiry and address your remarks at face value. But when I offer you some counter-examples, you're simply not obliged to take me at my word that I didn't just pull them out of the air?

You ask for evidence that the sky is blue, and when I point to the window you demand that I give you the exact wave frequency of the colour, and the technical specifications of the tools used to measure it, together with the resumes of the scientists and engineers involved?

Well fuck it.

If ever there was an in-your-face demonstration of the fact that "scepticism" of the claims made by feminists is mostly bad faith derailing tactics, that was it. Because when you meet these people on their ground, they simply shift the ground until they find some ground on which they can win. And given that men have a structural advantage over women on almost all ground, because duh, patriarchy, it's not even that difficult for them to do.

The crazy thing, though? Until I read that passage above from Lindy's post, I blamed myself. I didn't answer the question well. I let him get under my skin. I wasn't properly prepared for the inevitable nitpicking. That's how well this ruse of theirs work; that's how in thrall we still are to the idea that there is some true position of "objectivity" and "truth", and that men have privileged access to that position. So I'm very with Lindy at this point about just being tired. So tired, and discouraged, and basically just wanting to quit.