Justice Isn’t Pleasant: When Harmony Undermines Progress
A Conversation About #MeToo
by Luc Goodhart
I was participating in a Facebook conversation last night with a male family member about the language of feminism, specifically in the context of the #MeToo movement. The gist of his post was something to the effect of, “If you as men are uncomfortable with the shifting climate of accountability and the long-overdue wave of restorative justice that is currently taking place, then you are PRECISELY the kind of men who need to take a long hard look at your privileged perspective and truly LISTEN to what the women in your life are saying.”
For the most part, the comments were from women, congratulating and thanking this family member for not being a shitty male, and for supporting the difficult process of change and progress. These were unnecessary pats on the back (as if men need more coddling), but nice to hear nonetheless.
However, there was one male voice in the mix—one male voice that said, and I paraphrase, “But hey! I’m not a shitty male! I have been shut up just for being a male, and we need to be careful about using words like ‘patriarchy’ or ‘mansplaining’ or ‘privilege’ around men because they can hurt men’s feelings, and isn’t this just an unfair role-reversal? Shouldn’t we have balance and love?”
My blood began to boil. Women began to respond. Here was the same tired “not all men” defense. Here was the kind of response from the kind of man for whom the post was MANIFESTLY written. Here was a response that re-framed feminism around his own male experience, and re-cast justice for women as injustice for men. Here was EXACTLY the problem.
So, I responded: “Men might just have to shut the fuck up and deal with a few thousand years of ‘role-reversal’ until we get the ‘balance’ you’re talking about *eyeroll emoji*.” It was sarcastic and snarky, and obviously not well-received by this male voice.
This, and more importantly, other overly-sensitive responses from women (again, we don’t deserve coddling) prompted him to spew a TL;DR rant about his own experience as a man, his own sexual abuse at the hands of women, what a good man he is, how well he listens to women, and how much space he has held for these kinds of conversations. He concluded with a bullshit theory about how some kind of holistic loving approach is the answer, and no, he won’t shut up, and can’t we all just get along?
My blood reached a full-on rolling boil. Because no, dude, we can’t just get along. Because women have been subjugated for thousands of years. Because their voices have been silenced, undermined, violently rebuked, and effortlessly dismissed. Because you just wagged your dick in all of these women’s faces who just fucking told you, “You’re wrong and here’s why.”
Ostensibly, his heart was in the right place. What he described sounds like a utopian vision: a world in which we can all just gloss over the violence that has been perpetrated against women for millennia, and handily arrive at a perfectly harmonious balance of gender equality and social justice.
Except we can’t. The wounds are too deep, the legacy of oppression too ghastly. If we, as men, need our balls chopped off, if we need our throats jumped down, if we need to be shut down, if we need to be excluded, if we need to be made to feel as uncomfortable and unsafe as we have made women feel for a really fucking long time, then so fucking be it. I am 100% here for that.
So, men… If you truly want to be on the right side of history, if you truly want to be there for the women in your lives who are struggling through a painful and crucial sea-change in gender politics and social justice, if you want to be one of the “good ones,” then consider this: Women are literally screaming for their lives. Are you being asked for your input? Are you listening? If not, then seriously—you need to shut the fuck up.
The Mistake of Moderation
Progressive movements are born from safe forums of like-minded people, where bold ideas can be incubated into blueprints for change. What used to be covert meetings in basements and taverns are now easy, spontaneous and viral. Add to that the extra courage that comes with speaking from behind a digital avatar and you have fertile ground for any movement to grow.
This was the promise of the internet from its early days: The free flow of information would lead to an awakening. What I, and many others, failed to anticipate was the countermovement, the free flow of disinformation. Whether it be your grandma’s chainmail or highly targeted Russian botnets, the web is now reinforcing dangerous views in alarming ways and giving fascist movements wings to take flight.
But okay, perhaps this particular conversation is a bit played out.
What’s not discussed enough are the so-called moderates—you know, the ones that profess unity and seek to avoid confrontation while talking about corruption and extremism on “both sides.” Indeed, social media has given them a platform as well and allowed them to smugly position themselves as above the fray when they should be taking sides.
Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about these moderates often as “more devoted to order than to justice,” and identified them as a greater stumbling block to social justice than even groups such as the KKK. And while these same moderate people today celebrate Dr. King as a wise man, they simultaneously question whether black people are protesting in the most productive manner against the systematic violence of police brutality, and complain that feminists are making them a little too uncomfortable with “harsh” rhetoric in their stories of injustice and abuse.
Among much of the negative impact that technology has had on our society so far, what seems the most innocuous is, in fact, the most harmful: Giving moderates a platform for their indifference has emboldened them too, just like the racists, sexists, and sociopaths. And as they group the passionate pleas from the disenfranchised with the tiki-torch holding white supremacists as different brands of the same extremism, they call thought leaders divisive when they point out the dangers of making such false equivalencies. This social inertia has our democracy careening off a cliff when the steering wheel is theoretically still held by steady hands.
The fact is that sociology didn’t change with technology. And our frustrations are the same as what MLK Jr. expressed in his letter from a Birmingham jail—we just need to learn to navigate these human complexities through shitposts and comment threads now. We’re still the same fucked humans lurking behind pixels.