Wednesday, September 11, 2013

White Men Aren't Good At Listening

I was reading through the comments on Marjorie Ingall's beautiful essay in Tablet about her abortion--big mistake, I know--and the one idea that seemed to be recurring in the negative responses was whining about how unfair it is to men that their views aren't valued on the subject of abortion.

I'm a white woman. I can't tell a person of color about what is or isn't racism. I can try to understand how racism limits the opportunities for people of color, but ultimately I have to listen and defer to those who have the life experience of racism. I'm not even close to being the final word on the subject.

As a woman, I have experience with not having my views considered and valued. But white men do not have this sort of experience. And here they are being told left and right--whether from feminists or people of color or LGBTQ activists or some combination thereof--that when it comes to certain subjects and experiences, they are not the authorities anymore. Their opinions aren't as valuable as the person experiencing a particular form of oppression. They just aren't. And this isn't sitting well with them.

I can sympathize a bit--this is pretty new for them. Poor Ari Hart wrote (yet again) about how he transforms the meaning of a misogynistic blessing with no consideration and input from the women who claim that this oppresses him. Why? Because he's a rabbi and a man and can decide what is and isn't oppressive for an entire group of people. (Nevermind the fact that his authority is, in part, derived from his maleness and that is part of the reason he possesses the platform to mansplain to others. When he utters "she lo asani isha" perhaps he should keep in mind that part of his male privilege in ignoring other people's feelings comes from being a man. So really he is thanking God for the opportunity to not consider other people's perspectives.)

Obviously, I don't mean that all white men are terrible at listening. But those who are good allies--listening to members of the marginalized group and being respectful and supportive--have accomplished despite the weight of history pressing against them, telling them that they are the be all and end all on all subjects. No small feat.

It's interesting to note how differently the two parties argue. Ingall argues for the validity of her own perspective on her own experience. She asks to be treated as an individual. She doesn't wish to tell other women how to interpret their experiences. The men, on the other hand, want the validity of their opinions recognized despite the fact that they have no individual experiences to back them up. And in the case of lawmakers, they want those unqualified opinions imposed on others. If you dare suggest that they don't really have the authority to weigh in, they whine like the babies they think that all women want to carry in their uteruses. 

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