Why do men get so defensive about feminism anyway: A short conversation

Ben1: Why do men get so defensive about feminism anyway?

Ben2: What do you mean by that?

B1: What?

B2: Is this about that thing?

B1: What thing?

B2: The other day, when I said that thing.

B1: It’s not about the thing.

B2: I’m just saying, if you want to talk about the thing…

B1: See this is just what I’m saying, men get all defensive when you raise this kind of thing…

B2: Well you raised it…

B1: I was just talking in general principles. You made it all about you…

B2: ….

B1: You see what I mean?

B2: You weren’t talking about me?

B1: It’s just a general conversation.

B2: … Okay.

B1: Can I continue?

B2: … I’m sorry. Continue.

B1: So whenever you talk about feminism have you noticed that men get all defensive?

B2: When you say “men”….

B1: Oh now don’t start that.

B2: What am I now?

B1: You’re gonna do that thing.

B2: You said it wasn’t about the thing.

B1: Not that thing. You’re gonna do that “not all men” thing.

B2: Dude that is not even grammatically correct.

B1: No, it’s a thing. An internet thing. You must have seen it.

B2: I haven’t seen it.

B1: It was like, all through facebook.

B2: I didn’t see it.

B1: It was like, every second post on twitter for like eleven days.

B2: I think I missed it.

B1: …

B2: I think we have different friends.

B1: I don’t think we do.

B2: Is this conversation going to go on much longer?

B1: So the “not all men” thing is when you talk about something men do, and then the person goes “hey not all men do that.”

B2: Not all… is this a trick?

B1: What?

B2: Are you trying to make me say not all men do that.

B1: Do what?

B2: Not all men do the not all men thing. And then you can say “Aha” and it will be one of your point things.

B1: …

B2: …?

B1: It’s not a point thing.

B2: I hate your point things.

B1: Look, the point is, the… essence is, that when you’re trying to say something about how men as a generality often behave and you (the other you, the responder you) complains and gets the conversation bogged down in the semantics of whether I actually meant each and every man in the world or whether I was just generalising, you derail the discussion…

B2: What, you said this wasn’t about me.

B1: Not you, you. The general “you”.

B2: The general me.

B1: The general “you” derails the discussion.

B2: What’s this derail?

B1: …

B2: What’s…

B1: I don’t think we should get into that. Let’s have that talk another time.

B2: You brought it up man…

B1: I’m just, it kind of means, you’re dragging the conversation off topic onto a subject that’s irrelevant.

B2: You mean me, or the general me.

B1: The general you.

B2: Right.

B1: That’s the “not all men” thing.

B2: Right.

B1: It’s a thing.

B2: It’s an internet thing.

B1: Right.

B2: Right.

B1: So don’t do it.

B2: Right. You know…

B1: Because people will call you out on it.

B2: You’re gonna call me what?

B1: I… so the defensiveness thing, anyway.

B2: Sometimes.

B1: Do you know how sometimes a woman will raise something that bothers her and instead of listening to her, the guy will just hear an attack on himself?

B2: Sometimes…

B1: Do you know…

B2: Sometimes….

B1: What?

B2: Sometimes…. When people say, it’s not about you, it really is about you.

B1: What?

B2: Like, you know, the other day, when I put up on Facebook about how I hate how grocers sometimes put your fruit in the bag too hard and the fruit gets spoiled.

B1: I don’t remember that.

B2: I put it up on my wall.

B1: I must have missed that.

B2: I was like, when I put it up there, it wasn’t like I put it up about a specific grocer. I put it up as just a general comment about grocers. Like, it’s not about my grocer.

B1: Right, yeah.

B2: See.

B1: What?

B2: The thing is…

B1: What?

B2: The thing is…

B1: What?

B2: It wasn’t a general comment.

B1: It wasn’t…

B2: It wasn’t a general comment. I just *said* it like it was a general comment. “Oh, all grocers are blah de blah”. But it wasn’t a general comment.

B1: So it was…

B2: It was about my grocer.

B1: …

B2:  I just *said* it like it was a general comment. You know. But it was *all* about my grocer, Aaron. He puts the fruit in the bag too hard. It really annoys me.

B1: …

B2: So sometimes, when you say it’s not about you, it’s really about you.

B1: You’re facebook friends with your grocer?

B2: No

B1: Then how would he…

B2: It’s… the internet, man. Things get back to people. It’s like…

B1: Seriously?

B2: Don’t… stop… derailing me.

B1: …

B2: …

B1: Very good.

B2: See, I listen.

B1: I never said you didn’t.

B2: Well all right.

B1: So where were we?

B2: That I don’t know.

B1: So anyway, going back to the central subject of our discussion…

B2: Of course, please do…

B1: Sometimes… *sometimes*… when you start talking about feminism… some men… *some men* get a little bit defensive. And they don’t realise that it’s not all about them.

B2: …

B1: You know? You know what I’m trying to say?

B2: …When…

B1: yes?

B2: … When you said… that it wasn’t about the thing that I said…

B1: Exactly…

B2: And I thought it was about the thing that I said…

B1: That’s it, now you’re getting it. That’s exactly it.

B2: Was it really about the thing I said?

B1: …

B2: You can be honest.

B1: I have to go.

B2: It was about me.

B1: I really have to go.

B2: You… go.

B1: I really have to go.

B2: Here. Take an apple.

B1: Thank you.



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On Recent Tweetstorming

There has been another example this week of a minor “flare up” on twitter. I don’t like the term “flare up” myself, as it’s quite emotive. I prefer the term “armageddon ebola spasm”. Basically someone wrote an article and someone else disagreed with part of it and it turned into a bit of a shitstorm before descending into a disappointing example of decorum and communication where everything was resolved. Fortunately others have done some work and kept the argument going elsewhere.

I could provide links but that would be too much like using actual research to back up my claims.

Anyway, the point of it all, clearly, it seems to me, is not whatever crap they were arguing about; I’ve already forgotten, something about patriarchy or something, I wasn’t entirely listening. It did however spark off some largely unrelated ruminating which I managed to relate back to my own concerns, and for that I think we are all grateful.

The thing about social media, you see, is that there’s what I call an emotion-hole between speaker and receptacle, which means that the normally flawless human radar for detecting and understanding the emotions of others does not function as powerfully via the medium of twitting, or Facepaging or whatever other young person things you are working on your home computer.

Tone, unfortunately, is lost. Sometimes this isn’t a big deal, especially if the tone is “gassy”. Sometimes it’s even beneficial; for instance, few of my friends realise that the majority of my Facebook comments are screamed in red-faced rage. The internet renders them innocuous, and thus I am able to preserve some false aura of calm and maintain friendships for months which would otherwise have died within days, as my therapist assures me is quite normal.

But at other times, for other people, the tonelessness of what Generation Now calls “typie-talking” can lead to a kind of emotional cavern born of the absence of clear signals, a metaphorical cavern which echoes within its emptiness our own pitiless internal converse.

Or something; metaphors have always confused me. 

I guess what I’m saying is that we hear what we choose to hear, to some extent, and that what we choose to hear is at least seventy percent of the time the notion that people are angry and disappointed in us. 

Like most things in life, it’s particularly difficult if you’re a straight white male on a decent income. Not only do we have to watch our empire crumbling around us while we play the theramin, we’re also supposed to pretend we’re all supportive and happy about it. As if this weren’t difficult enough, we now have this “Call out” culture, whereby every mofo with a half-arses critique of power structures and the dominant narrative is encouraged to shout it out, like a yahoo at a cockfight, and expose our inadequacies, hypocrisies and errata.

But look, I’m not here to say “poor me.” I’ll leave it for the reader to assess whether the straight white male is hard done by in this scenario, or is simply the victim.

But what I would like you to take away from my lesson is this; words have power. Some, like “sploosh”, don’t have much power, I’ll grant you, but others have a great deal of power. With our narratives we can rewrite debate and shape it in our own image, like a piece of soap melded into the soap-shape of a speech bubble with a hat that looks like our own privilege and a group of opinions that we have carved into its voice box soap with our history-remaking soap-bottle-squeezy thing… look, I don’t even really know what metaphors are. I just like soap.

As I was saying; I’m not saying I have all the answers. It’s nice of you to say so, but I probably don’t even have more than eighty-seven percent of them. Eighty-eight percent. But what I would like you to take away from my teachings is this; the way that we phrase things shapes the way we remember them; our histories are rewritten every day by our internal narrative; our life experiences are rewritten every minute by the voices around us; what we hear has already changed from when we first heard it; we can’t even hope for truth; we can’t even begin to hear or listen to somebody else without our own fears and insecurities clanging loudly in our own ears shouting you are nothing, you are not enough.

We can’t hope to avoid conflict. All we can do is meet it as best we can; with judgement and rancour, and by typing in all caps.

I’ve been speaking in general terms in this post. In terms of the specifics of this particular debate, I can only assert that it was probably Greg’s fault.

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Australia Day

I’ve always hated Australia Day. It seemed a magnet for every redneck drunken racist bogan who likes to yell incomprehensible shit.

But that’s only one side of the story. Australia is just a word, not a set concept, and we get to endow it with meaning ourselves. It’s not just our government that decides, or the drunk bogans. We can also make an effort toward imparting it with more positive meaning.

So what would you like the word Australian to mean?

Here are some of the things I’d like to see: An Australian is -

  • Somebody who cares for those less well off.
  • Somebody who helps those in need.
  • Somebody who is open to difference.
  • Somebody who doesn’t judge somebody based on their race, gender, sexuality, religion.
  • Somebody who looks out for the interests of people beyond themself
  • Somebody who thinks there are more important things than money
  • Somebody who thinks depths are more important than superficialities
  • Somebody who believes in sharing our resources and wealth as generously as we can
  • Somebody who chooses love over hate.

What about you?


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So what about 2014 then?

I’ve kinda come full circle with regard to resolutions. I used to love them. Then I became jaded by them, and became one of those people who didn’t believe in resolutions. I think maybe the problem was that I was grabbing hold of them too tightly, seeing them as rules or yardsticks to judge myself.

Now I’ve come back around to liking them again. Anything that makes us stop and reflect, take stock of where are lives are up to, and the way we would like them to head, is a good thing, I think. The trick is to hold them lightly, I think. They don’t need to be something to beat ourselves up about if we fail. We can see them just as snapshots of a moment in an ongoing conversation we have inside about how we want to live our life.

I guess I’ve come to see life as a lot more of a continuum, too. Especially with regard to personal development goals. We rarely “succeed” or “fail” at those. We might look back and choose to see a failure or success there (usually the former – see negativity bias), but the truth is it’s an ongoing process with highs, lows and everything in between. And it’s not always easy to see, when we’re in the midst of it, if we just took a step forward or back. Some of it might only become clear years down the track.

So I guess a lot of things I’m interested in are less things to tick off or achieve, and more just things to be aware of and think about and work on.

So anyway, here are some of my goals for 2014. I’m sure I’ll add to and subtract from this list as the months go by. First the practical stuff:

  • Finish my novel
  • Write regularly (whatever I decide that means)
  • Write a few short stories and start sending the ones I have written out!
  • Write some poems
  • Write some music
  • Use my time more wisely.
  • Let go of the need to “keep up” with my culture intake; books, music, comics, tv etc. Focus on the things I enjoy and quality over quantity.
  • Start minimialising my collections of things, getting rid of clutter.
  • Prioritise getting enough sleep, and getting my sleeping patterns regular.
  • Watch my caffeine intake, esp coffee. Be more aware of the times it impacts negatively.
  • Let go of the need to keep up with social media, blogs. Enjoy it but let it go.
  • Try to balance mental activity like reading, internet surfing with physical activity, being present.
  • More generally, be present more in the here and now and less in my head.
  • Keep the house nice.
  • Do something (?) with the garden.
  • Value the time spent with people, be present with them.
  • Spend more time in the present, less in the future and past.
  • Eat good foods. Lose another 10kg maybe?
  • Meditate every day.

And a few more general, internal long-term goals. These are ongoing, so I will most certainly fail at them a lot. So I don’t want to hear any of you mofos saying “But Ben you said you were going to be calm this year!” A’ight?! Anyway, things to work on:

  • Tell the truth
  • Be kind
  • Be calm
  • Be quiet.
  • Don’t worry so much about what other people think.
  • Let go of my ego, sense of who “I” am, and who other people “are”.
  • Let go of praise and blame, pride and shame.
  • Be humble
  • Be generous
  • Be gentle
  • Soothe and comfort yourself.
  • Let go of expectations.
  • Forgive people
  • Go with the flow, don’t hold on to the way things are or should be. Be free-flowing.
  • Don’t gossip. Don’t criticise people.
  • Don’t compare myself to anybody else.
  • Look out for the ego.
  • Laugh at myself.
  • Let go of unhelpful, unproductive thoughts. Spend more time with positive, happy thoughts.

Well that’s about it, for me. Not much there to go on with, is there?

I figure even if I suck majorly at most of them, just having goals helps to orient us, keeps us facing the right direction.

How about you?

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Buh-bye 2013

So it’s the last day of the year. Traditionally a day for taking stock. Personally I don’t feel like delving into the year too deeply. It was a mixture of positives and negatives. I feel that the first half of the year was fairly positive, but the second half of the year I allowed circumstances (in particular some setbacks at work and the dire election result) to depress me and get on top of me, and I found my positivity waning. I spent a lot of time working on my approach to the world, in general, and I feel that I made progress, but maybe not as quickly as I would have liked. Too much time spent on negativity, over-analysis and feeling bad about myself.

On the flip side, I am proud of what I achieved during nanowrimo, I made a couple of good friends, I spent a lot of nice times with close friends and family, and I feel like I ended the year in a positive frame of mind. I kept up with my meditation, had an on-off relationship with exercise, and generally got my sleep patterns into a more healthy frame. 

I have noticed, and have read, that humans have a negativity bias; when we look back on our own lives and relationships, it is easy for us to focus on the negatives, for the tough moments to stand out more than the many happy moments in between. Maybe that’s why most of us seem to get to the end of the year feeling like it’s time to boot it out the door and bring on the next.

2013 wasn’t so bad. Looking back, there is a lot to be grateful for. I hope in 2014 I learn to focus more on those things and less on the setbacks. 

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Has Justine Landed?

I’ve been trying to process my thoughts about the whole Has Justine Landed meme that hit the news this week.

For those who aren’t aware of it, here is a summary.

Personally, I read Sacco’s tweet as ironic, taking the piss out of the very attitude many other readers saw it as promoting. But be that as it may, even if the tweet itself was not ironic, and was genuinely prejudiced, I can’t help but feel very uncomfortable about the whole saga.

For one thing, I don’t know how old Sacco is but based on the photos posted online she doesn’t look more than mid-twenties. I think back to my mid-twenties and plenty of the idiotic things I thought and said at that age, and I shudder to think of being judged by the entire world for them. Maybe all the twitter commentators bagging her were intelligent and erudite at a much earlier age, but personally I like to err on the side of compassion when it comes to things like the development of wisdom because fuck knows, I’m in need of it myself.

Sacco had less than a fairly small twitter presence; it’s hard to argue that anybody was taking down a big target here. This wasn’t a multinational company talking, it was a young girl employed by a company nobody had really heard of. But that didn’t stop people from signal-boosting the tweet and slamming her online, while she was offline and had no opportunity to respond or defend herself. 

Social media frenzies are nothing new. There are probably hundreds a year, although not many get the press that this one did. Part of it was the perceived humour of the #hasjustinelanded hashtag, based on the idea that she would arrive in South Africa and get off the plane, after being offline for many hours, unaware of the furore and anger that had been unleashed against her. Which strikes me as a pretty fucking cruel kind of comedy, but I’m willing to allow that not everybody involved had ill intent toward her, and many were just signal boosting what they believed a conscience issue. Still, it’s hard not to feel that the proportionality was getting way out of control. I hear worse comments than Justine’s at work every week. I hear bigots every day on the street. Hell, my relatives have been known to say some pretty dodgy things. Would I want to expose any of those people to a worldwide shitstorm of hate as a result? 

Or is it something that is reserved for anonymous, online people we will never have to meet and look in the eye?

Then of course there were the death threats, and threats of rape. Call me old-fashioned, but I can’t help feel the mob had kind of surrendered the high ground somewhere along the line.

Then the furore meant that the company she worked for sacked her. Gutless acquiescence to the easiest face-saving manoeuvre or genuine attempt to reform the company attitudes? You decide. Regardless, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Sacco. I don’t care if she’s a bigot, and worse, I kind of think she’s not (from what I’ve read she was a small-l liberal lefty making a gag that didn’t go well). But even if she is a bigot, I feel compassion for her. What a horrible week she had to endure at the hands of other humans. How sad that we think making someone feel small, causing them pain and suffering and robbing them of their livelihood, is a sign of our moral superiority.

But of course, it was worth it, right? Because now the world is just that bit much safer. Because, well, wait, what did this all achieve again? News media all over the world is reading a convenient simple moral into all of this: the moral of the tale is “Be careful what you tweet.” 

Well that’s a very useful moral and well worth putting somebody through abuse, threats, job loss and pain. That’s a deep message and not at all trite and lazy journalistic fumblings that were outdated five years ago.

I liked this response from Tauriq Moosa. In particular:

“It is this move to caricature that’s part of what allows us to be bizarrely antagonistic and hateful to each other, publicly online; consider how people respond to celebrities… Black and white, good versus evil, smart versus dumb. Caricature is the only way to believe people fit so neatly into categories worth opposing, instead of considering them other humans with feelings, family and failure.

clearly what does need to change is the default to hate, the default to leap into the moral bandwagon and yell loudly about how moral you are instead of acting in a way that actually advances that cause. Anyone can scream at a stranger”

Maybe it’s time we stopped these timeworn warnings of “Be careful what you tweet” and started looking at our own reactions. Maybe the problem is not people saying stupid things on twitter (although they incontrovertibly do). Maybe the real problem is that we’ve gotten stupider at reading them. Instead of looking for complexity, instead of taking our own first reaction with a grain of salt, instead of brushing against the popular view, instead of seeing nuance and ambiguity, we reach for the first available handle on the situation, anything that allows us to assert our moral self-righteousness, anything that makes us look better and other people look worse. Maybe amid the constant reassertion of our own goodness and other peoples’ offensive wrongness, we’ve allowed ourselves to become lazy, we’ve stopped looking for surprises in the world and started thinking we know how it all works.

I must admit after reading this story I thought about quitting Twitter. I thought well, if that’s where we’re all heading, I don’t know if I want to be a part of it.

But I believe social media is what we make it. It can be a sledgehammer of judgement, or it can be a tool of compassion and kindness. I don’t believe (don’t want to believe) that the majority of people who jumped on the bandwagon wished Sacco any harm. But we need to become more aware of what we’re doing, where we’re driving this bus. Because the warning signs are all there; sooner or later, innocent, good people are gonna get run over. And we can be the ones blaming them for being in the wrong spot, or we can be the ones trying to drive with more awareness.

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What I got out of Nanowrimo

So for anybody who hasn’t been following along, this year I did Nanowrimo, which is an annual contest (against yourself more than anyone else) to write 50,000 words in the month of November. 

I’ve toyed with it before and never really done it. I have also been a nano-naysayer in the past, so I am familiar with a lot of the arguments against it. In fact only two weeks or so before it started, I was telling people that from now on I was dedicating myself to slow writing, and quality over speed. Which may be how I ended up signing up; I’ve always been contrary, with myself as well as others.

So I thought I’d share what I got out of the experience. Mileage may vary.

  1. I discovered I could in fact write 50,000 words in a month. Which, wow, I never thought I would be able to do. To contextualise, in the last five years or so I’ve written a total of about 30,000 words. And what’s more, although time may change my mind, to my view they were pretty decent quality words. Sure, a lot of it will be rewritten or cut, and there are some crap passages. But there are also some passages that I love. And I don’t think the quality overall is any different to that which I produce when writing slower.
  2. It took the pressure off. For the last few years, I’ve been struggling with the fact that it takes so damn long to write a novel. And what if you’re investing all that time in a dud idea? What if this novel is going to end up in the bin? It’s hard to work for a year, two years, three years, on a book that you know might never see the light of day. It’s a lot easier to give that book a month of your time.
  3. It helped me redefine how much I can write in a session. I used to see 350 words as a good daily target, aiming to have a novel done in about a year. It never seemed to happen, but that was my goal. This month I’ve been writing 1600 words a day, with 3000 words on a good day. Most days that was slotted in around full time work, before work and in lunch breaks. Even if I can’t sustain the same pace, after November, the fact is that I’ve pushed myself and discovered I can be more productive than I ever thought.
  4. Nano made me set good patterns. Previously I’ve toyed with the idea of writing in the mornings, and I usually last a few days, and then I stay up too late or have a bad night’s sleep and I give myself a morning off, and then another, and the pattern stops. Having a 1600 word a day goal meant that I couldn’t afford to work that haphazardly, and so I was a lot more tough on myself in terms of getting to bed early, and not taking days off (I took a couple but not many). I *did* get tired toward the end of the week, and my Fridays were a lot less productive, but I managed to compensate by writing more on Mondays and Tuesdays. 
  5. It reminded me of the value of a supportive community. For the last five years or so I’ve largely drifted away from any groups or other writers, and I’m not naturally a network sort of person. It was really good to have a ready-made cheer squad of other writers on hand to push me through the difficult days. I don’t believe in being beholden to the opinions of others, but it certainly helps accountability to know that other people are there watching, and some days it helped me dig deep to pull out those words i thought were beyond me.
  6. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the world you’re writing. One of the problems I’ve had in the past has been sustaining the love for a novel. An idea that really moves you or inspires you can start to lose its lustre after two or three years, and that leads to a lot of second-guessing, doubts and just a lack of motivation. One benefit of nano is that you’re churning out the bulk of the novel during a time when you’re still in love with it, and that really helps to pull you through. Writing so many words also keeps the book fresh in your mind. Sometimes too much; after a few of the darker, more painful scenes to write, I really found it hard not to carry the characters into everyday life :-)

I’m sure there are other benefits that I haven’t realised yet, but those are the things I got out of the process. I found it very useful and it has helped me to feel enthused about writing again for the first time in years. So I’d totally recommend it.

Nanowrimo’s not for everyone. And if you don’t feel like you want to commit to that sort of thing, that’s fine. If you do try it, my only advice is to make it fun, and to try to hit it as hard as you can in the first week. A lot of people I know got disheartened when they fell behind early. I think it’s important to keep deadlines and goals reasonable, and to keep ourselves feeling positive about what we’re doing. If you start feeling like you’re struggling to keep up or depressed at being behind, the best thing you can do is rewrite your deadline to something that you can feel good about. 

Anyway, I still have a novel to finish. Even if I only carry on part of the productivity from this month, I feel like I’ve come out ahead. And then I’ll have a book to edit and revise.

I’m looking forward to doing it again next year.

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