Shirky to women: ur doin it wrong

Shirky to women: ur doin it wrong

UPDATE, 1/19: Follow-up post is here.

A post from Internet analyst/author/smart-person Clay Shirky titled “A Rant About Women” has got quite the discussion going around the Intertubes. Read (or at least skim) it before continuing; let me also take this introductory opportunity to do the obligatory feminist thing and thank the dude for taking time out of his busy schedule to wrestle with the giant questions of why don’t women do as well as men at X. Here it comes… thank you. OK, so I’m being a wee bit sarcastic, but seriously: it really is nice to see these conversations happen outside of the usual suspected fora of listservs, blogs, etc, all for and by the ladies.

Much of the resulting discussion has been a bit heavy-handed on both sides– “OMG, he’s totally right!” “OMG, he’s totally wrong!” Some great points have already been well covered by others, especially Jezebel blogger Anna’s point that women aren’t allowed culturally to be the aggressive jerks that successful men are. This was also the place where I had the most visceral reaction — the conclusion that we need to teach women to be more like men: more assertive and aggressive, demanding of what they want and need. This approach to solving the “where are teh womenz” problem misses the mark in a way that 70s & 80s power feminism also missed the mark for me. The “we’re just as good as men” statements and subsequent actions set the wrong frame. It assumes:

  • Men’s success and ways of achieving it are the gold standard.
  • Women’s lack of success and lack of use of men’s ways is the deviant behavior. (as in, “deviant from the norm,” not deviant as in “naughty”)
  • Therefore, women should act more like men to be successful.

Personally, I’m just not that interested in acting more like a dude for the chance that my work gets more widely recognized or that I get paid more to do it, and I suspect many other women aren’t, either. It’s sort of, just maybe, one of the myriad of reasons we haven’t been acting like dudes since women’s lib, y’know?

What’s far more interesting to me is shifting the cultural consciousness around what being successful means, and what it then takes to achieve it. Creating a more holistic standard to which men and women both can hold themselves, and then compete/collaborate, etc., offers us an opportunity to break down terribly unhealthy versions of masculinity and femininity that oppress us all.

Asking women to be more like men (which is different than what Shirky claims we’re doing when we ask men to be “sensitive” and “listen” — that’s just asking for a little humanity, there) falls on a spectrum of prescribing feminine behavior that is dangerous and unhealthy. We’re putting the onus on women to fit themselves into a culture that doesn’t value them enough to begin with. It sounds a lot like misguided sexual assault prevention tactics (“how not to get yourself raped!”), and Shirky goes there himself when he points out the time colleges spend teaching women self-defense. Me? I cringed right there.? Where are the colleges teaching men not to rape women?*

I’ve been looking for an excuse to post about this great piece from Jill at I Blame the Patriarchy, wherein she rewrites one of those email chain letters telling women what to do in order not to get themselves attacked, into a guide for men on how to prevent sexual assault. Now seems as good a time as any:

Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work

1. Don't put drugs in women's drinks.

2. When you see a woman walking by herself, leave her alone.

3. If you pull over to help a woman whose car has broken down, remember not to assault her.

4. If you are in a lift and a woman gets in, don't assault her. You know what? Don't even ogle her.

5. When you encounter a woman who is asleep, the safest course of action is to not assault her.

6. Never creep into a woman's home through an unlocked door or window, or spring out at her from between parked cars, or assault her.

7. When you lurk in bushes and doorways with criminal intentions, always wear bright clothing, wave a flashlight, or play "Boys Who Rape (Should All Be Destroyed)" by the Raveonettes on a boombox really loud, so women in the vicinity will know where to aim their flamethrowers.

8. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If it is inconvenient for you to stop yourself from assaulting women, ask a trusted friend to accompany you when in public.

9. Carry a rape whistle. If you find that you are about to assault a woman, you can hand the whistle to your buddy, so s/he can blow it to call for help.

10. Give your buddy a revolver, so that when indifferent passers-by either ignore the rape whistle, or gather round to enjoy the spectacle, s/he can pistol-whip you.

Don't forget: Honesty is the best policy. When asking a woman out on a date, don't pretend that you are interested in her as a person; tell her straight up that you expect to be assaulting her later. If you don't communicate your intentions, the woman may take it as a sign that you do not plan to rape her.

Men-folk: see how terrible and condescending and infuriating it is to be on the receiving end of this kind of thing? Jill’s list o’ tips makes me laugh and cry a little.

Tactics to solve gender inequality that don’t address the wider cultural discrimination and structural oppression, that only put the problem in women’s own hands, do nothing but perpetuate a system that keep women “in their place.” This is shockingly unappealing to us at the receiving end of said place assignment.

UPDATE, 1/19: Follow-up post is here.

* When I was at SUNY-Albany, there was a program for men only called “A Few Good Men,” though I don’t know what the content was. If anyone has references to good programs (though I’m skeptical they’re offered at the same frequency and with the same enthusiastic energy as self-defense for women courses), please post them in the comments.