Men Typing Badly: Reflections on Male to Female Interactions on Social Media (and maybe elsewhere)


Professor of Philosophy Adriel Trott, who as a sideline happens to be my niece, is very patient with me and my continual dialogue regarding feminism. Patience is needed, because while I find myself still hashing out what Second Stage feminists fought through, Dr. Trott and her compatriots are post-Third Stage pioneers re gender identity, intersectionality, and ever so much more.

Oh. And there is that little issue of her being a woman and me very much a big white male.

adriel.trott_1397683070_79Dr. Trott’s blog, The Trott Line, recently featured a provocative notification that for 7 Days, she had interacted only with women in social media. Her reasoning did not include man-hate or any derivative thereof:

“I have long felt like social media is a man’s world.  Men get all the privileges they get as men, but it feels amplified on social media.  My experience of social media in general is that men can say things that get taken as definitive, while women are asked to explain and justify.  Men say things about their difficulties in any particular area of their life and it is taken as an expression of their reflective capacities, but when women express such difficulties, it is taken as a moment to offer advice.  I don’t have the data (a. I would love to see such work being done and b. I think the call for data in response to this expression of my experience is in a sense part of what happens to women on the internet–we call it gaslighting when experience is not to be trusted), but my experience on the interwebz is that it’s a hard place to be a woman, especially a woman in philosophy.”

Dr. Trott then goes on to underscore what she learned in just seven days… and it was painful for this man to read. Picking out only her bullet points (despite the fact that one *really* should read her entire post):

1. There are not that many women on social media.
2. Men seem to think I need advice about things in which I am an expert.
3. Social media seems to develop hubs of engagement that are dominated by men.
4. Men engage solely with other men about issues relating almost solely to women on the regular.

Now, it may seem odd that Dr. Trott found these conclusions while *not* interacting directly with men. Again, read her article for why… the reasons are compelling and I had no argument with any of ’em.

I responded to Dr. Trott on her page by asking (short version) what we men could do about it. She kindly but firmly responded (short version) that it wasn’t up to her or women in general to help me figure that one out… “The ball,” she seemed to be saying, “Is in your court.”

Now I admit initially that was just a little brusque for me. My lil’ male ego had been rebuffed, right when I was trying to be all helpful and feminist and “a man who listens” and stuff! (Need some Kleenex?) But there is a more serious reason than those I really do hesitate here… and that is that when the privileged person tries to speak into the less-privileged person’s situation, the result is often not good and can even exacerbate what already was bad.

All that said… I’m taking Professor Trott’s adminition at face value. I’m going to risk being a big white male idiot by offering possible correctives, aimed completely at myself and my fellow males, regarding opening social media (and conversations in general) to women. I will use Dr. Trott’s own points, then head off in my own dubious direction(s). Except point one, which must constantly be referred to…. and point six, which underlies (I think) the whole works.

  1. “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” — G. K. Chesteron. Guys, do we fancy ourselves feminists? Are we aware enough of how difficult it is to actually treat women will full equality and respect that we are afraid to say anything where so-called “women’s issues” are concerned? Are we terrified of saying something stupid? Well, I am. I confess that there’s nothing less comforting to me than, in the middle of a conversation with someone who is not a white male, saying something I think is enlightened only to watch the other person contort like a snail when someone pours salt on it. But *hey*! Anything worth doing is worth doing badly. We cannot as men afford to be embarrassed about how ignorant we are. Let’s dive in. Let’s try to make the world a better place for women and therefore a better place for all of us, period. HUMILITY, boys! Laugh at yourself! Cuz *dang* you are funny when you’re trying to be helpful to women in their struggles. If nothing else, we can be comic relief. And now, to Dr. Trott’s points:
  2. There are not that many women on social media. How can men in effect “invite” women into discussions and interactions via face book, blogs, twitter? Guys, we have to go out and *find* them! Surely in your circles, whether professional or social, you are well aware of women with thoughtful opinions on all sorts of things. Invite them! Nag them, even. Remind them that according to other women you’ve read, there aren’t enough women represented in social media. Go further yet. Ask them why they aren’t on social media. Is it because they already experience enough friction from male counterparts at work or elsewhere that they just don’t need the grief? If (and only if) they express discomfort regarding having to interact online where strongly opinionated males predominate (which is pretty much everywhere), ask them what if anything you personally can do to make social media more fun/useful/”spacious” for them.
  3. Men seem to think I need advice on things in which I am an expert. Yikes. I actually did this to Dr. Trott. She’s a weight lifter. I used to be one. She mentioned once that she was doing squats, and immediately I felt it incumbent upon me — the former weight lifter — to warn her not to overdo things. Uh…. yeah, that there, boys, is male condescension — the ol’ patriarchal pat on the head. Women really will ask for help if they want it. Even excess affirmation here is double-edged, by the way. “Ooo… the little lady can lift weights!” Sigh. Again, HUMILITY. Wear it, boys. Feels weird not to offer the ladies unsolicited advice, doesn’t it? It’s a lot about us reminding women that we’re in control. It actually feels good to realize, and act on the realization, that we are not.
  4. Social media seems to develop hubs of engagement dominated by men. This is, to me, one of Dr. Trott’s most self-evident points. This political season one can go to almost any posting on Hillary Clinton, for instance, and read a riot of shrieking comments from males in violent, permanent hate with her. But that’s an extreme instance. As a Christian I’ve been part of various theological discussions on line, and invariably such discussions are overwhelmingly male. The second point above has already delved into inviting women into such places. But along with that — and I tread carefully, aware this in itself can and in fact may be condescending — men should make sure to positively interact with any women in such groups. That doesn’t mean agreeing with them on everything (duh?!). It means treating them with the same respect and listening attitude we treat men in such discussions. By the way, if a woman calls you out as a man for being condescending… yes. Admit it. Apologize. Thank her. Even ask her to mention it again if you transgress. “I’m a bit near-sighted on some things… I need help seeing more clearly.” Dang HUMILITY again….
  5. Men engage solely with other men on issues relating solely to women. Yes. A very recent discussion on my web page about how Christians should negotiate the Gordian Knot of two human lives — a pregnant woman and an unwanted unborn — was dominated by men, including myself. I don’t actually recall a woman taking part at all. (I did notice, and it did make me feel squeamo.) This is very hard, because it goes to the heart of male privilege. What can I talk about “with authority” regarding a woman’s body? Her sexuality? Her rights vs the unborn’s rights? I assume I *can* do so… but upon what foundation am I constructing such assumptions? It takes a repeated and overtly public self-disinvestment of power for men to speak *at all* about issues belonging to women. Can we go that far? Can we see through our privilege to recognize it as profoundly unjust and immoral? HUMILITY is called for. Otherwise, we continue to delude ourselves by having a discussion in which none of us are qualified. Women should “sponsor,” “chair,” “lead,” “moderate” such discussions… and men should listen more, talk way less.
  6. “Be the living expression of God’s Kindness.” — Mother Teresa. That feminist St. Paul reminds us that love is kind. Kindness requires us to leave our selves in at least momentary abeyance as we seek out our neighbor’s best. This fundamentally disempowering principle has often been subverted, directed to those who already have been disempowered; women, minorities, slaves, children. Adult males cannot go wrong if this law of love serves as a north star in their approach to even the internet. God, being (as James reminds us) no respecter of persons, is not honored when those made in his image are marginalized, disempowered, ignored, condescended to. Whether face book or face to face, my manhood is only fulfilled when I love my neighbor. My neighbor’s womanhood is only fulfilled when she loves her neighbor. But when I prevent her from entering my world, my consciousness, my preconceptions (to their detriment!), I love not her, not God, not myself as I ought.

In conclusion, I’d ask for *women* in particular to respond to both Dr. Trott’s and my own posts… in my case with whatever corrections or additions seem appropriate. There is one equation I’d like to leave us all with… and that is the (I believe) biblical concept that when a person is truly disempowered, God commands those around her to reverse that process, restoring her sense of self-identity and self-purpose. When a person is empowered — especially when that power is given at the expense of others — their primary task is to (a) use said power to empower others, but (b) invariably to disempower oneself to whatever degree is possible. That’s far too deep for a concluding paragraph, and probably too deep for this shallow soul.


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