That One Time I Actually Had a Civil Conversation on Facebook

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If you’ve ever talked to me for more than 30 seconds, you’ve probably figured out that women’s rights and feminism are causes that are very near and dear to my heart. A few weeks ago, on Twitter and Facebook, I posted a link to Arthur Chu’s article regarding Elliot Rodger, Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds. If you have not already read this article, you should immediately do so, because in my opinion, it’s highly accurate and relevant.

You would think I would know better by now than to post anything remotely political on Facebook. Nine times out of ten, it’ll get a few likes or maybe some comments. But every so often, I accidentally start a giant flamewar on my timeline (that I’m usually not involved in at all). Shortly after posting this, my brother commented on the article, and we got into a discussion about it. I’m going to post some of the comments here, because just excerpting them won’t do it justice.

This was his first comment:

So, it’s rather obvious I get a little heated on this issue, and I wager it’s for several reasons, but there are some gripes I have with this article.

1) It’s real close to “blaming the games” again. I think we’ve all figures that’s shit

2) This guy was a killer first. While I admit that misogyny plays a role, I think it was more his trigger than his motivator (from my totally not a psychologist point of view). Over half the victims were men. While he set out to target women, his actual targets were not gender specific. He just wanted to kill people.

3) There are social issues with women at stake here. Nothing about the “debate/discussion” of this should detract from talking about what it is that women face on a far greater scale than men. (And I say that from time at Starbucks hearing the same talking points in this article about men talking to women, just in reverse.)

4) I think there is more to this than “Men, hurry up and change your behavior!” I think we need to talk about what societal expectations are for men and how all of us perceive it. As an example I always see this hashtag talking about “creepers” coming up and talking to women. Well, society always expects the male to be the initiator. The male is the one to ask a woman on a date, and if a woman does it she is desperate. I don’t think that’s fair to either gender.

5) I can barely really speak to any of this because I am a guy who doesn’t engage in this kind of Brohan level crap, but I get angered by it because there’s nothing I can do to fix it. Men, in general, have this mentality of “There’s a problem; I must fix it.” But i can’t fix this, and I don’t like the easily told line of “Fix it by teaching your son…”

6) Everyone will have their own perceptions of what constitutes empowerment and equality. So I don’t think this will ever be fully resolved.

This was my response:

I understand why men are getting frustrated by this discourse. In fact, I think all women do. We understand all too much how it feels to be generalized and reduced to one example of your gender.

I do take issue with the “he killed men, too” argument. If you can stomach reading Elliot Rodger’s manifesto, which I did, it becomes all too apparent that he had an attitude of entitlement to women. The reason he hated these men was an extension of his hatred of women. He resented these men for getting the women he thought he “deserved”. Before his killing spree, he apparently attempted to attack couples he saw in town because he hated any man who had access to the women he didn’t.

I agree that gender stereotypes are harmful to both men and women. I don’t think #YesAllWomen is referring to men who want to just talk to women, though. It’s referring to the men who won’t take no for answer, or make it clear that they feel that they are entitled to some form of affection or reciprocation. Did you know the reason I broke up with one of my boyfriends in college was because when I told him I didn’t think I was ready for sex with him right away, he got upset and told me he was expecting it? That’s a red flag right there.

And if women are wary of men who just want to approach them and say hi, it’s because we’ve all had the experience of that guy who is sending up red flags in our brain that we are not in safe situation right now, and there’s no easy way to get out of it without potentially upsetting him. It’s not that we think you’re bad, we’ve just been trained our whole lives to be on the defensive.

There also seems to be this prevalent attitude, mostly amongst men, that there is nothing they can do to fix this, and that it will never be resolved. You can fix it! Women can’t do this alone. We’ve been trying, and it’s clearly not working. Women are not using the #YesAllWomen hashtag to vilify or shame men. We’re trying to share our experiences and show men what we deal with on a daily basis. We want you to understand where we’re coming from, so we can start a dialogue to change this. Like I said, we understand how it feels to be reduced to a stereotype, and we don’t want to do that to men. We want to foster change. Unfortunately, a lot of this change has to come from within. But that starts with encouraging discussion.

Ultimately, what I think my biggest contention with this line of thinking is, as many have stated, men are immediately going on the defensive and saying “Not my fault.” You’re right! Rodger’s actions are not directly your fault. But the culture that fostered it is, and we are all a part of that culture, even as a passive consumer. But instead of placing the blame on the people who are pointing out the shortcomings of that culture, we should be placing the blame on the people perpetrating it.

He replied:

[You’re] right, there are things I can do right away. In my Marine Sergeant mind I just get more frustrated that I can’t solve it with a swift foot up ass resolution. I think that I get frustrated at seeing these despicable actions perpetuated more and more. And I’m possibly just misdirecting my anger that someone could feel so “entitled” to another human being in the completely wrong direction.

I guess I am jumping to the extreme interpretation of these things and imagining implications rather than taking them at face value and actually trying to help resolve issues.

Only one more response from me, I promise:

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with extremism, and I think modern discourse is partially to blame for this. The internet has given anyone a platform, and that makes it very easy for an extreme minority to appear much more vocal and influential. Our new norm is to take an extreme position and shout louder than the other guy, instead of discourse, agreement, and compromise. In the end, nothing is accomplished and everyone is upset.

This could have quickly dissolved into something a lot less civil and a lot less constructive very quickly. When my brother made his first comment, my instinct was to fire back with uncompromising vitriol. It’s very easy to do online, when you don’t have to look at or even know the person you’re arguing with. But I respect my brother and his life experiences too much for that. I explained that I disagreed, but I explained why I felt the way I did, instead of resorting to attack mode. And then something I have never seen happen on Facebook before happened: we reached a compromise. We both conceded that the point of view from which we framed our opinions was causing us to express the same sentiment in a different manner. We agreed that the Internet was a terrible medium for this conversation. And we didn’t get angry. It was a beautiful thing.

One of the other reasons that this conversation stuck with me was the reactions I got from others. My brother is technically my half brother, so we have different last names. After he posted his first comment, while I was typing up my reply, I got several messages from friends who had no idea that we were related asking, “Can you believe this guy?! Who is he, anyway?” I appreciated the support, but these friends were making a snap judgement of him based off one comment. And I realized that I’ve been guilty of the exact same thing, many times over. Almost nobody stops to consider that there’s another person on the other side of the screen. So I’m trying to avoid that behavior from now on. Which is really hard on Twitter with only 140 characters, but I’m trying, dammit.

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