February 26, 2015

Speaking Up

By Katie B.

speak-up-against-feminism

Artwork © Tzviatko Kinchev

Last week I was having a conversation with my sister over tea when she asked if I’d seen _______’s new YouTube video. At 25 my sister is eight years younger than I am and, while I do a decent job of keeping up with what’s relevant, she’s usually one step ahead of me when it comes to pop culture. I explained that I had no idea who _______ was. I assumed that she was another teenage girl singing songs about her broken heart. My sister had a good chuckle at my expense before explaining that this person is a young YouTube video blogger, public sex educator, and feminist. She then expressed her surprise at my never having heard of her because she is exactly the type of speaker that my sister assumed I would love.

Wait, what?

My sister proceeded to show me the video she’d referenced, sure that I would love it and that I would be so excited to have this public figure’s material to use with the young women I volunteer with in a local youth program. With some confusion I watched _______’s video entitled, “Why I’m A Feminist….” By the end of her stereotypical rant I was bewildered. How was it possible that in all of the years of our adulthood I had somehow managed to give my sister the impression that these were the sorts of ideas and politics I supported? As my true sentiments fall so far in the opposite direction of _______, I knew I had never said anything about these topics in conversation that should have led her to believe that the thoughts and opinions in that video in any way echoed my own.

That’s when realization set in to the tune of a growing and uncomfortable hum in my head. It was true, I’d never given my sister a specific reason to believe that my opinions were in line with this speaker or any number of other popular feminists, but I’d also never given her any reason not to believe that they were, either. A few moments of silence passed between the end of the video and me awkwardly mumbling, “But… I’m not a feminist.” My sister’s response was to once again chuckle at me for being out of touch and leave the room.

I wondered if silence could be misconstrued as acceptance. If so, was it really the virtue I’d built it up in my mind to be?

Way to go, me. I didn’t know what was actually a poorer reflection of my strong feelings and opinions about feminism, sexuality, and male advocacy: _______’s chirpy rhetoric or my barely audible denial.

The hum in the back of my head grew louder. It gave me a sense that I was somehow missing the boat and that there was something more that I should be doing or saying. I’d always felt comfortable with the idea that I didn’t need to get on a soapbox about what I believe in. In fact, I felt confident that it wasn’t appropriate and that, as a submissive female, I was suited to social silence. But there was an undeniable feeling inside me warning me that perhaps, somehow, I was wrong. I wondered if silence could be misconstrued as acceptance. If so, was it really the virtue I’d built it up in my mind to be?

The truth was that the thought of the alternative made me nervous, so I set it aside and settled back into my comfort zone. However, fate conspired once again to give me occasion to rethink how or if I should use my voice. Several days after the conversation with my sister I received a text from a friend asking for my opinion of a popular female blogger. My friend said she had a feeling that I would be familiar with the blogger in question and have an opinion—and she wasn’t wrong. As it turned out the blogger in question is a person I’ve run into a lot in various blogging circles. She also happens to be a passionate advocate for new wave feminism and extremely vocal about perceived “male privilege.” To say that our viewpoints butt heads would be quite an understatement, but considering that those viewpoints weren’t something I had ever discussed with my friend, I found myself hesitating before answering.

Once again I had to acknowledge that silence had put me in somewhat of an awkward position. I had no idea what my friend’s expectations were when it came to my answer because I knew she had no basis for understanding where my views were rooted. Bolstered by the fact that (to my knowledge, at least) she hadn’t already made an assumption about my position, I decided to try my hand at a more firm response than the one I’d muttered to my sister.

“I think she’s a good writer, but I find that her aggressive stance on feminism and male privilege to be so much in contrast with my own views that I have trouble justifying what good I may otherwise find in her writing.” And then I pushed send.

Sure, it wasn’t quite a declaration, but it was enough in that moment to open a window. What happened next hit me at an even deeper level than realizing that some of my deepest convictions were hidden from even my own sister. My friend’s response first expressed her disappointment in the blogger’s politics. Then she asked to know more about my own beliefs on the issues mentioned. What resulted was a long and honest conversation in which my friend not only thanked me for being willing to share what some might consider to be controversial opinions in our current culture but also expressed how much more confident she felt about her own beliefs. She admitted to often not trusting her gut when it came to issues like feminism because the voices on the other side were so many, but she also asserted that having just one conversation was already making her feel less intimidated and more willing to stand up for what she believed.

At that point I understood what it was that felt so wrong in what I had been doing. If my family and close friends, who don’t necessarily share all of my views on female submission (but who otherwise know me very well) have no idea what ideology I support, is it possible that the submissive females I interact with could be making the same assumptions? And how many women are left confused or deceived as they search for truth while so many of us stand in the shadows, clinging to ideas about submission, such as our own definitions of propriety, what constitutes grace or poise, and self-imposed silence?

All of the reasons I had for remaining silent and for politely refusing to engage in the cultural conversation about gender roles, sexuality, and men’s and women’s issues were starting to look a lot more like excuses to stay safe than commitment to deep female submission. I had to face within myself the question of who was possibly being hurt or misguided due to my silence and, even more devastating, was it really as honoring to the man I serve as I thought my silence was? What would he say if I asked him? Certainly, I could not presume to know his mind so well that I didn’t need to ask him?

If we submissive females don’t step into the fray around the issues that concern us, not only will no one ever know that we exist, but we will actively assist—through our passivity—in inflicting harm on women like ourselves or men who enjoy us.

These were (and are) hard questions to ask and they come with uncomfortable answers. Many of us who identify as submissive have a natural tendency towards timidity and would be happy to fade into obscurity if we were given permission to. I am right there with many of you in wanting to avoid conflict and the harsh criticism of the opposition as much as possible. I’m no stranger to the fear that makes silence seem so appealing. For some of us, it’s this yielding part of our nature that makes us capable of embracing submission to a man; that makes it feel so natural. That said, I believe it’s important for us to avoid the mistake of yielding to the idea of submission, rather than yielding to our men. In some situations, a submissive woman’s ideals and perhaps incorrect conceptions about what submission is may act in direct opposition to what actually pleases her man.

I know that no one wants to fall prey to that insidious kind of self-focus, however, it can creep in so quietly. Submissive women must come to terms with the reality that showing devotion to the men we serve means expressing active devotion to their causes. The largest social cause of all for us as women should be making certain that men remain in authority over us. We cannot do that by being silent. The social attack on men that exists in our culture doesn’t rest, it doesn’t back down, and it’s a force that never tires of throwing everything it’s got at men from every angle imaginable. To oppose these hateful ideas we have to speak up. Sometimes that will mean getting our hands dirty, sometimes it may mean looking ugly and indecorous. Sometimes it might mean sticking our necks out and inviting ridicule.

If we submissive females don’t step into the fray around the issues that concern us, not only will no one ever know that we exist, but we will actively assist—through our passivity—in inflicting harm on women like ourselves or men who enjoy us. Passivity can have extremely negative consequences in our culture and communities. Martin Luther King Jr. rallied people around the Civil Rights movement with the words, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” There is good work being done by men’s rights activists to champion the freedoms of men and boys. These activists are risking ridicule and unpopularity, to say the least, in order to protect masculinity. Meanwhile, the passivity of women who wholeheartedly believe in the cause to protect male members of society has played a key role in creating a culture in which other men are defecting to feminism. The number of men taking on the identity of a “white knight”—conceding to their supposedly undue “privilege” and worshiping women as goddesses—is terribly distressing. This, however, is what society tells men they must do in order to gain the favor of the women around them. By not speaking against this message we do just what is described in Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote: we cooperate with the evil that is being done to the men in our communities.

The problem is that it’s scary stepping onto the battlefield alone. Being the first to speak up is often absolutely terrifying. But the good news, if we can call it that, is that this isn’t a problem that is specific only to submissive women: it’s a much bigger human problem.

In 1968 the concept of what is known as the Bystander Effect was popularized by social psychologists John Darely and Bibb Latane. The Bystander Effect occurs when the presence of others hinders an individual from intervening in an emergency situation. Darely and Latane launched a series of experiments in their laboratory inspired by the infamous and tragic 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in which Miss Genovese was stabbed to death outside of her New York City apartment in plain view of 38 of her neighbors who stood by and did nothing. In a typical experiment, the participant is either alone or in a group when a staged emergency occurs and “researchers measured how long it took the participant to intervene, if they intervened.” These experiments found that the larger the number of participants in the group, the less likely it was for any single participant to intervene in the emergency.

Psychologists called this process of social influence “diffusion of responsibility.” In a large group, most people will be guided and influenced by the behavior of the majority rather than act out on their own, even in cases of extreme emergency or at the risk of their own safety. Most people would reason that somewhere in the group was someone smarter, wiser, or braver than themselves and that the responsibility to intervene fell to that individual. If that person, whoever they might be, wasn’t taking any measure to intervene, then the general assumption was that no action was really needed. In the few cases where an individual would respond and intervene, the majority followed. All it took was one brave person to move the entire group to act, but without that person’s choice to act, a whole group of perfectly sane and intelligent human beings would stand by and watch another suffer, be robbed, or even scream for help and do absolutely nothing about it.

It’s terrifying to me to think that I could find myself in a dangerous situation while an audience of observers stood by and did nothing to help. I think we’d all like to believe that we wouldn’t be one of those people waiting for someone else to do something, and yet it happens all of the time. ABC’s show Primetime: What Would You Do? is predicated upon and tests the bystander effect by way of social experiments not so unlike the ones conducted by Darley and Latane. In one particular episode an actress plays the role of an abusive nanny to a small child (also an actress). Staged outside of a cafe in New York City, people witness the nanny call the child names, throw things at her, and make threats of physical abuse. In most cases, even when it’s clear that the witnesses are affected by the situation, people walk by the scene without saying a word. Looks of disapproval and concern are exchanged by passersby, yet, because no one is willing to make the first move, they opt not to act and leave the child defenseless. As submissive females, we contribute to a similar effect when we keep silent and hope that someone else will do the dirty work of passionately and sometimes forcefully standing up against the views that oppose our own or that of the men we serve. I call this scientific understanding “good news” because it means that this behavior isn’t intrinsic to submissive personalities. It’s a socially influenced behavior that is learned and that means it can be overcome.

Along with a commitment to humility, I think it’s important for us to be committed to seeking truth. Seeking truth isn’t about winning the debate. It’s more about having openness toward learning as well as a desire to share one’s thoughts.

Speaking up isn’t necessarily an easy road to take and there are perils and pitfalls to avoid. We live in a culture that is, at least at the moment, in love with the female voice. Women are being given a platform from which to speak their minds and are encouraged that everything that comes out of their mouths is of an almost divine value. With that kind of exaltation, it can be easy for females to slip into the belief that they can do (or say) no wrong. As a result, The Voice of Women, especially online, becomes shrill and sarcastic, attacking others just because it can. Submissive females aren’t by any means immune to the poison that can spread when a girl enjoys the sound of her own voice too much and when, sadly, there are men who call themselves dominants or masters who support this kind of behavior in their women.

With such a poor example being set and encouraged, how do females with good intentions express opinions on controversial issues that are important to them without becoming shrill, snarky, or enraged by others’ disagreement? I think it begins with having a clear vision of what one’s intentions really are. If you’re a woman who is in service to a man, your intentions should, naturally, be to uphold the specific ideals that are important to him and that support his freedom as a man. Even if you’re not in a relationship, supporting causes that look out for men’s rights can be an important motivator for a woman who respects men, as is holding on to the intention to protect others from harm rather than just wanting to be right.

A desire to be right, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing in so far as you want to be in harmony with what is true, most natural, and rational. Finding that sense of rightness in the way we live our lives is, I think, a very important part of understanding dominance and submission and making it a reality. However, there’s a point where the scale can tip and being right becomes a title that a person wants to hold and show off. Many females are vulnerable to that tipping point: they have a weakness for the euphoric frenzy that being right can cause. The more comfortable a female becomes as she uses her voice, the stronger the temptation grows in her to believe she is better, wiser, smarter, or more understanding than everyone else around her, sometimes including the man she serves. To avoid that temptation I believe it’s extremely important to focus on what is at stake when it’s time to speak. If a submissive woman speaks out of a desire to protect the rights of men or the minds of other women who may be impressionable or vulnerable, she casts the attention that speaking up brings away from herself and taps into a more humble urge to shine light into a dark area rather than step into the spotlight herself.

It’s also important to realize that arguing a point simply based on the fact that you believe yourself to be right may not be reliable. It’s a bit like Christians arguing a point based on what the Bible says. To someone whose faith or worldview doesn’t include or consider biblical teaching, it makes reasonable discussion impossible: there’s no real way to make any progress on either side of the point. You may win the argument if you talk the loudest or are the most insistent, but is there any victory in that? To argue a point fairly, we females need to come to the discussion with humility: with an open mind willing to carefully consider others’ points of view and even change if it becomes apparent we are wrong, with a clear understanding of what we are arguing for, with a rational frame of mind that uses logic and information to make points, and with a heart that truly wants to see balance restored and others’ feelings, including one’s opponent’s, protected.

Not every opportunity a woman has to speak is an opportunity she should take. Initially, speaking up is a bit like introducing yourself at a party and joining the conversation around you. You’re supporting a specific idea or maybe opposing it. Whichever it is, in that beginning stage, you’re adding volume to one of the views or issues being discussed and that’s important and good for that stage. Beyond your initial statement or post, however, is when the responsibility to know whether or not you should speak comes into play. A good part of the time controversial topics get beat into the ground and the information being presented turns into a battle to find the most ways to say the same thing over and over and over again. This type of discussion doesn’t help the causes or views that are being represented very well. It may even confuse people reading or watching, if not frustrate them and push them away. No one wants to see points hammered at relentlessly; many would prefer to have their own understanding expanded as well as their own views acknowledged, particularly by a thoughtful leader.

It can be helpful to ask yourself, “Does what I’m about to say simply add to the conversation, or does it advance the conversation?” A comment that adds to the conversation might be well written, it might be thoughtfully presented, but if the information in it only supplements the points that already stand, you’re not really doing much more than stepping onto a soapbox.

There are also times when we, as women, need to choose our battles or, rather, know exactly when not to go to war at all. Some people don’t start conversations with any interest in actually hearing the opinions of others; they are simply spoiling for a fight. A legitimate conversation is started with openness and authenticity. Even when the subject matter is controversial, there’s a noticeable desire for deeper understanding in the statements being made or the questions being asked. This is quite a contrast to someone who is simply making inflammatory statements to incite a reaction. Participating in a conversation which involves the latter is to fight a losing battle. You cannot “win” with a person whose goal is to waste your time and take sadistic satisfaction in having gotten people’s dander up. These sorts of characters and the dramas they create are not only unproductive, they are also damaging to the message you’re trying to represent.

One example of the type of disruptive and distracting interactions I’m talking about can be found in the comment sections of Women Against Feminism’s Tumblr and Facebook accounts. Posts are made by women expressing why they don’t believe they need feminism. Not all of the posts are articulated as well as they could be, but many make valid points worth considering. There are always comments in these threads by individuals who are clearly only seeking to cause a commotion. Without fail these inflammatory comments are the ones that get the greatest response and before long no one is paying any attention to what was said in the original post. The ultimate result is that productive discussion never takes place and it becomes very difficult to take the group seriously in spite of their male-positive message. Such comments—open insults, language that is accusatory or hostile, even questions that might seem innocent at first but when looked at more closely have a divisive flavor to them—are meant to distract, bait, and ensnare people, making them appear unstable and effectively undermining the presentation of their beliefs.

Tempting as it may be, learning to ignore the bait offered by someone who is clearly a troll is wise. It can be difficult to watch such an individual stir up trouble and attack that which is dear to us, but the type of person who regularly does this will not listen to reason. Trying to have a conversation with this sort of person is often an utter waste of time (unless you are one of those rare, deeply skilled debaters who knows the tricky business of using a troll to promote and further one’s own agenda—and that means understanding when it can and when it cannot be done). Worst of all, in a small way it validates the troll’s position to those watching, reading, or listening. It is wise for most people to treat this sort of drama as the trivial and low bid for attention that it is, if not to spare ourselves the stress of struggling through a conversation that is doomed from the beginning, than to spare others from having to further consider the ridiculous points being made by the other side. If we don’t endorse the troll by opposing him, we indicate that his or her issue is of little or no concern to us and, who knows, maybe others will follow our example. There are times when not drawing attention to the words of someone whose only intent is to cause harm is more important than presenting any form of alternate perspective.

When it is time to speak, the way we come to an issue can make a huge impact on those listening and reading. It’s important to approach an issue from a realization that one does not know everything there is to know about the subject and that there may be some important things to learn from those we are most opposed to. Starting from this position of humility might seem obvious to a submissive soul, but debate often stirs very deep emotions for women and these emotions can eclipse even a desire as deeply rooted as humble obedience to the spirit of female submission. Sometimes the most obvious things can cause the greatest errors. If a submissive woman relies too heavily on a trait like humility to be instinctive, rather than a constant and conscious choice, it’s possible for her to slip without ever knowing it. For this reason, before saying a word, it’s a good idea for a woman to check in with that core understanding of who she is and remember that she is not infallible and that her opinion is subject to correction. This isn’t to say that she shouldn’t speak with passion and that there isn’t a place for emotion in a debate, just that those things must be balanced by humility or at very least open-mindedness in order to avoid an undercurrent of ego and combativeness tainting everything she says.

Along with a commitment to humility, I think it’s important for us to be committed to seeking truth. Seeking truth isn’t about winning the debate. It’s more about having openness toward learning as well as a desire to share one’s thoughts. By learning, I do not mean that the information exchanged necessarily influences her, but there’s often something in these types of discussions to be learned about other people and taking an attitude that is willing to hear and respond rather than simply expressing your own opinion goes a long way towards making a conversation productive and useful. Also, people like it when you listen to them. Sometimes all they want is to know that they’ve been heard.

Use clear and simple language. Those following along shouldn’t have to be put through linguistic gymnastics in order to understand your point. If a woman cannot make a clear and simple argument, it is very possible that there’s been some mistake in her thinking. To quote William Penn, “Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but always plainly; for the end of speech is not ostentation, but to be understood.”

Even when taking great care to approach controversial issues respectfully and tactfully, voicing an opinion often means running the risk of a counterattack. There are always those who are determined to fight rather than to discuss. These sort of personalities can be exhausting to interact with and a major time sink. It seems wise to be selective when it comes to which confrontations are worth taking on. There are issues of such great importance that the fear of being attacked or snubbed should absolutely not deter a submissive woman from speaking up, and there are also issues which are trivial and not worth the effort. A good starting place for those already in service to a man is to ask him what issues matter most to him. Naturally, and if it is his wish, a submissive female will be willing to face conflict and attack in order to support the interests of her man. In general, however, I believe it is most useful for submissive women to choose issues which speak to what they are for rather than what they are against. There will be times when it’s necessary for a woman to express what she’s against, but by and large, I think her opinions have greater impact when she positively expresses what she promotes and it’s an area where (though it still needs to be kept in check) her emotion can be worked to her advantage. A good example of this is speaking up when it comes to issues regarding men’s rights, or the education of boys—things that are greatly suffering in today’s cultural climate—versus speaking against feminism.

There’s a time and a place where speaking against a particular issue, like feminism, is important and worth facing the attack that will inevitably ensue.

By speaking for the rights of men and boys, and by openly and passionately supporting ideas and systems that affirm and protect male children in a female-centric society, females can draw attention to subjects that are very important while making conversation about these issues approachable. The act of being for something is immediately positive. When we’re for something it draws out the better part of our emotions—passion that is driven by love, and respect, and an instinctive desire to protect that transcends defensiveness and taps into the very deepest levels of loyalty—and this type of emotion can inspire and rally other people around a cause rather than create an instant divide. The result is conversation that is productive and focused on the most important issues. It’s a powerful way to speak without being intimidating and it welcomes and draws people into discussion, rather than scaring them into silence.

Alternatively, speaking against something like feminism, while it has its place and while there are times when it’s important and necessary to speak against it, can fall into that trivial category. Speaking personally, standing in opposition to feminism is very important. The trouble is that there is rarely ever a time when a debate about feminism ends up being more than a bunch of people on either side of the issue ranting about their feelings. The moments when there is any rational or reasonable conversation happening are so far and few between that it can be difficult to justify drawing additional attention to an issue that already gets more than its fair share. Also, by comparison, being against something draws forth the very worst of female emotion, in my experience. These types of debates tend to be catty, ruthless, sarcastic, and shrill, which is probably a good part of the reason genuinely submissive women disappear into the shadows when a conversation like this starts. Again, there’s a time and a place where speaking against a particular issue, like feminism, is important and worth facing the attack that will inevitably ensue. In fact, your man just may require it of you, at which point you should be ready and willing. But in general, choosing to promote instead of oppose, when it comes to when and where females speak their minds, seems to be more productive.

Though it may feel unnatural and uncomfortable at first, submissive women can learn how to speak up. We can pour our hearts and souls into upholding the ideals and standards that are in the best interest of the men or the causes we serve (which makes these ideals, ultimately, in our best interest as well). As a byproduct, we also gift other submissive females in our midst with the comfort of not being the first to speak out. By assuming the risk and responsibility of being the first in speaking out and by refusing to let our silence be assumed as indifference, acceptance, or approval, we make it easier for others to step up and join us. We have the opportunity to help make others brave by being brave ourselves first. I believe it’s high time even the most shy and timid seize that opportunity and make the most of it (their men permitting, of course!), for the sake of obedience, devotion to the causes of male interest, and our absolute love for them.