Speaking Truth To Power

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So Daniel Tosh got himself into a pickle recently. I have no idea if everything went down how it’s been reported or not. The speed at which the internet now moves is so quick that even if he was completely innocent, it wouldn’t matter as the damage would have already been done.

But there are rape jokes. And those aren’t cool in my book, especially when they aren’t really thought out well.

Anyways, I’ve got a friend named Curtis Luciani and he’s very very smart. He’s got a biting wit, and a keen intelligence, and he’s not one to suffer fools or foolishness gladly. And he was incensed by some of the reaction he saw defending rape jokes, and etc.

And he wrote this post about it all on the FB and it wound up getting spread throughout the webosphere.

(Mind you it’s got some visceral images and ideas in it, and no he’s not being flip about male genital mutilation. And no he also cares about men and men’s issues of sexual assault. He’s been posted in a number of places and that’s the first thing that the derailers decide to hit on is that he somehow wants bad things to happen to men. Not so. That I even have to list those as caveats tells me how paranoid I’ve become and how little faith the groups of people on the internet place in any information or people that seem different than their own take on things.)

Which is how the internet operates, I’ve found. Good stuff can happen on the internet, but bad stuff too and it happens really quickly, as mentioned above, and then it rages out of control like so many little brush fires, taking down healthy trees along with the brush, and sometimes even homes and people with it and then look a new shiny brushfire over there. It takes poles, and instead of pulling people towards the middle or even outside the poles, it only allows poles to form with poles and quickly and some of those moments are honest and some are created just to stir up trouble. I am not convinced that people are ready for the internet, but here it is and we’ve got it. So try to read his stuff with the perspective that he’s a good person. Which he is.

Then he wrote this,**** which I love, which is about privilege and power and speaking truth to it, and how easy it can be for some and how hard it can be for others and I was just struck by what a good, smart man he is. And I was struck how odd it is that peers talking to peers can say these things, but if a woman had posted what he’d said, I can imagine the men in our comedy community getting pretty mad about it, but maybe it’s less about the truth, just that it gets spoken by one WHO CAN BE HEARD.

Is that activism? Or is it politics?

There is speaking truth to power and then there is being politically savvy about who gets to speak that truth so that power hears it. Which is not to say that people should act in a way that is focused on politics, but that peer to peer conversation is often more accepted and understood than conversation that
comes more from someone in a, let’s say, one down position. That’s what privilege is, in part.

And is it better to have a voice that people will listen to so that the work gets done? Or does that just reinforce that we shouldn’t listen to anyone but privileged voices?

Curtis speaking to men, as a man, as a peer carries more weight for a
number of reasons to the men he is talking to than perhaps me saying those things.

Fair? Probably not and indicates that when it comes to sexism and the point
of view of looking at things from male/female povs instead of “human” povs, we’ve got a long way to go.

But, that peer to peer thing only goes so far. As I mentioned, his post from Culture Map got placed elsewhere and they are currently tearing him up in the comments, misreading it, completely missing his point (or purposefully missing his point), accusing him of things, so in this case, peer to peer doesn’t work so long as walls that think are up and the poles within poles are activated and then it’s a brushfire hatefest bias confirmation instead of a dialogue or conversation or understanding.

Or maybe it’s both and. Hard to see the “and” part at the moment.

Mostly, I was really pleased to see Curtis point out that comedy and pain
do have a relationship, but it isn’t his goal (nor should he want it to be
ours) to use comedy to cause pain, rather than highlight the sources of it,
to help alleviate it.

And I was pleased to see him point out that it isn’t always easy to speak out as a woman (or even as a man) but that it must be done.

So let’s keep doing it.

**** In case you couldn’t read his piece I’ll place it here. Sorry the post is long, but I think it’s worth it. Folks? I present Curtis Luciani:

“I want to say a long, important thing and then get back to my regularly scheduled programming: grovelling to get people to come to shows, complaining about minor inconveniences, and posting songs that I like.

I am gratified to get a positive response for what I wrote about “Toshgate 2012: The Revenge of The Quickening”. Thanks to everyone with kind words for me. It means a lot. At the same time, I am a little ambivalent about the response for a couple of reasons.

1) These things end up being about personalities rather than real issues. I really don’t want this to be about me. (I know, “… he said while writing another long and self-righteous post on Facebook.”) I stand behind what I said, but want to emphasize “what I said,” not “I”.

2) My god, you must understand, it is SO SO SO easy to make big statements like this as a straight white man. What am I risking? Someone’s going to tell me I’ve lost my sense of humor? Call me a blowhard? Call me pussy-whipped? Weak sauce.

Men are taught the value of speaking up. They’re provided with heroes who do the right thing and don’t worry who it pisses off. Meanwhile, women are implicitly taught the values of silence. They’re taught that anger–real, righteous anger–will get them called a bitch and keep them from love, from good jobs, from the respect of the men guarding the gates of the great institutions. In the face of gross unfairness, they are told, over and over again, “be patient.” Be patient. Be patient be patient be patient.

(For a quick, dirty example about how rhetorical anger and stridency is valued differently for women than it is for men, here’s homework for later: Google the obituaries for Andrea Dworkin and Christopher Hitchens. Compare and contrast.)

I haven’t looked at the comments on the CultureMap post of what I wrote. I am told that they are mostly pretty reasonable. As Amy Gentry has pointed out, if a woman wrote the same words, aggressively positing castration as an analogue to rape, the comments would not be so reasonable. In fact, they would be riddled with horrible, abusive, threatening filth. (If you doubt that, spend five minutes on the Internet researching similar cases in which a woman publicly stood up against misogyny.)

In fact, we should be honest enough to admit that many of our own reactions would not be so favorable if my words were written by a woman: “Geez, I get her point, but why does she have to be so ANGRY? I think she’ll really turn folks off by being so strident. I mean, she’s so close to the issue, it’s no wonder that she can’t be objective about it.”

As far as comedy goes: I know so many women in comedy (the modest little Austin world of mostly amateur comedy, where I live) who have to make so many bullshit accommodations to men–men who probably otherwise consider themselves good liberals–who just don’t want to hear about “lady stuff,” at least not for more than five minutes. I know so many men–who are in so many ways well-intentioned and decent–who seem to understand the basic mechanics of sexual objectification, institutional unfairness, and patriarchal culture, but who are unwilling to actually take the step of EMPATHIZING with what it must be like to be at the receiving end of them.

So what’s the call to action here? Not for me to say. But I’ll be pompous enough to make some suggestions.

FOR MEN:

Can you admit, in looking at this culture and everything in it, that you have a privileged position that women don’t? Can you admit that, while it may not be easy being a dude (it ain’t easy being alive), there are many, many things in life that are easier if you ARE a dude?

If you can’t, you’re wrong, but that will wait for another time, because it will take a longer conversation to change your mind. If you CAN, congratulations, you’ve taken the first step towards not being a dick. What’s next?

Ask more questions, maybe?

Ask women how they feel about stuff, and actually CARE about the answer. DON’T ask just to create an opportunity for you to tell them “how it really is.” Admit that you don’t know what it feels like to be a women, but don’t stop trying to imagine it.

Notice how women react to things. Think about their reactions. Think about their perspective before launching into a reflexive defense of your own ideas and prejudices, whether aloud or inside your head.

Think about the things that you do and say and whether or not you are cool with women doing and saying the same or equivalent things. (Quick and crass comedy-based example: Do you crack a dozen jokes about jerking off every day, but roll your eyes when a woman jokes about her period?)

Think about situations where you or someone you know has, purposefully or accidentally, treated a woman as just a little less of a person–less worthy of respect, less worthy of being taken seriously, less worthy of being listened to–because she was a woman. Be tough with yourself. You can take it.

Think about whether you inherently value “man stuff” more than “women stuff.” Do you automatically assume that masculine values are more authentic and important? Do you assume that a book written by a man is generally going to be more worthwhile than a book written by a woman? Do you make a gagging sound when you see your girlfriend watching “Sex and The City”, but then sit down to watch “Entourage” with no sense of irony? (Please note: no one’s asking you to stop liking what you like and like other stuff instead. The workings of taste are too complicated and mysterious. But entertain the notion that maybe there are certain assumptions that make your taste what it is, not that you’re just cooler and smarter than everyone else.)

Every day, we have a choice: Either gradually expand our empathy and consideration for other people, or gradually let them wither. Maybe it would be nice to choose the former? No one gets it right every time–I sure as hell don’t. Some days, I’m too fucking tired and too in my own head to see past my own problems. It happens; I forgive myself. But choosing the former is how you become a better human being, right?

FOR WOMEN:

This is much tougher. I don’t know what it is like to be a woman, and I have no business suggesting what women should do.

So here’s what I’ll say. There are situations, so many situations, where a woman has no choice but to worry about what men think of her. You see it all the time in the workplace: women sitting still and silent and putting up with infuriating shit from their colleagues, and there ain’t much they can do about it without threatening their careers. (I’m not even talking about sexual harassment here, just casual bullshit.)

But there are situations in which speaking up can help, I think. And if you happen to be in a situation in which you feel RELATIVELY safe about speaking up, maybe you should?

There are so, so, SO many funny and talented ladies in our Austin community, and I’ve seen them put up with SO much brusque and dismissive treatment from mediocre dudes who only have one thing going for them: They were never told that it’s bad to be loud and pushy and go for what you want. One small example: They never read magazines that told them, “Here’s a tip, ladies: Never try to be smarter or funnier than a guy on your first date … you’ll scare him away!”

If you’re in a situation where you CAN avoid wasting your time with men who constantly shut you down, dismiss your ideas, or refuse to take you seriously, do it. Do it for the sake of women who CAN’T avoid it.

If you start to call men on their shit more often, yeah, you will occasionally get called a “bitch” or much, much, much worse. That fucking sucks. So it’s good to start small, in contexts where you feel relatively safe. Maybe you can’t tell off your boss, but can you say something, for example, to that one creep in your improv class who tries to make you a prostitute in every scene? Rely on the support of your friends; you don’t have to do anything alone. You probably also have at least a few male friends who “get it” … maybe they don’t get it right ALL the time, but they’re willing to learn.

You shouldn’t have to worry about the feelings of people who act like assholes, but one thing that may help to get your message across is to emphasize the difference between “you are doing something shitty” and “you are a shitty person.”

The amazing Jay Smooth (http://www.illdoctrine.com/) observed that one reason it’s hard to call people out on racism or misogyny is that once you do it, all the person hears is “You’re saying I’m a bad person. But I don’t think I’m a bad person!” Jay said we need to get to a place where it’s more like saying, “Yo, dude, you got something in your teeth. It looks gross. Get it out.” In other words, “I’m giving you advice that might help you to be a more successful human being, if you’re into that.” I don’t know, that might be helpful in certain situations?

Maybe get together with your female friends and do creative stuff that’s just for you. Men get together in all-male groups and do stuff all the time. And I know, there’s gonna be one whiny moron dude who says “But but but but but that’s not fair, that’s just reverse sexism or something.” (And they come out in force every year when it’s time for the Ladies Are Funny Festival.) But we all know that that dude is a whiny moron, so who gives a fuck? And you’ll also have at least one female friend who won’t be able to join you, because she’s still at a place in her life where she’s afraid of doing anything that might make her less appealing to men. She’s on her own journey; help her where you can.

I don’t know, maybe it’s helpful to hear a dude say these things? But the most important things are going to be said by you and your friends, so … say them!

I’ve totally worn myself out here, and am not sure where to leave this. So here’s a video of Lil’ Bub: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6M2VogNGHw”

____

–Looking for one-on-one coaching on relationships, sexuality, life passages, or need support with personal or career goals? Seeking seeking a facilitator for your group or team to help promote healthy group dynamics and effective communication? Contact me here!

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