Naming the problem

Aug. 10th, 2017 12:22 pm
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
[personal profile] tim
This is a follow-up to my article "Refusing to Empathize with Elliot Rodger: Taking Male Entitlement Seriously".

As I mentioned initially, Lundy Bancroft lists a number of tactics abusive men use in conversations. In Why Does He Do That?, he notes that when one of the abusers he works with attempts to use one of these tactics on him or another group participant, and Bancroft calmly names which tactic it is instead of reacting, the abuser usually gets even angrier. So in that spirit, I thought I would compile a list of responses to my article and classify them according to the abuse tactics they use.

Here is a subset of Bancroft's list of conversational abuse tactics in p. 145-146 (n.b. all page-number references are to Why Does He Do That?)

  1. Sarcasm
  2. Ridicule
  3. Distorting what you say (this was one of the most common responses I saw, in which the interlocutor would make up a caricature of what I wrote and then attack that, instead of engaging with the actual ideas).
  4. Accusing you of doing what he does, or thinking the way he thinks (AKA projection, as discussed on p. 142)
  5. Using a tone of absolute certainty and final authority -- "defining reality":
    When Mr. Right decides to take control of a conversation, he switches into his Voice of Truth, giving the definitive pronouncement on what is the correct answer or the proper outlook. Abuse counselors call this tactic defining reality. Over time, his tone of authority can cause his partner to doubt her own judgment and come to see herself as not very bright. (p. 82)
  6. Not listening, refusing to respond -- I've rephrased this as "dismissal", since the original list was concerned with in-person conversations where one person can literally ignore the other. Online, the equivalent of this is not ignoring, but replying in a way that doesn't at all engage with the content, rather labeling it in ways that create negative sentiment without actually trying to refute ideas. Dismissal is not ignoring (it's great when people ignore things they don't like or don't care about!) -- the effort that the abuser puts in to communicate "I didn't read this, I didn't think it was worth reading, but I'm still going to attack it" shows that it is important to them that the person being abused not be heard. (Compare Kathy Sierra's "Trouble at the Kool-Aid Point" and my own previous discussion of false dismissal.)
  7. Changing the subject to his grievances
  8. Provoking guilt
  9. Playing the victim
  10. Name-calling, insults, put-downs. I'm calling out "insulting intelligence" as its own subcategory:
    The abuser tends to see his partner as less intelligent, less competent, less logical, and even less sensitive than he is.... He often has difficulty conceiving of her as a human being. (p. 63)
    One of the primary rhetorical weapons used against underrepresented people in tech is that we're not intelligent, and indeed, that was a large part of what made the original manifesto abusive.
  11. Threatening to harm you
There are others, but I listed the ones that are most relevant to online conversations. And I would add two more:
  • Demanding explanation, where the interlocutor asks for more justification either in ways that make it clear they didn't read the entire piece, or didn't read it carefully, or don't actually want to debate and are just asking in order to steal attention. Sort of like a human denial-of-service attack. The person demanding explanation is like the type of abuser Bancroft describes as "Mr. Right":
    "Mr. Right tries to sanitize his bullying by telling me, 'I have strong opinions' or 'I like debating ideas.' This is like a bank robber saying, 'I'm interested in financial issues.' Mr. Right isn't interested in debating ideas; he wants to impose his own." (p. 83)
    "It is frustrating, and ultimately pointless, to argue with someone who is certain beyond the shadow of a doubt that his perspective is accurate and complete and that yours is wrong and stupid. Where can the conversation possibly go?" (p. 144)
    Demanding explanation is abusive because it's deceptive: the abuser who demands an explanation holds out the promise that he is reasonable, he can be persuaded, and the conversation can go somewhere positive if you just explain more. In reality, he is not open to being changed by what he hears, and is just trying to waste your time and/or entrap you for more abuse. Demanding a 1-on-1 conversation also reflects entitlement to the time and attention of the writer, who has already provided plenty of explanation. It is pretty obvious to me when someone is asking questions out of genuine openness to change, and when they're doing it in a rude and entitled way.
  • Gaslighting; Bancroft discusses discrediting extensively (p. 125, p. 146) but doesn't call it out in the above list. "You're too sensitive", "You're overreacting", and -- when not justified, other than by the purported oversensitivity of the writer -- "You can't make that comparison, it's ridiculous" are all forms of gaslighting. They attempt to make the listener doubt their own perceptions and judgment. I included gaslighting comments under "ridicule", but it's worth pointing out that this is a common and insidious form of ridicule, since it seems superficially reasonable (of course we all think that nobody should be too sensitive, or react too much, though the boundary for how sensitive it's acceptable to be is rarely discussed).

The analysis

I read:
  • All of my mentions that were replies to tweets (from me or other people) linking to "Refusing to Empathize with Elliot Rodger, or that linked to the essay without replying to me.
  • Two comments on my Dreamwidth post that were screened and that I deleted.
(I excluded a lot of mentions that could also have gone on this list, but were replies to tweets unrelated to the essay. My favorite one of those, though, was a response to a picture I posted of a display of boxes of LaCroix sparkling water, which said something like "looking for something to drink so you can get fatter?")

The following table lists all but one of the responses, along with the abusive tactics each one employs.

There was one response that didn't use any of the abusive tactics above. It was illogical (blaming Marc Lépine's actions on Islam because Lépine's father was Algerian), but may have been written in good faith, even if it was ignorant.

So in short:

  • 27 critical/negative replies
  • 26 out of 27 use at least one abuse tactic identified by Bancroft; most several
  • The remaining one is illogical / primarily based on religious stereotyping.
  • No substantive criticisms. At all.
I am often wrong, and many times, people have had critical things to say about my writing. Sometimes they were right. Often, they were non-abusive. But something about this essay drew out many abusive responses, while no one had a genuine intellectual criticism. When you call out and name abuse, a way that you can tell that you were right is that the abusers get more abusive. I'm sure there are places where this essay falls short, logically, or could be better expressed. But no one has pointed them out.

CW: verbally abusive comments; slurs )

Conclusion

The dominance of abuse in the negative responses to my piece doesn't prove I'm right, of course. It doesn't prove there's no good argument against my core theses, and it doesn't prove I didn't make any mistakes. But given that a lot of people were so eager to debunk my article, if there was a good argument, don't you think one of them might have found one?

I think giving names to abusive conversational patterns is extremely powerful and I think it's important to distinguish between criticism and abuse, and notice when the only thing people can seem to muster up in response to anti-abuse discourse is more abuse.

tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
[personal profile] tim
[Content warnings: Discussion of domestic violence, suicide, and verbal abuse, including specific misogynist slurs and more general sexist gaslighting strategies.]

In 1989, Marc Lépine murdered fourteen women in Montreal for being women and being engineering students. He proceeded to kill himself, having written in his suicide note:

"Would you note that if I commit suicide today 89-12-06 it is not for economic reasons (for I have waited until I exhausted all my financial means, even refusing jobs) but for political reasons. Because I have decided to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to their Maker.... Being rather backward-looking by nature (except for science), the feminists have always enraged me. They want to keep the advantages of women (e.g. cheaper insurance, extended maternity leave preceded by a preventative leave, etc.) while seizing for themselves those of men." (quoted by Wikipedia)

More recently, in 2014, Elliot Rodger murdered six people near the UC Santa Barbara campus. Rodger also killed himself, citing his feelings of social rejection by women as the reason for his crime:

"I'm 22 years old and I'm still a virgin. I've never even kissed a girl. I've been through college for two and a half years, more than that actually, and I'm still a virgin. It has been very torturous. College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. Within those years, I've had to rot in loneliness. It's not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It's an injustice, a crime.... I don't know what you don't see in me. I'm the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman.... How could an inferior, ugly black boy be able to get a white girl and not me?" -- (Rodger's manifesto, quoted by Wikipedia)

Did Lépine and Rodger have some good points? Did they have valid grievances regardless of the regrettable way in which they both chose to express those grievances (mass murder)? I hope you won't have to think too hard before saying "no". Neither Lépine's sense of entitlement to social privileges, nor Rodger's sense of entitlement to sex and racial status, are reasonable.

In Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, Lundy Bancroft (a counselor who co-founded the first program for abusive men in the US and has worked with abusive men for many years) shows that domestic abusers don't abuse because of their feelings, because they're out-of-control or angry, or because they are mentally ill or influenced by substances. They abuse because of their thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes, which create a coherent justification for abuse -- largely through beliefs that they are entitled to something from a woman, and are morally justified in punishing her if she doesn't provide it.

"...an abuser's core problem is that he has a distorted sense of right and wrong." (Bancroft, p. 35)

Likewise, Lépine believed that he had a right to a job and that women were oppressing him by being better job candidates than him. Rodger believed that he had a right to sex and that women were oppressing him by not sleeping with him. By killing women, they hoped to send a message to all women that interfering with men's wishes was dangerous. They killed in cold blood, uninfluenced by mental illness or uncontrollable rage. Both crimes were premeditated; both killers had moral theories that justified their actions. We know about those moral theories because both men wrote about them. The positions that men have a right to jobs and women do not, and that men have a right to sex and women have a moral obligation to provide it to men who want it, are political opinions. I hope it's obvious to you that these political opinions are wrong.

Last week, a manifesto written by a Google engineer surfaced; the manifesto resembles those of Rodger's and Lépine's, and you can [CW: explicit sexism, racism, and various other *isms, as well as gaslighting and manipulation] read it for yourself. The manifesto tells a subset of people who work at Google, "Your presence here is illegitimate and you don't belong." I know that's the message because I'm one of those people: I'm a trans man and thus, according to the document, am biologically worse at engineering than cis men like its author (although it's not exactly clear whether the author thinks that cis women's uteruses make them worse at coding -- in which case my skills would come into question -- or whether their hormones do -- in which case I'd be in the clear, phew!)

The manifesto expresses thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that are common to its author, Lépine, Rodger, and the domestic abusers Bancroft describes. It is written from a place of entitlement: like Lépine and Rodger but unlike some of the domestic abusers, the entitlement is not to just one specific woman's attention and service, but rather, to special privileges as white men and to submission and deference from all women, and all people of color, and everybody else occupying a lower position in the social hierarchy. Like Lépine, he's concerned that they're taking our jobs.

In response, Google's VP of Diversity, Integrity, and Governance -- in an email to all Google employees with the subject line "Affirming our commitment to diversity and inclusion—and healthy debate" -- said, "Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws." Other executives expressed disagreement with the message in the manifesto while agreeing that the author had a good point about the "psychologically unsafe environment" for people with political beliefs like his. Some managers reiterated that it was important to be able to share different points of view at Google. In other words: he was wrong to say these things, but you can't help but sympathize with the poor guy -- he felt persecuted for his political views.

When you say that the manifesto writer had a point, you are saying that Rodger and Lépine had a point.

"...the abuser's problem lies above all in his belief that controlling or abusing his female partner is justifiable." (Bancroft, p. 35)
In the rest of this essay, I'm addressing you if you think the views in the manifesto are wrong but that the author has some valid points, or that the manifesto is a valuable contribution to healthy debate. I want to show you that these views need to be shut down, not debated with or sympathized with. I am not addressing people who substantially agree with the content of the manifesto. If that's you, then you might as well stop reading right here.

Read more... )

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