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On Emotion and Getting People To Stay Long Enough To Listen To What You Are Trying To Say

November 9, 2007

I’ve been meaning to write something like this for a while now, but have not been able to properly organize my thoughts. It started with the responses I garnered from my post about Feminism and Choice. I was told that it was potentially alienating, and that it was one of the worst things I could do if my intention was to recruit people to the movement. Don’t scare people and make them feel uncomfortable, I was told, don’t be so confronting. Once you make your point, you don’t have to make it for three more paragraphs, just slide into the night. Make your points in an objective and rational manner, otherwise you seem biased, and will push away people who “border on disagreeing with you”.

My first instinct was to respond with “if people are that easily turned off, then this movement doesn’t need them”. Not to mention, if I’m really making people feel uncomfortable about inequality, then can’t I consider my job done? I read and re-read that post and couldn’t see that I was making my point irrationally, or even subjectively. Maybe I swore a little, but nothing in that post was radical, or even new. Just run-of-the-mill, existing inequalities that can get a girl fired up from time to time.

But that got me thinking. This movement needs all the people it can get. It’s an important movement, and obviously one I feel strongly about. Is there anything I can do to catch them flies with honey? So I thought about it and the more I thought about it, the less comfortable I was with the idea of sanitizing my posts. I couldn’t figure out why, I would like my voice to be able to educate those that are just entering this oft-maligned world of feminism. Since I want to be talking to the newbies (admittedly being one myself) the last thing I want to do is to scare off anyone. Least of all the “I’m not a Feminist but…” crowd.

So I thought about it some more. And the more I thought about it, the more I saw it cropping up as an issue in the other blogs I frequent. The whole “if only you did X we could take you more seriously” or “Why are you so hostile when I ask a question? I’m really just CURIOUS as to what you think of my prejudicial, logically fallacious arguments!”. Whoops! There I go again, being all biased and non-inclusive. Sorry. Let me back up and have a do-over. See next paragraph for attempt #2.

So I thought about it some more. And the more I thought about it, the more I saw it cropping up as an issue in the other blogs I frequent. The typical scenario involves someone who had just stumbled upon the site, and in the comments indicate that they are new to this kind of thinking. They present their beliefs in the form of a question and are baffled when they are met with annoyed hostility as well as cries of “Troll! Be gone troll!”. Then they leave a final comment about how the blog and its attendant community had a real chance to educate someone there, but they either didn’t altogether, or didn’t do it in an objective and rational manner.

What if I have the opportunity here to educate someone who is curious but unconvinced and turn them off instead? Wait a second. I don’t understand the question. If someone is curious, why is it up to me to preserve their ego while teaching them about something that ultimately is confronting and uncomfortable? No one likes to acknowledge their own privilege. God knows that when I first looked long and hard at the privilege I held I was intensely uncomfortable and defensive about it. Why isn’t it up to the person who seeks the knowledge to be responsible for his/her own education? Can someone be considered a potential “convert” if they are that easily shaken and turned away? Wouldn’t someone who is truly curious about the thoughts and ideas expressed by any activist keep googling the movement and reading all about it (even if the purpose is not to join the movement per se)? Wouldn’t someone who would eventually decide to “fight with us” have to come to that decision through their own research and not a sweet talking amateur blogger? I feel as though if I were to soften my outrage, and quell my passion I would be misrepresenting everything I would like to represent! Yet that is exactly what I must do in order to not “alienate people who border on disagreeing with [me]”.

Inequality is an ugly thing. No one I know wants to uphold it. Sure there are bigots out there, but for the most part, I believe people are and want to be good. And good people don’t want to hear that they are, by virtue of the way they think and act, upholding a system that harms others. I get that. I get that more than most people know. But that’s how it is, and god help me I have no idea how to make that point that the current system sucks ass without confronting people about it. The point is, in itself, confrontational!

I’ve also wondered if the real issue is that I’m an Emotional WomanTM and that makes me a less credible source. Maybe I have to be really careful about the level of emotion in my posts because no one likes to see a woman who is not properly in control of her faculties. Women are seen as less competent if they are not completely and utterly remote and that, my friends, could be compounding the problem.

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One comment

  1. Boy, do I feel ya.

    I actually think there is a particular breed of people who argue on the Internet who are more susceptible to being turned off by allegedly emotional utterances, and I think there is a lot to be said for the claim that these people cannot be “persuaded” anyway. A lot of them are “trolls” not in the sense that they are intentionally just trying to get a raise, but they have an attachment not to a position but a set of statements, a certain intellectual aesthetic, and they get unhappy whenever this is violated. They aren’t interested in learing more; they’re interested in policing the boundaries of discussion.

    I find that it’s easier to win people round in real life, or at least via conversation rather than blogging, even if you are emotional. Partly because you weed out those with trollish dispositions, and partly because it’s harder for someone to caricature in real-time conversation, even if its online.

    That said, the blog posts are useful resources for people who, on the contrary, are “on the verge” of agreeing with you. So I think it’s good to keep churning them out. Plus it makes the people who are already on your side or likely to be on your side even if they don’t self-consciously identify feel supported, which is always a good thing.

    Finally, I guess the trouble with tbis particular cause is, there’s always a tension between the alleged strategic value of being less emotional and the ultimate aims of the movement. Why should we have to succeed by going cap-in-hand, please-sir-may-I, begging-your-leave? Isn’t part of the point precisely to be taken seriously without having to grovel and plead and prove your case 10 times as well as anyone else? The abrasiveness of much of feminism is a bit of a principled stand on this point, I feel. But I think the solution is just to have such a fucking good substantive case, argued so fucking well, that it speaks for itself regardless of whether you’re “appropriately” deferential and grovel-ly.

    Anyway, if you have any consciousness-raising projects for feminism in Singapore, feel free to drop me a note if you think I can be of any use.



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