This is something that pops up over and over in communities I’ve been a part of over the years, particularly online where words are divorced from expression and often from greater context.
Dude (usually a dude, and I’ll explain this later) writes something unintentionally inflammatory. Multiple people, frequently women, but also POC or Queer folks, call them out because at best what they wrote was something tone deaf, at worst just awful, on the internet. Then someone close to them of the same category as the person calling them out (usually a woman) has to say, “No, they’re an ally and you’re hurting your cause by calling them out.”
Now, the person we’re calling out may in fact be the best ally ever. They may be a better Feminist than I am, more inclusive than I could ever hope to be. That’s great.
But if I do not have any personal experience of them, all I have to judge are the words they put out there for me to read. My impression of them (as a person) is going to be shaped by those words. And if those words do in fact say something fucked up, well, you can do the math.
It is supremely unhelpful to tell those of us who are forming an opinion based solely on the information available to us that we just don’t know, don’t understand, or my favorite, don’t get what they’re really trying to say.
I get this. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to defend your friend/partner/sibling/parent. Most people have that. And you’re right, we don’t get what they’re trying to say, because it is not what they have actually said.
Instead, perhaps take a deep breath and look at the situation as if you weren’t related to, besties or married to them. Ask yourself if, based on those actual words, you would react like this if they weren’t a friend or loved one. Then talk to this ally that you know about what the criticism of their words is saying, or encourage them to listen when people do take the time and effort to tell them why what they wanted to say was not in fact what they said.
And if you can’t do that for whatever reason, stay out of it.
Because they aren’t going to learn or get any better if you keep protecting them from the consequences of their actions. If you keep reassuring them, “It’s ok, you MEANT well.”
Yeah, well, road to hell, good intentions, yada yada yada…
And I would like to note that it is almost always a cis, het, white dude who says the clueless thing, and the women in his life who come to his defense. It is rarely the other way around. Not that dudes don’t defend the women in their lives, it just tends to be for other reasons. If the comments stay civil, they stay out of it. If they get nasty, then they wade in. But when you have a dude saying something clueless, no matter how polite or kind the person calling them out is, the women in his life will frequently rush to defend him as if we just accused him of smashing puppies with rocks.
There’s a reason so many of us are tired of educating others, well, several, including putting up with bullshit that comes with telling dudes or white people “that thing you said wasn’t as inclusive as you think it is.” We’re tired. We do it over and over and over. We have well meaning friends and partners telling us that we’re “turning off an ally,” or “hurting our cause.” We get harassed, we get threatened, we get doxxed for our efforts, we get shamed for not repeating the 101 conversation until we’re blue in the face.
Would we read that person’s words more generously if we knew them personally? Probably in many cases. Honestly, for some of us, no. Ask the Geek Husband What Rules if I read his words more generously than anyone else does some time. He’ll probably laugh until he can’t breathe.
Are we doing them any favors whatsoever when we make excuses for them? Definitely not.
Are there some people who are going to find fault with what they say regardless? Yes. But those folks are a really small minority of any community. Most people want to be generous.
Look at the responses to what they wrote. Is there more than just one? Is what they say is wrong consistent? Are they from people who are actually on your side? If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then maybe take a deep breath, a walk around the block, and try to read your loved one’s words as if they were from a stranger.
Maybe I’m less likely to do this with people I know, like my husband, because I have spent so many years educating him as to what feminisim is and isn’t, and why that thing he thinks is super supportive really isn’t. He’s my work in progress, and I really don’t have the bandwidth to take on ancillary projects right now. I do still try. I try to toss in my two cents as politely and kindly as I can, in most cases. In some cases, repeat offenders have earned my ire and I will waste no more time on them apart from a call of “bullshit.” But you really have to work to get there, trust me. I can count those dudes on one hand.
Honey Badger will be playing, probably, our last show with the original line up Sunday February 19th, at Tony Dowler’s Birthday party at the Gamma Ray Lounge on Capital Hill in Seattle. Hope to see you there!