‘Why do you call me good?’ On trying and (largely) failing to be a male feminist online

Jesus said, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.’ (Mk 10:18) Some weeks ago, I had the strangest experience I have yet had online. Someone I do not know called me ‘good’. It stunned me. Horrified me. And flattered me, of course. I have been trying to process this ever since. I have not yet succeeded. But I promised a friend that I would try to blog on the subject this week because it seems to matter. And maybe my half-formed thoughts can be of some little use. * * * I was reading a blog; I vaguely knew of the author, but did not know her. She was writing about being a woman online, and about men online. She made many criticisms about how men online behave towards/around women online, qualified with ‘of course there are some good men, who get it’ – a phrase that was hyperlinked. I clicked the link, hoping to learn a little better how to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. My browser opened a page right here, on my own blog. I was, apparently, for a woman I have never met, had at that point never connected directly with online, the ‘good man,’ the one who ‘got it’. I was stunned. Then I was horrified. (And, yes, somewhere in the back of my head or the depths of my gut or both I was pleased and proud. Compliments are nice, even when you cannot believe rationally that you deserve them.) Stunned because I clicked the link looking for something, anything, to help me to be even slightly better, and found myself constructed as ‘good’. Horrified because if I my grasp of this issue is worthy of being held up as an example, we are so far behind where I thought we were that I despair. Horrified because I know I don’t ‘get it’. * * * And this question of ‘getting it’ surfaced again this week, in reflecting in conversation with Jody Stowell on the gendered reactions to the abuse women so regularly receive online. Jody asked, fairly, why all the (Christian) men were not leaping to the defence of women who were abused. We talked – you can see the interaction in the comment thread on Jody’s post. I suggested hesitantly that there was something about ‘getting it,’ about an experience common to women but generally opaque to men – including me – that made involvement in this issue feel at some visceral level more important for women than for men. And then I immediately reflected – the ‘I don’t know what it feels like’ line is the classic refuge of the misogynist – and the racist, and the homophobe, and the rest of the grotesque menagerie of oppressors. I don’t want to use that line. I don’t want to justify that argument. But… But I don’t know what it feels like. I have never been threatened with rape, asked to get my tits out for the lads, told to get back in the kitchen, informed that ‘I love it anal,’ and so on, and so on. I can check my privilege, but I can’t pretend to know what it would mean to live without my privilege. I know, deep down in my gut, that I don’t ‘get it’. And I worry profoundly when someone thinks I do. * * * But let me try some analysis – as I say, half-formed, at best. I get the fact of privilege, and the fact of oppression, and the fact of misogyny, and the fact of racism, and – well, you can do the list… What I constantly realise I don’t get is the power of these prejudices, or the power of intervention in them. I have been told many, many times that I moved someone – and I am thinking of people I know, people who I know are much stronger and much more capable than I am – I moved someone to tears just by saying something simple about this or that issue of prejudice. This always – still – takes me by surprise; if I (sometimes) ‘get it’ where ‘it’ is the wrongness of prejudice, I have to admit that I really do not ‘get it’ where ‘it’ is the power of prejudice to disable, disempower, dehumanise a person. And so I do not ‘get it’ where ‘it’ is the power a very simple intervention can have. And I wonder if that is the answer to Jody’s question, and the reason for my failures? * * * I don’t, particularly, need to understand what...

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