The double-bind

07/06/2011

I just recently finished writing a long post on the recent atheist community’s privilege fail with regards to Rebecca Watson doing that most vile of female actions, talking about a problem related to the treatment of women.

I’d recommend reading that first, because what I’m going to talk about is a lot of the double-talk that got invoked in that whole rigmarole.

Specifically a lot of dudes were very upset with Rebecca Watson that she or any other woman would ever feel threatened by being cornered in an elevator in the middle of the night, having consent ignored, and being asked for sex at 4 am from someone you’ve never met.

Yet at the same time, whenever a woman is assaulted, the refrain from many men, including many of the same men is that the woman should have done more to prevent that occurrence. The woman brought it on herself. She should have been more forceful with her refusal, never have gone to that location, been in an isolated location with them, should have resisted, carried mace or a taser, and so on.

That would be the first double-bind.

Women are asked to be on guard against rape, to expect it at every action, and engage in refusals far and above the normal standards for refusal. And yet even minor actions like being skeeved out and feeling disrespected by skeevy and disrespectful behavior is treated like a Grand Crime against all men.

Men want women to be perfectly on guard against rapists, but perfectly trusting with them or anyone else they may remotely identify with including in some respects actual rapists. Perhaps in a world where rapists are kind enough to wear identification tags and introduce themselves as such, that could be close to a sane and non-contradictory state of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t”, but in this world?

Yeah.

I’ll also note that some of the people terribly upset at the gall and rudeness and disrespect (to the man of course) of Rebecca Watson to be talking about this and refusing because she was tired, uninterested, disrespected to, and he was skeevy and didn’t seem to pay attention to consent or context also recommended that she and other women should “carry tasers or mace if they were so worried”.

This double bind is not worth counting, but worth noting for the sheer chutzpah in arguing that they would totally have a woman’s back if she tazed a guy for being skeevy and creepy while exonerating her for being polite to the person and merely reporting the behavior as unfortunate. Yeah, we believe you, because there is no evidence that that wouldn’t be seen as equivalent to a woman chopping off every penis in the Greater Chicago Area.

Another double-bind, labeled number two, is one brought to light by the issue. Related to the previous one about trust, many minority groups are asked to trust dominant group allies and are often raked over the coals when they dare be suspicious of the support, suspect it to be fair-weather or read into actions patterns used in the dismissal of said minority group or other groups in the past.

And yet, incidents like this reveal the fragility of that support when it brings up issues outside of the duh level. Sure, there was support when it was foreign cultures doing FGM, sexism in religious societies, and even ideas like rape and abuse in general are bad things, but then an incident like this rolls around and suddenly leaders in the community can’t wait to tell the uppity women to shut up.

This was sadly demonstrated in posts by Dawkins and Mehmet I quoted in my last post where after they tell Rebecca to shut up about this basic feminism issue (by claiming it’s minor and not important as other issues and yes the irony of atheist leaders who are unlikely to win the “Oppression Olympics” any time soon claiming the “All issues must wait until more important issues are solved” is not lost on me) about objectification, they both try to shame her about another feminist issue as if they had any right to. I mean, when one has pretty staunchly refused to engage on a basic feminist argument and has stated its worthless and the dropping of their support, it’s hard to immediately believe they are the diviner of everything feminist and they get to determine what the “real” feminist issue is like they were still proven allies.

But still women run into this a lot, often with men who are very much fair-weathered allies, but grow incredibly incensed if you react as if that was the case or even acknowledge the existence of privilege and toxic cultural baggage. A double-bind for those who don’t just accept that they’re “bitches” for “not trusting” “obvious allies”.

And the last double-bind is this.

The article I noted earlier this blog talks about a study that did conversational analysis to determine how people refuse things including sex.

And what they found was that people don’t tend to do a direct no, but rely on softening the statement, because a direct statement is considered rude. They found that people understand the refusal fine and this is true for pretty much everyone tested, demonstrating that it is the cultural norm and that the “just say no forcefully” advice regarding sexual assault places an additional burden and ignores the fact that men don’t really need that to know when someone has said no.

In fact, direct “no”s tend to make subjects angry and make them feel justified in escalating to violence and assault.

Now, that’s not the third double-bind, but it’s certainly a doozy of a double-bind in and of itself.

No, the third double-bind is that the reason for this perception of a direct refusal as rude is simply cultural inertia and social convention.

It has always been, and thus violating that is a violation of social norms and thus inherently off-putting and thus “rude”.

Which brings us up to the real doozy and the reason why this entire backlash existed in the first place.

People are also culturally trained not to talk about the behaviors we’ve learned with regards to minorities. Specifically with regards to feminism, essentially, we don’t talk about feminism. Women being silenced, being disrespected, being treated like sex objects, or being threatened or skeeved out. These are not discussed and certainly not in a way that places male behavior under scrutiny.

Women are judged for their behavior. Men get to do what they want. That is the social norm. That is the way it has always been done.

As such, someone pointing this out and asking to talk about it will be seen as rude.

Period.

That’s the double-bind.

Any speech, no matter how nice, how softly, how qualified, or how brief will be seen as a violation of norms and will cause the dominant group to freak out, to trip over the privilege, to find themselves angry and not knowing why, and feeling justified asking for silencing or viewing the person who dared bring things up as the real person who did wrong.

And that’s really what is the story of this incident. Rebecca Watson brought up things that have always gone unexamined and asked to examine them. This was inherently a violation of social norms of silence around those issues and a lot of men responded with the cultural training to view that as the real problem (after all, the behavior wasn’t really violating any cultural norms in the sense that they are sadly too common in our societies).

But the double-bind continues in that any attempt to fix this will necessarily be seen as rude, be derided and be met with anger and a sense of “division for the sake of division”.

Mere acknowledgment is seen as the real problem and people speaking on behalf of themselves are seen as the rude thing that’s going to scare everyone off with their rudeness.

And yet it’s necessary. To fight, to struggle, to be rude and crude, and resisted with much frantic flailing. All of this must occur because otherwise, all we get is the same status quo affairs and the horrible prison that is for everyone for whom that doesn’t benefit.

And so, the struggle is inherently rude in the eyes of those who are struggled against or in the eyes of fair-weathered allies. Off-putting, not helping, distracting, and rude.

But in that final double-bind comes freedom.

If anything is rude. If what is requested is naught but no-win situations and impossible requests, then there is simply no reason to care.

When anything is rude, there is no need to carefully tailor one’s arguments or even act like these predictable patterns of whiny flailing are at all good faith or must be heeded.

Why not speak loud and clear? Why not call a bigot a bigot or call out a self-claimed ally on their blind-spots? Why not ignore the tone trolls and those who yell “distraction”?

In creating no ability to win, there are many sad injustices, but there is also complete freedom.

We don’t need to answer to anyone, least of all those more privileged than us with regards to tactics or life experiences or speaking out.

All we need to do is to keeping doing it, in all the myriad of tactics and styles we can until it is the bigoted positions, the old “social norms” that become the things seen as rude.

It’s what’s worked for every other rights struggle in at least the last 100 years.

So thank you atheist community backlash for perfectly illustrating how the supposed double-bind is simply a bundle of untied rope.

3 Responses to “The double-bind”

  1. Angelika said

    thank you.
    best . analysis . i . have . read .

    (and yes, apart from “wtf, another double-bind” after reading RWs posts, also willful ignorance, the Dunning-Kruger-effect, cognitive bias, “knowledge does not equal behavior change” spontaneously popped into/out of my mind)

    also, mythcommnunications is a re-re-read for me, just to be aware of daily BS-happenings.

  2. Apologies for the off-topic, but I’ve been reading your posts for awhile on Pandagon & have always found them either insightful or interesting. I wanted to respond to your post there, but I wrote & I make a habit of doing what I say.

    I knew I was taking a risk using the phrase “rhetorical gang-rape” (RGR). I understand your preference for the phrase Dogpiling (DP), and it is very accurate in most cases. However, the distinction I draw between DP & RGR is the former describes a phenomenon where members of that particular online community are fighting amongst each other, while the latter describes what happens when a group of others from outside that particular community, those who’ve never/rarely commented before on that community, who form part of a community elsewhere (not required, but is often the case) show up and engage in a show of intimidation because it is dealing with a subject they don’t like in a manner they don’t approve of & all without their permission. They refuse to leave until that thread has been effectively shut down in the manner I described. Again, I was aware of the risk of using the phrase, but I’m confident that one needs to use toxic language to accurately describe toxic behavior so that oneself and others can recognize such activity for what it is in order to call it out by its proper name. People who engage in such behavior & their enablers utterly resent being called to account for it, & their usual response is a scolding, shaming finger-waving “how DARE you” tirade, and such a response is a rock-solid indication that one has been successful in both striking a nerve & drawing attention to unacceptable behavior.

    Again, apologies for showing up uninvited and posting off topic, but I couldn’t find an email address. I’m reachable at my own blog if you feel the need to respond.

    All the Best,
    Smartpatrol

  3. Interrobang said

    Cerberus — I have been absolutely loving your comments on Sadly, No!, particularly regarding being unemployed for over a year with a Master’s degree for reasons beyond your control that make other people think you’re a freak (*wave* Hi there!).

    Not that it’s liable to make you a shitload of money, but would you be interested in writing some stuff for me and the rest of the gang at Streetcar Press (www.streetcarpress.com)? I’m the one with the essays about streetcars, Rustin is the head honcho, and everyone else is sort of the Usual Gang of Idiots. You have some great things to say which you do with a certain elan that I think would make you fit in with the SP ethos.

    If you’re interested, e-mail me at shgstewart@gmail.com and let’s talk.

    Interrobang

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