Wed 11

Being Wrong is Okay

Max I got some hot mail following my last blog. Some really hot mail. To summarize:

  1. You (Max) said it’s wrong to do nothing about feminist issues

  2. I (a good guy) do nothing about feminist issues

  3. You think I’m a bad person so SCREW YOU IN THE FACE

This feels like a real misunderstanding. Sure, I think you’re wrong, but that doesn’t make you a bad person. We all believe wrong things. I have a bunch of wrong beliefs right now, I bet. Not this one. This one, I feel confident about. But I’m sure I have others, which I’m yet to identify. Because we’re not born with the answers; we have to figure this stuff out.

Curiously, almost all the hot mail focused on how I should stop apologizing and feeling guilty for being male. I say “curious” because at no point in my blog did I apologize or mention guilt. People just assumed that’s what happens if you’re wrong: You feel shameful and want to apologize.

This is a pretty dramatic view of wrongness. We’re not wrong every few years. We’re constantly wrong. We generalize; we don’t pay attention; we are a wacky collection of hilarious biases. Being wrong doesn’t make you a bad person: It makes you a person. It’s what we do on the regular so we’re not stuck with the same ideas we had when we were fourteen.

I think a lot of dudes, including me, haven’t done anything particularly terrible, but haven’t been particularly helpful, either. That’s not a crime. But it’s not great, either. When we see entrenched unfairness—even the quiet, casual kind, which is surprisingly hard to spot, when it doesn’t directly affect you—the right thing to do is call it out. And to try harder to see it.

That’s it! Because, and I may be off-base here, I don’t think a whole lot of women care about men apologizing or demonstrating guilt. I think mostly they’d just like us to be more helpful. Nobody’s end goal is to make dudes feel bad. This isn’t even about dudes: It’s about making the future fairer. If all that means to you is shame and guilt, well, okay, you can feel that way, but it’s probably not helping anyone, and no-one asked you do it.


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Byron (#5419)

Location: St. Louis
Posted: 986 days ago

I'm not discounting what you're saying, Max, just tossing out some of my own thoughts on the matter. Maybe I'm wrong and maybe it's ok :-)

-- This post exemplifies why no one should ever write posts late at night. You start following rabbit trails and lose the original plot...sorry, but I'm posting it anyway --

-- Disclaimer: this may sound like it's replying to a 3rd hand account of what Max wrote, but darn it, he made me think...again!

I think it's pretty natural and perhaps even healthy to feel guilt when you realize that either by your actions or inactions that you have harmed someone or in some way prevented/hampered them from succeeding in their pursuit of happiness. I say 'perhaps healthy' because people who don't feel that way tend to get classified as sociopaths. I'm not saying that being a sociopath isn't beneficial if your goal is climbing the corporate ladder, just saying that most people don't want to be labeled a sociopath.

So, although maybe no-one is asking people to feel guilty, as you say, I think it's reasonable to assume that guilt is a natural response for most people, sociopaths exempted, which may be why so much of your mail thought you were advocating for feeling guilty and apologizing.

There are different kinds of "being wrong". Some kinds of being wrong are completely telling your kid that the earth is 5 billion years old, when come to find out in the afterlife it is actually 27 billion years old. You were biggie. IMHO, the kind of wrong you're talking about implies real negative consequences for another person.

If my actions or inactions haven't harmed someone or inhibited their actualization, then no harm, no foul, no guilt. If my actions or inactions have harmed someone/inhibited their actualization, then to some commensurate degree, guilt/apologizing/reparation/corrective action may be warranted. Perhaps "intent" comes into play. If you didn't intend it, maybe you go down for manslaughter instead of murder-one. I don't know. Let the court decide. The rule book is being written and revised daily on the internet, CNN, Fox News, and whatever dispensaries of "truth and thought" exists where you live.

I'm not sure that we can say, "You're wrong and you harmed/negatively impacted somebody. Try not to feel bad about it." But maybe that's how the rule book ends up getting written.

I definitely agree that landing on guilt and shame and squatting down there to roost is anti-productive. Maybe some people need to be forgiven before they can move on to something productive. Maybe some people refuse to acknowledge any culpability. Maybe some people can't accept being forgiven because they won't forgive other people, and to protect themselves from guilt and shame, they refuse to acknowledge culpability.

Lots of people in the world coming from lots of different experiences, so if none of this rings true for you, just drive on and pretend you didn't see this trainwreck of flow of consciousness.

I can imagine a couple mental approaches to making a positive difference...1) Focus on stopping "doing" or "not doing" something that is hurting, and 2) Focus on doing something that is helping.

The first approaches change with a negative do I stop hurting others, which I would think would lead to some natural guilt when you see all the ways you hurt others, and may serve as proper motivation to change. The second approaches change with a positive would I want someone to treat me if I were in that position (the golden rule)? Love your neighbor as yourself.

For the record, I am very much human and have lots of wrongness...far from perfect...I'll leave it at that.

towr (#1914)

Location: Netherlands
Posted: 986 days ago

This is a common problem with calling out wrongness. Some people will take it as an opportunity to change what they're doing, but others dig in and double down in an attempt to convince themselves they never did anything wrong in their life. It makes for terrible internet discussions.
Pro tip: psychology tells us you can correct yourself, and then retroactively feel like you've always been right.

Anyway. There are of course more problems in the world than gender inequality, like racial inequality, social inequality, global warming, pollution, natural disasters, war etc. You can be good/bad/neutral on any of them. So conceivably you might even be considered overall "good" while "bad" on some of them.
It's paralyzing trying to tackle all the problems of the world, which makes it all the more tempting to do nothing. (More so, I might add, when people tell you to "do something" without any helpful clues as to what.) So it's probably even the right choice to try to be "good" at just one of them and not concentrate too much on the rest. (Though not making them worse is much appreciated.)

So if you're not doing anything on feminist issues because you're too busy saving kittens from burning buildings. I'll go out on a limb and say you're good.
But if you notice some low hanging fruit on the feminist issue tree you can grab in passing to the next fire, all the better.

Radiatia (#6360)

Location: Christchurch, New Zealand
Posted: 986 days ago

Personally, I've never been wrong about anything in my life but a friend of mine was wrong once and described the feeling to me and it sounded absolutely awful.

Hopefully I'll never experience it - I imagine if I did I'd feel personally attacked and start lashing out at people via email too.

Machine Man subscriber Molly (#6941)

Location: Rehab, probably.
Posted: 986 days ago

I would like to thank men for all the jars they have opened for me and kindly request they continue to do so. And please make living amends when necessary. I pledge to do the same (the making amends part I mean—short of a lathe, I can’t help with jars).

Will St George (#8217)

Location: U.S.
Quote: "It's like deja vu all over again. - Yogi Berra"
Posted: 986 days ago

It is not surprising that you got a lot of feedback Max. I imagine it must have initially felt something like this: [Saturday Night Live Sketch]

lu77 (#5471)

Location: melbourne
Quote: "everything is simple, nothing is as straight forward as it seems."
Posted: 986 days ago

i am sad i missed the last post, i think because the title didn’t hint at what it would be about.

feminists need allies. and those allies are men. it makes me feel alone and not know who to trust when the only people that stick up for women are women.

and men are like “nah that’s bull’ when they see websites like everyday sexism and crap women have to put up with, and they wonder why.

because men are too scared to stand up to their mates and say “hey that’s not ok, show some respect mate”.

MEN are too afraid to say sexism is not ok?!

so how do you think it is for women?

any woman that stands up and says “this is not ok” is lambasted, men attempt to shame her ridicule her make out she’s frigid a lesbian a bitch or even deserves rape.

and yet men are surprised women don’t feel safe in society.

frankly it’s worse online than it is offline.

and so finally a guy steps up to the plate and says, men need to be feminists (thanks Max!)

and he gets attacked for it.

you know what? i disagree with Max

nice guys don’t tolerate sexism.

if you tolerate it, or let it stand, or make the odd joke yourself.
you are not a nice guy. you are kidding yourself.

you might be protective of you and your own. but that doesn’t make you a nice guy.

it isn’t even enough to qualify you for a decent human being.

decent human beings look out for each other including strangers, they call out crap behaviour.

every guy thinks he’s a “nice guy”.

prove it.

Shoe (#4776)

Location: D.C. Suburb
Quote: "“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” —Muriel Rukeyser"
Posted: 985 days ago

Very glad to see this answer, Max. So tired of seeing anger get allowed to "win" because of not wanting to debate it.

Your answer is perfect. Didn't make a mistake? How unique of you. :)

Thank you for being decent.

Matthew (#6407)

Location: Perth
Posted: 984 days ago

Constantly apologising is a way of shifting the emotional burden back onto women, who are forced to accept the apology just to get on with life.

Monti (#8337)

Location: California, USA
Quote: "a random trans lesbian, nothing else"
Posted: 935 days ago

can't even have an opinion on your own blog

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