About 'Alpha+Good'

Alpha+Good (sort of a bad wordplay on Orwell and machismo) is a side project that belongs to 'Onklare taal' ('Unclear language'), the umbrella of several of my literary projects in Dutch. This section is almost exclusively in English and comprises my ongoing thoughts on progress, gender, politics and various other social themes. Are you a little lost? This link will take you right back to my home page.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Minimal effort #3: Listen

This sounds like a no-brainer and all-round polite advice. In fact, I've listed it before in a more general post of mine. However, it bears repeating. When we - and by we, I mean us men - talk about the plight of women and minorities, a peculiar thing often happens where we hand-wave away any objections from the people we are talking about. This sometimes even happens when everyone has the best intentions at heart.

Listening, actually listening, isn't just good to try and understand what someone else is trying to tell you. As a consequence of not taking the debate or conversation in your own hands, you're giving someone else space to actually express their thoughts and feelings.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The problem with ironic sexism and racism

I love comedy, and not in a bland, inoffensive Ned Flanders sort of way. I admire the audacity and cleverness of the Onion's best articles, I found it hard not to laugh and squirm at the same time when watching Ricky Gervais' original 'Office' and yes, I actually believe any topic can be the subject of a joke - if it's actually funny. Good comedy is hard, and the more sensitive the subject matter, the harder it is to be funny about it.

Of course, there is also a time and place for everything. Joking about the allegedly terrible quality of the Russian car brand Lada might be deeply offensive to someone who is an engineer for that brand and has spent their life trying to design the Perfect Lada.

The issue of context brings me to the actual topic I wanted to discuss - ironic sexism and racism. Especially among twenty-something college-educated people, it's almost sort of a shibboleth that attempts to express (1) how past actual sexism and racism they are so they can joke about it and (2) they are edgy enough to say offensive shit.

Indulging this particular kind of comedy is pretty typical for people who live in a bubble where they don't have to deal with gross instances of sexism and racism, but the world beyond that as well as the hidden world within that bastion of lily-white, self-described liberalism is a scary place where racism and sexism have violent and harmful consequences.

In addition, there's this thing called Poe's Law. Who knows whether you're being ironic or not? You can't expect people to read your mind.

There's the danger that if you propagate your ironic forms of abusive comedy, it gives actual sexists and racists the idea that it's okay to think that way. Next time you post something inane like 'make me a sammich bitch' on Facebook, the people who like that post may actually be the vile sort of guys who think a woman's place is in the kitchen. That may also be a good place to ponder where you really stand on that sort of issue. It's not because you don't think of yourself as a sexist, that you don't hold any sexist notions.

But what about free speech, right? For one, not every place in the democratic world is required to humour that right. Even so, the point is not that I think it should become illegal to make (bad) jokes, but if you're hell-bent on saying something offensive, you should know that people are going to respond to it and call you out on bad taste. Covering yourself in the Free Speech Blanket will be about as effective as constructing a bunker made out of poop.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Minimal effort #2: Progress is as progress does

A few recent discussions on feminist theory reminded me of the Buddha, who supposedly taught his followers that you couldn't hope to achieve Enlightenment without a combination of theory and practice. This is true for any movement that wants to achieve change. Practice without a solid grounding in theory often backfires or makes things worse - theory without practice is arid.

Hence, for male allies of feminism, here's a number of tiny things you can do that make the world just a little bit nicer:
 
  • Let women speak and don't talk over them. Men are often socialised to assume control over a conversation.
  • Ask for women's opinions. Women have often been socialised not to speak up.
  • Don't discredit stories from women about sexual harrassment by victim-blaming or resorting to revenge fantasies.
  • Don't bodyshame. Most people, and especially women, are all too aware of their bodies and their supposed shortcomings.
  • Don't 'mansplain', i.e. assume that you are the expert about the topic at hand.

All of these are a few concrete pointers that could set you well on your way to become a better ally, and generally, a more considerate person.