Why “Yes, But” Is the Wrong Response to Misogyny

by Greta Christina, Free Thoughtd Blog

“Yes, but… not all men are like that. And if you’re going to talk about misogyny, you have to be extra-clear about that.”

“Yes, but… misogyny doesn’t just happen in (X) community (atheist, black, gay, etc.). In fact, it’s worse in some other communities. So it’s not fair to talk about misogyny when it does happen in (X) community, as if it’s something special that we’re doing wrong.”

“Yes, but… (X) community where misogyny happens has some great things about it, too. It’s not fair to paint everyone in it with the same brush.”

“Yes, but… the woman/ women in question could have done something to avoid the misogyny she got targeted with. She/ they could have stayed anonymous/ concealed her gender/ dressed differently/etc. I’m not saying it’s her fault, but…”

“Yes, but… the woman/ women in question didn’t behave absolutely perfectly in all respects. Why aren’t we talking about that?”

“Yes, but… the person writing about this incident didn’t behave absolutely perfectly in all respects. Why aren’t we talking about that?”

“Yes, but… there are worse problems in the world. Starving people in Africa, and so on. Why are you complaining about this?”

“Yes, but… gender expectations hurt men, too. Why aren’t we talking about that?”

“Yes, but… people are entitled to freedom of speech. How dare you suggest that speech be censored by requesting that online forums be moderated?”

“Yes, but… calling attention to misogyny just makes it worse. Don’t feed the trolls. You should just ignore it.”

“Yes, but… do you have to be so angry and emotional and over-sensitive about it? That doesn’t help your argument or your cause.”

“Yes, but… what about male circumcision?”

“Yes, but… Rebecca Watson or some other feminist said something mean or unfair in another conversation weeks/ months/ years ago. Why aren’t we talking about that?”

“Yes, but… why is it so terrible to ask a woman for coffee in a hotel elevator at four in the morning?”

It’s depressingly predictable. When an instance of misogyny gets pointed out on the Internet, in a forum big enough to garner more than a couple dozen comments, you’re almost guaranteed to see some or all of these types of comments. It’s happening now. In case you haven’t heard, there was arecent incident on Reddit/ atheism, in which a 15-year-old girl posted a photo of herself holding a copy of Carl Sagan’s Demon-haunted World that her mother had given her for Christmas… and was almost immediately targeted with a barrage of sexualized, dehumanizing, increasingly violent and brutal comments. Including, “Well 15 is legal in many places, including my country, so I’ll only have to deal with abduction charges.” “Relax your anus, it hurts less that way.” “Blood is mother nature’s lubricant.” “Tears, natures lubricant.” “BITE THE PILLOW, IM GOIN’ IN DRY!” And including comments blaming the girl for posting a picture of herself in the first place.

Rebecca Watson and others — including Stephanie ZvanEd BraytonJason ThibeaultJen McCreightJohn Loftus, and Ophelia Benson — have been pointing out how revoltingly misogynistic this is and why. And the “Yes, but…”s have been coming thick and fast.

It’s depressingly predictable. And it’s depressing that anyone should have to explain why this is a problem. It seems totally obvious to me. But apparently, it’s not so obvious. So I’m going to spell it out.

When the topic of misogyny comes up, and men change the subject, it trivializes misogyny.

When the topic of misogyny comes up, and men change the subject, it conveys the message that whatever men want to talk about is more important than misogyny.

When the topic of misogyny comes up, and men change the subject to something that’s about them, it conveys the message that men are the ones who really matter, and that any harm done to men is always more important than misogyny.

And when the topic of misogyny comes up, and men change the subject, it comes across as excusing misogyny. It doesn’t matter how many times you say, “Yes, of course, misogyny is terrible.” When you follow that with a “Yes, but…”, it comes across as an excuse. In many cases, it is an excuse. And it contributes to a culture that makes excuses for misogyny.

Now. If an instance of misogyny is being discussed, and you genuinely don’t think that the instance really was misogynistic or sexist… by all means, say so. I’d advise you to listen very carefully first, and to think very carefully, and to consider the possibility that women might know some things about misogyny that you don’t, and to choose your words and ideas very carefully indeed. But I’ve certainly seen accusations of misogyny or sexism that I thought were bullshit. (Porn wars, anybody?) And I don’t expect people of any gender to just silently accept any and all of these accusations without question.

That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that, when an instance of misogyny is being discussed, and you don’t disagree in the slightest that it really was misogyny? When an instance of misogyny is being discussed, and it would be obvious to anyone but a sociopathic hyena on meth that it really was misogyny? When — oh, just for example — a freaking 15-year-old girl posts a picture of herself with a book by Carl Sagan to an online atheist community, and gets targeted with a barrage of sexualized, dehumanizing, increasingly violent and brutal comments, including threats of blood-soaked anal rape?

Please, for the sweet love of Loki and all the gods in Valhalla, when someone points out how terrible and misogynistic that is, do not change the subject.

Please just say, “That is terrible. That is completely unacceptable. That is not how civilized human beings treat one another. Anyone who did that owes that girl the most groveling apology in their repertoire. If they don’t make an apology in the next six nanoseconds, they ought to be shunned. That sort of behavior is absolutely not to be tolerated.”

Period.

Stop there.

Do not say “Yes, but…”

If you feel compelled to say something other than “That’s terrible”… add some thoughts about the history of misogyny. Some insights into how misogyny happens, and how it gets perpetuated. Some ideas about what you think should be done about it. Etc. But whatever you do or say, don’t say, “Yes, but…” and then turn the conversation towards yourself, or other men, or some other topic that you think is more important.

If you want to talk about starving people in Africa, or whether misogyny is worse in (X) community than (Y) community, or male circumcision, or some possibly mean and unfair things that some feminist said at another time, or whether moderation of online forums constitutes censorship? Fine. Those are worthwhile topics. (Except for the last one, which is just silly.) But they are worthwhile topics FOR A DIFFERENT DISCUSSION. Post them in another thread. Start another thread. Do not freaking bring them up every single time the topic of misogyny comes up.

It’s not all about you.

And if you’re acting as if accusations of misogyny are all about you… maybe that’s something you should be looking at.


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