Safe Spaces and the Good Men Project

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Many of you noticed (probably because I said it on Twitter), but last night, my little blog managed to provoke a small response from Good Men Project, particularly in response to the part where I accused them of not listening. Luckily, Jack Varnell – GMP’s social media person in charge of their twitter feed (and facebook, etc) – did so in a comment on the blog, allowing it to be public for everyone to see and making it very simple for me to respond publicly. I’ve copied his statement here:

I am the social media moderator who posted those tweets. As you are well aware, GMP is a forum for discussion, debate and hopefully productive work towards resolution. We may or may not individually, or collectively agree with everything posted there but we do believe in the right to have, and share opinions on topics which are often inflammatory in nature, and hard to have civil discussion about.

While it may not have been the most appropriate response, I am the responsible party, and feel that neither is opening a debate on twitter where the obvious limitations of discourse exist. Especially when everyone concerned knows we publish material, we do not always write it. We saw the limitations of fighting on twitter play out in the Hugo Schwyzer, Amanda Marcotte debacle [editor’s note: the Twitter debacle didn’t involve Hugo – it concerned a debate between Marcotte and GMP founder, Tom Matlack. The Hugo Schwyzer part came later] several weeks ago. Regardless of the nature of my personal, or the GMP perspective on the issues, they need to be discussed maturely, thoughtfully, and with an open eye towards change or change will never occur. One of our slogans is “If you do not like the conversation, change it.” That doesn’t usually happen on twitter. Hence the invitation.

The point that gets missed is that those tweets were an invitation to be heard, to voice your opinions and perhaps change minds in a forum that was designed specifically for that. We are proud of our efforts to provide a safe place for all to engage, and to do it with an audience who has shown an interest on the topic at hand. The readership we have that may come to us for sports discussion, or parenting, or relationships may not need to be bombarded in the tweetstream with an ongoing battle they care nothing about. And vice versa. Our twitter serves as a highway of sorts directing people to what they have said they want from GMP. When you see a post about a topic of no interest to you, you ignore it and move on, then follow the discussion on the posts you are inclined to benefit from or add to.

You and your readership deserve to know the motivation behind the response and as a part of handling that task, and yes, in the interest of putting out the fires of the onslaught from those of a similar way of thinking to yours, and the GMP bashing), [sic] and as a way to steer that discussion to a place where it could be held more fully, I am the one who chose that approach. If there was offense taken I can only apologize for that, but rather than the judgement, perhaps knowing that will help to lessen the blow.

I do think the GMP record on supporting the rights of all, and our willingness to speak on difficult topics stands alone and far above the fray. Truly, I did mean it when I said we want to hear your thoughts and as long as they are not in violation of our extremely liberal commenting policy, they will be welcomed.

Sincerely, Jack Varnell

(emphasis mine)

From a social media standpoint, I actually understand and empathize with his point. As several of my twitter followers pointed out, the goal of a blog like Good Men Project is not necessarily to sustain a discussion but to drive ads to their site, and it does them no good if they confine the arguments to Twitter. And as someone who has gotten involved in Twitter debates, I would be hesitant if a group of feminists started debating me on twitter while I was in charge of social media for a company that is employing me. I would be hesitant to say something on behalf of my company, and it would be very hard to decide what response to have. I understand Mr. Varnell’s quandary.

But I disagree with his assertion (bolded) that GMP is a safe space for feminists and therefore an adequate space to air our grievances.

I think our major disagreement comes from a misunderstanding – on the part of GMP – of what a “safe space” is. In as brief words as I can muster, a safe space is not a space where every opinion has equal airing and equal weight. A safe space is one in which differing opinions are welcomed with an air that signals the disagreement may be walked away from at any time, with no hard feelings AND that disagreement will not be met with a personal attack. A safe space is one in which a person feels comfortable sharing a personal experience that helped define their opinions. Most importantly, a safe space is one in which actively harmful opinions – such as the idea that a woman can be a criminal accessory in her own rape* - are not given platform and prominence.

This is why, in my comment space, a personal attack and impugnation of an opponent’s sincerity of faith are an immediate, permanent ban.

Now, deciding what is an actively harmful opinion is very, very tough, and a lot of that depends on the tone set for the particular discursive space and demographic of the readership. For example, my readership on this space ranges from people of all different faithwalks, ideas, and backgrounds – I have agnostics, atheists, and Christians reading. It is heavily feminist, and is perceived (hopefully) as a safe space for feminist Christians. That is my goal and my demographic.

I understand that people who don’t like swearing probably wouldn’t feel safe expressing that opinion in my comments section – indeed, I laughed very hard at a guy who took me to task for “taking the Lord’s name in vain” because I said “godammit” on this post. But this is a slant I recognize and take into account – for me, it is much more important that a woman who has been a victim of rape feel understood and welcomed than a conservative Christian be offended by the word “fuck.”

Every blog space does this and most blog commenters know what spaces are safe for them and which ones are not. Experienced commenters are usually very, very quick at identifying whether or not a space is safe and worth commenting.

Good Men Project seems to think that their comments section and their website altogether are a safe space to invite feminists to discourse. Their blog may be a safe space for some unpopular opinions, but it is not a safe space for feminists to express their opinions if they differ from the masses in the comment horde.

Indeed, GMP is indeed a safe haven of sorts – for Men’s Rights Activists and other sexist types.

GMP will deny this up and down – after all, they’re for GOOD men! They can’t possibly have become a safe haven for men who think telling a woman to go get raped is an sufficient response to an argument?

So, blog audience and GMP, I have undertaken the task of culling through some of their articles, and pulling examples of representative comments. This was a very hard task for me as reading this sort of rhetoric is highly unnerving. (NB: I have copied and pasted these comments exactly, mistakes and errors are kept intact and all emphasis is original).

Here’s a quick note though: if a person who has experienced no personal trauma other than the presence of a generalized anxiety disorder feels like she’s going to have a panic attack reading your comment section, it is not a safe space.

First, I went to what is inarguably Good Men Project’s most famous article. It’s a pro-woman article on how we are told, day after day, in little subtle ways, that we are insane. Insane for holding opinions, insane for wanting to be recognized as human, etc. Gaslighting, in other words. It’s a brilliant piece.

Here’s the first paragraph of the first comment:

This article largely disproves itself right from the beginning. Not that there’s no truth to it (guys are of course very often inconsiderate of girls’ feelings), but the part regarding the manipulation cracks me up because it’s so incredibly off base. Are you serious about this? The fact is that our culture becomes more feminormative, if you will, with every passing year (with the giant exception of the business world, addressed at the bottom). This is particularly true in terms of which views are acceptable for discourse in the public sphere.

A comment a little further down:

Boring article with the same ole sht… women are perfect, and any fault on their part is because men make them do it.

Somehow women aren’t manipulative, never throw tantrums, never get emotional, never act crazy, never go psycho, never lie, never have hormonal flunctions, and if they do any of that it is because men are just inconsiderate.

Right. *yawn*

And a bit further:

The man who wrote this lives in a cave and has not ever had to deal with females of the human species.

This article, luckily, is evened out a bit because of its extreme popularity – it brought a lot of unconventional traffic to the site, which allowed some of the few feminists in the comments to respond and have discussion. This is the closest thing I find resembling a “safe space” on the site.

Let’s delve a bit further, then, shall we?

On this article on sex trafficking in the United States, we find the following comments:

[1] Its about the religions right and radical feminists working together to try to shut down the sex trade. This hysteria and moral panic, is really a rouse to stop all prostitution.

[2] Reason #2 has some serious problems. How do you know that the man with 3 women really IS a pimp and is NOT just hanging out with 3 women? Even if he is a pimp, just spending time with those women is not illegal. I hope we’re not suggesting we just let the police go with their gut instinct when it comes to arresting people. I don’t want a cop arresting me because “he could just tell” I was doing something illegal. I’m not sure how society should fight prostitution in this case if the people involved are all adults and not currently doing anything illegal. Should we make it “probable cause” for arrest when a man is found in the company of more than one woman? You can increase “suspicion” all you want, but that’s not the same thing as finding actual evidence.

[3] The implication being if you’re male and reading this you’re guilty of something.

Female, eh,not so much.

I’ve seen the video, and what I recall is the police stopping a young streetwalker and questioning her as to where her male pimps was, or where a male john could be found to arrest.

Having found neither of those things,the police then made sure she had her food stamps and subsidized housing and went upon their merry way, having found no real criminal to arrest.(non-female)

Such is the mindset loose in the world, and sadly here at TGMP where the subject has NO bearing on what good men do.

Enough with the hysteria already.

Or from this comment from an article entitled: “Dear Egalitarian Feminists,” which intrigued me greatly:

However, I see a lot of comments here at GMP that are from self-proclaimed MRAs, and some non-identifiers that are equally as anti-woman. They hate that females are involved with GMP, that we publish female writers, etc. How is this different? Some guys (ie you, Archy) get it that Lisa, Julie, me, Heather, Nicole, etc are trying to move things forward for all of us… But there are quite a few that just want us OUT. Because they believe they should be in charge of their movement.

But perhaps the most damning are the comments on the original article. It should be noted that the author of the article is a woman who also writes for A Voice For Men – a notoriously anti-feminist MRA website. No wonder GMP is creating a safe space for MRAs – they’re publishing MRA work on their site! Her bio reads:

I'm a divorced mother of three who's tired of living in a society that treats men like assholes and women like children. I have a blog,owningyourshit.blogspot.com, and also write at avoiceformen.com, where I try to convince anyone who'll listen to start thinking of men as human beings, and start insisting women collectively grow up.

Then there’s this fun comment that compares a concubine to a Faberge egg and says that men had it just as bad throughout history:

While women’s agency was stolen men were dehumanized and their blood, sweat, and deaths have largely built this nation. Uncounted thousands of men died building the trans continental railroad. 28,000 men died building the panama canal. You look up any major construction (hoover damn 117 dead men) and you will see male deaths. Look up the UK child slave labor that largely built this nation and you will see the horrible exploitation of mostly male children in the 1800′s. Objectification of men is recorded EVERYWHERE in history for those who are willing to see.

In other words BOTH men and women were oppressed and objectified. But where women were objectified to be lusted-after concubines or precious objects and kept safe (like an expensive fabergee). Whereas men were treated like hammers and used harshly. If that hammer broke, f*ck it theres a million more where that came from.

And then here are the following comments, all found within that same commenting section:

[1] “… feminists are starting to understand these truths.” I think you are giving feminists too much credit. I haven’t seen anything but fingerpointing and victimhood from any corner of the feminist world. Would you care to back up your assertion?

[2] I agree. I don’t see a hell of a lot of understanding from feminists. Just more paternalism toward women. Lots and lots of it in this thread alone.

[3] If I called it rape every time my wife fondled me to get me in the mood, she would be serving quite a long sentence.

I remember a brief attempt in the UK to re-write law so that the jurisprudence of what you could do to strangers with touching would involved intact long-term couples.

So, if it’s illegal to touch a woman’s breast at the bus stop it would also be illegal to touch your wife’s breast as an attempt to be playful.

The attempts by feminists to cage demonize male libido (and deny that female libido can be harmful) just knows no ends.

[4]I really like how feminists see fit to deny me any claim to personal integrity by constantly accusing me of writing about these issues out of some need for self-validation, or to seek male attention.

Instead of addressing what I’m actually saying in a meaningful way, they try to shame me by applying the same negative stereotypes of women that they claim to oppose: that women are insecure and weak, irrational, unprincipled, and desperate for male attention.

[5] In the interest of equal opportunity and fairness, I prefer to use the term “herstrionic” instead of “histrionic.”

[6] I think we need a new term to point out when feminists assume that all males can read women’s minds as to when they mean “no” but fail to SAY “no.”

Therefore, I dub it “Gynomancy.” Used in a sentence: “Dude, she said she wanted it, but I’m an expert in gynomancy so I left that sh*t alone.”

[7] We’re talking at cross purposes here. You believe in so-called “rape culture,” and many of the rest of us do not. Therefore this whole discussion is pointless.

Yes Means Yes is one of the greatest propagators of the “rape culture” BS that is simply a restatement of the Dworkin/MacKinnon/Daly “all men are rapists” meme from decades ago and it bores me to tears.

So I guess boredom is the only common ground we’re going to find. Quelle dommage.

All of these are prototypical MRA arguments. At least two of these are from the same, regular commenter.

Feminists who bothered to speak up on the thread were met with guffaws, implications that they’re drinking the koolaid and were “just the typical extreme feminist.”

But my point is not to nitpick on certain commenters, but rather to point out what a lot of feminists have already recognized: The Good Men Project is not a safe space for us. It is increasingly misogynist and increasingly vile in what is allowed to be published. At the point when you’re republishing from a site that actively encourages men to nullify juries at rape trials, and runs ads like the one pictured below, you’ve lost the ability to claim that you are a safe space for feminists, or victims of violence in general.

So you understand, I hope, why feminists will only engage with you on their turf – namely twitter, tumblr, and other blog spaces that are very public. Your turf may be a safe space, but not for the people you think it is.

_____________

*To quote the article: "And if the woman was drunk and consented, and the man was NOT drunk? Her drunken “yes” still technically makes her an accessory to a criminal act. By consenting to sex while drunk, she was engaging and participating in criminal activity, and her own willful intoxication is no defence."