What I Meant to Say

Wendy Babiak's Visions and Revisions


Leave a comment

The Problem With Single-Motive Thinking And The Zero-Sum Game

So unless you live under a complete media-free rock (in which case I don’t think you’ll be reading this), you’ve heard about the killings in Isla Vista last weekend, and probably also about the media shit-storm(s) that followed. Because that’s what media does…it feeds the violence-for-display beast, and then gasps loud and long about what might have caused each instance of violence-for-display, pitting single-motive thinkers against each other in click-producing battles that fill the media moguls’ coffers but do little to bring the general public to a greater understanding of the cultural forces that are making life in America (and around the world) feel more and more like the world intimated by one of my favorite bumper stickers: “Where are we going, and what are we doing in this hand-basket?”

So you’ve got gun-rights activists fearing that this is some kind of false flag to justify someone coming for their guns, mental-health-care advocates imagining that this is simply a case of failed psychiatry, gun-rights opponents imagining that if they just got rid of the guns everything would be okay, and feminists pointing out the deep misogyny displayed in the killer’s manifesto and YouTube videos, some insisting that to talk about mental health is a mistake. While the truth is, as always, complex and involuted and known probably only by God and the young man who killed himself after taking out the innocent victims of his twisted thinking. (And there’s an aspect that too few are discussing, which is the overculture’s obsession with sex, as if it’s some magic key to happiness. I’m quite sex positive, but y’all, it’s not all that. When you’re done basking in the afterglow, the laundry still needs doing.)

For the past few days I’ve spent a fair bit of time (which sometimes felt like an important investment, and sometimes like a waste I had to ask forgiveness for during my evening prayers) on Twitter, reading and participating in the #YesAllWomen and #YesALLWhiteWomen hashtags. And several things are pretty clear to me. There are a fair number of men who get their panties in a bunch at any implication that women have it pretty hard at the hands of men, who seem unable to grok that when we try to bring attention to rape culture (which, yes, is a thing that affects all women, whether they’ve actually been raped or not, because violence exists on a spectrum and being subject to it triggers fear, and the possibility of the extreme end of it exists even at the lesser end) we are not trying to say that all men are rapists, but that a minority of repeat offenders make it miserable for all women to one degree or another. And guess what? Rape culture makes things miserable for many men and boys, too. If you need to hear such a thing from a man to believe it, watch this excellent TED Talk about how violence IS a men’s issue. This guy’s really smart, and gets intersectionality, something I’ll talk about later.

 

Also, that some women are just as unable as too many men to grasp the point of the hashtag, and feel the need to pipe up with “this is sexist, I’m not a feminist because I don’t hate men” (ladies, your misogynistic conditioning is showing). And at least as frustrating as the women who won’t consider themselves feminists because they’ve bought into the backlash idea that feminism=man-hating (guess what? I’m a feminist and I love my husband, and more than that, my husband is a feminist, too, and only a fool would accuse him of having a vag…he’s got a power rack in the basement that he uses on a regular basis), are the white women who refuse to examine and check their own privilege and insist that women of color bringing up the fact that, for example, Native American women are three times as likely as white women to be raped, are trying to derail rather than deepen the conversation. Thus was born the #YesALLWhiteWomen hashtag, and if you’re a white feminist, you really ought to be quiet and scroll through it, practice some empathy (just like we’re asking of men at the other) and try to understand someone else’s experience and how things you do or say may be contributing to someone else’s suffering. To admit that there’s a Venn Diagram of oppression and that some people exist in the intersections doesn’t diminish the fact of your own suffering, and when we can do this and do our best not to be oppressors, it gets better for everyone.

 

Just as the Marxist who comes in and bashes an indigenous woman for being a capitalist overlord because she likes vintage Chanel ads because it’s all about CLASS and not gender or race, white women who can’t share the spotlight with women of color suffer from simplistic, zero-sum thinking. There is enough attention to have all the conversations that need to happen, and when we go ahead and let them happen, without defensiveness, without fear that in the attention economy we’re going to get the short end of the stick, we might actually end up discovering that, <gasp> we are all human beings, that we all suffer in one way or another, and that when we humble ourselves enough to admit that we sometimes contribute to the suffering of others, we can start to change our ways and do what Christ calls us to do. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, y’all. We just need to participate in it, by loving each other. The zero-sum game is a construct, not reality. There’s enough food, enough attention, enough love to go around, especially since all three are things that we can cultivate. One key value that indigenous cultures on this continent share and the settler culture suffers from the lack of is the value of cooperation. When we cooperate instead of compete, we can actually increase the available resources. Empathy can also be cultivated (reading other people’s stories helps), and if we had more of that, events like the recent killings would become a thing of the past. We might find ourselves living in a world that seems more like Heaven than the Hell we’re speeding toward in this whacked basket. Let’s make it so.