A couple of weeks ago, we welcomed a new member to our growing community here at this young blog: mashav. I never met mashav before *he* started commenting on my post about the Olathe hate crime, but I knew that *he* was a friend of kevinmkr’s.
I consider kevinmkr to be the sort of kind, fair, and wise person who everybody should have in their lives and I figured that since he wouldn’t be the type to have an asshole in his circle of pals; anybody he was sending our way would likely be someone of equally good character and worth getting to know.
When I emailed mashav and introduced myself, I let *him* know how much I had enjoyed the quality of our discussions up to that point and mentioned that *he* was the “sort of guy we’d hoped to attract” to our site for *his* intellectual viewpoint and ability to handle some solid, drawn-out discussions.
Well, I was in for a surprise and I think you know what *it* was.
Mashav graciously thanked me for reaching out, but decided to clear the air by letting me know that *he* was a woman. Most of you have already figured this out, I am sure, but I genuinely did not know this during the first few rounds of discussions we’d had up to that point.
She wasn’t offended by my mistake. Mashav even told me that she had noticed me refer to her as a male in an earlier comment, and was considering ‘coming out.’ The reason that prospect gave her pause was twofold. She had been mistaken for a man in a different forum earlier that same week, so she wondered if that was an outlier or if she should expect it to keep happening when people read her words without a picture or a name attached. In addition, she had wondered if we would either pull our punches or dismiss her POV if we realized she was a woman. She was curious to see what treatment she would receive in an online forum if people didn’t know she was a woman right from the start. I could assure her that no, I did not know her gender, and like to think that I treat both the male and female members of our community with equal civility.
I like to think that, but do I? This is where it got uncomfortable for me.
She asked me directly, “What made you think I was a man?” Did she have a “butch writing style” or was it just the subject matter?
“Well,” I replied. “I could just tell you that I didn’t know we had any female commenters because I study the site’s Google Analytics each day and they’ve been telling me that 100% of our audience is male. Obviously, that’s wrong.”
It would have been easy for me to stop there. I could have legitimately left it at that and, whether she believed me or not, she would have had to take that at face value. But I didn’t stop there. I felt like she deserved to know the truth. The ladies in attendance might want to hang onto themselves, because I’m going to say some things you’re not going to like, but I think you’ll appreciate me saying them for the sake of truth.
I explained to her that it just never crossed my mind that I wasn’t conversing with a man. I said, “It really is just that rare that I encounter women in online political debate who I perceive as being as committed, informed, and (REALLY HATE TO SAY THIS) rational as you both are and present yourself.”
Note: Before I go any further, I want to say directly to pfluffy that I also used to think you were a man way back when you used the handle “flogg”. So, I don’t want you thinking that I think you’re some tender bundle of nerves I feel like I have to treat gently. Maybe this is a lesson I should have learned years ago.
Is that fair to say, gentlemen? Do we see women as being over-emotional and do we feel like we have to “pull our punches” and make only the gentlest jabs with our most padded pillows instead of the bar stools we crack over each other’s heads?
I’m going to tell you that I felt ashamed of myself for feeling the way I did. I shouldn’t have been surprised to find out that mashav was a woman just because she could present a strong argument with facts and reason, but I was. I can’t fake a lack of surprise any better than 35% of heterosexual women can fake orgasms.
“Now that you’ve questioned it, it troubles me that I believed this and I’m pondering it,” I said. “My wife is an educated woman, superior education to me AND she’s gifted with more common sense. We discuss politics, movies, philosophy, religion and it would never occur to me to talk down to her (not that she’d tolerate it). My older sister is absolutely astonishing. You know, Bachelors in PoliSci from KU, Phi Beta Kappa. She’s also one of the three funniest people I’ve ever known (and she’s a FLAMING LIBERAL). Then there’s all the various women I interact with in the corporate world who are senior to me. I genuinely don’t think I treat them any differently than I would a male VP.”
I do respect women. Don’t I?
“But then I did make an assumption about you and I’m wondering why I would do that,” I continued. “It’s not the way I was raised and it’s not right that I should have done that.”
Mashav appreciated my candor and I, in turn, assured her that I was not the least bit upset with her nor did I feel like she had been dishonest in any way. In fact, I was grateful–still am–for the opportunity to have some introspection. And I have thought about it since then. You know what I figured out?
I really do go easy on women and I had a recent example hiding right in plain sight.
I’ve mentioned before that one of the key components of my personal fitness program is to attend martial arts training once or twice a week. Namely, it’s Krav Maga (no, not #MAGA, that’s different, you fool). For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the style is very heavily focused on hitting and being hit. There’s an emphasis on speed and aggression, but above all, it’s “contact combat” and you’re going to get knocked back on your heels periodically.
Every class I’ve ever attended since I started last October has always had at least two women in it. I hate getting paired up with them. You know why? Because I’m not going to fight women. I honestly cannot think of any scenario where I would be attacked by a woman, much less need to knock her out with a jab-cross-hook-uppercut-rear kick combo. Women aren’t dangerous to me. Men are. We commit all the violent crime. We are the aggressors in any society and always have been. Violent women are a blip in the crime statistics, relatively speaking, compared to what we men deal out to our fellow humans day in and day out.
You know who I like getting paired up with? This 6’5 police officer who’s been involved in the program for years. He shows up on Tuesdays, my favorite days. The dude’s a tank and I like knowing I can cut loose to my heart’s content. I’m not going to be able to hurt that dude and when I can see that my application of those techniques work at stopping someone with his strength and commitment level, it feels victorious.
Well, shortly after I first started, I got paired up with this nice lady about my own age. You know, forties. She often brings her kids to class with her and they sit quietly and play on their electronics while mom gets her ass-whupping on. When it was her turn to hold the pad and let me rain down some punches and kicks (and it does hurt sometimes even with the strike pads), I couldn’t see anyone in front of me but….a nice mom.
I didn’t want to hit her, even though I wasn’t going to hurt her, and she knew it. After my first three strikes, she smiled broadly and said in a friendly way, “You can hit me harder than that!” Yeah. I tried, but it was impossible to get past my own programming at the time.
Many of you who are more “traditional” men might agree with me on this. I don’t think most of us ever expect to have a fistfight with a lady and I’ve even seen cases firsthand in which men were battered by their wives and they just wouldn’t defend themselves. They couldn’t.
What I determined, after my conversation with mashav, was that every time I pull my punches with women in class, I am hurting them more and doing them wrong. As it happens, they come to class because they want to learn how to protect themselves from me. I’m tall, lean, fit, fast, aggressive, and I have this well-developed talent for projecting an air of menace and intimidation that multiple people have mentioned to me over the years, usually with a small urine stain on the front of their pants. It’s probably why I don’t get invited to parties.
The women in class go there because they need to know how to stop attackers who are larger, stronger, faster, and crueler than they are. I may want to be nice to them, but a rapist in the dark won’t be. I’ll pull my punches, but an abusive boyfriend won’t. They want me to hit hard for the same reason I want to spar with the gigantic badass cop and I’m a misguided prick for denying them that opportunity to compete as my equal, to grow, and to become better and stronger.
It’s no different in the rough-and-tumble world of online political discussion, is it? I do believe that women deserve consideration as equal, rational, and intellectual combatants. They deserve the opportunity to learn from the perspectives of men who might disagree with them and to be taken seriously when they present solid arguments. They don’t want special treatment, just the same treatment, and our attempts to be chivalrous can come across as condescending.
I can understand why mashav, or any woman, would be reluctant to identify her sex on any online forum. On one extreme, she doesn’t think she’ll be treated as serious or her arguments will simply be dismissed as hysterical gibberish by the nerdy, antisocial men like me who tend to dominate these things. On the other extreme, outspoken women tend to get rape threats and insults on a lot of online forums. That’s a whole other topic though.
For my part, I have fully reflected on what I’ve learned from this experience. This is what I’ve learned: I do love and respect women and I appreciate our differences where they exist, rather than seeing women as weak or somehow “less than”.
It is my duty, as a man, to use my greater size and physical strength and natural aggression to protect women and children from other men or from acts of nature which could bring them harm. Or just house spiders. I believe that all men should adopt this mentality and the reason that the world is in such chaos is because so many young men either don’t apply this or have never had it explained to them.
I’ll never apologize for my belief that women should be protected. You are different from us, due to hormones or upbringing or social mores or whatever, but you are not inferior to us. I’ll continue to treat my female family members with full respect and demonstrate complete loyalty to the women who I am subordinate to in the corporate world, as I always have.
What I have learned and will apply changes in my life is recognizing that I must treat women with equal respect when we are in conflict, not just when they’re women who are “on my side”. From now on, I’m going to ensure that I always hold women to the same standard of rigor that I would demand of any man who challenges me. I won’t make the mistake of thinking that women need to be sheltered from the harsh realities of the world like children. I learned what I needed to know, I think.
Some of the men reading this are probably rolling their eyes. “Dear Lord,” they think. “Thrill has turned into a guilty white liberal. The metamorphosis is complete. Can I get you a Midol?”
You’re certainly free to judge me. Believe me, the women are probably going to judge me worse for some of the things I’ve said above. But what I submit to you, my dear bros, is that it might be good for you to examine your own behavior toward the women in your life. Ask your significant other. There is a possibility that you speak to her in a certain way, that it affects the way she feels about you, and that society’s expectation of how women should behave makes her feel like it’s not okay for her tell you that what you do is affecting her self-worth.
I’ll tell you that I read this post to Mrs. Thrill before I published it and she did tell me about things I have said in the past that made her feel bad. She changed me over time and I don’t do those things anymore. Do know, however, that she’s an extremely rational and intelligent woman and thinks that my examination of this issue didn’t go far enough in terms of how women feel that men treat them.
How about a conversation on this? This is a Discourses post. Go into the discussion knowing that the objective isn’t to prove right or wrong. It’s to read, question, and try to understand perspectives that are different from your own.
If you want to have a scientific discussion about how women are too weak to serve in the armed forces in combat roles and you have a whole bunch of links and charts to back that up, you should save them. This discussion is more about how women in the military may perceive that they are treated differently than their male counterparts in the form of preferential treatment and perhaps kept from realizing their full potential because of it.
As always, I will offer up a few jumping-off questions. You don’t have to answer any of them, but they can help us get started.
- Do you think men treat women the same way I acknowledged doing above, particularly in political discussions?
- Women: How do you feel when you are being told to smile more, “mansplained” to (I hate the fuck out of that term, but Mrs. Thrill did use it to describe how she is often spoken to by other men) or otherwise treated in a condescending manner by men? Do you get mad or do you just sort of accept or do you tend to ignore it or downplay it? Even better: do you assume it’s unintentional?
- Men: If you can acknowledge that you treat women more gently than men in situations such as those I’ve described; do you think it’s wrong to do so? Why or why not?
For the record, one of my prejudices about mashav was validated. I was right about her excellent character, if not her gender, and am happy that I’ve got another smart and passionate person out there to exchange ideas with on the big issues of the day. I returned to blogging because I wanted to be challenged, I wanted to learn, and I wanted to persuade and be persuaded. She has given me that and I’m glad to know her now.
To kevinmkr: SEND MORE LIBERALS.
P.S. Mashav would like to point out that she is not afraid of house spiders. She does, however, expect her man to open jars and reach stuff on the high shelf for her.