gender,  how do we know what we know is true

thoughts in response to the “dating tips for feminist men” by Nora Samaran

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I’m neither a feminist man nor in the dating scene, but I found this post about dating tips for feminst men by Nora Samaran very interesting. I love the way it captures some of the ambiguities and challenges of life. Listen to your emotions, trust them, but at the same time know that your emotions might be defensiveness and learn to be uncomfortable. Value others, recognize our interdependance.

I like the emphasis about on being honest about emotions (and valuing others emotions). I still struggle with having the courage to be honest about my emotions, and deal with the fear I feel about expressing my emotions. Will other people think I’m too wimpy, whiny, etc if I express my emotions clearly? I also worry about my emotions being wrong, influenced more out of my own emotional baggage than the reality of the situation.  Someone can do something that reminds me of something else, and my reaction is a response to both the current and remembered situation. Like others, I’m scared of being rejected for my emotional baggage. After all, it isn’t others fault that things connect with old things, and even if I’m honest and say “look, I know I’m responding to X because it reminds me of Y, which is not your fault at all,” the reality might be that I can’t deal with X because of that. I might not be strong enough to seperate the two things even if I know they should be seperated. I have to accept levels of uncomfortableness so as to not let my problems harm others, but also be honest so as to reduce the amount my problems harm me.

Alongside recognizing one’s own emotions and where one is, Nora urges people to take responsibility for how their actions affect others. She urges against bolting when things get tough. She asks:

Do you believe in solidarity and mutual aid? Do you also believe we are all individuals who should manage our own problems on our own or with those who choose to freely associate with us? Notice the contradiction in those beliefs. Question the assumed individualist values you may have inherited from capitalist forebears, and put them to the test of your belief in mutuality. If you are a socialist who still believes that we are all individuals who enter voluntarily into relations and can exit them without accountability, notice the contradiction. Human beings are not interchangeable, fungible entities who freely enter into contractual relations; we are interdependent and need each other to live. It is a very privileged position to be able to retreat to your individualism when you have harmed someone, rather than being in relation with them, and staying present for the change as that relation shifts out of a romantic one to something new and long-term you both are comfortable with. Your theory and your lived daily practice will line up if you notice this contradiction.

Nora is writing about dating, which tends towards being an informal contract of sorts. There are expectations. What about other situations, I wonder? There are situations where people have not been romantically involved but still develop a level of dependance upon one another. Is there such a thing as “squatters rights on the heart”?

I remember reading the book Magnificent Obessession, by Lloyd C. Douglas, years and years ago. It has a line in it about someone wanting to go to tell someone else to go to hell. A friend intervenes and says not to do it, because anyone you spend time with you end up exchanging bits of yourself and when you tell someone else to go to hell you send a part of yourself there too.

Yet there are times when people do need to be honest and cut themselves off from people who would just repeatedly harm one, right? But when and how much pain does a person have to cause to justify it?

The author urges a lot of self-reflection and self-awareness, including paying attention to self-defensiveness.  I like the author’s point number five:

Don’t mix up acting ‘nice’ with being a genuinely good person. Kindness and treating people well are valuable, but politeness can be violent if it masks normalized oppression. Naming oppression, even when done gently, is not always perceived as being ‘nice’ because it pushes back at status quo ways of relating, seeing, and thinking.

When naming oppression happens as a response to naturalized violence, the anger you’re hearing is a response to actual violence that you may have enacted while thinking you were being ‘nice.’ So before you decide that you don’t have to listen because someone is breaking politeness protocols, consider whose interests those protocols protect. Don’t mix up your internal defensiveness, which can arise at having your real privilege pointed out, with the external message you are receiving. Is there trust being offered to you behind anger or critique – trust that you’re the kind of person who is open to growth and change? Notice that trust, and earn it.

There are times when we have to be angry. There are times when others need to be angry, and when anger is appropriate.

Genuine criticism is in some ways a risk-taking activity implying an amount of trust in the person receiving the criticism. But at the same time, is all criticism genuine? There are people socialized into trying always to be polite and nice, for whom criticism towards others is a difficult challenge but are there not others who turn everything they can against others, blaming others as a means of self-defense so they don’t have to question themselves? There are times when the criticism is  a reflection of the critic more than of the person being criticized. (Few people are without emotional baggage to cloud their judgement.) So when is it that we should accept criticism of ourselves? How can we be open to the criticism, yet at the same time not allow any random vicious person to hurt us?

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