Skew Toward the Story

I frequently worry that I am not providing myself with a sufficient diversity of inputs. Only consuming ideas and opinions that already align with your own leads to intellectual stagnation, bigotry, and arrogance, and since I so dearly love to be right and, on the whole, would like to be liked, I try to keep feeding myself writing and commentary from sources opposed to my own current positions.

Feminism, one of my primary areas of interest, tends to skew in a certain direction, as all movements do. For example, if you follow many feminists you will hear frequent discussion of “rape culture”, which you may not feel certain exists, even if you understand the term. Or, to cite the impetus for this particular post, you may hear many feminists and feminism-inclined women tell stories of the times they’ve experienced sexual harassment, sexist behavior from colleagues or supervisors, unwanted physical contact, sexual violence, or rape. You may start to wonder whether these stories actually represent the norm, suspecting that you may have skewed your input volume too far toward the voices of angry or activist women, who have now convinced you that women are more disenfranchised and oppressed than reality reflects.

I have certainly asked myself this question from time to time, just to keep myself honest, and I have tried to give due credence to the voices in my life suggesting that everything isn’t really so bad for women—that men are, on the whole, supportive and “nice”, and that while sexual harassment and sexual violence persist in our culture, they do not constitue the pervasive, systemic problem feminists would have us believe. These voices argue, somewhat persuasively, that people mostly act with kindness and in good faith, and that the many examples to the contrary represent only the most egregious acts of violence and bigotry.

But. These voices are making an argument—reasoning from a dearth of evidence in their own experience. On the other hand, the stories of women who have been hurt and abused are actual stories, not abstractions, and while they also represent a limited and skewed sample, I doubt not at all that the events described did actually take place. Let us leave aside for a moment the question of whether abused or disenfranchised women under-report their own negative experiences, thus resulting in the aforementioned dearth of evidence in the everyday lives of the majority. Instead, let us reduce the extent and ubiquity of sexual harassment and violence to something we can’t deny: many, many women, particularly at times when some nationally-noteworthy and horrendous act of violence has occurred as the result of ingrained misogyny, report feeling constantly fearful, objectified, harassed, and de-humanized because of their gender, and this is not to be borne. It is not to be borne, I say, even if it is only happening to one woman, and I have received direct evidence in only the past two days that it is happening to hundreds of women.

If my own Twitter feed can tell me that hundreds of women report these experiences, can we doubt that our society has a problem that we must correct? Are you, my reader, content to know that even the relatively few women within the reach of myself and the 205 people I follow on Twitter suffer from frequent harassment, abuse, and violence? Then how much more should you feel outraged to know that an even greater number—whatever number your process of extrapolation might suggest—also feel compelled to structure their lives around these threats of oppression?

Given the choice between listening to a persuasive voice contending that sexual harassment and sexual oppression cannot be as bad as all these feminists make it out to be, and believing the stories of hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of actual women, which will you choose? Personally, I find concrete stories much more compelling than argument, and I am willing to risk making a few good and caring men feel uncomfortable or affronted by suggesting that they and I participate in an institutionalized misogyny that keeps many women—even if only hundreds—fearful and at risk.

Even if it’s not All Women, it is more than I am willing to bear.

Inspired by the #YesAllWomen hashtag.