You belong to society

I’ve been unable to continue ignoring a notion that most people I see in online debates about gender1 carry, which is that those in these debates do not think they impact society, and subsequently have no individual responsibility towards it. It is simply a soup of which they are a part, where they are a stone — immutable to the broth around them, of no consequence to the overall flavor.

Let’s talk about emergence, here from the Complex Systems perspective, as the interaction between the parts and the whole. “Can’t see the forest for the trees,” as not being able to see the big picture because one is so focused on the next-scale-down of units (trees), despite these composing the next-larger-up scale (forest). Each has different behaviors, which slightly or drastically effects the other. Or, “the devil is in the details,” in which the opposite happens, the smaller-scale being skipped over while the next-larger-scale is focused on. You’ll note that these things matter to each other. They influence each other. In many circumstances, these two scales are caught up in creating each other in at least some small way2. To claim that one is more important than the other glazes over this connection. Plus, the math doesn’t work out right.

Let’s talk about values. I would like a just and equal world. I bet most of the people I talk to would also like some version of this. Some folk hold other amazing core values such as inclusion or empowerment. Here’s the thing to understand: anyone you interact with3 will be holding something like this inside of them. Maybe not so explicitly, maybe not as an active part of their interactions, but it is there.

Let’s talk about fault. The people that got us to where we are now were doing the best they could under the circumstances. Maybe some were malicious, but generally. they were just surviving. People in power tend to want to continue doing well. People who are out of power generally make do, though they’re likelier to have a generally more shitty time. Inequality makes both sets unhappy. It’s not the fault of the people in power that the structures which allow them to be in power exist; it’s not the fault of those out of power that they were born into a setting that keeps them out of power.

Let’s talk about responsibility. While no one currently alive is to blame for history, we are currently building the next generation’s history. Hell, we’re building our own. And we have a responsibility to act in a way which upholds our values, rather than shirks responsibility as bizarrely tied to fault. I don’t want to take the responsibility to respond kindly to this person because their upset is not my individual fault. I don’t want to help clean up after dinner because not all the plates are my fault. I don’t want to take responsibility for mending the rifts in society because they’re not my fault4.

In each of these, it is not just what you are asking for yourself, but what you are changing in the people around you. When a child is being surly, and a parent reacts badly because a nerve got struck5, the wrong lesson is being imparted. It’s not about the parent’s feelings in that moment. It’s about how the child learns how to react to someone expressing their feelings in a not-yet-eloquent way6.

Sometimes taking on this responsibility to society means shutting up, even when you’re right. Sometimes taking on this responsibility means speaking up, even when your voice trembles. Sometimes this means cleaning the common area, even though you haven’t even been around for the past week. It means having differences and resolving them in a way that makes sense for future generations to also resolve them, even if you’re not happy with the results.

When anyone says “my individual experience matters more in this moment than how we as a society deal with moments like these” I see them as throwing a tiny tantrum rather than building a better world. It’s not their fault. Why should they have to do anything to fix it? This is why I continue to think Laurie’s piece is so great and I get filled with rage and bile at StarSlateCodex. This is why I find GamerGaters outright laughable7. This is why I find some of my geek feminism friends so aggravating at points7. In all of this, I see why they’re saying what they’re saying. Of course those feelings are valid. But that’s not the whole point, is it?

Get our shit together. Focus on where we want to be, and manifest that in each interaction we have. This is what I assume most people are doing, and why I’m now so comfortable saying “I don’t like how we’re doing this, can we try another way?”

I don’t like how we’re doing this. Let’s find another way.


1. And race, now, too!
2. Exceptions of pragmatic lock-and-key example, and the theoretical molecule representation of same self model.
3. With incredibly rare exception, not based on if you get along with them or not.
4. Are you fucking kidding me, this is how we get ants.
5. children can be astute little fuckers
6. I am in no way claiming to be amazing at this, merely that I am aware of, and subsequently actively working on, it.
7. “You need to listen to me!” they say, while not listening.

24 thoughts on “You belong to society

  1. *Dons Angry Feminist Hat*

    “Much as the feminist strategy of…” negates most of the history of feminism.
    Sit down. Listen. We’ve been listening. We’ll continue to do so after others do the same.
    All pain is absolutely a part of the conversation. Human sexual needs have been vocalized for LONG ASS TIME by men. Men’s emotional needs haven’t been. Women’s needs all over the place haven’t been. You continue to cry here: “why aren’t we being listened to!?” It’s not being reciprocated is the problem.

    As in, “you first,” but not really. More of “we have been listening, why won’t you listen to us?”

    *Takes off Angry Feminist Hat*
    You are still doing the thing I’m asking people stop doing. The thing I just played into above. Do you see how it traps you in a cycle?

    • Here’s one question we might try to answer: are past methods sound? Are they the most useful ones going forward? If the answer to either of these questions is no, as your post leads me to believe, how can we possibly evaluate them without naming them and pointing out their flaws?

      But it sounds like even naming/characterizing the methods is going to cause some anger, and if so, it seems that the answer here is that *all* such retrospection over this discussion is going to harm more than it helps.

      • There’s little use in analyzing methods which don’t work as what they are, except to consider factors. Better to assess the components in play, possible interactions, remap.

        To me, each individual has an equal right to dignity, access, etc. Now, what are the things in play that increase that or don’t? Remove the ones that inhibit, enhance the ones which increase. This style of debate decreases equal access. Let’s stop doing it.

        Feminism was about pointing out that a previous system wasn’t working for everyone. It’s our responsibility to create an equal and just world, so we have to take that critique and make a new model. The old system also clearly wasn’t working for men as well. Yay! We can all work together!

  2. Willow, responsibility — it’s a big space, not a little one.

    I don’t understand, from your article here, how you get from A to B, where “A” is appeal to responsibility, to working towards how we want everything to work, and not arguing about where fault is, and then “B” is: (paraphrasing:) and so therefor I think Laurie’s piece is great, and don’t like StarSlateCodex’s.

    Willow, what about your conference idea? That sounded much more responsible to me.

    The responsibility piece is good. Essential, even.

    I think the most important thing right now, the most responsible thing right now, is to ** hold on to the social relationships, ** and don’t let them burn up in distrust.

    I have made a serious choice to trust you. You did not ask for it, but here it is. I trust that you will listen to me and hear my concerns and consider my (very different, and even complex!) thoughts. Maybe my trust is misplaced.

    I am here in the name of equality and love and sex and responsibility between the sexes. I trust that you are, as well.

    I think that this kind of declaration is the kind of responsible action that we need.

    It doesn’t have to be today. It is not rushed. If you are crazy spitting mad at me and other men like me, and choose not to trust and interact and embrace, I will be here tomorrow. (Unless you tell me to shoo away, of course.)

    • Dearest of hearts, I am glad to be hearing from you again.

      Blame has nothing to do with any of this. It is in this culture that we think responsibility falls on the shoulders of those at fault. This is flawed. A is that we all have a responsibility, and B is that we need to examine other ways of getting there. Laurie is an example of showing empathy but still calling out issues, SSC is an example of being divisive and vitriolic. I’d be interested to hear what you *think* Laurie is trying to say, and what you *think* SSC is trying to say. Not in a “this is what I hear when you say…” way (“it hurts me when you say things because I have a history”), but in a “I want to best understand what you’re getting at” way.

      I am not spitting mad at you. I’m not spitting mad at “other men” like you. That you think this is indicative of some combination of how I’m speaking and how you’re reading. I don’t know how to say things more plainly: these are issues for everyone. This pocket of discontent is intensely small in the scale of even human things – those I spend time with in climate change, disaster response, human rights, etc circles all calmly agree that gender disparity is a pressing issue interlinked with nearly all other issues – poverty, population, dignity, food, water. Especially my peace building circles wonder why I spend so much time on something that is so well understood everywhere else. But we all understand the intensity of an individual’s experience. It’s wonderful you’ve found other people who experienced similar discomforts growing up. You can support each other in solidarity. What I do not like is that, in doing this, this group of people seems to think the rest of the world owes them something.
      What I am, is continually baffled at the one-upmanship of pain, which nearly entirely comes from self-proclaimed male nerds who have had a rough time growing up. This is what Laurie gets at – women also go through that, but if, let alone when, they come out the other side, they’re still put down in society. Male nerds are some of the highest paid people around now, while women still make.. is it 70 cents to the dollar? And that’s in the US! We’re all still left in the cold emotionally. Violence against men goes down drastically overall, while women have to worry about being attacked and raped by partners thoughout life. IE, why do we get in these cycles of one-upmanship? 1) it doesn’t matter — these things are untenable for EVERYONE and 2) women, as a group, would “win” any such “contest”. Me even saying that is likely to become the focus of this entire conversation, which sucks because GOTO 1. I call it out here to show the cycles we get trapped in.

      Unlike Laurie, who is looking at the societal-level issues through the lens of an individual, StarSlateCodex still thinks women are to blame for his pain and are therefore responsible for “fixing” it. It is all-or-nothing on his terms, at least how he speaks them. Women must accept fault and then “fix” what is going on. What I have conversed with Laurie and others about is a need for everyone to step up. It’s not about blame. It’s about a better world.

      On a side note, doing things like saying “I’ve made a choice to trust you” etc can be seen as manipulative wording. “I have given you this gift, but I’m not sure you should have it. Please prove yourself to me.” I of course know you fairly well (or I have in the past), and I doubt this is your intent, but it will be off-putting to others.
      Another side note in a similar vein is that your “I will be here tomorrow unless you tell me to shoo away” is wonderful and well-said. Thank you for that, as it shows commitment without force. While some would say “here’s a cookie for not being an awful human,” I know that learning that phrase and its context was a step you have decided to take.

      I think the most important thing right now, the most responsible thing right now, is to ** hold on to the social relationships, ** and don’t let them burn up in distrust.

      Say more about this. I don’t fully understand. Do you mean people need to keep talking to each other? If yes, absolutely. The implied assumption in that, which needs to be made explicit, is that of listening. Re-state what people have said in a way that indicates what it is you think they’re getting at, and then show how it affects your point of view. Remember those H+ discussion groups, and how sometimes people would come to present their talking points, and other times people would actually, you know, discuss? I’m glad we’re doing the latter here.

      • Willow, I don’t really know your situation, but it looks to me like you chose in the last year or two to engage in some kind of transformative work group process. I imagine that you are meeting with people, talking about Responsibility, talking about victim-persecutor-rescuer cycles, and about blame vs. making a meaningful difference. Amongst other things.

        It looks to me like you are wanting to share these powerful ideas with other people, and that you want to bring the application of these ideas to broader social discourse, with the hope that with the leverage gained from these ideas, that a broad cultural transformation in the realm of male-female interactions can be reached.

        I also see that you have a lot of victim-persecutor emotional structures at work within yourself. When you said “Male nerds are some of the highest paid people around now, while women still make… is it 70 cents to the dollar? And that’s in the US! We’re all still left in the cold emotionally. Violence against men goes down drastically overall, while women have to worry about being attacked and raped by partners thoughout life.” — I don’t think that this was just you writing for demonstration purposes. Rather, I think you were speaking from your heart. I think you caught yourself, and then brought it out, because the cycles are relevant to your sharing about responsibility. I appreciate the use of “we” in a later line: “I call it out here to show the cycles **we** get trapped in.” I am measuring: How much do you believe that this is “we,” and how much do you believe that this is “you,” and when do you believe that this is “I.” The text reads “we,” I think you mean “you,” and I believe in despair you think “I.”

        I want you to own your (and feminism’s) victim mentality, and not think it’s something mainly men are having a problem with, and that men mainly need to answer to. (If there are any doubts about feminism, read this article: — which practically defines feminism as the belief that women are more disadvantaged by gender inequality than men are.)

        Listen, I was REALLY PISSED when I read all this comment-177 bullshit. (Or whatever it was.) I was also devestated. I met with two friends Sunday morning and shouted at length and then cried a ton of tears. I’m not going into it, because it won’t serve this conversation. I received insights about where we are as a culture, and a change in direction. (Short version: “We’re not at a place where society can see men’s suffering nor the lines of causality involved. It’s 1850, not 1950.”) The change in direction is why I bring this up:

        Willow, I don’t think we can really talk about this here. Not like we’ve set this up for, with our prior two comments. This is a change from my last comment. I said that I trust you, and I do. But I don’t think our talking here online is going to work, for too many reasons, including the raw time consumption of typing keys and editing comments.

        I have not heard you say that you trust me. I want to know: Do you trust me to a degree where we can collaborate? The point about “manipulation” is irrelevant to me: What I care about is whether you and I are part of a karass or not, and what that looks like.

        I am very angry with you, for the things you have said here in these threads, and I am very angry with you, regarding myriad things about how Jigsaw Renaissance went down. I’m not saying this to hold out that you owe me something in compensation, but because you have to know how I feel.

        • I’ll say what I said on twitter:

          But, for the sake of it, walk through how paying equal (or more!) attention to men’s suffering will bring more equality for everyone. Feminism (at least some of its myriad versions) has answered how equality (yes, primarily through focus on the empowerment of women) is likely to alleviate issues of poverty, population, sexual freedom, etc.

          Or, I can agree that this is not the best environment for this conversation.

          Trust: I’m still having this conversation.

        • I do not want either men or women to say that their experience and pain are most valid. AND: We also have to mine our experiences and pains, in order to uncover the trigger-lines and trip-wires, without setting off the bombs as we do so.

          I have lots of desire to spend 12 hours writing here and with you, about a lot of things. We don’t have that kind of time though.

          If you trust me sufficiently not just to respond when I write here, but to collaborate deeply, then I would like to collaborate with you for 2 1/2 – 3 hours towards the purposes of equality, sexual love, healing, understanding between the sexes, and any other objectives, the next time you are in Seattle.

          As for “I think the most important thing right now, the most responsible thing right now, is to hold on to the social relationships, and don’t let them burn up in distrust.”

          I don’t mean to say anything about listening. Listening problems are easily resolved with completion loops, as you described. (“I don’t think you heard what I said. Would you repeat back to me what you are hearing when I say this one sentence…”)

          What I am talking about is the trust between the people and the preservation of the relationship. This is deeper than “talking to each other.” People can talk with one another, get pissed and angry, and then either run or fade away. But if two people trust one another and take care of the relationship, then that won’t happen.

        • I’m willing to consider it. I’m uncertain when I’ll next be in Seattle, nor for how long, and many people there trump a conversation like this. Additionally, the last times we’ve spoken about this (including this time), neither of us has budged in how we view things. I don’t think I’d be coming to the table willing to shift to where I see you standing, and so I’m uncertain if it’s a good use of time. But, again, willing to consider.

  3. I don’t want you to shift to where you see me standing; Because I’m pretty sure that (A) that’s a terrible place to be, and (B) I’m not actually standing there. Even just looking at our interactions as being about positions, may doom us to failure. I don’t have a better plan, at the moment. But only: at the moment. So I share your question, “Can we find a better way?”

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