On Rational-Critical Dudes
There’s a specific type of dude that really needs to shut up. As men go, he’s not the worst. No, really—the key to understanding this dude is to know that he cares about the issues. He would never call himself colorblind, and he recognizes that gender inequality is still a thing. He thinks feminism is probably good, and he definitely supports gay marriage. He’s on your side. He’s a liberal! He wants to have discourse!
This discourse is key. He’s just really, really concerned about looking at issues rationally and critically. He wants to study social inequality, to understand it objectively. After all, we need to fully understand both sides of all issues, and then we can all rationally partake in a critical dialogue. Critical dialogue is his buzzword, it’s his passion. He knows we have to solve these complex social issues. And—most importantly—he knows that we can best solve these issues by hearing him pontificate on them. After all, whose opinions could have more salience than a 20-year-old man’s?
Herein lies the issue. This dude won’t shut up. Ever. There are well-documented patterns of men feeling entitled to speak while women are silenced. Take Sheryl Sandberg’s recent article in The Times, for example. Sandberg’s article points out the insidious ways in which women are silenced in meetings and other discursive settings. Women are interrupted, ignored, or judged negatively when they speak, while men are praised for saying the exact same things. There’s also a very recent study on gendered student interpretations of college professors– students rank male professors as brilliant geniuses, while women professors are bossy bitches.
From birth, men are encouraged to speak, taken seriously when they do, and socialized to feel entitled to take up discursive space. This feedback loop creates a circle of positive reinforcement for the rational critical man—if people take him seriously, he must have valuable things to say, and his opinions must be important. This feedback loop is key: his entitlement is utterly invisible to him. He doesn’t realize the time and anxiety it often takes for women and minorities to speak out, to do things as simple as participate in class. He doesn’t realize that half the time these groups feel the need to apologize for talking, for even existing.
The rational-critical man knows what the concept of male privilege is, and he recognizes that it probably benefits him. However, he doesn’t want to think about this on a personal level. Privilege is fine to admit to when it’s a concept floating out there in the ether, but in terms of thinking of the most quotidian acts—talking in class, interrupting people, taking up space in conversations—the rational critical dude is reluctant to examine himself.
After all, the rational critical dude doesn’t want to make his politics personal. (If politics are personal, it prevents them from being rational and critical!) He’s the type of dude who thinks that in an ideal world—once we solve all these pesky social issues– we’d all be post identity. He’s already post identity. Clearly ‘identity’ isn’t something that informs and positions how we understand the world, it’s merely a barrier to being truly rational and critical. As a man, he thinks he doesn’t have an identity (and this enables him to be uniquely rational and critical).
The rational-critical dude reading this is going to be stuck in a confusing loop. After all, he cares about the issues I’m talking about. Gender inequality is important! But to take seriously this article, he’s going to have to take seriously the idea that sometimes his ideas are not the most important. And the rational-critical dude’s worst fear is no longer being taken seriously.
The rational-critical dude is also very likely to respond with a semi-belligerent ‘so what do you want me to do about it?’ to articles of this variety. So, some suggestions:
Think about the space you take up—not just physically, but discursively. (I promise you’ll find you’re taking up too much of it).
Think about whether or not you interrupt people when you speak.
Think about the gender dynamics of class participation, and notice that men speak more than women. Go to club meetings and notice who controls the debate.
Examine if you have constructed a false idea of “rationality” that assumes it is possible to look at anything objectively.
Examine if you think that you look at things objectively.
And, I’ve saved my most important piece of advice for the very end: shut the fuck up.