Male Sneers

I think I see where Freddie’s coming from here. But man, I just wouldn’t put it this way.

Freddie is annoyed by how often white guys attack other white guys for being white guys, especially when they do this in a glib way on Twitter. I agree, that’s pretty annoying, along with almost everything that happens on Twitter. But what’s the lesson to draw?

Freddie calls this kind of thing “political appropriation.” I’m not sure the word “appropriation” ever helped a political argument, and so it is here. Freddie:

White people, critiques of whiteness are not for you. Men, critiques of maleness are not for you. White men, critiques of white men are not for you.

Strong words, my friend. But if these critiques are meaningful, aren’t they for, well, everyone? If not, how potent can they be?

OK, OK, I know. Nuance. Freddie tries to make a distinction between critiquing whiteness and fighting racism. Between critiquing maleness and supporting feminism. I’m not sure I buy it. Doesn’t identity matter just as much for a pro-feminism position as it does for an anti-male-privilege position? How can a white person fight racism without taking some kind of stand on white power?

If anything, I’d say it’s more helpful for white men to aim their rhetorical guns at monoliths like Whiteness and Maleness–rather than, say, trying to achieve some kind of solidarity with women or minorities. How are we going to talk about sexism in video games, or gender and superheroes, or Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, without offering a critique of masculinity, even if that critique is only implied? Just by saying, “Wow, women have it tough”? That seems patronizing at best.

I think what Freddie is getting at goes something like this.

There are two broad ways to attack privilege in print. One is to make a critique, a sustained study of entities like whiteness and maleness that tries to figure out how they work. The second is to make a gesture, such as a joke (“Oh my God, that is the whitest thing I’ve ever heard you say!”) or an ad hominem attack (“You’re just a white guy; you have no idea what you’re talking about.”)

I’d say it’s only the gestures that Freddie has a problem with.

Or maybe I’m putting words in his mouth. Certainly I find those kinds of gestures grating, especially when they pop up in the moil and hubbub of social media. But at least they serve a secondary purpose for women and minorities. They allow people to bond over shared grievances and blow off steam. In that sense, they serve not as universal arguments but as in-group emotional cues. “Ugh, white dudes!” “I know!”

What’s the best way for us white dudes to respond? Here’s where I think Freddie has a point. We should respond with graciousness. Shrug it off. Exercise good humor. Not everything has to be an argument.

Critiques are for everyone. They’re intellectual. They can be enriched by introspection and embellished by outside views. They tend to be a bit long for Twitter. And I would agree with Bruno Latour that our culture has overindulged a bit in critiquing.

But critiques do have their place. White guys can and should critique the nature of white-guyness. And we should critique the assumptions of macho jerks and white supremacists, too.

Gestures are different. They’re much more personal. A white guy laughing at a joke about male tears? Sure, why not. Self-deprecation’s OK by me.

But when white guys start dishing out snide ad hominem attacks on the whiteness and maleness of other white guys? What can you say?

Ugh! White dudes! I know.

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