He Says, We Say: The Moves that Matter in Blogosphere Discussion

9 Jul

There’s been some recent discussion about male violence and the feminist response from Mike Meginnis, based in part on a discussion from Feministe that addressed the prevalence of male violence and how this is rarely discussed.  Today, Jamelle asks people to weigh in, so I figured I’d toss in a few thoughts instead of breaking up discussion between the comments section of two different blogs.

What’s interesting about this exchange is what it suggests about the limits (or starting points) of some forms of online discussion and within some online communities.

The biggest problem seems to be the way Mike framed his comments, as a quick reread of the comments section reveals commenter Anna brought up essentially the same observation a few comments before Mike:

Is it derailing too far to bring up how rarely we do talk about men as the victims of violent crime as well?

Because, as you say, there is no gender applied to “shooting victim” but there will be to “female shooting victim”.

We don’t talk a lot about violence this way so people arguing with me about feminism will often bring up “men are the victims of violent crime more than women!” without responding to the point of “and that violence is caused by other men”.

Leaving aside the last part (which is a bit awkwardly formed, but you get the gist) this is what Mike seemed to be addressing, except that he began his comment thusly:

Ashley, I agree with much of what this post is trying to do, but it also deeply frustrates me. You’ve noted correctly – and this is something I try to push myself – that men commit the vast majority of violence. But what you haven’t noted, whether because it would complicate your argument, you feel it’s irrelevant, or you simply don’t know (but I assume you do know), men commit the vast majority of violence *against other men,* even if we discount violence in war zones, which intellectual honesty would suggest that we shouldn’t.

Mike’s comment was directed directly at Ashley and began with a note contention (“it deeply frustrates me”).  From there the responses (while measured and civil) were easy to predict: some defensiveness and rhetorical moves that were dismissive of Mike’s concerns on the grounds that he was speaking from a position of privilege and taking a position that asked “what about teh MENZ?” This is a rhetorical move that you see in a lot of online discussions (and a not altogether illegitimate one either). There are lots of discussions where people in a community or with a certain familiarity with a topic will cut off further discussion along those lines because it’s a flawed or downright spurious argument they’ve dealt with before-it’s a kind of rhetorical efficiency (e.g. For many feminist discussions how often have you heard: “But why can’t we be humanists?”; for race, “Why can’t we just be colorblind?”).  But it also has its drawbacks, in the same way teaching people cognitive biases can lead people to easily dismiss the content of an argument once any sort of bias is identified.  Mike’s point-that the dominate conception of masculinity and the violence it promotes-is most often directed against men themselves isn’t really much of an issue, nor does anyone at Feministe really take issue with it.  Instead, the problem becomes the way Mike addresses the topic.  I think most of the disagreement could have be waived away by responding with something like “Fair enough, but in this discussion we’re going to focus on women as objects of violence (because that’s what we’re most interested in/that’s the implied focus of many of these posts/that’s just what we feel like right now).”

For my part, although I understand that a lot of these rhetorical moves are often are useful, from a stylistic (as well as argumentative) perspective, I’d like to see less of them.  Yes, some unremarkable conservative probably said something wrongheaded or guffaw inducing, but does every response have to be “WTFBBQ!1!11!!!!11!”?  Yes, yes, we get it; you’ve saucily mimicked someone’s digital overreaction or outrage-wonderful.  What’s that?  You have your own prepared word or phrase to describe a certain position or person that ends with (TM)?  What a clever skewering of well-rehearsed debates and a trenchant critique of consumer culture and corporatism run amok!  At least read someone like Belle Waring who does this better than most and still manages to wrestle with content of the argument to get a sense of best practices.


One Response to “He Says, We Say: The Moves that Matter in Blogosphere Discussion”

  1. Bimbmumekic August 2, 2008 at 10:15 pm #

    Thank you

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