Friday, July 06, 2007

It's Reader Participation Day: Part II - Blog Title

Yesterday, I asked you what kinds of things you'd be interested in reading. Given that I gave you all of a day, I think I got some good responses. So, as promised, I now tackle your topics. Part I was about feminism and film, which you can see right below this post. Part II is about the title of the blog: cme asked me to blog about the title of my blog, and what the phrase "You don't get a cookie or a tourguide" means to me.

I came up with the title of this blog because I firmly believe that I don't deserve some kind of special prize or gold star (or cookie) just for being a minimally decent human being. I'm generally opposed to the idea that we should be bribing people to be decent human beings. When someone goes above and beyond what we should reasonably expect, we should absolutely give that person the gold stars sie deserves. But, it makes me very uncomfortable when I see men get special praise just for holding feminist opinions- as though thinking that women shouldn't be treated like shit because of their sex is or ought to be remarkable. In some sense, I suppose that it is remarkable... but it shouldn't be. Anyway, the point is that I don't expect or want extraordinary rewards for holding views that make me a minimally decent human being.

I hadn't heard that tourguide part before cme mentioned it, though. Is this a common expression? I must confess that I have slightly more ambivalent feelings about that part. I absolutely agree that women have no responsibility to give men a map to what is or is not acceptable behavior. It's not, as the saying goes, the responsibility of the oppressed to point out the oppression to the oppressors. Or something like that.

On the other hand, I do recognize the importance of having someone who can help you see through the bullshit and figure things out. I don't expect someone to hold my hand the entire way, but having a mentor or a guide can be a tremendous help in realizing how wrong some things are. I look back at my own experiences, and I'm not sure I can count the number of times that women have explained or pointed out a situation in such a way that I was able to make the connection, where I might not have otherwise.

So, I guess what I'm saying about that is that I think it's my responsibility to seek out and try to learn what I can, and to ask questions about the things I can't figure out, and to seek out the people who can help me learn about things that I don't understand. It's also my responsibility to respect that no woman is obligated to help me. I think that there are things I'm not necessarily going to be able to figure out on my own, but it's my job to find people who can help me, it's not someone else's responsibility to hand me things on a silver platter. I am helped by women who are generous and take time to explain things to me when I don't get them, but I don't have a right to that- it's a favor they're doing for me.

Does that make sense?

I think that this is a great topic, and there are some sticky aspects to it: I know that I've felt, at times, like I was getting more praise than I deserved for things that I've said because I was a man. I also know that there are some people who feel like it's important to praise or reward men who "get it" so as to encourage them or make them feel appreciated. I'm not so sure that this is the best tactic, but I understand where it comes from. There's a lot to talk about, though, and I think I'd like to hear what some other people are thinking about this.

Also: if you've got more ideas, feel free to throw them here- I'm going to try to reserve Friday to answer reader questions or to blog about suggested topics. Friday can be Reader Participation Day. Huzzah!


Nique said...

It's true I'm impressed when men act marginally decent but I'm also impressed when women do. Fact is, most people, male and female are assholes.

You HAVE impressed me with some of your comments and opinions and I have praised you sometimes with replies to your blogging and sometimes just in my head. You're right that people shouldn't expect praise just for being decent and having egalitarian beliefs but dude, it's soooo rare to encounter those attitudes that yeah, I get the warm and fuzzies when I see it.

So I WILL praise you for being a feminist because even though it shouldn't be unusual it IS unusual and I need to know that you exist.

I deal with so much bullshit every day, sometimes outright discrimination, sometimes harrassment, sometimes just ignorant sexist comments that make my blood boil. I get so tired of it and sometimes I want to give up on humanity in general and just live in a hut all alone. And then I read blogs like this and realize I'm not alone. So thanks. Have a cookie.

Donna Darko said...

no. cookies. for. you.

cme said...

You're fast! So fast that I won't be able to respond- I'm about to leave for the weekend. So this is just to let you know I'll say something real later on. :)

Kristen said...

I second what nique said. I [try to] believe that all people are kind and empathetic, but in's very rare for someone to look beyond their own experiences to understand how their actions (and social interactions more generally) impact others.

So when I see empathy...I give bread...because I like baking bread more than baking cookies. :)

corey said...

Thank you, thank you cara, thank you ladies of feministing. I work as the ed person for a sexual assault/dv center and today was the kind of day that can really take the wind out a "mirthless, oprah-watching" feminist's sails. that type of criticisms's sadly par for the course but today it came from a pretty articulate woman i though was really progressive and cool. blagh. anyhoo, thanks for reminding me i'm not the only one pissing in the forest fire of woman-hate.

cme said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cme said...

Okay, so that was longest "weekend" on record. Too bad I wasn't really away all that time. Also, sorry about the post and deletion- the internet hates me today, and I wasn't done writing.


I wish I could remember where I heard the "tourguide" part of what I asked you about- it was *probably* when Spinning Liz (formerly Vibrating Liz) did her Black Media Appreciation month, where she read/consumed only things written by people of color for the month of February. I followed along in her reading of several prominent blogs by people of color (among them blac (k) ademic, AngryBlackBitch, and Pam's House Blend). As Liz's former blog is gone now it's hard for me to check, but I suspect I ran across the tourguide thing there.

The idea certainly begins with the acknowledgment that a white person or a man is not entitled to be led through the discourse by the hand. A refinement on it, though, is that the white person or man is not entitled to comfort during the learning process- asking questions is always encouraged, but some of the answers may be difficult or unpleasant, and the person asking has to deal with that themselves.

And there are several sides to that; one is that asking the question doesn't entitle you to pre-digested information in easy serving microwave packages- you're still required to put effort toward it yourself. Another side is that asking doesn't entitle you to a free pass through the thicket or a "Get out of jail free" card for any gaffes you make, a la "oh, it's okay, he's really trying!'. And another is that your emotional equilibrium is your responsibility- some of the answers you get may make you unhappy or uncomfortable, and that's as it should be- it's no one's job to make this easy and gentle for you and to make sure you aren't disturbed.

I guess what it really comes down to is that asking questions is great, as long as the person asking is willing to do their part as a student and really put in the effort and mindfulness on their part. Tourists have tourguides who present cool things to them in easily-accessible ways, students have teachers who give them help and direction when they're trying to learn new and difficult things. Actually, maybe a better model is grad student and adviser.

It seems to me that you have already basically nailed this stuff, but I did want to explain what I had meant by the phrase. :)

I totally agree with your reservations about praising people who "get it", too- my first exposure to that was a discussion of all of the public social rewards heaped on men who visibly parent children (like taking them to the park or something). The point was that it reinforces the exceptionality of the behavior as much as or more than the desirability. This is a point I've really taken to heart, so I'm really careful how I deal with people who exhibit behavior that's good and exceptional but shouldn't be. I usually try to make it clear in a subtle and understated way that I think they are good people, rather than attempting to "reward" specific behaviors.