If you’ve been following social justice looney tunes over the last few weeks, you may have heard of an Oscar campaign to promote diversity in lieu of a perceived lack of non-white nominations this year and the Kristen Stewart quote that spread around the Internet like wild fire in its wake. A piece at The Federalist explains how the actual conversation was about women in movies and perceived sexism in the industry, yet a series of gossipy articles and social media uproars misinterpreted it as being about the Oscar campaign on race.
In the actual video clip featured in a Variety interview, Kristen encourages women to work hard and do things, and talks about the positive example set by her mother. It could be said that Stewart’s views are a nice counterpoint to all the vapid articles about women shutting down sexism and a reinforcement that much of the mythical wage gap is nothing more fiction created for political purpose. I could easily write an article quoting Stewart’s actual words and connect them to the message many men’s rights activists have been trying to send about fairness in the work place and how it actually plays out.
But I won’t. In fact, I refuse to quote Kristen Stewart at all. If you want to see exactly what she said and how it was likely misconstrued, you can always click the link above.
The reason I won’t do it is because I see a much worse problem at work in all of this: gossip.
If there is a toxic masculinity that encourages men to be violent and controlling and thus feeds into a rape culture, then there is also a toxic femininity that encourages cattiness, gossip and judgmental back-stabbing that feeds into a payback culture. The payback culture would be those very nasty and public scandals like crazy feminist Laughing Witch trying to get popular anti-feminist YouTuber thunderf00t fired from his job on false premises, the one that got Nobel Prize recipient Tim Hunt ousted from his position for a gender-related joke in a speech, or the dozens of other examples throughout the last few years of the social media mob going on the hunt for blood against people they’ve never met and most likely don’t know very well. The internal morality of those lynched by the gossip mob in payback culture is assumed based on a flimsy amount of words and sentences, and then tied to the unfortunate victim as a badge of shame.
And if we were to cast our minds upon the images of memory and recall where we predominantly see this behavior, would it not be in women? What gender do you see in your mind when you picture someone whispering about the neighbors? That group that gathers around in a circle at the well talking about who did and said what, do they have penises or vaginas? Do you expect the writer of a Buzzfeed article like “You Won’t Believe How Minky Muthpuffer Unleashes Holy Hell on Sexist Commenter” to have a female or male name?
If we were to use the rhetorical leaps commonly fashioned to berate, judge and belittle men, then it is a very small leap to tie vengeful gossip to women and by extension to feminine traits and a certain concept of toxic femininity. However, as I’m sure no man likes to be thought of a the unconscious inheritor of a toxic masculine traits, I don’t think it’s reasonable to turn the weapon against those who use it and say that gossip is brought on by toxic femininity.
To me, it’s not a question of toxic femininity and toxic masculinity, but a question of the negative human traits that anyone can fall prey to. It’s easy to see that perhaps a certain gender has been historically encouraged to indulge in such traits, such as house-bound wives who gossip about their communities or men thrust into violent and aggressive roles such as a soldier, hunter or policeman. But it’s also easy for the clear mind to see that individuals make their own decisions and form their own identities from a complex matrix of variables and it leads down an ugly road to assume character traits for any one person based on an ideology.
Do I think it likely that the gossip rag has gained prominence as time goes on in part because of a rising consumer culture fed by women’s interests? Yes. Do I think that’s intrinsically female and by extension the fault of women as group on a whole? No. It’s the same force that inspires men to bulk up in the gym, but at the same time can also make them almost dangerously obsessed with gaining muscle. Men as a whole aren’t responsible for anything. It’s just a problem that rises around a culture that tends to skew to one side of the gender line. Falling prey to it, solving it, recognizing it: all of this has more to do with the individual and their circumstances than a collective failing of men. So too with gossip and women.
I’m so sick of the gossip machine, of who said what and why it matters in the “cultural conversation.” I’m sick of this beings newsworthy when it really, really isn’t. I’m sick of the attitudes that give rise to putting so much importance on tiny sound bites that are not likely to be representative of a whole, even when it works in favor of men’s rights activism.
Yes, in this era of news as think piece gossip, every little bit that makes people rethink the poisonous assumptions that feminism has leaked into every issue facing men can help, but a great deal of men’s right activists stick to facts and hard evidence to support their positions. Must we join in and become part of the gossip machine of payback culture in order to win minds and change the institutions that are ruining so many men and boy’s lives? Or is there not a higher road we can take, where we stick to those who are directly related and/or include the entire narrative context of a speech or conversation that directly relates to men’s issues as we attack the message and not necessarily the messenger?
If Kristen Stewart was speaking as the head for a national task force on the wage gap, then we could handle her points one by one in a fair discussion. I hardly think, however, she’s interested in being a spokesperson and having her every word analyzed to high heaven when she’s just doing interviews as part of her job to promote her work. I hate to think that the road to victory for men’s issues will be by taking a feminist tactic out of their rule book and using sound bites of public media figures to shame our opponents into submission.
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