Let me tell you a story.
It starts like this. I was reading a blogpost, by a writer I have, up till now, had some admiration for, called Clarisse Thorn
Clarisse writes about Kink, feminism, gender and power. Right up my street in other words. This post was on a feminist blog but that didn’t put me off. It was called: ‘I know You’re Smarter Than Me: Clarisse Thorn’s Feminist Ideology’. It started with an anecdote that I am going to repost in full, because this anecdote is what the story is all about. Particularly, it focusses on the man who becomes known, during this story, as ‘Pool Hall Dude’, or PDH for short. Here’s the beginning of Clarisse’s post:
‘I haven’t been on a lot of capital-D Dates. My relationships tend to develop through friendships and mutual interests, mostly because I am a huge nerd. My first on-purpose Date took place when I was seventeen; it was with a local boy who I barely knew — most of our contact was through brief chats on AOL Instant Messenger. (Am I showing my age?) He’d heard a lot about me, I guess, and for some reason he was impressed by my reputation for being smart and weird. He took me to a pool hall and gave me adorable lessons on how to hold the cue, how to break, etc. I don’t remember much of what we talked about … except for one exchange that is burned into my brain forevermore.
Prostitution had entered the conversation, and he said something about how it’s immoral.
“Immoral?” I asked. “What makes you say that?” I had not yet researched sex work or evolved the complex opinions that I have about it today, but I still knew there was something extremely weird about dismissing prostitution as “immoral”. I’d felt fairly bored by the conversation thus far, and was genuinely curious about how this would go; I remember smiling and thinking, hey, this could be interesting.
He was across the table from me, leaning over his pool cue, lining up a shot. He glanced up — looking surprised, like it was totally weird that I was challenging such a fundamental thing as prostitution being immoral (gasp!) — and he gave me a heart-melting smile. “Oh,” he said casually, “I know you’re smarter than me, so let’s not get into it.”
I blinked. I shut up. I think I might even have smiled, out of confusion if nothing else. We chatted about whatever he brought up next. He took me home and dropped me off without a kiss; there was no chemistry (at least not on my end, I certainly can’t speak for him). No second date. But “I know you’re smarter than me, so let’s not get into it” … that line, and the friendly way he said it, stuck in my head. It was an amazingly complimentary, amazingly condescending, amazingly effective way of shutting me down’.
Now I don’t know how old Clarisse is, but I am guessing this date happened a long time ago. She was 17. Pool Hall Dude was around her age, I think. They had a bad first date. It didn’t lead to a second. We have all been there. But the date included ‘one exchange that is burned into my brain forevermore.’ And that is what this story is about really. I read Clarisse’s account of her date, all those years ago, and her subsequent reflections on her feminism, and how the experience of getting ‘shut down’ in conversations about gender has featured prominently in her continued feminist thinking and action. And all the time I kept asking myself ‘but what about Pool Hall Dude?’ ‘I wonder what happened to him’.
For someone Clarisse met only once, with no particular incident, Clarisse seemed to know PHD quite well. She went on to say:
‘PHD had no real interest in my intelligence at all. He knew I’m smart, he knew I had something to say about sexual politics — but all that was just an ornament to him. To him, my intelligence was more like a fetish than a personality characteristic he admired. America’s got plenty of anti-feminists who try to deny us the big stuff, but let’s not forget how those folks derive power from even the smallest ways girls are told to shut up and sit down:
“I know you’re smarter than me,” and maybe you just made a good point, but come on, let’s not worry about any of that challenging sex and gender stuff here on our date (since dates, of course, have nothing to do with sex and gender). Why don’t you take your smart but inconvenient girl brain and turn it off for me, could you, sweetheart?
Now maybe I’m taking PHD’s little jest “much too seriously”, or worse, “being bitchy”. I mean, I am a humorless feminist and all!
Well you said it love. But here she rather craftily imposes more words into PHD’s mouth than he actually said. She analyses his ‘you’re smarter than me’ and decides it means her intelligence meant nothing to him, except it may have been an ornament, or a fetish. She says he found her ‘smart’ ‘girl brain’ inconvenient. She says he was basically telling her to ‘shut up and sit down’ .
Clarisse was offended, all those years ago, that Pool Hall Dude didn’t defer to her greater intelligence:
‘If PHD knew I was so much smarter than him, then why didn’t he want to learn from me?’
And at the end of her article, when she has related this anecdote to her wider feminist beliefs, she leaves us with some advice:
‘…just remember my handsome Pool Hall Dude, leaning over a cue and smiling at me. And know that I wish I’d thrown my drink in his charming face. Now, I don’t advocate actually throwing drinks. I wouldn’t even necessarily advocate having an argument in the pool hall, depending on how safe and effective you feel discussing these issues in that context. But I do advocate, at the very least, keeping track of those moments and what they mean. Watch the cultural tapestry, think about how often feminist perspectives get turned aside or boiled down or stereotyped or silenced.
And speak up whenever you can.’
Well, it seems that Clarisse has had no problem speaking up here.
In the comments thread, I spoke up myself, on behalf of Pool Hall Dude. And I said:
‘ I didn’t read that comment from ‘Pool Hall Dude’ in the same way as you, Clarisse. Maybe he was condescending in other ways too, and you obviously didn’t click.But maybe he was genuinely intimidated by the fact you were obviously smarter than him and didn’t want to get into an argument he knew he would lose/and lose badly probably.I don’t know. I just think it sounds like you are assuming everyone would agree with your interpretation of that event. Sure, you were there and we weren’t. But so was Pool Hall Dude and we will never hear his side of the story, will we?And in away, that is my allegory for feminism. From a different perspective.’
And then all hell broke loose. You can read the comments thread here:
The discussion got heated and quickly descended into insults and chaos (a bit like a scrap in a pool hall). This was one of the more articulate comments, and typical of the general point of Clarisse’s post, I think:
Someone says, “This thing happened and it was sexist / racist / otherwise bigoted and it really bothered me and I learned X from it,” and the immediate reaction is, “But maybe you’re misinterpreting the situation.” And the commentariat proceeds to make up all kinds of different reasons why the person’s words shouldn’t be interpreted the way that the author — the only one of us who was there — heard them. And then the whole point of the piece gets missed, because we’re all focused on the fact that the poor nameless person who said whatever thing that lead the author to a much bigger and more important conclusion isn’t here to defend themselves.’
But that’s true. Pool Hall Dude is not there to defend himself. And neither are the ‘poor nameless’ people-men- in all the other anecdotes feminists tell to illustrate their point- on this thread and in many other feminist fora- that men are shits. And that women are the victims of men’s ‘micro-aggression’ -closing down conversations and ignoring their knowledge and interest in gender issues.
This commenter is making it so that anyone who challenges the conclusions of Clarisse Thorn, in this case, about Pool Hall Dude, and what his throwaway remark, all those years ago, meant and still means for her feminism, and feminism as a whole, is ‘derailing’ the discussion. Just as Pool Hall Dude was said to have done, in that pool hall, on a first date with Clarisse, all those years ago.
Meanwhile, whilst I was being trashed on that thread, and people were clammering for a ‘trigger warning’ to go on the post (as I was ‘triggering’ women’s trauma as a result of being raped and assaulted), and for the ‘ban hammer’ to come out and get rid of me, I was contributing to a discussion about Misandry on Mark Simpson’s blog. In his piece, he had referenced an occasion not so long ago, when I was similarly accused of ‘derailing’ a discussion that was slagging off men, and for ‘shutting down debate’. BUT I WASN’T. I was having the debate. And I was similarly shut down, myself in that situation, and banned from commenting on the blog.
But nobody can shut me down on my own blog, yet. So I will make the point I wanted to make all along.
Feminism and feminist discourse is dependent on the assumption that on the whole, left to their own devices, men are bad. And examples of men being bad are used, like Pool Hall Dude, to illustrate and prove this assumption to be true, where we can’t get their side of the story. They can’t answer back. They are just generic ‘man’. And we all know what he is like, don’t we?
The irony of this ridiculous chain of events, in which one man left the feminist blog he had been an active participant on, as a result of our conflict, (and maybe he will ‘leave’ feminism now, too), is that though men are being presented as the enemy here, I, as a woman, am the main person getting the blame. Because I have the audacity to support these low-lives!
On that feminist blog I got accused of being a ‘troll’, an ‘asshole’ an ‘idiot’ a ‘denier’ of ‘reality’ a contributor to ‘rape culture’ a ‘sad’ individual, and the soon-to-be owner of an honorary cock. Basically I was being called a ‘man’. And we know what they are like don’t we?
This is how misandry works. Men’s perspectives and experiences, in relation to women, are not allowed to be heard, and anyone who suggests this is shown up to be either a typical man, or just as bad as those horrible creatures, men.
So here I am. Not any kind of woman or any kind of man either. I expect that makes people feel a bit uncomfortable. But it’s not my doing. I am not allowed to be a woman in this world, with my views, with my care for my brothers. I’m just a fucked up chick who should have a dick. But I can’t even manage that can I? I know I’m a problem. But I don’t revel in that. Because it shows how fucked up everyone is. Especially when it comes to gender. Maybe I am Pool Hall Dude? I certainly would like to hear his story.