Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–January 24, 2017
Women don’t need David Brooks to explain how politics and protests work
Women are used to men weighing in on issues pertaining to us. Nothing seems to be off limits for discussion. Nothing—not our rights, our bodies, our choices of clothing, how we talk, or even our thoughts. This is not new. In fact, we’ve come to expect it. It often feels like we can never have a conversation about our lived experience without some guy, who thinks he knows better than we do or thinks that he somehow has some magical insight into what its like to be a woman, talking over us.
And while experience shows that this is a tendency of men across racial and ethnic divides, it seems like a fair amount of white men have perfected talking over women as an art form.
So in the latest instance of white mansplaining, David Brooks has decided to tell us why the Women’s March won’t bring about change.
But first: this is an invitation to resist the urge to push back with “not all (white) men” defensiveness here. Clearly, not all men mansplain. Some men actually know how to listen to women. Some are deeply committed to women’s equality. But in a country and world steeped in patriarchy (case in point— the current POTUS or groper-in-chief was elected despite the fact that he has been routinely accused of sexual assault), it would be a miracle if you are a man and you did not receive some messages from society that told you that women aren’t equal to men. And the behavior of talking to women or over them to make your point in a condescending or patronizing way is an offshoot of these messages. So while not all men are mansplainers, it is true that all mansplaining does come from men. Therefore, if you are a man and you know you aren’t a mansplainer, now would be the time to have a serious chat with your brethren.
Now back to David, because as is usually the case with most mansplainers, he doesn’t actually know what the hell he’s talking about.
According to Brooks, while the marches were important for uplifting and empowering, they will do little for social change.
Sometimes social change happens through grass-roots movements — the civil rights movement. But most of the time change happens through political parties: The New Deal, the Great Society, the Reagan Revolution. Change happens when people run for office, amass coalitions of interest groups, engage in the messy practice of politics.
Change happens mostly through political parties and not movements? If grassroots organizing doesn’t push political parties into action, what does? Marriage equality happened because grassroots activists refused to wait for political parties to catch up and forced their hand. Grassroots activists on the ground in 2014 were the reason that the Justice Department investigated the Ferguson police, only to discover that policing and court practices had a severely disproportionate impact on blacks. It was by confronting Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders that the grassroots Black Lives Matter movement forced them to finally talk about racial justice and allowed us to begin to have some substantive conversations about systemic racism in national politics.
Frederick Douglass said that power concedes nothing without a demand. Political parties are unlikely to be compelled to work for change until groups of interested people coalesce and make them work for change by organizing, marching, getting signatures, registering voters, contacting local representatives. To refute Brooks’ point, the work being done at the grassroots level actually is the messy practice of politics. And it doesn’t exclude what people do at the voting booth or running for office or anything else.
Additionally, Brooks says identity politics are too small for this moment and part of the problem.
But now progressives seem intent on doubling down on exactly what has doomed them so often. Lilla pointed out that identity politics isolates progressives from the wider country: “The fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life.”
Funny how when women, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, and others who are not in the mainstream expand the conversation to include our issues, it gets labeled as “identity politics,” “divisive,” “indifferent to the issues of everyday Americans.” As if we are not everyday Americans and we don’t have the right to work for diversity in the hopes of creating a society that works for all of us. And as if rights are a zero-sum game where there are only enough for some and not everyone.
Now there is plenty of debate to be had about the march and its effectiveness. A gathering that organizes people under the wide umbrella of “women’s rights” can and often does have the tendency to ignore that certain women, based on their social identities, are more vulnerable than others. Many women, rightfully so, felt this march didn’t represent them or their needs. Some chose not to participate. Some chose to participate while knowing that the march would not meet their needs, but thought it was a good opportunity to unify around larger issues. Either way, this is not about the one day of marches so much as what they represent: the ongoing struggle to bring issues like equal pay, access to health care, reproductive rights, racial justice, equality for the LGBTQIA community, and immigrant justice to the forefront of our national discourse. Which is gravely important, now more than ever.
Lastly, Brooks offers this tone deaf food for thought.
The central challenge today is not how to celebrate difference. The central threat is not the patriarchy. The central challenge is to rebind a functioning polity and to modernize a binding American idea.
There goes the mansplaining once again, telling women that patriarchy is not the problem. In case it isn’t crystal clear, patriarchy is a huge problem. Patriarchy is the reason that there is a wage gap. Patriarchy is the reason this country has an unacknowledged problem with rape culture. Patriarchy and racism intersect. Patriarchy and acceptance of comments like this:
In an interview with New York Magazine (‘who keeps letting this guy speak to the press?’ asked precisely no one), Trump uttered this charming phrase about women: ‘You have to treat ’em like s—-‘.
“You know who’s one of the great beauties of the world, according to everybody? And I helped create her. Ivanka. My daughter, Ivanka. She’s 6 feet tall, she’s got the best body. She made a lot money as a model—a tremendous amount”
and of course this little gem right here:
“I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women]—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
are why Donald Trump was elected.
So if we are going to rebind a functioning polity and modernize a binding American idea (and its worth asking just whose idea gets considered anyway), we have to learn to multitask because we can’t do that without acknowledging patriarchy, diversity, and difference.
And we won’t be able to do it if men like Brooks don’t bother listening to women—and stop mansplaining.
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