After All, It Was Just a Question

After All, It Was Just a Question

The following is an exercise in assuming the best intentions of people who ask things.

How did this all this end up happening?

To quote the only dynamic (and possibly most problematic) adult character on South Park, there are no stupid questions, just stupid people. I’m pretty sure I’m not stupid. Therefore, I planned to ask a question that’s been bothering me for a long time. I must say, it’s been burning and frothing and and itching away at its little corner of my brain like a psychosomatic yeast infection. I was careful to ask it of the relevant group because I’m ignorant and I both need and deserve to be educated. It’s not my fault that I don’t know, right? That’s just my perspective. There’s not, like, some kind of tool by which I can access more perspectives that could educate me than I could read in my entire lifetime, right?

No such internationally-available tool exists.

No such internationally-available tool exists.

All I planned to ask at this panel of women at this atheist conference was what women planned on doing about a very important issue for women. I really do want to help with whatever efforts they make to end this scourge upon women. Just so you know, I’m in solidarity with women, not a sexist. I mean, a true sexist wouldn’t ask women at all but would disregard their input and do whatever he wanted. An even worse true sexist would ignore the problem. Because I care about the problem and I’m going out of my way to ask women about it, I’m an ally. I have other allies who are just like me on my side.

I’m a man and yet I attended this panel comprised entirely of women where they’re talking about feminist issues. Yes, I heard the f-word, and I wasn’t even put off by it. Good for me. I couldn’t wait until the Q&A so I could pose my query. When I did, it went well. The person on the panel answered graciously. I knew I was doing the right thing by asking and I still don’t think I did anything wrong.

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It was what happened after that was the issue. Some mean lady decided that my question wasn’t okay. How dare she question my right to ask a question?! I mean, how else am I going to learn? Other people, potential allies just like me, excused themselves when she went on her rant, which proves my point: hurting my feelings as an ally is bad for your cause. Would you believe it, but a famous person, an ally like I am, was among those who left the room. Some other lady decided I was wrong, but the famous person who stormed out? He made sure that the world knows what happened: all I did was ask a simple question and I had the worst assumed of me by this lady.

She definitely should’ve reacted more reasonably. I’m not playing into sexist stereotypes for saying so, since all the other allies, not just the one who posted about it, are telling her to stop being so gosh-darn hysterical. It’s not as if a perfunctory search would have yielded any information as to what women are doing about this woman-specific issue. I mean, what kind of world do we live in where a man can’t ask about false rape accusations at a panel about women without having someone jump down his throat?

There's no stereotype so see here.

There’s no stereotype so see here.

What’s next, a white person won’t be able to quote Fox News to black people without being called a racist?

Heina Dadabhoy [hee-na dad-uh-boy] spent her childhood as a practicing Muslim who never in her right mind would have believed that she would grow up to be an atheist feminist secular humanist, or, in other words, a Skepchick. She has been an active participant in atheist organizations and events in and around Orange County, CA since 2007. She is currently writing A Skeptic's Guide to Islam. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

8 Comments

  1. :-D Excellent!

  2. Damn… that was a hell of an explosive thing you wrote there. Let me explain to you all the things about your outburst that you got wrong… /sarcasm

  3. I still wonder where the notion for the question (that caused this storm) even came from. I charitably suspect it’s culture(FOX/RW) and unintentional, but that’s a sign of an even larger more insidious problem not an improvement.

    I think spreading that meme is worse than making the person that tried to spread and legitimise it a bit embarrassed.

    I wish this wasn’t necessary discussion. Ugh.

  4. Good article.
    I was annoyed by JT’s last incursion into social justice (which seems to amount to ‘why don’t oppressed groups bake more cookies to those who are ‘not convinced’ by their equality?”), but this one is just ridiculous. I can’t believe his lack of self-perception. Coming from one of the least ‘civil’ person towards theists, often questioning their honesty in public, that’s something.
    It seems to me that he believes that he is actually being fair and unemotional about it, while he is clearly very emotionally involved in this. The part about people’s blind spot is amazing, because he has clearly not taken the time to think about it and has not responded to any criticism with an argument (I wish he’d at least responded to your arguments in the comments yesterday, Heina). His insistence that he doesn’t think Bria is a bad person is odd, because he’s the only one bringing this up. He also keeps complaining about how people say he’s a bad person for perpetrating racial stereotypes. It’s so hard to be a white ally, when all those people won’t listen to your useful advice. Because things always change when oppressed people are accommodating and nice, and avoid bringing discomfort to the group in power. That is True Social Justice.
    Gee, I wonder why the atheist ‘movement’ has so few PoC, women and disabled people. They probably don’t listen enough to the great able white man ally!

  5. This is the sex. That is all.

  6. “Black-on-black crime” is the racial equivalent of “don’t take strange drinks, and don’t go off alone with that guy”. It’s seriously, seriously condescending.

  7. Heina: Brilliant!

    And the painful part for me is that JT, and his overall approach, could have made this whole thing win-win, if he’d concentrated his attention on the question-asker instead of on Bria. The “anger followed by reconciliation” approach can be incredibly effective in getting someone on-board with social justice issues.

    Imagine an alternate reality where, after the session, JT had approached the question-asker and taken the line, “Hey, I know you well enough to know you’re a decent person and didn’t mean that question the way Bria took it. But I also get why she reacted like that. I know you’re probably upset, but if you want to talk this through and figure it out, I’m here to help.”

    When someone’s been knocked off-kilter by something unexpected, they are generally looking for a sympathetic ear. This is also when they’re most open to hearing new information. JT could have gotten through to this woman. Instead, he just reassured her she did nothing wrong, picked a conflict with Bria, and then kept escalating.

    • Maude yes this. JT did his question asking friend exactly zero favors here by funneling his own discomfort into ire toward the woman who bawled her out. All that does is reinforce her (and his) white privilege. It does not help her understand why her question is wrong. If anyone could have possibly benefitted from a sidebar on conference etiquette and the nuances of addressing racism, it was the person who asked such a clueless, off topic, loaded question, not the woman who took her to task for doing so.

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