Thursday, February 23, 2012

Calling out the White Dudes

Okay, go read this:

Basically, Meg Clark points out a bunch of stupid things said by Jonathan Franzen about women, women writers, and (in particular) Edith Wharton. Her response is super smart and, you know, pretty funny.

But what I was thinking was that when a White Dude says something stupid on this general topic, a few things occur:

1) A bunch of really smart women write really awesome replies, and you can often find them on the blogosphere. Like Meg's. If you haven't read it yet, do so now. (If you don't, I will take away all your cookies and beer)

2) The mainstream response is limited. Perhaps publications simply don't want to go against the status quo (especially a status quo they've helped build), or perhaps they think it a given that these responses by women simply aren't valuable (the "Oh, those are just the angry feminists" response that completely pisses me off). Mainstream avenues for replies to such comments seem limited, particularly for women. Mostly for the above reasons, I'm guessing, but partly, perhaps, because some of the women who do have mainstream influence won't step up, or at least typically haven't done so -- for fear of rocking the boat? for fear of being labelled and written off? for fear of not being taken seriously? Which is a valid concern, in the sense that there is a large cultural arena in which the depowering response to the lash of such voices is to simply laugh them off. "Oh, those are just the feminists." Which infuriates me, as it is utterly arrogant to dismiss other viewpoints without even being willing to engage them. Ignoring honest discourse is a response of the worst kind. Of course, the problem is that we allow people to get away with this. We don't call them on this. And we should.

3) You don't hear much from other White Dudes. I'm guessing, speaking as a White Dude, that many of us don't notice the problem (failing to see the ramifications, for instance, of what Franzen says), have fallen prey to the "Oh, that's just the feminists" argument, or are simply nervous about stepping up, either to challenge the manly manly words of the Franzens ("Maybe people will think I'm not masculine enough!") or for trying to say something when the lovely Meg Clarks of the world can say it better (and the feeling might be that the Meg Clarks have more of a right to speak on the matter -- which may even be true, I don't know, but that doesn't excuse silence).

So! I'm calling out the Whtie Dudes. First, for the White Dudes like me to stop saying stupid White-Dudeish things. And second, for the White Dudes to stand up when another White-Dude says something stupid and say "That's stupid." Well, you can be more polite than this. I mean, I am Canadian (though some of us aren't polite: shhhhh). But silence is permissive. Silence says "Keep talking, Mr. Franzen, we're all in your corner."

But I kind of like Meg Clark' corner. So, you know, I'll hold her spit-bucket while the fight goes on, and I ain't throwin' in the white towel.


Steve Abernathy said...

Franzen's nonfiction is and always has been laughable. There's no reason to pay attention to it.

Far as Meg goes, she makes good points, but as to who is better "qualified to discuss the writing of women than a straight white male writer", well, I can't support that sentiment. Anyone can and should speak up if they have something interesting to say.

Naipaul (Brown dude) says the stupidest things about writers, women, and everything else, but he does it to provoke, and there's nothing wrong with that, considering the meek nature of 99.9 percent of writers. The fact that the NYer chose to publish a silly account of Wharton at all merits consideration.

White dudely,

Marsha Sigman said...

Franzen does not deserve my time or attention and I have a feeling there are a lot of women who feel the same way.

And by saying that I do not want to take anything away from Meg Clark's awesome reply(and it was truly stunning) to his blatant stupidity, it's just my own opinion.

I have to believe for every dumbass white dude who voices his twisted opinion, there are dozen others who know their mother will beat the shit out of them if they agreed.

Bryan Russell said...


I agree, mostly. What frustrates me is often the lack of response, and when there is a response, it's often dismissed in an intellectually dishonest way.

Matthew MacNish said...

Notice he has no h in Jonathan. Well, no first h. There is that second h.

Bryan Russell said...

Ha! Though it would be funny if I just spelled it wrong...

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Not A White Male, But Speaking Anyway...

I'm very familiar with the men-speaking-trash-about-women and women-burning-with-fury dynamic, only in a different context: the world of engineering and science, where trust me, there's nowhere near as many women as there are in the writing sphere. And even fewer articulate women like Meg to stand up and give the stupid-people the what-for.

I did stumble over the point that Steve did - about Franzen not being qualified to discuss the writing of women. Of course he's qualified to have an opinion - it's just a stupid one. This notion that he shouldn't have an opinion is a curious one which betrays a strange sense of privilege on Meg's part (do we really only want women writers to be able to comment on women writers? That sounds like a pink ghetto to me).

And that goes to the heart of the matter for me. I see Franzen as a stuffy literary writer (who happens to be male, straight and white), sequestered in his world where the biography of a person is more important than their work and the sex and race and orientation of a person are their defining attributes. Even Meg seems to fall into that trap to some extent, her rage with the stupid things Franzen is saying making her want to eliminate his "qualification" to say them.

Other than that, Meg is brilliant in taking apart his idiotic arguments. Why the NYer printed them in the first place, probably has more with selling subscriptions than anything else.

I wonder if the muted response to Franzen is the "oh, those are just the angry feminists" or if it's just "eep, that's an embarassingly stupid thing to say, let's ignore it." As for me, if it hadn't show up here, 1) I probably wouldn't have heard about it, because it's a stuffy literary thing that I generally ignore or 2) I would have heard about it but declined to get into the fracas, because I need to, you know, go write a story that people want to read.

And I don't care what Franzen thinks.

Trisha said...

I totally wish more White Dudes (or more dudes in general, really!) would speak out against Franzen's kind of bullshit. So I say go for it & then I and others like me will be in your corner! :)

Kathy said...

Excellent! I wonder how many people, male or female, suffer in silence to this kind of idiocy because the person writing the idiocy is more eloquent than them, and they don't want to do more damage to the cause? As I am not a writer or Women's Studies major, sometimes I worry about my ability to express my sometimes ill-defined opinions on gender issues. Especially when I am spitting with incoherent rage.

So when I read articles like Meg Clarks's, I feel relieved. It's been said, better than I could, and I can back their words & give them some more power. Plus, it helps me define & sharpen my own thoughts so in the future, I don't feel so lost in these infuriating debates.

So I can speak up too! Or, you know, mock repeatedly & pointedly.