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Whereof one ought not speak

Here's a pretty old legacy post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 20 years ago, in 2004, on the World Wide Web.

Mark Dilley recently passed along a link to a good open letter by Dan Spalding with some great advice for boys in social justice movements: Shut the Fuck Up, or, How to act better in meetings. It’s something for every boy who wants to support the feminist struggle needs to read. Probably several times. I know that it’s something I need to remind myself of every day. Here’s Spalding:

What’s to be done? I’ve come up with a little idea I like to call, Shut the fuck up. It goes as follows: Every time someone…

  • Says something you think is irrelevant,

  • Asks a (seemingly) obvious question,

  • Criticizes your proposal or makes a contradictory observation,

  • Makes a proposal

  • Asks a question, or

  • Asks for more input because there’s a brief lull in the discussion. . .

Shut the fuck up. It’s a radical process, but I think you’ll like it.

Of course, nobody is saying that you can’t say anything or do anything in meetings. The point is that you don’t need to say or do everything–even if you’re absolutely sure that you’re full of Great Ideas. Trust people to have some good ideas of their own, and leave them some space to bring them up:

What does that mean for us? First, we shut the fuck up. This was easy for me in school — I just made a rule that I never spoke more than twice in a 50 minute class. Surprise! Almost every time I would have spoken, someone else eventually said the exact same thing, or something smarter. It was frustrating when it was another obnoxious man doing the answering, but a lot of times it wasn’t one of the two guys in class who spoke most often.

Read the whole thing. If the meeting stalls and folks aren’t saying anything, there is probably a problem with the process not with the people at the meeting. And of course this goes triply when the movement in question is the women’s movement. I remember having a conversation with some friends–both women and men–about the term pro-feminist man (terminology that I don’t like, but that I respect the reasons behind, as I’ve said here before). After I’d mentioned it, one of my male friends said that it sounded like something from the sort of feminists who’d rather men just stayed home and baked cookies rather than being part of the movement. Now, I don’t think that’s actually true–I’ve never found a feminist group that had the resources, in time or in people, to even consider the luxury of turning away volunteers. But supposing it were true–what would be so bad about helping out by baking cookies? Cookies, at least, are useful, whereas half of what I might have to say if I droned on all the time at feminist meetings wouldn’t be. There’s a lot of shit-work to do in organizing, and it wouldn’t kill us boys to do it every now and again. Props to Dan Spalding for pointing this out and for citing Jo Freeman’s excellent The Tyranny of Structurelessness as an inspiration for some of what he said; in addition to Spalding’s open letter and Freeman’s essay, I’d also like to finish with a recommendation for another paper: What Men Can Do for Women’s Liberation by Gainesville Women’s Liberation (you can find it in Dear Sisters). Here’s some of the things that they suggest–all important things to do, and none of them are insist on sharing all your great ideas for how women can free themselves at a meeting:

Set up a day-care center at the shop or place of work so that more women can be free to work. …

If you can’t cook, learn. …

Provide babysitting and transportation for WL meetings. …

Listen to a woman’s ideas. Hers are as good as a man’s or better. …

Don’t be super critical of a woman’s behavior because she is in Women’s Liberation. Don’t expect her to act like a liberated woman until you become a liberated man.

Don’t try and make points with women by bragging what a non-male supremacist you are. Admit your chauvinism and we can try and help you get out of it.

Don’t make jokes about WL. It’s a serious thing. Women die from male supremacy every year.

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