So I decided pretty late tonight (as you can probably tell) that I would write a Feminisms diary.  I honestly just realized that it was even Wednesday.  And while Feminisms diaries don't have to appear on Wednesdays, I thought maybe I would, just for old time's sake.

One of the things that's been popping up a lot in my life recently is trying to convince others that feminism, or certain aspects of feminism, are important and necessary.  Just trying to get someone to take feminism seriously is a huge task, since sexism often goes unrecognized or is considered unimportant in the grand scheme of things.  How do you convince someone who thinks that being fat is shameful that that attitude can be harmful even to those who aren't fat?  How do you convince a man who has rarely or never been harassed on the street that it can be incessant and usually very very threatening for a woman?  etc.

What it really boils down to is: how do you have a conversation with someone who refuses to listen to what you say?

For instance, one thing I have found is that there are dog whistles on all sides.  Tell a non-feminist man that he is displaying "male privilege" and he will argue till the cows come home that his meek little life contains no evidence of privilege.  Words like "choice" (in relation to pregnancy) or "abstinence" seem to provoke the same tired arguments over and over from both sides.  In the end, we speak past each other, get frustrated, and give up.

But these memes seem to be prescribed for us, not of our own making.  I've found myself thinking, while arguing with someone else on the other side of the debate, that we aren't saying anything original or speaking about our own experiences.  I try to throw in a few personal anecdotes, but of course those aren't always effective because they are just anecdotes (and, in one conversation I had recently, were just out-and-out ignored as not matching with the other person's own experience).  After watching yet another attempt go down in flames, I started to think that maybe I needed to ask more questions.  Personal questions, like, "Can you give me an example of why you think that?" or "How do you deal with X?"  Then, my thinking goes, you get an idea of the real person behind the rhetoric.  Maybe I'd stop getting Rush Limbaugh's or Ann Coulter's views and start seeing the foundation that allowed those views to accumulate in this ordinary person's head.

And then other times, I think I should just learn when to give up!

Do you try to "win converts"?  Do you have any particular strategies?  What has your experience been with trying to talk to people who don't share your beliefs about them?

Feminisms is a series of weekly feminist diaries. My fellow feminists and I decided to start our own for several purposes: we wanted a place to chat with each other, we felt it was important to both share our own stories and learn from others’, and we hoped to introduce to the community a better understanding of what feminism is about.

  Needless to say, we expect disagreements to arise. We have all had different experiences in life, so while we share the same labels, we don’t necessarily share the same definitions. Hopefully, we can all be patient and civil with each other, and remember that, ultimately, we’re all on the same side.

Originally posted to tryptamine on Wed Aug 06, 2008 at 09:46 PM PDT.

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