Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Hugo's most recent "insert foot in mouth" post (hat tip Amanda) reminded me that I wanted to say something a while back about feminist friendly spaces, converting others to the cause, and polite discourse. One of Hugo's comments about believeing in the power of politeness or some such (yes, I'm too lazy to look it up) reminded me of something my mom told me about my grandfather once.

"He was always to polite to people in public," was what she said about him.

That's not an exact quote, but that was the gist of it - and she said this as if it was a virtue.

At the time, the shocking relevation was that my (then recently) deceased grandfather was likely a closet bigot. The context of the conversation was one about race, civil rights, and growing up in the south. My mom has lived in southern California since she entered junior high, but she spent her childhood going back and forth between So Cal and my grandfather's home town in Georgia. She was a small child when Brown was decided. When my grandfather was a child growing up the rural south, the youngest Civil War veterans were still alive. I've been told that my grandmother will still avoid supermarket lines if there are black people at the register.

My mother was essentially telling me that my grandfather may have been prejudiced, but he was nice enough not to let anyone he was prejudiced against know it.

I can't help but think of this when people argue for politeness for politeness sake and I wonder about the people he was polite to - in public. Did they suspect? Would they rather have known the truth? Could they sense it anyway? Did they resent the fact that the mask of politeness my grandfather hid behind made it that much harder to fight his bigotry? Were they sometimes grateful that his mask made theirs that much easier to wear? Did they apprecraite the irony that it was their honest anger that forced him to adopt the masquerade they had always been forced to be a part of?

I understand that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar, I just think people need to remember that allies gained under false pretenses tend to make shitty allies. Individuals for whom the deciding factor in their political and ideological beliefs is the number of times they may get laid do not make good feminists. Being bluntly honest may be a bit "off-putting" but it's still more likely to result in a useful ally. After all, non-violence may have been a hallmark of the civil rights movement, but "polite" discourse was not. "Polite" conversation doesn't include discussions about race to begin with - and "polite" sure as hell doesn't describe the act of holding a lunch counter hostage. I rather think a hell of a lot of people considerd it downright rude at the very least.

I always hated the stupid intro to "The Real World" - the one where they talk about people not being polite and being real instead. As if the two are polar opposites and rudeness is somehow inherently more real than being considerate. I hate the idea that one must always have polite discourse for the same reason. Adhering to social norms isn't any more real than breaking them simply because you can. Pretending to respect someone isn't really any more polite than being honest about how little you really do respect them. Sometimes you have to be polite to gain allies - and sometimes you have to be honest to the point of rudeness in order to make any progress.

1 comment:

Ragnell said...

I should bookmark this one under Feminism 101. It's vital information.