Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why won't Charlie Glickman listen to feminists?

Charlie Glickman is a "sexuality educator" and author with a blog, where, among other things, he pleads for prostitution abolitionists to "listen to sex workers". While this request* is within the context of a narrative that I'll leave to another post, it has some objective merit on its own: it is important to listen to the members of marginalized groups of people of which you are not a part, to learn about realities that you will never be faced with. Right? Isn't this where Glickman is coming from? If it is, does Glickman apply this principle consistently?

In January, several months prior to his post on prostitution abolition, Glickman was given the perfect opportunity to showcase the extent to which he actually holds this value: Melissa McEwan, a woman and a feminist, wrote an entry called "I Have a Suggestion" at the feminist blog Shakesville in which she criticizes the straight male narrative of "creepiness" as a quality of individual men who are attracted to and approach women (rather than, you know, disrespect for boundaries and tendency to harass), and straightforwardly asks men not to write articles through this narrative:
If you want to have a serious talk with men about their interactions with women, you can't use language that very few of the men who need to take this lesson believe applies to them.
She then advises these men to "invite a woman to write a piece about consent from her perspective, then leverage your male privilege to endorse and champion it." It is a bit unclear whether or not McEwan would approve of men writing material that is explicitly not written through the "how not to be creepy" narrative but instead focuses on the mindsets of men who engage in patterns of "harassment, hostility to consent, [and] sexual assault" -- she is speaking to the men who are intent on talking through the narrative she describes. McEwan wants men to realize how their choice of language ends up having them "write about 'other guys,' as far as lots and lots of dudes are concerned". 

How does Glickman respond to such requests from a feminist woman, a member of a marginalized group within a marginalized group? He publishes a post called "Why Men Need to Learn How to Not Be “That Guy”". The title of the post itself already betrays a blatant disregard for the clear demands of a feminist. "That guy" has the very same rhetorical dynamic as "creepy": if I already know in my heart that I'm not "that guy", I don't need to read Glickman's article, do I? Which is just as well, since the article itself is not actually about men respecting women's boundaries, but is rather about all the ways in which McEwan is "misses some key points" in her piece. One wonders if the title of the article, being so unrelated to the purpose of its contents, is the product of subconscious spite on the part of Glickman's upon being told how to write by a feminist -- he has, after all, written an article called "Five Things Men Can Do To Not Be Creepy" in 2012 and has an entire "creeps" tag on his blog (next to an ad for his book). 

Glickman approximates that McEwan is "wrong about how “virtually all of the men” think about themselves" and proceeds to talk about himself and his "struggle" of having to "learn through trial and error (and unfortunately, far more error than I wish)" about how not to harass and assault. Did he listen to McEwan when she asks, "how do you know" anything about how many men are clueless and how many are malicious? Clearly not: he employs a vague anecdote of his own experiences (and those of "many of the men who come to [his sex] workshops" -- what's sampling bias?) to make her question go away. He chalks up his past violations of boundaries -- sorry, "errors" -- to how he "didn't have a single role model to point the way," with the implication that he needed a male role model to stop him from harassment.

He then tells the feminist how her opinions on how "gender equality" should be achieved is "troubling" to him:
And I find it troubling that anyone who wants to create a world of gender equality would advocate for men not stepping up and taking that on.
This is at best a misinterpretation of McEwan's point; her piece is about how she has a problem with how some men (like Glickman) go about educating other men about respecting women, not with the act itself of men trying to educate other men. A complete misreading is certainly something that could drive Glickman to repeatedly ask:
So unless someone offers them useful tools for how ["not to be creepy"] and helps them see how we need to resist the patterns of sexism, sexual intrusion, and gender roles, how does Ms McEwan think that will happen? [...] How, precisely, are men supposed to learn these things if we don’t ever talk [amongst ourselves] about how to do it? [...] Unless there are books, workshops, or websites to learn from, how can that possibly happen? 
Stumbling around on this new, unknown landscape of McEwan's feminism in which his voice and "usefulness" is not necessarily prioritized, asking himself "But if men like me can't do it, who will?", Glickman seems so deep in his professional narcissism that he can't imagine that a woman could do what he does. He simply can't picture feminist books, workshops, and websites created by women instructing men to stop harassing women. Instead of dealing with this conundrum in his mind, he would "rather create a call to action for the guys who get it" as if there's some sort of certification body to separate the "guys who get it" from the "guys who don't". I am left wondering how many people thought that Hugo Schwyzer "got it" before he was exposed as a serially abusive man.

I'd like to pause the analysis for a moment and offer my own experience, since Glickman seems to recognize individual men's anecdotes, stories, and feelings as intellectual currency. Dear Charlie Glickman: I'm a straight man and I don't need your workshops and books to learn how to not harass and assault women, and neither do any of the men I've come in contact with who actually listen to feminists.

Glickman frames McEwan's ideas as "not making room for men" as if feminists have cornered the market on "room" while men such as him are just starving for platforms. Unsatisfied with this already-ridiculous level of reality distortion, he then charges that women like McEwan "have no idea what it’s like to live as a cisgender man, to grow up being shamed into masculinity" -- 

Ah, yes, how I look back with visceral horror on all those years of my straight male youth when I was "shamed" into masculinity. Masculinity, rather than a strategy for resource extraction bestowed upon men through the system of gender, as the feminists would have it, is merely a sad curse! How I am indeed oppressed by my position as the oppressor; look with respectful pity upon my inability to cry!

He caps off his post with advertisements for his professional "sex coach services" and a workshop costing $27USD per individual. This may be the real motive for the title: his lament of McEwan's lack of deference to his "usefulness" is just sales patter. Thanks, Charlie!

The truth seems to be that Glickman is uninterested in listening to feminists. Even such a tame suggestion as McEwan's for men to give more platforms to women sends him into a whirlwind of deep concern for the loss of "room" for himself. If he really listened to feminists, like Karen Ingala Smith, glosswitch, or Meghan Murphy, he would at least be able to engage with the notion of men knowing their place without practicing exactly the obfuscation of the oppression of women that these feminists are trying to stop. If Glickman actually listened to all of the voices, stories, and perspectives of feminists, he might find it difficult to continue prioritizing his own voice and business. But given how invested he is in his "how not to be creepy" narrative, both personally and professionally, I’d expect he'd resist letting go of his male privilege. (That's odd, I feel like I've heard this sort of thing before...)


* If we can ultimately call it that, rather than a rhetorical soundbyte

I dedicate this work (“Why won't Charlie Glickman listen to feminists?”) to the public domain using the Creative Commons 0 declaration.

1 comment:

  1. "One way that I try to avoid the temptation to become arrogant is by not using a label that can make me think that I’m somehow better or different from other men" Glickman writes in 2012 about not calling himself a feminist [1]. Yet in 2014 he presumes he's one of the "guys who get it" for the sake of attempting to make McEwan's criticisms go away. You can scope the comment section of that 2012 post to find him bizarrely claiming that men who call themselves feminists end up in solidarity with radical feminists. What the what? To what extent are such constructions actually based on experience rather than the profit motive in bashing radical feminists? Is his comments section a place for discourse or just individualized sales patter for his sex coaching?



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