Can we talk?
Psst. Over here
It’s me, the spiky-haired liberal woman with the “SNFLAK” license plate (SNOWFLAKE: get it? See, not all of us libs take ourselves too seriously). Before you roll your eyes and turn away, let’s acknowledge one thing we have in common: you and I both get a daily drenching from the firehose that is media.
And those messages — especially the ones from social media, a personalized, targeted stream with the force of a psychological power washer — tell you and me very different things. Or, the same things but from opposite angles.
The one thing they agree on is that, ideologically, you and I are natural enemies.
This ability to steer us into separate cages, from which we can be poked and goaded into ever-rising levels of resentment and directed to vent our spleen on one another — that’s a valuable skill.
It works beautifully for media conglomerates and political campaigns, which is why they invest so much in it. Reaching into our pockets or manipulating our votes is much easier when we’re frightened, angry, and distracted.
But it’s not so great for you and me, is it?
Full confession: I read the New York Times
Maybe you’re more of a Fox News guy. But that’s an assumption on my part, influenced by factors like, well, the New York Times and Fox News. If I check the comments from readers on the Times’ op-ed pieces, it’s clear that not all of them bleed blue.
So you may be familiar with the series of opinion articles in the Times, called “America in Focus,” based on interviews with focus groups. Each small group consists of Americans who represent a wide swath from the targeted demographic. A previous piece focused on Dem-leaning voters’ thoughts about the economy, young women on work and gender roles, another on teens and their perspectives on school and their futures .
They make for fascinating and often surprising reading. Maybe you’ll want to check them out, if you haven’t already.
The most recent in the series, These 8 Conservative Men Are Making No Apologies by Patrick Healy and Adrian J. Rivera, appeared on April 12. The men in the focus group come from different races, geographical locations, and walks of life, but they all lean firmly to the right.
According to the authors, the main takeaway is that the men feel alienated from American society and culture, that they don’t feel free to be themselves. Among other concerns, they think America is increasingly unsafe and uncivil. Also that our roads are full of rude drivers.
The authors say that in these divisive times, the reports from these men are troubling for democracy.
Maybe so. But what struck me most about the conservative guys’ statements were not the ones that made me roll my eyes, but the ones that made me nod my head — in empathy, if not necessarily agreement.
Right there with you on the rude drivers, guy
One of the men has a brother who’s an ER doc and is appalled at the growing casualties from careless drivers:
“People just run red lights. . . They could literally kill a family. They don’t care. They’re in a hurry. They’ve got to get to Chick-fil-A.”
Trust me, I too observe the self-centered, reckless disregard for others displayed on our roadways. And just like you, I see it as a symptom of a pervasive “me, me, me” attitude that has taken hold. Bothers the hell out of me.
Other statements that resonated with me
All quotes are taken from the above-referenced article. Some of them lead to the speaker’s conclusion that I disagree with or find befuddling, but I can see where they’re coming from to begin with.
“One of the things that I’m sensitive to is diversity. Diversity is when you have people that truly have different ways of thinking. And that’s how you solve problems . . .”
Yes! A hundred percent.
“I think that true patriotism is recognizing that regardless of what party you’re in, we’re all Americans. And we should start from that premise. Then we find more reasons to join together, rather than find silly reasons to fight against each other.”
“There’s a lot of distractions. I mean, most of us grew up in a simpler time.”
Boy howdy, do I hear you on that.
“America seems to be so focused on sensationalism and celebrity worship — things that aren’t really of inherent value. My thing is, I have to create the value in myself. And I have to live my life with that value, and I have to instill that sense of value in my kids, my family.”
See? Nodding my head.
“The country, to a great extent, has really lost the ability to have civil discourse and be able to learn from different opinions.”
Clapping my hands over here: that’s what I’m talking about!
Sure, some things got my hackles up
To the interviewer’s question, “What does it mean to be a man,” there were some responses that I found admirable and even touching: “being responsible and being a model for your kids;” ” . . . providing for your family, teaching your children right from wrong, leading by example; “having integrity;” “taking care of your family and being respectful to others, regardless of your personal perspective.”
All things I’d be happy to hear coming from the mouths of my own sons, who are not conservative, more middle-of-the-road-if-there-still-is-such-a-thing kind of men. But the guys in the article did seem to share a fixation on rigid gender roles and to worry that the country is being “feminized.”
There were cringe-worthy statements on this topic:
“They don’t call women the weaker sex for no reason.”
Maybe not for no reason, but not for any good reason, dude.
“From my religion’s standpoint, the man is in charge.”
Yikes. If he could read my mind, this guy might burn me at the stake. This next one, however, while it might sound less extreme, I find to be more troubling:
I support feminism, but I don’t support modern feminism. I think that modern feminism is focused on so-called toxic masculinity, and they are actually purveyors of men-bashing. And so I support femininity and feminism but not to the point where they’re looking to hoist themselves above men to try to make up for so-called patriarchy.
So much to unpack here (“modern feminism” as opposed to, what, ancient feminism? What does supporting “feminity and feminism” look like to this guy?). But it’s the last part of the last sentence that makes my eyes roll heavenward.
I ask you, Conservative Guy, if you share this man’s perspective, is there anything that I, surely what you would label a modern feminist, could do to convince you that I am entirely uninterested in being a purveyor of men-bashing? Does it help when I tell you that I am a proud mother of sons who are entirely comfortable with their masculinity, and that I’m married to a man whom I deeply love and admire?
Or does that sound to you like it would to me if you said that some of your best friends are liberal gals?
The most disturbing aspect is the zero-sum thinking
The unquestioned assumption that some women are “looking to hoist themselves above men to make up for so-called patriarchy” is a striking example of the last-place aversion that Heather McGhee calls out in her book The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.
Trust me, my conservative brother, McGhee is not out to paint you as a bigot. She is making the point that keeping society fragmented into a hierarchy of factions works beautifully for the few privileged folks at the top. That’s because it keeps the rest of us focused on the perceived threat that somebody from a lower rung on the ladder is going to climb up and knock us off ours.
In this scenario, winning is only possible if someone else loses: success requires somebody else’s failure. We remain blinkered to the option of joining interests, of working together to achieve more benefits for all of us. It keeps us in the “crabs in a bucket” mentality — so busy preventing anyone from climbing over us that we’re all stuck struggling in a situation we wish we could escape.
This is only a positive if you’re the one holding the bucket. And that, almost assuredly, does not describe you, Conservative Guy. Nor does it describe me.
I don’t care about hoisting myself above you
Not a single woman I know is out to subjugate men to even the score. It’s possible women with such a mindset exist, but they’d correlate to the extreme fringe from your end of the rope.
For instance, we don’t want you to be paid less for the work you do. We simply want to be paid commensurately for doing the same work. We don’t want to harangue you into being mealy-mouthed milquetoasts. We just want to be included in conversations that affect us, and to be heard with respect.
We’ll do the same for you, even when we don’t agree with everything you say.
If you’re listening to pundits or politicians or social media influencers who are telling you otherwise, I urge you to ask yourself: who is served by you and me being so at odds? What interests would it threaten if you and I recognized what we have in common and pulled together for our mutual benefit?
To paraphrase the guy from the focus group: “(What if) we find more reasons to join together, rather than find silly reasons to fight against each other?”
Maybe you and I could help each other out of the bucket and find ourselves sharing higher ground.
Wouldn’t that be cool?