October 31st, 2014 12:44 EST
Sexism is a Narcissism
Jen Kirkman has a podcast called I Seem Fun. and in this week`s episode she announced she is no longer reading the email her listeners send her. I, personally, am a big fan of hers and have followed her stand-up career for a meager four years (I promise to try and keep this unbiased) and not long ago I sent an email to her podcast`s email account, hoping to hear a response to it one morning. She stated the reason that she is no longer doing so "or more accurately, paying someone else to sift through the emails for her "is because of white men."
My immediate reaction was oh my god, what did I say?" Being a white man, myself, I immediately knew it had to be something I said. I knew it had to do with the very email I sent and that I overstepped my bounds and my words must carry that much weight. I saw no other possibility, no externality to this. Consider the thought experiment of someone taking this negatively "would their response be that much different from mine? Would their thoughts not have a symmetry to them? Would ideas like what did this bitch find wrong with what I said?" or I`m not like that! or what is wrong with her? not come up?
I didn`t expect any reality for my fears but as a fan it left me concerned something I wrote was taken wrongly or maybe I did exactly what I hoped to never do as a narcissist, I knew it was me and I felt compelled to apologize. I stopped myself from emailing an apology or posting one on Twitter, luckily before I got into work. It was then that I couldn`t help but notice the culpable link between how I was feeling and what Kirkman talks about on all forms of social media; if you follow her on Twitter you will see her embattled with all sorts of followers who take issue with her feminist views, comedy, tour, and self-preserving protection (she is not shy about letting everyone know she will block any creepy "followers" which coincidentally seem to mostly be white men).
The #YesAllWomen episode that took over Twitter as a celebration in the shadow of tragic events for, what felt like, a short week was co-opted in a similar sense. The movement itself was very briefly used to empower and celebrate women, then developed into a stance as it became antagonized. All of a sudden, lots of men were Tweeting #YesAllMen trailing claims of innocence and frustrated backlash " many Tweets sounded off with assurances that these individuals were not, in fact, rapists. It begged the question of how these people wanted to fit into the dialectic " did they want to be identified as outstanding men who don`t rape and this granted them the right to claims of empowerment? Or did they simply think empowering women needed something to contrast with? Of course, it was more than likely that one felt victimized by being excluded from the main argument and all too included in the identity of men. For some reason, #YesAllWomen was immediately viewed as an attack. An attack on whom? One person: Me.
It`s not a stretch to imagine one`s narcissistic tendencies to take over and pilot a reaction: consider your own inner monologue and dyspepsia when reading a slew of headlines regarding antipodal beliefs. We`re all guilty of wanting to react right then and there, or even engaging the nearest person to share this internal argument with. Now imagine Jen Kirkman`s inbox and Twitter account manifesting the inevitable stress headache due to this very reactionary Me after she has laid claim against all white men.
For the sake of fair argument, let`s assume that she has dealt with 50% apologies and 50% harassment since her podcast posted Tuesday. How many of those apologies are on behalf of more than one person? How much of that harassment is in the defense of more than a single Me? This is, of course, a thought experiment with no value other than contemplative speculation, because I am not an expert in any field other than of me.
To avoid the trouble that follows any dim generalizing, let us only address the reactionary Me Jen Kirkman has, undoubtedly, been battling this week and not the reactionary Me that all women have been battling on this particular week: What has Jen Kirkman done to offend this Me? The difficult answer is, de facto, nothing. To boil the problem down to a platitude: the problem is all in Me`s head. There are, of course, individual Mes who are guilty of harassment, verbal assaults, sexist remarks, etc. But (and this is where the distinction lies " the very distinction that keeps us from talking about the real problem at hand: sexism qua sexism) the Me is purely a reactionary state " a deeply narcissistic state at that.
A reactionary Me is the product of presumed innocence which indubitably deflects as her being a bitch and the like after the fact and reactive condemnation. It may seem counter to the argument at hand that it requires a reaction (from the person who feels harassed, threatened) to justify the stance against the reactionary Me but if we take a moment and consider the relevancy of intentions and modern harassment, it should come as no surprise that it is more than ok for someone (in this case, a woman) to not agree with such an event, i.e. getting cat-called, being told about their bodies, demanding they smile more. As is illustrated in most HR videos on how not to act in a workplace, reactive condemnation almost always spurs on more reactivity.
The reactionary Me takes the stage to address the dissonance of the harasser, oddly enough, as a form of protection. Protection from humility, which is not-so-coincidentally what it is they are instilling on the harassed. So the reactionary Me takes over the role as victim. Now we have a state of mind that is far (a very uncomfortable distance for the person themselves especially) where it started. The issue we see in situations when someone in some sort of spotlight takes a stand against all white men or a brief moment celebrating all women is allowed is that we have removed any intimate relationship between harasser and initial action; this should be an innocuous on a psychological level. The narcissism fills the void, connecting a once uninvolved party to the very conflict as though there never existed a divide.
Why even get into the depth of this? It`s not an apology for the way sexism flourishes nor is it a valid excuse for those who act this way. So sexism has a new tool with the epidemic of narcissism that plagues our culture " it`s not like this was readily accessible to anyone fighting on either side of the fight. The point I do want to conclude with, which will hopefully make the (painful) rigor you went through reading the above worth it to you, is when a woman reacts, they are then expected to run damage control on their own reaction essentially requiring a lesser reaction if not an apology. I wonder at how many reactionary Mes feel obligated to restate or even apologize for their secondary reactions.