If you’ve listened to Third Wavers, you’ve probably heard them tell you how your input, as a white cis-male, on their experiences, is “mansplaining”; followed by your need to politely shut up, and listen to them tell you about your experience as a privileged white cis-male.
Ain’t it funny how that works?
See, the thing with real, lived, personal experiences, is that they are important, and so are a person’s feelings (yes, even if you’re a cursed heterosexual cis-white male!) Personal feelings shouldn’t be invalidated or dismissed – they should be listened to and empathized with. That’s called “being a good person”. But at the same time, real, lived personal experiences, do not amount to absolute proof of anything outside of you having that experience. Most Third Wavers out there probably wouldn’t accept a biblical testimony from someone who claims to have had a real, lived personal experience with Jesus Christ. We have no problem telling a creationist that his real, lived personal experience does not prove God’s existence, no matter how real, lived, or personal it might have been.
Social science is a soft science. As I wrote in my book, A Bridge Between Feminist Theory and Reality (which I would post a link to for free, if I could find someone to help me update this site), sciences such as chemistry and physics are a cut and dry thing; sodium and chloride make salt. That’s it. End of story. Your opinions don’t matter and there’s no other narrative involved.
But when discussing things like privilege, we are talking about the way people live. Their lives, their feelings, and their position in society are all necessarily included – and these things can be extremely difficult to measure, and because personal lives are involved, personal story-telling narratives and hypothetical allegories always find their way in.
However, we can measure many parts, and verify most claims! I can confer with the US Census Bureau to find out how many women choose to work in the fishing industry (hint: very few, and hence the wage gap), but it can be more difficult to understand the reason why women make that choice. It can be more difficult still to determine and measure all the influences that go into shaping the thoughts and feelings that lead to that choice, especially since every woman is different. At some point, it becomes rather tempting to rely on social tropes, personal allegories, and shared understanding.
But here’s the thing.
Verifiable measurements, whenever possible, are always better than social tropes and personal allegories.
That is to say, it’s better to rely on actual facts and figures – things that we can measure. For example, we have studies that say women are choosing not to run for public office. It doesn’t work to then say women are kept out of politics because of sexism, and try to prove that claim with a personal story of your experiences of sexism.
Your experiences are very real, and I’m sorry you had to go through such a thing. But that’s not related to the actual facts and figures that are available to us through research. We know that congress is mostly men because mostly men choose to run. That’s a conclusion backed by research. Congress is not mostly men “because penis” (which is literally the claim of patriarchy; they’re in congress only because they are men). That’s an assertion backed with nothing more than personal stories (I’ve experienced sexism, so I know that must be the reason men get into office).
—– —– Suppose two women disagree about whether a certain action is sexist or not – one experiences it as discriminatory or oppressive, while the other does not feel this way about it. While it is useful to know how they feel about it, it doesn’t get us very far in deciding how to judge that action and whether to allow it or not.
Again, we can define what sexism means, and describe what a sexist attitude is. That’s the hard-science part. But when a man does or says something you consider sexist, was that what he meant? Was he trying to be sexist? In his mind, is he aware that what he did or said could even be interpreted that way?? His intentions matter a lot – and this is the soft science part. You can probably find out his intentions simply by asking him (imagine that). Yes, he could lie, but he’s probably not going to if you just ask like a normal person (there’s an example of shared understanding in what I’m implying by “normal person”). You can’t know the mind of someone else, and that cis-white-male’s real, lived, personal experiences are just as real and just as lived as yours. His intentions may be wildly divergent from what the Third Wave narrative mandates.
And since the Third Wave is aimed squarely at PROVING women are victims – so it can then fix the problem it just created – the entire point is to reinforce that narrative by as much as possible. As it turns out, we can’t find any facts or evidence in reality to back up their claims. So Third Wavers simply don’t rely on such silly outdated notions as testable and repeatable data (science is probably something a MAN dreamed up anyway). They rely on personal narratives instead. This becomes the absolute only way you, as a dirty cis-white male, can ever truly understand what is happening, and you can only understand it from the Third Waver telling it to you, and you can never challenge it! Because your science can’t speak over my real, lived experience, which works as the ultimate trump card.
This simply turns into another way of shutting down the conversation, and it’s like trying to play chess with a pigeon; it knocks down the pieces, shits all over the board, then flies back to it’s nest to claim victory.