Opinion

A call for understanding in original op-eds

Here’s the thing about reading some of the opinions in this section: it’s easy to get really fired up. When I read Ben Shields’ piece, “How idealogues have ruined the Democratic Party” in the last issue of The Mac Weekly, my brain was whirring with responses. I could respond to every claim in this article with a claim of my own; I could cite statistics and sources that disproved most of his points.

But when I was considering how I wanted to respond—and I did want to respond—I also thought about Kevin Xiong’s piece, “A call for understanding in op-ed responses.” In it, he asked readers to reevaluate their knee-jerk reactions to the opinion pieces they find offensive, and to find more constructive ways to respond. I fully agree with Kevin; I don’t think it’s productive to yell and scream at someone when they present a divergent, or even hurtful opinion. When I started thinking of how I wanted to respond to Ben Shields, I caught myself getting up-in-arms. And that’s okay.

Yes, it is important to keep an even temper in a debate; otherwise, it’s easy to go off track and go with feelings over solid facts. Shields’ article was almost entirely feelings, with little to back up his claims. And here are my feelings about it: it hurt. It hurt me that someone at this school could say: “Women just consistently choose careers with lower salaries. You’d think feminists would be happy about that and respect women’s choices in professions, but then there would be no fictitious ‘War on Women’ to yap about.”

Here are some reasons why it hurts. I work as a waitress at a restaurant nearby; on top of four classes, two other jobs, and several extracurriculars, I give up part of my Saturday nights to go there and earn some extra cash. I earn that money through my ability to flatter my customers, to make them feel special and like I care. My upbringing, believe it or not, tailored me to a job like that. I, like many other young women, have been raised being rewarded for “feminine” qualities: keeping a smile on my face, trying please everyone, using my looks to sell something else. So yes, I choose to be a waitress, a job with a lower salary. But a lot of factors go into that choice, and the biggest one is that it uses the skills that are so often favored in women. So no, women do not just choose lower paying jobs, we are directed towards those jobs through a variety of factors.

It’s dangerous to make assumptions about large groups of people; I do not presume to know the experiences of every young woman in the world, or in the US, or at Macalester. But it’s also dangerous to rattle off cynical accusations like Shields did in his article. Making a snide comment comparing Hillary Clinton to Claire Underwood (for those who aren’t up on their Netflix, Claire Underwood is the Lady Macbeth to the main character’s power-hungry murderous politician) is a cheap way to prove a point. I have my own personal issues with Clinton, but comparing her to the most relevant portrayal of the “cold manipulative bitch” is not only ineffective, it’s lazy.

Also lazy: not bothering to reexamine what you’ve been told about great works of art. The claim that “college humanities courses, rather than introducing students to great art and literature, remain obsessed with critical theory sniffing for ‘the Other’” is too broad to be convincing. What “great works” are those, exactly? “The Catcher in the Rye,” and Michelangelo’s sculptures? “Great works” shouldn’t mean “static interpretations.” My professors bring the allegedly useless “feminist, queer and postructuralist” critiques to class because we have existed for so long, and continue to exist without them. They bring them because if I had never heard about the concept of “microaggressions” or “the Other,” I would still think that if I just picked the right shirt or wore my hair a different way, I wouldn’t get catcalled on my way to school today. So it hurts when you tell me that the tiny amount of time that I get to discuss alternate understandings of the world around me shouldn’t exist.

There is a difference between condescension and constructive criticism. There is also a difference between impassioned argument and using that passion to cover up the lack of evidence behind your claims. Calling feminism a “Stalinist parasite on our political system” might seem like a sharp commentary that will grab readers’ attention, but hyperboles like that discredit the writer’s ability to edit themselves and make smart, accurate comparisons.

There needs to be a little more thoughtfulness in the way we argue here. I fully expect people to disagree with what I say, but they’d sure as hell say it in a respectful, constructive manner. And they’d better not tell me that when I’m talking, I’m just looking for some petty issue to “yap about.”

March 28, 2014

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