I can’t count the number of times I’ve read that someone is destroying the left. Almost universally, it’s because they’re criticising someone else’s behaviour. Almost universally, they’re a woman, often Maori or Pasifika though not necessarily, criticising a well-known left wing man for trampling over others. Sometimes it’s rape or abuse apologism. Sometimes it’s sexism, or racism, or transphobia. Sometimes it’s the violation of boundaries of someone in a minority group, the assumption that they’re owed attention and time and hand-holding.
I’ve seen the effects of two incidents in the last week that play into this framework. One friend feeling so disillusioned with the left she felt she could no longer be a part of it after being gaslighted and harassed over a simple request not to make an offensive comparison. Another receiving an incredibly creepy and unwanted contact from someone whose fauxpology she’d criticised in a single tweet earlier in the week. Also this week has been discussion of a protest planned in Auckland in solidarity with #Ferguson which attempted to link events there with democracy protests in Hong Kong as part of some vast global movement, specifically claimed to not be a criticism of police, and is linked to organisations that are known for protecting rapists.
As a slight diversion from the topic, I was studying for my economics paper this morning and reading about production possibilities frontiers, essentially a model representing the trade offs that can be made when you can put your resources into two different outcomes. The example was an economy that produces cars and computers – you can make, say, 2200 computers and 600 cars, or 2000 computers and 700 cars, or you could go to an extreme and produce 1000 cars but no computers at all. The thing is, when you do that the opportunity cost of a car is high. A lot of your autoworkers are actually really good at making computers and not very good at making cars – if you move a few of them into computer production, you’re going to gain a lot more completed computers than you’ll lose completed cars.
This is actually a pretty good analogy for the left. We put so many of our resources into <s>cars</s> men that our opportunity costs in <s>computers</s> really effective, strong, capable women is skyrocketing. Protecting one rapist drives away dozens of women. Defending one guy who doesn’t understand boundaries silences dozens of women who now have to protect themselves against the risk of being stalked in real life for even the slightest criticism.
This system is not rational. It’s not reasonable. It’s not stable or efficient or effective. Instead of policing women’s reactions to bad behaviour, we need to police that behaviour. We need to teach people that if you have to track down someone’s contact information, you probably shouldn’t be using it. If they wanted you to call them they’d give you their phone number and there are very few situations that warrant an exception. The mindset that lets men (and the occasional woman) think they can ignore the boundaries of people who disagree with them is baffling in its arrogance and absolutely not conducive to the long-term success of the left. And particularly when it is a man, there is an existing context in which women have to constantly guard themselves against the possibility that that man is not just an annoyance, but outright dangerous. It’s a context in which calling someone at work to argue about the legitimacy of your apology is in the same category as domestic and intimate partner violence that kills and injures far too many women and girls. Is it the same thing? No. But the men who murder also stalk. When you receive that intrusive phone call, you don’t know how far it might go if you make him angry, and when we put our resources into coddling men who act like this and defending their behaviour we allow them to continue to act in ways that are destructive and harmful to everyone.