07 November 2010

What I Want (from Stephen Fry)

I've been thinking a lot about this Stephen Fry debacle, and how it ties into having standards, and fitting in with Word's middle ground, and reconciling things he says with other things he does, etc., etc., etc. And the way that I can express my various thoughts is to spell out clearly the response I wish had come from him, (which, by the way, it's not too late for him to give).

I am presupposing that for some reason, he said things to a reporter like "women just have sex to trick men into a relationship," and that that leaked out. Obviously, we would all be happier if that had never happened, but that's not the point. Now, Stephen, play close attention here.

1) Stop complaining about how unfair all of this is to you. I am sure you have a different impression of what happened at that interview than the reporter does/did. I'm sure your what you think happened is NOT the version that is making the rounds of the interwebz. You know what I don't want to hear? How you were so misrepresented, and how it isn't fair, and they took advantage of you, and life is so hard when you're Stephen Fry. Everyone's life is hard, even when they're not Stephen Fry. Everyone gets misinterpreted, and misquoted, and misrepresented, and if you're famous, the odds are very good that you will be mis-somethinged on a massive scale. It comes with the territory. If you don't want that to happen to you anymore, be very clear in your interviews or live the life of J.D. Salinger. But whining about it makes you sound like a big baby.

2) Acknowledge that what you said sounds really misogynistic. Maybe you said it in a joking tone. Maybe you were being ironic. Maybe you were being serious but you had a whole bunch of background logical reasoning that alleviates the misogyny somehow, at least in your mind. (Not sure how that would work but: benefit of the doubt.) For whatever reason, we missed something that somehow vindicated you. But the thing is, without whatever that thing was, you sound like a total douche, and if you don't acknowledge that, it makes it look like you don't understand what you did wrong. A simple statement of, "wow, reading these remarks in the press, I really understand how women would assume that I am sexist," is what it takes so that I don't feel the need to kick you in the shins. Otherwise, I feel that I have to justify my own outrage. That is tiring, and often unproductive. You want back on my good side, you show me that you are different from all those douches who say something nasty and then go all big-eyed and "What are you so upset about? Crazy bitch."

3) Apologize. This is not difficult. If you were misconstrued, you may tack on the optional phrase, "that wasn't what I was trying to say," to the end of your "I'm sorry." Further elaboration is not necessary. Switching the order of your phrases, e.g. "I didn't mean that, I'm sorry" is acceptable but ill-advised. "I'm so sorry that I sounded like a douche" is what I want to hear from you.

4) Explain to me what you really think about this topic. Don't waste my time telling me that this person or that person fucked you over and that's why you came across sounding like you're a douche when you're really not. Do take a little time of your own to tell me that you think men's and women's sex drives are different, that you see things going on in gay dating that don't happen in straight dating, that you think culture fucks women over in these particular ways, that you think culture fucks over men in these particular ways, that you're a dude and so you understand this better and you don't date women but this confuses you, whatever. Whatever it is you wish that the reporter had expressed, whatever statement you think would not misrepresent your views, make it. Give me your reasoning in detail. You're a smart man, Stephen; that much is and has always been clear. If you want to get credit for your intelligence, you have to make intelligent statements.

And that? That is how to get out of whatever dog house you are in.

Everyone but everyone says misogynist crap sometimes. Just like everyone occasionally says racist crap and sizeist crap and heteronormative crap and pro-cis crap, and every other kind of crap. A lot of us fight the kyriarchy, and sometimes we lose. We lose in our own minds and in our own thoughts and without meaning to, and that's life. And getting sulky because "that's not what I meant!" is childish.

A couple of months ago, I was hanging out with Word and another friend, watching Veronica Mars. For some reason we got on the topic of Buffy -- yay, Buffy! And we started talking about the pilot that was first filmed but never aired, when the role of Willow was played by a different actress (Riff Regan). You can watch parts of it online, and I have. Regan is quite a bit taller than Sarah Michelle Gellar and the other female actresses on the show, and she's also rather heavier. They recast Willow after that pilot, and in the show she was played by Alyson Hannigan, who is about sixty pound soaking wet and spends the first two seasons looking like she's twelve.

We were talking about that, and I said, trying for irony "Of course they couldn't have a fat Willow," as in, wow, the producers have such a limited view of what women have to look like. Word gave me a Look.

That Look was an important thing. "Wow, I didn't mean that from my own point of view," I hastened to clarify. "I meant, that was what the producers were probably thinking." Word nodded, satisfied. Would it be appropriate for me to get pissed at her, because she should have known what I meant? Because she should have realized from my tone, or from her knowledge of me, or from some other superfluous piece of information, that I was joking and trying to point out hypocrisy in someone else? Of course not. I didn't mean to be playing into sizeist prejudices, but the fact remains that the words coming out of my mouth were exactly the same as the words that would come out of a sizeist bigot's mouth. And Word was absolutely right to call me on that, because if I had said that in a larger group? And someone hadn't gotten the irony, so clear in my mind, so unclear in my speech? There's me, justifying someone else's prejudice and labeling myself a problem.

You know what else? When I examined my thought processes, after that incident, I realized I have a hard time picturing Regan portraying Willow over the course of the series. Whatever, she didn't  portray Willow, it doesn't matter. But what does matter is that I can't quantify in my own mind how much of that difficulty I have, picturing this other actress playing this part, comes from a lack of imagination, how much comes from her being a very different type of actress and it being difficult to picture her responding to certain developments, how much from other innocent concerns -- and how much comes from my own sizeist prejudices, the ones I didn't think I had.

I didn't mean to send this post off on a tangent, but what I'm trying to say is that Stephen Fry making a mistake is not the problem. Okay, it's not ideal, but his mistake wouldn't have to stand alone and piss people (like for example me) off, if he had taken the mistake and used it as a way to educate himself and others. (You know who did that? Emma Thompson. She's a friend of Roman Polanski, and she signed the petition asking to get him off the charge. A group of students -- from my university, which is awesome -- were like, dude, Emma, you look like you're trying to defend child rape. She took her name off the petition when that was pointed out, and made a statement explaining why. That? Was an awesome response.)

It's not about never making a mistake. It's not about trying to over explain everything, so that you can never be misinterpreted. It's about how you react when someone points out to you that something you said sounds douchey. It's about how you express your frustration when you are misinterpreted. (Or hey, owning your remarks, if you weren't misinterpreted.) It's about having respect for the people who respect you.

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