I have long considered myself (and, in spite of everything, still do consider myself) a proud and passionate liberal. This is not an easy thing to be in the part of the country where I live… or with many of the friends and family members that I have, for that matter. I’ve been told by conservative loved ones that “I’ll understand when I’m older,” or that my views are more informed by things I’ve seen in movies and television shows than anything resembling real-life experience, more times than I can count over the years. I’ve been told that if my car ever broke down in a predominantly black neighborhood in the middle of the night, by the time the sun came up the next day I’d either be dead, or I wouldn’t be a liberal anymore. But despite all that, I’ve mostly managed to stay the course.
Just to establish my bleeding-heart cred:
- I support gay marriage, and in fact generally support gay, lesbian, and transgender rights across the board.
- I support President Obama. I’ve voted in 3 presidential elections, and have only ever voted for Democratic candidates, despite the fact I am not actually a registered member of the Democratic Party.
- I support health care reform, the social safety net, the right to fair and equal educational opportunities for all, and the right to be paid a living wage.
- I support gun control legislation, including waiting periods, intensive background checks, and a ban on the sale of automatic weapons to civilians.
- I generally oppose warfare, and absolutely condemn any military action that results in “collateral damage” or civilian casualties. I believe that most “enhanced interrogation methods” (including waterboarding) constitute torture, and should not be practiced or endorsed by anyone working under the auspices of the U.S. government or its allies.
- I believe that religion is a private matter unique to each person, and should play no role in the making of law or other public policy.
Despite my obvious tendency to toe the company line on most issues, however, there are a few areas where I’ve found myself diverging ideologically from my fellow liberals over the last couple of years. The response to this heresy, encountered mostly in comment threads, message boards, and other venues online, forms a large part of the disenchantment I find myself feeling lately with this very large and at times ill-tempered club that I’ve chosen to declare myself a part of.
On the issue of white male privilege: I won’t deny that it exists, but I feel the invocation to “check one’s privilege” is too often used nowadays to tell white men to sit down and shut up, because they can’t possibly have any idea what the heck they’re talking about. Funny how I was never, ever told this during the 30 or so years I spent uniformly agreeing with everything the (now-opposing) side had to say. It’s only when I started to argue, raise questions and voice doubts that I was belatedly informed that, owing to my gender and the color of my skin, I was effectively disqualified from taking part in the debate.
On gender roles, rape culture, misogyny, “Nice Guys,” and a panoply of other issues relating to male/female interaction: I believe in the ideal of egalitarianism, I really do. I believe in the ideal of equality. But, where relationships between men and women are concerned, I also strongly believe that our instincts are very badly mismatched with the tenets of those ideals. I believe in the ideal of a gender-neutral society, where men and women are not arbitrarily held to society’s conceptions of what constitutes appropriate “masculine” or “feminine” behavior. But, again, I believe that our instincts, forged by millions of years of evolution in the days long before anything like civilization rose from the muck, make these ideals nearly impossible for our species to ever truly live up to.
I believe this lies at the heart of nearly every problem that exists today between men and women. Women are hard-wired to respond to masculinity, while half a generation of men have had the masculinity conditioned right out of them. They’re taught to appeal to women the same way they appeal to other men – on the basis of common interest, common goals and experiences, shared worldview, and so on – or, worse yet, to court them with “sweet,” chivalrous gestures and romantic-comedy clichés. This is the ideal of manhood (and romance) that popular culture promotes, and it is badly out of step with how men’s and women’s “lizard brains” actually work.
If anything, the response to these kinds of views has been even more vehement. I have been called gross, fat, ugly, creepy; a misogynist, a stupid fedora, and a “butthurt neckbeard.” I have had my appearance, manhood, personal style, parentage, and rate of success/experience with the opposite sex — everything other than the substance of the actual ideas that I’m expressing — derided, insulted, and generally called into question. For all liberalism’s claims to open-mindedness, rationality, and inclusiveness, I’ve found that the liberal camp is every bit as intolerant of opposing views, and of dissent among its own ranks, as any conservative or libertarian enclave could ever be.
And yet, I still consider myself a proud liberal. One of the good guys. I still believe in the ideal of a more fair, more rational, and more tolerant world. A world where black men are not presumed to be criminals, Hispanic women are not dismissed as welfare matrons, and where, yes, white men are not pigeonholed as oppressors and would-be rapists and perpetuators of “rape culture.” A world where no one racial, ethnic, or demographic group is pointed to with derision and told that they are the problem.
Being a liberal in the American Midwest never made me very popular here in the heartland. I guess being a slightly contrarian liberal isn’t going to make me very popular here on the interwebz either.
I suppose I can live with that… but I don’t mind tellin’ ya, it hurts sometimes.