Reflections on Empathy and Listening

Regular readers of BCC will have noticed that posts expressing women’s discomfort or anger produce intense comment threads. Almost invariably, a male commenter comes along and attempts to engage with the ideas that he sees operating in the post, only to find himself accused of not listening. Frequently, these male commenters respond by suggesting that women don’t want discussion, but simply want their feelings affirmed. Many threads have led to this impasse—to a “conversation about the conversation” instead of whatever the original post happened to be about.

As a man, I’ve struggled to know how to respond to these threads. Knowing the women of BCC has been the most morally transformative experience of my recent life, and I feel urgently the need to honor their perspectives, for which I am deeply grateful. And yet I’ve had a hard time knowing what to say beyond “thanks.” That’s important, to be sure, but as a form of engagement it’s rather inert. At other times, I’ve tried to engage by calling out mansplaining, by, you know, mansplaining to mansplainers about how mansplaining works, and these efforts have been neither helpful nor productive. I’ve even been modded!

I’ve come to believe that both of these responses—the bare thanks and the aggressive calling out—resulted from a lack of empathy on my part. I’d listened enough to know what mansplaining was, and I valued listening enough to believe that my BCC sisters’ voices were worth hearing, but I hadn’t yet learned how listening and empathy really work. No doubt I still have quite a bit to learn, but in this post I’d like to share some of what I’ve figured out this past while. [Read more…]

Gender, Authority and Strange Loops

I want to expand on thoughts expressed by commenters in the Sunday PM General Conference Open Thread, specifically, “…Or maybe, if we’re going to talk about how wise mothers are, and what good teachers, and read sentimental poems about grown men longing to hear their mothers’ voices, we could just, y’know, hear their voices….”

The immediate context of this comment was Brother Foster’s talk, “Mother Told Me,” but the point applies to the entire conference, and more broadly to women’s influence in the church. I’d like to delve deeper into an analysis of some details in Brother Foster’s talk. I want to emphasize that this should not be read as a condemnation of the whole talk. It is both much narrower (a quibble with just one particular example he selected), and much bigger (the whole situation of women in the church), than his talk. Also, on some level, this is just a golden opportunity for me to geek out on some of my favorite geeky topics: logic, paradox and feminism.
[Read more…]