People are not check boxes

So, Don Miller wrote a thing about gender difference and gender equality (warning: transphobia and misgendering). Like previous things he’s written about gender, it’s pretty wrongheaded.

The title alone is facepalm material: “Do Women Want to Be Treated Like Men or Do Women Want to be Treated Like Equals?”

Whenever I make a statement or ask a question about anything regarding gender, the response I get is deafening. To be sure, this is a very sensitive issue. However, men do need to know and understand what women want, exactly, and if women want equality, that’s great, but if women want to be treated like men, that’s another thing all together. The truth is, men don’t treat each other all that well….

Do you want to be treated like men in every area of your life? And if not, is it confusing for you to want to be treated more kindly and tenderly in a social area, but more straight-forwardly in the sense of economic and cultural equality?

Let me be more pointed: As women, do you want for men to say you’re beautiful? Because if we treat you like men, we will never say you’re beautiful. We don’t really care. And we won’t make you feel small or special or precious, either. We won’t protect you because, quite frankly, you need to protect yourself or you’re a wimp. Do you really want us to treat you like men?

And then there’s the secondary questions. There’s the questions about the fact women are paid much less than men. And that’s ridiculous. It’s a shame and a crime and a travesty. But let’s not pretend women want to be treated like men because they don’t. What they seem to want is equality. And those terms need to be parsed and understood. And who will lead this parsing and understanding? Women. State clearly what you want. We need to know because the current communication is, to say the least, confusing.

Oh boy. Don Miller mansplains it all! This is concern trolling at its finest, where by “finest,” I mean “most obnoxious.” (Also: transphobia like whoa! More on that in the next post.)

Let me translate. LADIES. Do you really know what you want? If you do, do you know how to explain or ask for it? Can you tell the difference between equal pay for equal work and being one of the bros?

Never fear, Don Miller is here to rescue us from our hapless confusion! Don Miller understands that the ladies sometimes ask for one thing when we really want another, because thinking is hard and words are complicated. Don Miller is here for us. Be grateful.

By the way, Mr. Miller: d’you think maybe the “one of the boys” culture has something to do with gendered workplace/pay discrimination? And maybe other forms of gender discrimination and oppression as well? Just a teeny bit?

But let’s take Miller’s question and assumptions at face value for a moment. He suggests that women shouldn’t want to be treated like men because “men don’t treat each other all that well.”

You know what? There’s actually a lot of truth to that statement. There’s a lot about American cultures of masculinity that encourages men to mistreat each other, and themselves.

I’ll even grant that Miller isn’t entirely wrong that the activism of some feminists does involve a lot of demanding to be treated just like men. The thing is, plenty of feminists, womanists, and others who believe in gender justice have criticized this kind of feminism that’s obsessed with obtaining the same privileges that men have (usually just for a narrow demographic of women who are themselves privileged over other women).

Miller’s response to his observation that men aren’t kind to each other is “I’m fine with that” – which is of course an opinion he’s entitled to. But it’s interesting that he’s more interested in challenging whether women who believe in gender equality know [how to ask for] what we really want than he is in examining how men treat each other, and whether that’s something worth addressing and even changing.

Let’s not ask pesky questions that require men to reflect on how they behave towards each other. That would be girly.

Miller says he’s asking for clarification from women, but it’s rather clear that he thinks he has all the answers. His entire premise is that men are comfortable being one particular way, while women prefer something else, and never the twain shall meet.

This isn’t an argument unique to Don Miller. And the idea that gender activism means wanting everyone to be treated “like men,” with no acknowledgement of gender difference or diversity, is a pretty popular misconception. The hilarity of this argument to me is that it reduces the amazing spectrum of gender identities and expressions in the world to only two universal and monolithic options. “Women” want this. “Men” want that. End of story.

Dude, humanity is a lot more complex and varied than that. This binary model of gender is not only counter to reality, it’s seriously lacking in imagination and curiosity about the human experience. People are not check boxes.

This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine when it comes to sexist dismissals of feminism. Feminism isn’t just one thing, nor is all gender justice work feminism. I can’t speak for everyone. But my understanding of feminism, of gender justice, is the complete opposite of the idea that gender doesn’t matter, or that everyone should be treated identically regardless of gender (does anyone actually believe this? I wonder).

My feminism starts from the premise that gender difference matters an awful lot when it comes to working for equal rights and justice for all. I believe that we should recognize, listen to, affirm, and respect people of all gender identities and expressions equally. This doesn’t mean disregarding difference.

No rights are secured by pretending that there’s no difference in experience or circumstance between different groups of people. “Respect” that’s based on ignoring an aspect of someone’s identity or life experience isn’t real respect. As a cis, queer black woman, I don’t want to be treated as though I’m identical to or no different from a woman who’s trans, straight, and/or white. What I want is for both of us – for everyone – to be able to make a living, to have access to what we need, to be able to live without harassment or violence, to be able to live in peace and with respect and understanding for who we are. I don’t want it to not matter that I’m a black woman; I want it to matter differently.

Which brings me back to your question, Don Miller: how do women want to be treated? I don’t think what we want is so opaque or complicated. Most of us, I suspect, don’t want to be treated “like men.” We want to be treated like human beings. The fact that this is confusing for you seems to be more a reflection on you than on us, hmm?


  1. Love this response.

  2. Great response!

  3. My biggest question to Don Miller is this: Why do you ask a question of women and then allow no comments? Apparently, you don’t want to listen to our answers. Therefore, your questions are rhetorical. You’ve already decided what we want.