I was riding along the back roads near Free Union one day, audiobook filling the car as usual, when I heard Tina Fey’s voice relate a story about how Amy Poehler laid into Jimmy Fallon when he said he didn’t like the bit she was doing. She turned to him and said, “I don’t care if you fucking like it.”
Now, when I picked up Bossypants, I was expecting to laugh. I was expecting the humor to be smart and insightful, like Fey herself. What I wasn’t expecting was to find the articulation of something I’d been chipping at in my own thinking and writing for some time now – the expression of what bothers me so much about how as individuals we often dismiss another person’s perspective, needs, preferences, art, or choices because “we don’t like them.”*
I was reminded of this yesterday when P and I were talking music, and I told him I don’t listen to country because I don’t like it. He said, “Well, now, there’s some country I really like – Alan Jackson, Randy Travis . . . ” I realized that I had dismissed an entire genre of music because of Toby Keith and Kellie Pickler. Sure, it’s fine for me not to listen to country music, but when I write off everything that genre has to contribute to the world because I don’t care for the style, well, then shame on me.
The same thing happens when men decide that books by women don’t interest them because women write about topics irrelevant to men’s lives. Or when women say they don’t read books about cars because that’s a man’s world. Sure, you may not enjoy reading a book about a female soldier who gets sent off to war and has to leave her family behind, and you may not enjoy a book about a man, his dog, and car racing, but if you decide you won’t read any books by the group of people who might write those, well, then you’ve just said that whole group of people are not worth reading. Plus, you’ll have missed out on two great books – Home Front by Kristin Hannah and The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.
Talking about prejudice and discrimination makes us uneasy, so we pretend like it doesn’t exist. Acknowledging that almost every woman we know has been assaulted in some way by a man makes us feel bad as men, so we get defensive and push the problem onto the broken backs of women. Recognizing the lingering effects of the system of chattel slavery in the U.S. causes us to question our ideas of race and racism in ways that implicate ourselves, so we claim that our society is equal and that white privilege is a myth.
I’m reminded of what it feels like to be dismissed when I think of the way some people’s eyes avert when they find out I’m divorced or when they start talking a bit louder when my southern accent comes out, as if louder will help this poor, dumb girl understand. I’m also reminded when people tell me – directly sometimes and other times in their refusal to engage the conversation – that I should “move on” from my mother’s death.
Every time we dismiss the reality of other people because that reality isn’t our preference or it makes us uncomfortable and pricks our spirits, we are saying that those other people are not as important as we are. It doesn’t really matter if we like it. It matters that it’s real.
There are things it’s totally fine to dismiss because we don’t like them – blue toenail polish, Domino’s pizza, Blake Shelton’s “Honey Bee.” But the people who wear that polish, eat that pizza, listen to that song – they deserve our respect and our attention. Every time.
Have you ever had someone dismiss you because of your preferences, perspectives, or experiences?
*Fey does a brilliant job of showing how Poehler’s comment expresses feminism so perfectly. The book as a whole is great, but this section in particular stands out.