There are many parts to the endeavour towards gender equality and this is just one of them. There are also many more global issues worth our time and compassion, and, again, this is just one of them.
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I recently had a long conversation on Facebook about the harrassment of women in public spaces, which was sparked by my friend Cassey, who posted this article by Laura Munoz. Being women, I think it was easy for Cass and I to relate to the words. One guy friend of hers, Jeffrey, told us how much he understands.
(It was an interesting conversation, so screencaps of it in full will be inserted throughout.)
It’s nice when men participate in dialogue on matters concerning women, but I’m still trying to figure out the reason why Jeffrey spoke up. He could have been speaking up in support, although he could also be bemoaning the state of things. By the way, this isn’t about Jeffrey or bashing him. But if women’s voices matter, then so do men’s, and I should think Jeffrey’s perspective must represent a percentage of men who also feel the same way. This is for them, and other men.
So, Jeffrey said: “It is true that these experiences are something I have not encountered and therefore do not truly understand how hard it can be, but I find the colored perception part worrisome though… I think proper communication and trust are important to solving this problem, and a colored view of the world kind of negates the trust and clear communication between men and women, which I think is a sad development.”
Right. I agree communication would help. In fact, I’m quite certain women realise this and have tried for a really long time. I also agree that there is a lack of trust in men in public spaces, and that it’s a shame that such a bias exists. However, knowing that it’s born out of countless cases of harassment or worse most women encounter, I can’t say it’s worrisome or sad. I’d say it’s atrocious and unfair.
By the way, I don’t think there has ever been true “clear communication between men and women”, so I rather don’t see that as a sad “development”. Throughout history, in the relationship between the two genders, women have almost always been, and still are, at a disadvantage. Probably because one or both genders did not or could not speak up, or be heard. So, yeah. Not a development, but a continued state.
Anyways, that’s a completely different subject.
So, Jeffrey goes on in this vein for a bit:
“And this affects regular relationships as well. I have had many conversations which abruptly ended with stuff like: “I have a boyfriend” or “I’m not interested in you the way you are interested in me” without me actually having other intentions than simply a good conversation, all due to this mistrust.
I want to help as best I can, but it is hard to help when you are not trusted.”
Hmm. Okay, Jeffrey, I can see that this is something that bothers you, and it is indeed unfortunate you are disadvantaged from the current state of mistrust that can exist between the genders. But…you’re upset about having a woman shut down interaction with you or not trust you, while we’re upset about the possibility of a man who won’t shut down interaction he’s forcing on us when we ask to be left alone. I dare say the possible consequences of our concerns are rather different.
To be fair, I know there are plenty of women who are nasty when they reject a perfectly nice guy’s invitation for a drink or whatever. I apologise; there are women who are complete assholes too. (But, hey, not all women, right? Does that help?)
Now take how it feels when, instead of saying, “that’s kind and I’m flattered, but, no. I’m not interested,” a woman chooses to say, “ew, gross. No, you freak.” Take that, and add the potential of being further emotionally and/or physically abused on top of it.
That’s our reality. And I’m not saying yours doesn’t matter. It isn’t fair that men are emotionally hurt by women who find it hard to trust he’s “one of the good ones” or asshole women who cannot be kind. But just because you get hurt in your way doesn’t mean the way we’re hurt is less significant or on the same level as yours. Sorry, but our two sets of concerns are simply not equal. And it is incredibly patronising when you try to put the injustices you are subjected to up next to ours, or pull ours down to sit beside yours.
One more excerpt from Jeffrey:
“But this is also exactly why I find it scary. It is good to be wary, but it is another thing to generalize this unto every male. I am not saying it isn’t an understandable position to take, but it scares the shit out of me, knowing that a conversation with a woman can be influenced by this wariness for males…I want to do something about it just as much, but this will become increasingly difficult when communications fail because of colored views. A world like that, in which I cannot even talk properly to a woman, really scares me, a lot.”
It scares the shit out of him that he A) cannot properly talk to women, and B) he cannot help even when he wants to.
My response is also in the screencaps inserted, so I won’t go into it here. But for men who have similar concerns, let me try to ease some your fears, though I’ll have to do so in reverse:
B) You CAN help. And you don’t even have to wait for a situation in which a woman might need help getting someone to back off. You don’t even have to wait for our explicit or implicit permission (eg. women’s complete trust in all men). Talk. Communicate. But not to us; to other men. If you’re that keen to help, tell other men that this is a real problem for women around them: women they care about, or women they love. Speak up! Not just to and around women, but to and around men. A guy in your office slagging off a woman who rejected him at the bar last weekend? Let him know the name-calling is uncalled for. A buddy making a crude remark about a woman who just walked by? Tell him that’s not okay and that we don’t appreciate it. Because, believe it or not, we can tell the difference between a compliment and a desire to elicit a response from us by saying something that’s meant to make us feel less comfortable in our environment.
When you sort out B, I promise you A will sort itself out. Because there will, hopefully, over time, be fewer men who behave in a way that makes it safer for us if we’re just wary of men in general. If more men know it’s not okay to condone or participate in that type of behaviour, we’ll have fewer reasons to be mistrustful of all men. Win-win for all, right?
If men want to stop being scared shitless of the behavioural and psychological developments that are the results of actions by other men, then men will have to be the ones to make the change.
Yes, yes, I know: #NotAllMen. I realise not all men are ones who’ll hurt me, but those who will? They have to change. If you want to help women so much, help us make that change happen.
Because they are the ones who created this mistrust. They are the ones hurting women and making it necessary for us to exercise the “better to be safe than sorry” protocol. They are the ones who are giving decent men a bad name. They are the ones who have created a relationship status between our genders that “scare the shit” out of you.
Women are not the ones who created the mistrust. Women are the ones responding with mistrust. So if you say you understand why we’re mistrustful, then treat the problem, not the solution that I truly hope is only temporary. Telling us you understand our challenges is just making sure we know you’re one of the good guys. (To what end? You tell me.) But it doesn’t solve anything. It’s treating the symptoms and not the illness.
About a week after the conversation started, I came across this piece by Hanna Brooks Olsen called “Why We Smile at Men Who Sexually Harass Us“. One paragraph in particular stood out, because it’s about men like Jeffrey who do, or insist they do, understand the challenges we as women face:
“This is the thing about being an ally — it requires very little nuance of understand. Catching the sexism in a beer commercial? You’re an ally. Lamenting the gender wage gap? You’re an ally.”
This relates to the last comment Jeffrey made in the long thread he, Cass and I created:
“I agree that just understanding is not enough, but it is a very valuable start, because without understanding there can be no support. People are not really anxious to support a movement if they do not understand the problem that is being challenged. And I get the feeling that a lot of men do not understand the problem as well as is expected of us. However, by having talks/discussions like these, I believe that it will be made easier to understand the hardships women have to put up with. Not just for myself, but for others as well.”
I agree that understanding is a good start, but Jeffrey also addressed the problem: “a lot of men do not understand the problem as well as is expected of us.”
Here’s the thing, to all the Jeffrey’s out there: we do expect more. And I don’t feel unfairly.
While understanding is indeed a great start, it is 2016.
The word “féminisme” was first coined in 1837 by Charles Fourier, a French philosopher. The words “feminist” and “feminism” first appeared in the Oxford English Disctionary in 1852 and 1895 respectively. Emily Davison threw herself in front of King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby in the name of the suffragette movement on June 4, 1913.
The above are only three examples of times in history when the concerns and feelings of women were raised. Again, it is now 2016. Don’t you think we should be further along from the start, as valuable as it is, by now?
Allow me to use a metaphor; albeit not a very good one because, as you’ll see, the metaphoric platform I’m about to create has never and still doesn’t exist.
The metaphor: It’s like men and women started school, let’s say primary school, at the same time. (Theoretically, this may be a reality for many reading this, but an impossibility for millions still in other parts of the world.) And now some guys are asking for a gold star for completing Yr.4 when women are in Yr.6 where we both should be by now.
I’m not saying feminism or gender equality can be measured by levels or grades, or validated by certification. Only that if there is indeed a common goal – graduating metaphoric primary school, for example – we are at a place where we were hoping we’d both be by now.
So, I’m not saying it’s your fault as men that understanding is simply not good enough. The same way you’re not saying it’s our fault we tend not to trust men in general. Only that while you can understand the reason why we are wary, I don’t understand why some of you think you’re already doing all you can to help redress the balance. Nothing we’ve said or done implies we have all we deserve from you.
You might say you didn’t know understanding was not enough due to lack of communication, but we have been communicating. Women have been speaking up for a while now, but there are still some men who need to listen and some who need to decide they’re going to respond and act upon it.
So, for the men who claim to understand, who are starting to understand, or who do understand: thank you. We appreciate the start you’ve made. Now it’s time to step it up a notch and actually do something about it. Speak and act for us to other men, and get them to do the same. As you said, it’s a joint effort, but the effort we put in must be balanced. Wouldn’t you agree?