How I talk about men when they’re not around

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A SYTYCB entry

(Edited from the original version, posted on the Continuously Fractured Life)

I am obsessed with Google Reader. If you have a blog and it’s even a little bit good, chances are I subscribe to it, share it, comment on it, and maybe even audibly respond to it. Feministing is a blog I often audibly respond to, mostly because they constantly remind me about gender injustice, extraordinary people paving the way for others, and the indistinct “media” being a bigfatjerk. Sometimes I have to take a break though; like when my learning/advocating teeters too far into just plain anger. Like when I stumble upon the Precious Princess Bible and it puts me in a bad mood for the entire day – its time to take a step back and assess what’s really worth gritting my teeth over.

So, I’m trying to fire off fewer e-mails over the next few weeks that say, “can you BELIEVE this,” or “I can feel an ulcer literally growing in my stomach,” or “BULLSHIT,” and pay more attention to what’s going on in real life, because I actually work as an advocate. I don’t just play one on Google Reader.

Last summer, a post entitled “Overheard in the men’s room” popped up on my Reader. You should read it but if you’re also trying to stay calm and carry on this week, here’s a summary: the female blogger is at a wedding with her male friend. While in the bathroom, said friend, Charles, hears two men talking about trying to sleep with a bridesmaid and her boobs, and other objectifying comments. Charles doesn’t say anything. The writer makes the point that the men are willing to say such things in front of a person they don’t know, which means they think their sexist behavior is alright or at least thought anyone in the men’s room would find it acceptable. But, Charles had objections; he just wasn’t sure how to bring them up. So, if silence is seen as approval, what should Charles have said? Clearly, a disagreeing female walking into the situation would have no pull, and would have been confrontational. In this situation, Charles had more power to effect appropriate/feminist/just/advocating change than a female.

That got me thinking about a few things. Firstly, what would I hope one of my male friends would say in such a situation? I have no idea. I’ve been much too busy raising my fists over the lies Disney taught me about being a girl. Secondly, what would I say to two women I heard objectifying men? Oh. I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about my own response. But, I do have several responses regarding Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, if anyone asks. I think I do a pretty good job advocating for men (especially if they’re homeless, gay, or prostituted), when I’m in a comfortable place, or when females are somehow also being degraded. If someone negatively attributes feminine qualities to another man, I am all over it. I have male friends who are, daily, breaking hurtful, untrue gender stereotypes and I will stomp around my kitchen, and in some cases, public, for their right to do so in peace… but do I do that because there’s a standard that says if they are more like I’m supposed to be, than they’re supposed to be, it’s wrong? Or am I really, truly, standing up for an individual person, or another gender as a whole? Am I invested only because my gender is involved and being insulted? I base my whole belief system on the individual human dignity of people who are different than me, which seems pretty pertinent to this topic. Maybe I don’t have as firm a grasp on this as I thought.

I work at a shelter for teen parents. Last week, I walked into our living room and found a few girls watching Jerry Springer, which they aren’t really supposed to be doing. I asked them if they thought this was the best use of their time. One responded, “Yes, because we’re learning who to stay away from.” Fair enough. Another girl said, “Yeah, because it’s a good reminder that all men are jerks and they’ll use you.” I assured her that not all men are jerks, but that was the end of it. I could have said more. I could have reminded her of the three men on staff that I can think of off the top of my head who are excellent, upstanding human beings. I could have asked her why she felt that way today, and what was going on with her. I could have easily talked to her, as someone I have a relationship with, and I’m going to try harder to do so. But the harder question remains – would I address two females I didn’t know who were objectifying men they didn’t know? Would I stand up for my friends? I like to think I would, in a strong, nonconfrontational, respectful way.

The fact is I know a lot of really great men and I need to be talking more about them. I need to talk about them at least as much as I talk about how angry parts of Mark Driscoll’s blog make me. In fact, maybe I could replace the first with the second all together (note: this will never happen). I have friends who have conversed with me, in sincerity, about gender issues. I have friends who treat me like an equal and not like a little girl, in all situations, and I don’t even have to ask this of them. I lived with two male roommates who loved me enough to support me through various cry-fests that they didn’t even understand, who joined me in railing against the infantilization of women and the false constructs of masculinity, and who have it in them to call me out when I need to be called out. I’ve had many a dinner, lunch, coffee, phone call, movie, chat, and venture with great men that I love a lot, and those instances are at least as important as what John Eldredge says about them. I want other women (and men) to know that about them. I know a lot of men I feel totally comfortable around, whom I don’t have to put up a pretty, untruthful front for, and who will like me just the same. I still don’t know what I’d say in the women’s room to gossip about who will be trying to seduce whom later on, and who has the cutest butt, and who wants to have whose baby (I guess this is a lot for one conversation, but you never know) but I’m going to try and figure it out. If anyone has any suggestions please comment.

 

** Please note that I tried to find an appropriate picture of an angry female to post with this blog, but all the ones that came up in my search were offensive. I’m trying to deal with it. **

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