The #yesallwomen campaign has brought up so much deeply held finally said out loud shame from women. Reading it brings tears to my eyes. The mini stories are devastating. Yet I know that only half of the stories out there are being told. The rest are still buried because of the Thing that all women are taught: The first rule of being a girl is to shield ourselves from the vengeance of men. We try to shield ourselves by being the kind of women they won’t hurt. Although, that gets tricky. The criticisms that we aren’t doing it right include too fat, not pretty enough, too intelligent, too dumb, too accomplished to be worthy of anything but scathing derision and hatred. We must be punished. If we are doing it right then we owe them sex. At least, a blow-job. We must be used.
I have heard this story too many times. I have heard it from my students who are just trying to get to class. I have heard it from girlfriends who are just trying to have a glass of wine, with each other. I have heard from the female engineers who think problem solving is fun. I have heard from the 12 year old swimmers who are trying to figure why suddenly men think their bodies in swimsuits are different from last year. I have heard it and heard it and heard it. And yes, I have experienced it.
When I used to teach I would set up this scenario; “Okay ladies, it is 10 o’clock, after class and you are walking to your car. You hear a sound behind you. How many of you shift your keys in your hand or pull out your cell phone and begin talking on it loudly so someone will know what happened to you?”
Almost all the hands go up. Once one didn’t. I asked curiously, why not? She held a black belt in three different martial arts. She held a different form of protection, and while she stated she would not shift her keys, she did shift her body weight “just in case.”
She was killed two summers ago, by her live in boyfriend.
I cried at the service and thought that what this means is that women know and understand that some men, for no distinct reason, are always going to hate us. We will never know why and can never name it, other than to recognize that it is a Thing, and it is a rape-driven ethos within our culture. It is easy to blame the group that is seen as “less than” you, and to therefore hurt them. For men, who have been in privilege for so long, and have gotten there by force, this means women are the problem
And I do mean all men, because no matter how enlightened, or self-aware, that you claim you are, there is some portion of your primal brain that will pop up when you least expect it and throw down the “I deserve more than you because, I am a guy” bullshit. Straight White Guy Chris Roberson admits it in his blog: and I know this to be true.
I know this because I have seen my brothers do it. I know this because I have seen myself do it. The collusion in one’s own oppression is a fearsome thing, and as much of a feminist as my mother and grandmother were, they were still victims of their historic moment. I currently live in a world where whole classes of schoolgirls in Nigeria are kidnapped, and even though we know who did it, the perpetrators feel JUSTIFIED in their actions. After all, they threw a handful of coins on the ground as payment for their booty (not a funny pun). And when the UN finally stepped in, I cheered, silently, because I don’t want to be too strident in my feminism. Not because I am not solidly feminist, but because I am job hunting right now, and don’t want to destroy my chances by male hiring managers.
And this makes me tired. I don’t want to worry about what kind of man I might be working for, or who might be hiring me. I’m done with teaching about this to men and women in order to recruit male allies who get rewarded for having the same views I do. This just reinforces the hierarchies of patriarchy and elevates masculinities. I want to trust that the man I am hired by gets that I am brilliant and amazing or he would not have hired me.
This also means I am tired of the “Be a real man” memes. Because the bottom line is I don’t care if you are a Real Man. I want you to be a Real Person. Just be a fucking person with all the good that entails, and there is no need for labels. You will already get it, and have the compassion and empathy that so many don’t.
Men’s Rights Activists rage against child support, no-fault divorce, single mothers, and laws protecting women from domestic violence. They believe we live in a “gynocentric” society where women are the (with)holders of sex. Because of this, women have all the power and men are utterly victimized. So, sex equals power. Obviously, men aren’t getting their fair share of bullying, and something must be done about these arrogant women who want opinions, lives, and a say so in their sexual lives. And if they don’t get these things, they will kill us. Or at least the feminists among us. One wonders what they will do when a man self identifies as a feminist. Is he then in danger? Because feminism is a philosophy, not a set of genatalia, as Pharrell Williams seems to think.
And then I hear in my head that I am blaming all men for the actions of a few. It isn’t that simple. The best analogy that I have heard for this is the bowl of m&ms being held out to women. 10 percent of them are poison, but you don’t know which ten percent, and M&Ms are your favorite candy, so “go ahead, have a handful.” No, not all men are willing to rape, but all women are still afraid of the ten percent that are. Even the nice guys blow it sometimes. Because they can. That is part of the privilege we afford them. But I can’t. I can’t make that mistake. It becomes dangerous when I make the mistake.
I just experienced this with a friend from high school who posted a pic of a dog ready to sniff the bikini bottoms of two truncated women along with the headline “you bet I am going to sniff that.” When I protested, at first mildly, it became a shit storm. This guy is one of the nicest, most gentle open-minded guys with a transgendered partner, and he STILL posted it as a “joke.” The problem is not the nice guys, it is the culture that thinks this type of collusion is funny. The problem is not the guys who speak up, it is culture that rewards them for doing so. The problem is not the guys who remain silent, it is the culture that lets them. The problem is not the guys who are abused themselves, by either gender, for their issue is the same as womens’ – the fundamental spirit of this characteristic violence within our culture.
So now that we have named the problem, and finally, finally, finally started the conversation that many of us have wanted to have for years, where do we go from here? As people, we need to exorcise the gender exercise, and learn to empathize. I don’t know where to start except in my own little corner, maybe even with me, as I recognize my gender discrimination both given and received, my primal brain that does revert to stupid violent ego driven bullshit, and my anger about this all. Above all, I need to keep talking. I need to keep engaging in the conversation, without blame. Join me