With this post, I'm fully expecting to receive some flak. And honestly, that's okay. I'm only human, and I'll say some things the wrong way. I'll own that, and try to correct myself if I don't manage to say this right.
I'm also about to get back into a topic which was a source of much debate for me last year; sexism. And I'm about to address a particular response to women's issues that I'm frankly tired of seeing. To preface, this is not directed at All Men (I can't tell you how much I hate even having to make that clarification, but it seems I do), but rather at any man who has seen an article shared detailing the experiences of women, and the negative consequences of those experiences, and felt compelled to comment with anything along the lines of "not all men do this", "this happens to men too", or any variation thereof.
Feminism takes a lot of heat. When it began, it was because women were generally seen as having a particular place in society and a role to fulfil, and if they stepped out of that place, it would be detrimental to humanity as we knew it. Years, decades passed, and we saw many feminists naturally become more frustrated and aggressive, as women were still not taken seriously in their issues. This was the start of the "RadFem" or "Feminiazi" movements that we sometimes hear about today. The perception of feminism shifted from "women stepping out of their place" to "women hating men and blaming them for their problems."
But therein lies the problem. Men, seeing a woman express her concerns, needs, and fears, and thinking "how does this affect me?" Guys, we're all horribly insecure. How could we not be? We have the media telling us how many women we're supposed to sleep with, how good we're supposed to be in bed, how much money we're meant to make. When we see someone with a problem that might, in some way, relate to us, we go into defensive mode. So "how does this affect me?" becomes "are they blaming me for this?"
We don't stop and think "how can that person's situation be made better?"
There are three fundamental obstacles that hinder a person's ability to help another with an issue:
- The issue does not affect them directly
- Inability to see from the other person's perspective how the issue affects them
- Inability to understand the difference between "I want you to understand my problem" and "I want to blame you for my problem."
Now imagine you're a straight white man. All other issues of economics, health, and education being equal, a straight white man has a significant advantage over a person of any other gender, skin colour, or sexual orientation. The circumstances of your life have told you one of two things: (1) You are supposed to strive for everything you desire, and/or (2) you are entitled to have everything you desire. These carry with them certain pressures. We want things, we feel we deserve them, and we worry that we'll be judged if we don't achieve them.
So when a woman says she's suffering unfairly, it's a common instinct to go "Hang on, I've worked hard to get where I am, why should she be treated better than me just for being a woman?"
What many men don't realise is that for as hard as we work, most women have to work harder, or with obstacles we're not aware of, to achieve the same amount.
Another common reaction is "Well I didn't do that to her, so why am I being blamed?" This comes from that insecurity I mentioned before. If a woman is telling us about a problem, she must think we're to blame, right? But that's not what's going on. The single biggest thing standing in the way of equality, no matter which group you're dealing with, is getting other people to take your issues seriously. That's the goal, here. When you see someone sharing an article about how women frequently avoid walking home alone at night, or have a friend informed when they go on a first date, just in case they're assaulted, they're not saying "I blame all you men for this." They're saying "I wish you could understand why this happens, and why it's a problem."
So what can we do? Not Men, as a collective, but men, as individuals? If we're not the ones to blame, and we're compassionate enough to realise that another person's problems are important even if they don't directly relate to us, what can we do?
It's not about us
We don't have to (and shouldn't) bring every conversation on women's issues back to how men are affected by similar things. Yes, men suffer from unique issues too, and those things should be addressed, but there's nothing constructive, when a person says "I've got this problem" by responding with "Yeah, but what about my problem?"
It's not all-or-nothing
It's not all men that are rapists, but it's certainly enough men, and enough women are held to blame for being a victim, that there are serious problems with how we address the issue. It's not that every time a woman expresses an opinion on a comic book cover or video game that she'll be persecuted, but it's enough times that we should examine why it is that a man's opinion on these matters is given more credence and leeway than a woman's. It's not that men never get raped or abused or the victims of violence, but that these are usually in different enough circumstances that the problems and potential solutions are not always the same.
It's about listening
There's nothing to be gained by speaking over someone who's trying to speak up for themselves. Step back and let the woman speak, see what she has to say, without jumping to conclusions. When you really listen to someone's problems and try to understand how this effects them and why they're coming out with it, you can learn some amazing things.
It's about compassion
If you'd been attacked or hurt, and you went to someone for help, you'd want to be treated with compassion. If someone you loved was hurt, you'd care. Give the compassion you'd like to receive, and spread the care you'd give to others, regardless of their relationship to you. It's incredible the different a simple "That's awful, are you okay?" can make to someone who's been through a traumatic incident.
It's about working together
I'm a member of HeForShe, the UN's new movement to get men and boys involved in women's rights. I was once, long ago, the kind of guy who thought feminists were all killjoys who wanted to blame men for their problems and take all the fun stuff out of movies and games. But I started listening to women and realising that what they were asking for was no more than I'd want for myself, to be treated fairly, without their gender becoming a deciding factor in their career or social situations. And I learned that if I didn't want to think that women were blaming me for mistreating them, then I should start by not being the kind of guy who mistreats women, whether that be by my actions, my words, or even how I think about women's issues. I stopped getting defensive and trying to explain how I was "not that kind of guy" and started responding to what was actually being said.
Guys, most of us are basically decent. Let's start making sure that enough of us act that way.