Today, myself, and two close male friends, whom I grew up with in a small community, were sharing kitchen space and making meals after work. It was pleasant, friendly, there was laughter and ease. But I kept finding myself being dismissed in conversation - on four occasions, within ten minutes. Discussions on things I knew about.
My experience changed from one of community and affection to finding myself feeling incredibly sad, to have pleasantly entered a conversation, considering myself an equal, and so quickly classified as "just a woman". When, logically, I'd be the one to ask how hot the barbecue gets, or where the tool kit is, or which screwdriver is needed to remove the faceplate to the hush pump. After all, we were at my house, and these were my things.
I know these men quite well, and this kind of thing doesn't happen often, especially the more years and life events pass us by. So over the years I've come to consider some things that may have contributed to this behaviour. I know that these are men who love women, who are tender and kind with huge hearts, and if you catch them in a serene moment they are wide open and welcoming to conversations of emotional depth that require self awareness. They are not abusers, control freaks, or extreme finger pointers. They have the beautiful quality of being able to own their wrongs and apologize.
What they haven't had, for the majority of their lives, is a voice.
Which, unfortunately, has made them "The Answer Man". You know, the kind of guy that, before your story is out, have words tumbling out of their mouths to enlighten you on some aspect (they think) you haven't considered, offering their wisdom and obliviously steering the conversation in an entirely different direction. They have had no voice, and now that we are grown and out of our mother's homes, they jump at the opportunity to speak and be heard. Because the truth is, they've been taught in no uncertain terms to dislike men - which is, to dislike themselves. This seems to result in overcompensating, by needing to be know-alls, caretakers, uncomfortable by anything that may be received as correction or criticism. Which, if it's coming from a familial woman's mouth, is nearly everything.
I was raised and surrounded by these women too. So I'm acutely aware when my learned-through-osmosis judgmental nature sneaks out in my tone, or my playful competitiveness is received as gender-based combativeness. But the truth is, I see their pain. I have so much love and respect for them and their experience. And I - a bisexual 30 something lover of everyone - am the last to attach a gender to their experience. I have my own pain - that I wonder if they know they are contributing to - relative to the lady bits I was born with, and subsequent treatment in life. But I also know that no one has a monopoly on pain, and the fight to address the centuries of sexism towards women - that has lead to our knee-jerk hesitance to stand for ourselves in the moment, or report a rape after it's happened, or to put our own safety ahead of our concern for our abusers whom we love... (a topic for another blog perhaps, but let's acknowledge the irony of this article) - this does not render certain men's struggle irrelevant.
If you ask me, it is the same struggle.
(Stay with me, feminists).
I was one of the 18,000 same-sex couples married during the time between California's ruling of Proposition 22 (2008) as unconstitutional, (Read: Gay marriage is a go!) and the passage of Proposition 8, (2009), (Read: We take it back). What followed was an in depth trial in the United States District Court for the Northern California District that was widely followed, and held incredibly poignant testimony. In many ways the underlying theme of discrimination throughout the trial ran parallel to the struggles of both women and men, and the stereotypical stigma attached to each gender.
Let's note now, how women have been wronged. We have become stronger, louder, and intent on affecting change and being treated better. Many are angry, and rightly so.
These men - the new man - they have seen their mothers and sisters hurt, have seen the anger, have even bore the brunt of it. They are ashamed.
In large part through social stigma, 51% of the population of California felt the need to protect themselves, their children, or the safety of marriage itself from gays and lesbians. Testimony of the opponents spoke to the innate harm in confidence, sense of self-worth, inclusion, ability to play a part and contribute to their community or economy - that they have suffered from acute discrimination and experienced sustained patterns of sometimes subtle, sometimes outright hostility.
Gay and lesbian teens are five times more likely to commit suicide.
Let's read that again, with slight alterations:
"Testimony... spoke to the innate harm in confidence, sense of self-worth, inclusion, ability to play a part and contribute to their (emotional) community - that they have suffered from acute emotional suppression and experienced sustained patterns of sometimes subtle, sometimes outright expectation of who they should be, and hostility when they're not.
Adult males are four times more likely to commit suicide."
This is heartbreaking.
That's all. It is not a comparison to the struggle of women in today's society. It doesn't need to compete with the deep damaging effects of rape culture. I believe we need to treat it as it's own epidemic, separate but very much connected.
I have experienced sexual harassment and assault just for being female - uninitiated, workplace assault that happened out of nowhere by a subordinate. I've experienced my own incredibly confusing, and revealing, response to that. Not wanting to make a big deal of it, I was feeling somehow responsible, and unsure about how much action to take. To be clear, I am not a mother. I was raised by fierce, often angry woman-warriors. I thought myself one. This was a response I was the last person in the world to think I would experience. Through this, I realized the extent of society's expectations of women, the caretakers, pain-bearers, graceful and mature. Yet, I was violated. I didn't recognize myself in the days that immediately followed my assault - I was actively considering protecting him.
Through this process, I made the connection. I realized how deeply ingrained our gender roles are, even when we've never been required to live them.
Today, with two men I love dearly, I realized that many men do not make the connection. They don't necessarily know why they dismiss the opinions of women, or offer less value to the advice they have to offer. They may not even know what is at the very root of these actions;
Their pain, is the result of being the unfortunate brother-by-sexual-organ to the men who victimize and abuse women. Their pain is being the target of the consequence of those men existing. My pain today, was the result of being sister-by-sexual-organ to the women who misjudged and shamed them, as a consequence of the behavior of other men.
I was the target,
of the consequence,
of women deeply wronged, gender-generalizing the culprit.
So I ask you, men and women, for all of us to make the connection.
To heal yourselves. To lay down swords and respect the struggle of "the other" - perpetuating a gender war, blaming the other, even if the fault does lie on one side, it is not going to fix this. We are still left dealing with our own emotional reactions and beliefs - they can help us grow or shut us down. That's where the solutions are. Let's think about how we want to respond, and whether what we choose is productive to society.
Let's get honest, not competitive.
Let's get aware.
If we explore and discover what is holding us back from the kind of connectedness we're missing - identify the ways our stories have shaped us, our treatment of others, and the incredible world waiting for us to open up to it, the struggle could cease. The blaming could end and be replaced by understanding. I challenge all of you, to describe either the issue of misogyny, or the struggles of today's men - not for the gender you classify yourself, but for the opposite. Let's try to see the other side - all of us. Every. One.
Let's start there.
We are responsible now. We owe this to our brothers, sisters, children... society itself.