Men need to call each other out. Every time they don’t, the world gets a little worse.
I’m a man, a dad, a human struggling to make sense of the recent murders at Isla Vista and the discussion that followed summarized by the #yesallwomen hashtag. I’ll start this piece by acknowledging that I am going to make mistakes, forget stuff, and say things that are wrong. Please feel free to correct me in the comments below. I also want to recognize that I am a straight, white, cis male so I’m pretty much playing through this game on Easy Mode.
I’m scared for my daughters. Not scared in a (literally) paternalistic “I have to protect these weak creatures from an evil world” way, but scared that no amount of indignance on my or their parts is going to make much of a difference.
Let me put a few things on the table that I feel ridiculous having to say: women are in no way less than men. They are only the “weaker” sex because we’ve told them that and they believe it.1 Women are in no way inherently weaker or worse than men. On average, women may be physically smaller than men, but on average, white dudes have smaller external genitalia and that didn’t stop us taking over the world. My daughters are just as strong as your sons. That my girls have to live in a more fearful world isn’t because they are inherently weak. It’s because the world is wrong.
So, I’m mad that a guy murdered a bunch of women because he saw them as lesser; he killed them because the narrative in his head wasn’t playing out the way he wanted. And I’m mad that way, way too many men responded with, “well he shouldn’t have murdered them.”
The first time I was called a misogynist was in high school, by one of my best friends who at the time identified as male.2 I was struggling with being a teenager, and I didn’t treat the women I “went out” with3 the best. How we learn to have relationships with people is hard. The gender(s) we are attracted to are so elusive. What do they think? How can I get them to notice me? After they notice me, what do I do? I was figuring out what relationships were, and how to be in one. I did typical teenage BS: breaking up with people for no reason, being a jerk so they’d break up with me, disappearing from my usual “spots” around the school to force the issue. Part of learning how to not be horrible to each other is to be horrible to each other.
What my friend said stuck with me. I didn’t hate women; I couldn’t possibly be a misogynist. But that didn’t matter. It caused me to reflect not on my conscious motivations but my actions. Were my actions because I thought the women in my life were less than me? Was I with this person because I liked this person or because she fit a particular role in the narrative of the story I thought I should be having? Until I met my now wife, I definitely worried about the narrative more than I should have. This is not to say that I did not feel genuine emotions towards women I was with, but I let the narrative get in the way.
So, yes, I have been an entitled romantic partner. I was trying to create my own biopic when I should have just tried to be one of two extras enjoying each other’s company over coffee in the background of a romantic comedy while the leads have their drama in focus.
The moral of the story? One male called another male out on his misogyny. And, as a result, for the past 15 years I have (imperfectly) been more reflective of my actions. Men need to call each other out, even when it is hard. I’ve been on business trips where I tacitly accepted (with my silence) my male colleagues oogling female conference attendees. Every time you don’t say something, it reinforces in other men that this is OK. I didn’t speak up because it was easier to roll my eyes, say nothing, and avoid conflict. I regret every time I didn’t speak up because I made the world a little worse.
— ∮∮∮ —
My girls are going to have it harder than me because they are girls. They’ll have to figure out this human relationship thing too–but with a gun to their heads. I was fortunate that my friend called me a misogynist, but there are a whole lot more words that apply to the normal “mistakes of learning how to be in relationships with people” that women make than men. I was never called a slut. I was never called a whore. I was never called a tease. I was never called frigid. I was never dismissed as being hormonal.4 I was never called a prude. I never had to worry that how I dress might send the wrong message. I was given the freedom to make mistakes without any real consequences.
The expectations of me were to figure out how to be a man. The expecations of my daughters are to already know how to be a woman.
- And those that don’t are met with hostility and often violence. Hooray for thousands of years of systematic oppression! ↩
- We haven’t seen each other in years. I have no reason to assume he changed his gender identity, but I also have no reason to assume that he didn’t. ↩
- We didn’t actually go anywhere. ↩
- Which I certainly was. ↩