I have an idea to pose to all the men out there who are skeptical or dismissive of feminism. This thought is directed to those who have ever used the phrase, “not all men.” It’s to those who look around everyday and see no obvious signs of oppression or pain or suffering by women.
They see women walking down the street, happy as you please. Women are their bosses at work, tellers at the bank, servers at the restaurant. Men see women in most aspects of society, and it all seems to look okay from our perspective. What are all these feminists complaining about? Why do they hate men? Don’t they know not all men catcall or harass or abuse? Don’t they know we aren’t all like that?
Before getting into the flaws in that line of questioning, I’m going to propose a thought experiment. Men, I want you to picture a typical day. But there’s a twist. This will take a few minutes, but please, follow along, if you will…
You wake up in the morning, brush your teeth, take a shower. You take a look at the TV news as you’re getting dressed. Every commercial seems to involve imagery of men dressed in form-fitting or revealing clothes, with the camera lingering on their asses. Or house husbands smiling and discussing how much they love the cleaning products that make the house nice for their wives.
But that’s basically okay, you guess. You see that everyday, and it just kind of fades into the background. Maybe it bothers you some if you dwell on it , but it’s not the worst offense you can imagine.
Meanwhile, you’re walking to the bus stop to get to work. Crap. There’s that construction site. Those ladies in the hardhats won’t shut up. Maybe you’ll cross the street, they won’t see you. Damn. Nevermind. No, you won’t “shake your ass.” Please stop. Argh. You’re a little worried one day they’ll step off the site and try it up close. Ugh.
Whew! On the bus. But wait…
That lady keeps staring at you. Kind of uncomfortable. Eyes are up here, lady. Oh wonderful, now she’s sitting next to you. You don’t want to talk to her. Why is she asking you to smile? Gah. If she were another dude, you’d just tell her to shut up, but she looks a lot stronger than you. She could do damage. Hope you still have that mace in your pocket.
Off the bus, finally. She kept talking, but thankfully she didn’t follow. Just a block away from the office. Dammit, there’s that panhandler again. She always asks women for money and nothing else. But she seems to want something extra with you, and other men.
“Hey baby, why don’t you smile? You’d look so much more handsome if you smile.”
You try to ignore her, quickening your pace. She takes a threatening step forward as you pass. She towers over you, as most women do. You feel very uncomfortable and nervous. You fumble around in your pocket for that mace. Fortunately, she doesn’t take any more steps as you pass. Instead, she gets mad.
“Fuck you, you stuck up little bitch! I didn’t want to touch your nasty little ass anyway!”
God. Everyday. Every damn day.
You feel stressed, and anxious. And your day hasn’t even really started yet. You finally get to your building, and walk inside. You get to your office, sit down at your desk. As you get started with your day, a couple women are standing near your desk, chatting.
“Did you see the bulge on that guy?”
“That one at the bar Saturday?”
“Yeah, that tall one. I woulda fucked him in a heartbeat.”
Their conversation goes on like that for a while. They spend quite a bit of time discussing the physical attributes of that weekend’s attempted conquests. It’s crude, and makes you uncomfortable. You want to say something. But you remember the last guy who complained. He started getting little comments, and notes left on his desk, and then a bad performance review. You didn’t hear all the details, but rumor was he was cornered in the bathroom and threatened. In any event, he was gone just a couple weeks after he complained.
Later that day, at lunch, you’re talking to a buddy. He happened to see a piece of paper forgotten at a printer. He told you he saw the salaries of everybody in the department. You find out Denise at the desk next to you makes $3 more an hour. What the hell? You started there a year before she did. And you know you’re better at the job. She’s always late, and she’s always making excuses for taking days off.
Later, in a meeting, you’re asked a direct question, but when you try to answer, your coworker keeps cutting you off. She’s not even your supervisor, but she keeps talking down to you. Eventually, Denise makes the same suggestion you were trying to make. Your boss compliments her profusely.
Finally, this day is over. You’re clocking out, and wrapping up paperwork at your desk. Denise walks up to your desk, and leans over. “Hey, darlin.’ Bunch of us are going out for drinks later. Wanna come?”
You tell her you’re tired, and you appreciate the offer, but maybe another day.
“Aw, c’mon. Don’t be like that. You know you want to.”
Again, you reiterate you’re tired, and just want to go home.
“What’s the matter? You got a girlfriend or something?”
Nope. You just don’t want to go out.
Denise keeps asking, as you get your jacket on, and start walking toward the door. For a moment, it looks like she’s trying to block the door. She’s got at least 6 inches and 50 pounds on you. You’re getting nervous again. Denise looks down at you and leers.
“You know we’d have some fun together. I’m just saying.”
You try to be polite, but you’re getting upset. You finally work your way around her and out the door.
Then there is that panhandler yet again. And a creep on the bus. And the obnoxious neighbor who keeps inviting you over “for drinks.”
And then, tomorrow, you have to wake up and do it all over again. Let’s not even mention if you want to go out on the town on the weekend. Let’s not talk about going into a bank, and applying for a loan. Let’s not talk about buying a car, or taking one to a mechanic. Let’s pretend those aren’t also ordeals more often than not. We can just focus on the day-to-day minutiae of your life. Media, employers, people on the street. Every day, there are constant reminders that you are smaller, less physically imposing, less aggressive, possess less wealth, make less money, possess far less political power. Everyday is a reminder that your sexuality is both despised, and sought after. You are a commodity to the other gender, at least according to commercial interest.
Men, put yourself in this position. Imagine a world where you are always aware that half the population can and just might hurt, abuse, torment, and rape you. Imagine a world where you have almost the same legal rights as the other sex, but you’re always a little (sometimes a lot) underrepresented, underpaid, and seemingly underappreciated.
When you bring these inequities up, people will tell you its not like this is Riyadh. You can drive, vote, live on your own, and you have little official oppression from law and government. People will argue, negate, and dismiss many complaints you might have. Because life in America is better than life in some other places, you are told that you don’t have any cause to be upset. You are told to quit complaining, and go take what is yours. Then you set out to do just that, and you are called a bitch. You’re suddenly demanding or entitled.
Meanwhile, you are still more likely to be injured or even killed by a significant other. You are more likely to be sexually assaulted. There is plenty of disagreement as to the exact number, but most scholarly research indicates you are making at least 15, and possibly up to 25% less than the other sex, doing the same jobs. Sexual imagery in media and advertising is far and away more likely to be catering to the other sex.
Men, think about that. Think about how you would feel living that life. And if that’s too abstract for you, think about people you know. It’s always bothered me when feminist arguments are made to men describing women primarily in relation to men. Doing so treats women merely as extensions of men, which is of course, unfair. However…
Sometimes, I think that’s the best way to get the message through to certain men. So, with that thought in mind, if it truly is too difficult to place yourself in a woman’s shoes – think of everything I described. And think of the women in your lives. Do you enjoy the idea of your mother or sister or friend dealing with that on a daily basis? How would you feel if your mom was catcalled everyday on the street? Well, guess what? It probably has happened to her at some point. It might be happening now.
So, why the long-winded, ham-handed scenario described above? Why reverse roles and create an alternate universe for the purpose of explaining empathy?
Because the men I’m addressing are missing the whole point. Sometimes Captain Obvious needs to pay a visit.
When a man says, “not all men,” they are actually saying, “not me.” And if that’s true, great. I’m glad to know you possess a basic level of common decency. Kudos to you for not completely sucking.
However, that reaction is a defensive one. And it’s completely wrong for this situation. Unless a woman is confronting you directly, discussions of gender inequality aren’t personal. It’s not about you. Don’t do what so many men do to women, and shift the conversation to yourself. And if you’re feeling defensive about men in general, I have to ask – why?
If you read this far, hopefully you have at least considered the point of view of a woman. And if you have, then you might be starting to get an idea how our modern society treats the average woman. And you probably are thinking that you wouldn’t like to deal with that yourself.
Still with me so far?
Good. Don’t worry, this isn’t hard.
We’ve now established that men generally have things easier than women. Especially in the day-to-day minutiae of our lives. The scenario I described above almost never happens to men.
But, that scenario, or some variation thereof, does happen to most women.
Every sloppily scripted paragraph above describes events I personally heard described, and witnessed myself. None of those events mentioned are necessarily the worst possible crimes. But, dealing with them over and over, day in, day out… being constantly reminded that men still run the world… it’s got to be draining. And infuriating.
So I ask the men I’m addressing, can you give me any sort of argument against bringing about real equal opportunity, access, and safety for women? Is the concept of helping women realize equal status with men such a fearful one?
There are some men who truly fear equality. People in a position of privilege, especially straight white cis males, often seem to view equality with submission. To those with privilege and power, giving it up, or relinquishing it to a level of parity, is frightening.
I completely understand that. But this is 2016. The vast majority of people in this part of the world intellectually understand there is no fundamental reason why differences of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or anything else should hold anyone back.
Back to the men – all I really ask, is before you rail against feminism, before you react defensively at discussions of inequality – exercise a little empathy. Put yourself in her shoes. Don’t argue, don’t lecture, don’t deny. And please, don’t take it personally. Just listen. Listen, and then think about how you would feel in their situation.
That’s the first step.
After that, it’s up to you. Write articles, talk to people, confront misogyny when you see it. And don’t make assumptions. That will get you in trouble every time.
Humanity has a lot of potential. Sometimes we act like we might be learning a little bit. Progress has been made, in some pockets of the world, toward improving happiness and quality of life. Another solid step up the ladder of progress would be for men to acknowledge the humanity of women. Yes, all men. And all women.