Men. Women. Society. Meh.

First, I have to say that I understand why the #NotAllMen backlash is happening.  It’s a frightening thing to feel that you may be unwillingly drafted into a bitter generalization.  The immediate response is to say, “not me, right?”  But, friends, that doesn’t mean it is the right response.  Let me illustrate with a story.  The college campus I work at has a majority of Hispanic students, and the Writing Center where I work is often a home-away-from-home for students that are looking for a quieter environment to study.  This is a good thing, as we work hard to create a safe and comfortable atmosphere for our students. Sometimes that safe and comfortable atmosphere lends itself to somewhat uncomfortable conversations.  For instance, once I was sitting at the front desk when a handful of Latina girls started talking about their frustration with a particular instructor.  Soon that conversation ballooned into their frustration with the attitudes they encountered as Latina students in a world that seemed stacked against them, where men and white women seemed to hold all of the power and they were minorities on many levels.  It wasn’t long before they were talking about how white women don’t seem to understand how much luckier they are than women of other races and cultures.  And I was itching, absolutely itching, to join in the conversation and talk about how many odds I had to face and to more or less ask, “not me, right?”

Thankfully something told me to hold my peace.

The conversation wasn’t about me and shouldn’t have been about me. I learned something.  Despite all the hardships I faced, the fact that I’m attractive and white has definitely helped me to edge out other women who are just as deserving as I am, but just happen to have darker skin and rougher features.  My whiteness has benefited me, but I’ve been allowed to ignore that fact and focus on the areas that are still a struggle: that I’m a woman, that I’m a returning student, that I’m a mother.  Because I do face prejudice I can take it for granted that I also have a great deal of privilege.  

Let me repeat that:  I have a great deal of privilege.  I have the benefit of pale skin and a middle class upbringing that allows me to sidestep institutionalized prejudice.

So, men, I’m going to try to say this all as kindly as I can:  You have the privilege, you have the power.  Like me, you don’t have to think about your privilege because from your perspective it’s just how life works, and you can drum up a million examples of struggles as evidence that your privilege isn’t complete.  Yet, despite all evidence to the contrary, you have privilege.  And the only way you will learn to appreciate that privilege is by listening to the other voices in the room without exerting your ability to co-opt the conversation.  I get that you wonder, “are they talking about me?”  I get that you see the anger unfolding and you don’t want to be subjected to it.  I get that you may even be angry that you feel like you are having to shoulder some of that bitterness unwilling and undeserved.  The truth is that you will now know whether or not women are talking about their experiences with men like you until you take the time to actually listen.


Just listen.

Now, my lady friends:

Don’t shut up.  Please don’t shut up.  The worst part of the institutionalized misogyny of our culture is the way in which it robs us of our voices because we are trained to expect every outcry to be met with criticism and scolding.  Even when we’re assaulted, even when we’re raped, even when we have blood and bruises to demonstrate the wrongs against us we still have to prove that we are victims.

We learn, pretty quickly, that things heal better if we nurse them in silence.  But, that silence leaves us at risk for greater pain.  So do not, ever, shut up.  

When I was seventeen I went to college for the first time.  I thought I was ready, but I wasn’t.  Stress and poor grades and frustration led me to drop out a semester in.  Or, at least, that’s the story I tell.  But really, I may have done a lot better if a few weeks into my stay there I hadn’t been assaulted by someone I thought was my friend.  Now, I was told that it was my fault for being alone in a room with him.  I was told that it was my fault for dressing provocatively.  (In jeans and a tank top?)  I was told that it was my fault for “leading him on” or not “reading the signals.”  And for a long time, I did believe that it was my fault.  

It wasn’t until recently that I put any amount of thought into how twisted it was that this guy, who stuck his hands down my pants uninvited, was treated like a victim of MY sexuality and naivete and everyone, even my girlfriends, played along.

Thank God my brothers had taught me how to throw a punch.  But, even so, I was lucky.

In the movies, girls sit around sipping cocktails and talking about when they lost their virginity.

In my own experience, we show each other our scars and speak in hushed voices.  We each share our stories of assault.  Rare, very rare, are the girls that have no such story.  We imagine such girls like birds of extravagant plumage, floating down from heaven, like unicorns or mermaids, creatures of fantasy.  We imagine unstained girls as such because we do not known these women.

Yes, all women I know have a story of the time that they were handled roughly by men.  Maybe a husband, a lover, a father, a brother.  Maybe a stranger on a bus.  But we all have our scars, and many more of us than are willing to admit have physical scars we invent fictions for, so that when someone says “what’s that mark on your chin?” we can laugh it off and tell the charming story of our own clumsiness.

Because the real story of having our head shoved down against the bedpost is just way too humiliating, right?

Because it’s somehow our fault?

This, right here, is the institutionalized misogyny.  We, as women, are taught to bear the burden of our victim-hood as if it is our responsibility that we are victims.  And men are trained that it is okay to blame us, because their privilege is more important than our rights.  Now, not all men see women as extensions of their will or objects to be used.  I understand that.  But the patterns of behavior that trap women in perpetual silence are propagated by society and are misogynist.  Sometimes, men participate in the cycle completely unaware.  Often, women do the same.

And what could change that?

Women, don’t shut up.  Men?  Listen.


12 thoughts on “Men. Women. Society. Meh.

  1. You ask men to “Just listen,” and that strikes me as a reasonable request. I have a question, though: For how long?

    I’m 51 years old, male, straight, white, raised Christian (though I’ve recovered from that malady) and middle class. The only boxes I don’t have checked off on the privilege survey are rich, tall, and good-looking. So, yes, I am privileged. I get it. I’ve seen it, I understand it, I know that it has benefited me, and I now make conscious efforts to not exercise my privilege at the expense of others.

    Over the course of my lifetime, I have seen enormous changes in the society I live in. People younger than me usually fail to grasp it. I’ll give you just a few examples: My mother became a teacher because the only three choices “allowed” to women of her generation were teacher, nurse, and mother. I was born BEFORE the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and I remember the sit-ins at the lunch counters. When I was growing up, there were no gay people – or so it seemed to me, and everybody else I knew. Sexual assault did not make the newspapers, and successful prosecutions for rape were rarities, never discussed in public. Inter-racial relationships were still illegal in many states, and vanishingly rare. “Spanish” people were considered white, except when they were “too dark” to be white. Misogyny and sexual harassment that most kids can’t even imagine today was the NORM.

    So how much longer do I need to keep listening? How much longer do I need to sit quietly while people complain? How much longer do I need to be castigated, scolded, insulted, shamed, and worse, just for being WHO I AM? At what point does it become NOT OKAY for total strangers, who know nothing about me, to heap abuse upon me, in public and in private, with impunity? When will people start looking at me and judging me for what I say and do, rather than my gender, skin color, and ASSUMED biography? At what point do *I* get to be a human being, too?

    • Well said, also, Greg.
      I had to laugh at your having “recovered from the Christian malady”.

      A lot of progress has been made in our lifetimes. Maybe some of the kickbacks against homosexuality and “illegal immigrants”…anyone browner than us who are “taking our jobs” are the spasms of a dying evil creature.
      I hope so.

      I would love to have people only judged by who they are/what they do…..nothing preconceived or assumed from appearances.

  2. Lindsey, keep on writing. You’re doing a terrific job, especially in countering the vehement misogyny that’s endemic to the so-called manosphere. (Where all men are victims, all women are trash and no assault is called that.)

    I am so sick of it all. And certainly old enough to recall everything Greg mentioned, but female and all too aware that listening is vital, no matter how much it might rankle. (Fwiw, I cannot watch shows like Mad Men because of all the things you cite, and that Greg mentioned re. society and events in the 60s and 70s. The blatant misogyny on the show is intolerable, and most women in the workplace faced harassment when I entered the work force. So I don’t need any reminders of the bad old days, especially when the misogynists have fanboys.)

    • Thank you. The decision to actually engage in this discussion publicly has been one of the hardest ones I’ve had to make as a woman, but I am grateful to have a platform to give voice to things which are so prevalent and painful.

  3. I also happen to be a 51 y.o. privileged white male, but I appreciate my Christian upbringing.

    I’ve been taught that when I’m asked to listen and am thinking about how the subject at hand is not about me, or about how long I should be listening — I’m not really listening.

    And that if I personalize every criticism directed at à group and make into me being “castigated, scolded, insulted, shamed, and worse,” then perhaps I need to be listening more than ever before.

  4. When #YesAllWomen and #NotAllMen got started, I remember thinking, hey, that’s not me. Don’t beat me up and lump me in the cretins, okay? But I realized that wasn’t the point. You can’t build a theory on one data point, and regardless of my actions this is about society. I read a lot of the #YesAllWomen posts and learned perspectives I hadn’t even previously considered.

    Of course the reaction is going to range from enlightened to offended, but you’re right. Keep talking. Keep posting. This shouldn’t be one more thing that we collectively sweep under the rug.

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