Let me start with a little spoiler alert – the answer to becoming a real man is not going to have anything to do with punching sharks. Or knifing them.
A couple of days ago i compiled this post with a number of suggestions for us men in terms of treating women better. It was spread around a lot and sparked a whole lot of conversation which was really great to watch and be a part of.
But also on Facebook and in comments on my blog and in inbox conversations as well [i had a number of these] there are a number of guys who are just not seeing it, and in many cases being quite dogmatic about suggesting that it isn’t a man thing, but just a bad people thing, cos you know #NotAllMen
Let me take a moment to unpack that, because sometimes when you’ve been focusing on something for a while you can take certain language and terminology for granted that other people may not have been introduced to or understand yet.
Actually, while i was looking for a helpful cartoon, i found this explanation on Wikipedia which i think explains the problem brilliantly:
Slate Magazine writer Phil Plait wrote that the hashtag was not an unexpected response. However, it’s also not a helpful one. Why is it not helpful to say “not all men are like that”? For lots of reasons.
For one, women know this. They already know not every man is a rapist, or a murderer, or violent. They don’t need you to tell them.
Second, it’s defensive. When people are defensive, they aren’t listening to the other person; they’re busy thinking of ways to defend themselves. I watched this happen on Twitter, over and again.
Third, the people saying it aren’t furthering the conversation, they’re sidetracking it. The discussion isn’t about the men who aren’t a problem. (Though, I’ll note, it can be. I’ll get back to that.) Instead of being defensive and distracting from the topic at hand, try staying quiet for a while and actually listening to what the thousands upon thousands of women discussing this are saying.
Fourth—and this is important, so listen carefully—when a woman is walking down the street, or on a blind date, or, yes, in an elevator alone, she doesn’t know which group you’re in. You might be the potential best guy ever in the history of history, but there’s no way for her to know that. A fraction of men out there are most definitely not in that group. Which are you? Inside your head you know, but outside your head it’s impossible to.
ANOTHER STEP TO BECOMING A REAL MAN
This is a tricky one and i will get some feedback from some of my friends, but would also love to hear your thoughts on it. The danger is, as with race, expecting the marginalised/affected/abused/harassed person [in this case women] to have to do the work. Which is why i as a guy have been writing about it and trying to create spaces for engagement. As the perpetrators of violence against women [verbally, physically, intentionally and unintentionally, online and offline] we should be the ones speaking out against it.
But i think one of the best ways of realising just how bad it is, is by hearing stories from people you know and care about. IT SHOULD NOT HAVE TO BE THAT THOUGH. That is like an act of violence happening and in the news someone tries to convince you of the severity of the violence because “this could have been your mother, or your wife, or your sister, or your daughter” – and as much as i believe that is a well-intentioned line of reasoning, it is also completely faulty and offensive, because it suggests that a woman only has value by virtue of their relationship to a man. Whereas violence to women is unacceptable. The end. Regardless of any tie/link/connection/relationship to a man.
So we shouldn’t need stories from people we care about to be the thing educating us, but we will tend to take something more seriously when it carries some kind of personal cost. So in the same way as some of the race conversations need to be started by white people [because some of the white people needing to change will only take stuff white people say seriously] so this conversation needs to in many places be started by men [because many men, whether they will admit it out loud or not, still view women as less than in many areas].
SEEING IS BELIEVING
Another factor is that experiencing this stuff more closely really helps it to hit home. Val used to be harassed in the wolf whistling vein and more in Philly all the time when we lived there. And i believed her. It was never about me doubting her or thinking it didn’t happen, but i never once saw it happen because when i was with her it didn’t.
So the other night when i was walking in Long Street with her and someone wolf whistled from across the street it was a huge wake up call for me, not cos it added anything in the belief department, but because on some level it finally sunk in on an experiential level. Holy Crap, this thing is real and this is happening while i am walking alongside her, so imagine how much worse it gets when i am not and how fearful that must be for a woman walking alone, having no idea if the calling out and whistling is going to be followed by some kind of action.
A few weeks ago i had just finished doing an Improv show in town and i was walking to my car and i suddenly realised that i was walking about two meters behind this woman. Now i know that i am safe and not a threat. But i immediately slowed my pace and was about to cross the street – to give her the signal that i am not following her and that she doesn’t need to fear me – when she crossed the street to get into her car which was parked on the other side of the road. Because the reality, as mentioned above in the Wikipedia quote, is that she doesn’t know that i am not a threat.
That felt like a bit of a tiny win for me. And while it may seem hugely insignificant, i think the fact that i am starting to become more aware of how my presence might be perceived as a threat or a danger for in particular a single woman walking by herself.
DO THE WORK
So the bit i am wrestling with in trying to figure out how to best educate us all with this stuff, is that i would suggest to all the guys reading this, that you find a time to chat with some of your good female friends and ask them how they experience being a single woman out in public. But is that expecting the women to do all the work? i don’t think so, but am open to thoughts and feedback on this.
A secondary space where i have become so aware that there is work to be done, and where i am personally trying to be a lot more alert and intentional is in meeting spaces, which traditionally are dominated by men who typically have the louder or more powerful voice [in terms of who gets to speak and who gets listened to and acknowledged]. So when i am in a group of people having a conversation, i am trying to be more aware of who is speaking [both on a race and a women level actually] and if the last three people who spoke were men, i will do my best to keep quiet and let a woman speak, or if i am leading the meeting, be intentionally about inviting their voices into the conversation.
But we can go into that a little more deeply sometime. As the quote mentioned above, this is not about the men who are not the problem [although perhaps we are all to some extent and to differing degress] but particularly focused on those who don’t get it or deny there is a problem or get completely defensive and make the whole conversation somehow about them.
Stoppit. And stop beating up on poor defenceless sharks. And let’s try do this stuff a whole lot better.
The article that accompanies this ‘Not all man’ comic is well worth a read.
As is this super helpful article on why woman have turned the “not all men” objection into a meme.
So guys looking to do the work – there is some homework for you… would love to hear your thoughts and feedback on this post and maybe the things you have realised in your own life in terms of how you treat women…