The “F” Word…
The chain came off on my bike today just as a truck full of loud men came rolling past me. I pulled into a parking lot and flipped my bike over to fix the problem; two minutes later two of the men from the truck came over. I felt my anxiety rise as I wanted nothing more than to fix the problem before they got to me, not because I felt like they would hurt me, not even because I wanted to be all “feminist” and independent about it, but simply because I did not want these men to feel like I OWED them anything. I did not ask for help, yet I felt like a simple thank you would not be enough for them. “Now, what will they want from me as payment for fixing my bike?” I thought. Time, conversation, my phone number, some form of attention, no doubt. One of the men tried to make casual conversation but I was not receptive. “Now I’m a bitch,” I thought. When they were done, I said thank you. To my surprise, they said you’re welcome and walked away. I think it was right then when I finally began to realize just how cynical I’d become… and I was not happy.
“I’m not saying ALL men menace women, but all women have been menaced by men.”
In light of recent events, I have been very introspective. What is my role as a woman in this society? How do I leave every sexist situation a little better than how I found it? How do I make this world a better place for everyone involved? I realized today that the affects of living in this culture of male entitlement has rendered me intrinsically jaded. Is this my fault? Probably not… but it is unfair nonetheless. Now, let me make myself clear: Yes, there is a war on women. Yes, this is a patriarchal society. Yes, there is a such thing as rape culture. Yes, women have been and continue to be oppressed, objectified, victimized & villainized. I believe it is safe to say that these are all undeniable truths which are irrevocably etched into the psyche of all women who have ever lived among men and are honest enough with themselves to confront their demons, or who have any shred of solidarity with their fellow woman. But these things which I projected onto these men, who in retrospect did not seem to have any other intentions except to help me fix my bike, these things are the product of my environment. It’s crazy that a woman has to go through this emotional turmoil whenever a strange man approaches her. It’s crazy that the simple act of expressing disinterest in a man’s romantic advance is a subsequent safety issue for us. It’s crazy that a woman must question the motives of all men because of the heinous actions of some. This is what living under the oppression of men has done to most women. We live in a constant state of defensiveness & uncertainty, all because it is actually safer for us to assume the worst of men… And honestly, can you really blame us? Can you find one woman in your life who does not have a story about being imposed upon by a man? It is a challenge I have yet to complete.
…People who live with that risk learn to presume the worst. Living your life in preparation for the moment when a man possibly snaps and tries to kill you can bring on serious resentment. Resentment not just of men, though there is that, but of the way that even mentioning that risk makes you subject to claims that you are “oversimplifying” how men behave. That you somehow have a lesser read on human nature and violence than the more reasonable sort who, not having had to deal with the behavior, claim you must have imagined it. Even when you literally have the YouTube video proving you aren’t making it up. –Michelle Dean
I’m sharing this to let the men who read this know that feminists are not man haters and female superiority mongers. Most of us are just relating to men based on our general experiences with them and feel the need to protect ourselves based on those experiences. Still, some of us also actually have the capacity to see beyond our own unique circumstances and arrive at the other side of a situation with a clearer perspective of truth.
The truth is, today those two men helped me, no strings attached, and I think that is an important thing to share, simply because of how genuinely shocking it was to me. And I don’t say that as a way to bash men at all. I say that with genuine frustration and sadness. It sickens me that my faith in men has been this badly damaged. I have met many good men in my life. It truly saddens me that I will never be able to trust them fully because of the few who have attacked, disrespected and violated me for no reason other than my being a woman. But we as women must find the tenacity to be the change we wish to see in this world. We must stop blaming society and realize that we ARE society. Change begins with us!
Yes, I am a feminist and I do my best to educate whomever I can with my own experiences in the matter… but we all have to remember that there is a bigger picture here. If we are equal, we need to see both sides. That doesn’t somehow invalidate how disproportionate one side’s injustice is to the other’s or what side holds obvious privilege over the other.Yes, it is abundantly clear that women have suffered violence, discrimination, harassment and oppression at the hands of men at astoundingly higher rates than men have suffered from women, but it needs to be acknowledged also that men have suffered violence, discrimination, harassment and oppression from women, because behind all of the labels, the genders, the races, the classes and the sexes, we are all first and foremost human.
And what does it really mean to be a feminist? I think Lynnee Breedlove from Tribe 8 said it best. “It means that you pay attention to all different kinds of oppression, and you stand up for all those people that don’t have a voice, whether they’re trans or people of color or class, race, gender, sexuality, everything… And then, the next challenge is… how do you do that on a personal level?”
I realize it may seem counterproductive to empathize with our perceived oppressor, and it is for this reason I have been told that I am “not a real feminist”. To that end, I can only ask my critics to consider the following: We are at war; a silent war fought everyday by women who have never had a voice as strongly as a man’s. And in order to win a war, we must be tactical. Of course we can go in guns blazing and level the city with hopes of overthrowing our oppressor, liberating their prisoners, and effectively making enemies out of the rest of the people in society who had no prior knowledge of our battle cry, but I do not believe that to be feminism. All egos aside, I believe the choice from here should be clear. If being able to take a step back and realize that the current attack/defend dichotomy of conversation being had by the majority of men & women (where no one is able to see past their own experiences and enter the space of empathy) is just not working, and if understanding that the result of this self-destructive behavior makes an enemy out of a much needed ally, why would I continue to do more harm than good to a cause which is paramount to my survival as a woman? I submit that most women just do not see any other way. We have been cornered and beaten down for so long that all we know how to do now is fight… While this is a totally justifiable outcome, it does nothing but alienate the very people we are constantly demanding understanding from. We as freedom fighters have to learn to explain ourselves without tripping the wires of ego and defense. It may seem unfair, but it is a fact and a matter of human nature. So, if trying to achieve said mutual understanding and believing in true gender equality makes me a fake feminist, then I guess I just do not understand this movement at all. If trying to understand the mind of my oppressor, so that I may become better equipped to show him how he is oppressing me, means that I do not support women’s liberation, then slap the shackles on me now. We simply MUST always remember the bigger picture, or our campaigns, no matter how noble they are, will always be met with resistance from those who seek only to contradict them out of spite, shortsightedness, vulnerability, and retaliation. We simply cannot be tricked into the belief that this movement seeks to oppress our oppressor by fighting fire with fire. That is not how you achieve equality. Ladies, we simply cannot afford to cut off our noses to spite our faces.
Now let me make myself abundantly clear. I have no idea how to fix what is already broken in the male psyche. I have no answers for the issues of male entitlement, except to teach your sons that women are people and not commodities. Men, if you have ever sat back and called a woman a bitch because she would rather date an asshole than a gentleman such as yourself, I encourage you to ask yourself where that sense of entitlement has come from. I would like to ask why it is any business of any man who any woman chooses to give her attention to. I would like to ask why SLUT is the term used to attack a woman’s right to say yes, and FRIENDZONE is the term used to attack a woman’s right to say no. Why are women being villainized for exercising their freedom of choice while men are not even questioned about their sense of entitlement to women’s bodies? Why does a woman have to be “taken” by another man, shallow, gay, ugly or stupid in order for you to rectify the fact that she doesn’t like you? These are misogynistic tendencies of privilege and entitlement which a lot of men don’t even realize they own. I have no idea how to fix these issues, but I believe we can find a common ground with those myriad men who have come to believe that feminism is a movement of women who hate men. And I am not saying that women need to be responsible for the thoughts or actions of men, but women need to empathize with the many men who have been pushed into feeling like feminists believe all men are evil, rapist, woman-beating bullies who take advantage of men at every possible turn. Why do we need to empathize? Because we need to give empathy before we can get it. The fact is, these men have formed these opinions in retaliation to the idea that feminists have made otherwise good men the enemy. They are as unwilling to empathize as we are. What good does it do to back them into corners where they feel oppressed, wrongfully accused and attacked? What outcome do we expect except for them to sit back and stew in their own ignorance of our true intentions before they defend themselves? They are confused and their confusion only adds to our oppression, and that oppression only adds to our frustration. So what do we do? We push our issues even harder the next time. We talk more than we listen. We care not for the perspective of our perceived enemy. Our aim is only to be heard. When will we realize that no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it? Until we break these egoic habits the women’s liberation movement will never be successful. We must first understand why there will always be #NotALLMen responses to #YesALLWomen outcries… you attack, I defend, I attack, you defend… round and round we go yet again. I don’t know about you, but I want off this hamster wheel.
It should also be made clear that I am speaking of empathy, not sympathy. Empathy is the ability to mutually experience the thoughts, emotions, and direct experiences of others. It goes beyond sympathy, which is a feeling of care and understanding for the suffering of others. Both words have similar usage but differ in their emotional meaning. When we are all able to put our egos aside, when no one feels victimized, attacked, blamed or wrongfully accused, no one will feel the need to defend themselves by taking up the opposing view more forcefully. Until we can all see the bigger picture outside of our individual bubble of circumstance, these issues will never be resolved.
The bigger picture is people. The problem is people not recognizing other people as people but merely extensions of themselves living in their version of the world. People are real, with their own lives, experiences, desires and ideas. They are not just here to be used by you somehow. Everyone needs to learn that they don’t have to like anyone, but they have to respect a person’s right to take up space. Everyone needs to understand that no one owes them anything. People are equal. No one is better than anyone. Respect each other’s right to exist for something other than your judgment.
We must find the courage to learn from our experiences and view ourselves as more than just victims of our circumstances. We must find the empathy to stand in solidarity when everyone around us is sitting down and fighting, and speak the truth even when our voices shake. We must be the change we wish to see in this world! We are not victims. We are survivors. And no, a random act of kindness done with no ulterior motive by one man for one woman with a loose chain on her bike does not in any way, shape or form make amends for all of the struggles women have had, do have and will continue to face…
But it’s a damn good start…