CW: mentions of misogyny and gendered violence
Lately, I’m finding it hard to talk to men.
Reader, can you relate?
Let’s break that sentiment down.
For starters, I do not want to talk to men about this. To begin to sample their views. Whether they want to tell me that they get it, or tell me that I’ve got men all wrong. Strangers, friends, co-workers, family members, straight, gay, young, old. Even the ones I trust more than others. Even those who would, given the opportunity, say all the right things. In a way, having all the talking points but still showing no action feels more crushing.
I cannot think of a man I know that has acted against gendered violence when it isn’t a trend. And when it is a trend? On the one hand, the men that say the bare minimum receive endless praise and recognition. More so than any women speaking about gendered violence would get. (Somehow, having any first-hand experience of misogyny makes you less of an authority on it.) On the other hand, some of my closest male friends have spent more time in the past few weeks posting about fantasy football or the latest Disney+ show than about violence against women. Or violence against Asian people – but that deserves its own discussion. If I spend too much time contemplating the lack of sustained interest shown by men, I feel nauseous.
I am almost certain that if I asked any man in my social circles what they have done to tackle misogyny in recent weeks (months, years, decades), no answer would go beyond performative allyship. It shakes me to my core. Am I surrounding myself with the right people?
How much room is there to go beyond performative allyship during a pandemic? Well, a few men are out there doing the work. Last weekend on a walk to clear my mind, I spotted a man sitting outside my local train station with several placards. We spoke briefly (from a safe distance). He carried no sense of self-importance around what he was doing – just an understanding that this is a vital cause. It felt refreshing. Picturing him now fills me with both hope and anger. Hope that men are fighting our fight. Anger that not enough are. That none of those that I am personally invested in are.
Do people end friendships over failure to be a true ally? When it comes to the cause, I know that it is probably not the most productive approach. Further distance between genders is not the answer. But must I bother to continuously give men the benefit of the doubt? These same men do not bother to politically show up for the not-men in their lives. How much longer are we expected to keep asking men for some evidence of solidarity? The opportunity has always been there. The action is long overdue.
When I see no action, I suddenly lose all the energy to talk to men about anything outside of this. Although this may be irrational, sometimes it feels like I am letting them off the hook. By failing to challenge them and remaining part of their lives, I am endorsing their inaction. I am suggesting to them, look, I talk a lot about bad men, yet I am still spending time with you, which means you must be a good man.
Nevertheless, my mind knows that I have no duty to teach men about the patriarchy. By acknowledging this, I have to confront the notion that men in my life who purportedly care about me do not care to respond to their role in my struggle against oppression. To clarify, political action should not come solely as a favour to the people in your life affected by an issue. You should care about women’s lives regardless.
Another angle could be that I’m expecting an unfairly high standard of allyship from these men. After all, I would not have become friends with them if I did not believe their intentions are good. Neither do I have a flawless record of allyship myself. No one does. All anyone can do is try their best to learn and act with responsibility. Certain men have been personally supportive forces in my life. How do you reconcile someone’s private impact with their public silence? Is it enough for a man to simply encourage and uplift the women in his life?
At the same time, can a man stay silent on this and expect the women in his life to trust that he cares about them? Right now I am hurting, and no shallow words of sympathy will heal the scars of inaction.
Some women in my life (better feminists than me?) are taking this moment as an opportunity to engage with the men in their lives on this issue. I applaud their incredible strength and patience. Perhaps when everything feels less triggering, I will join them. But I, for one, for now, am too drained to begin.
Image courtesy of Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona.