A call to men

This is for men. For any man who is shocked at the Weinstein allegations, the Trump allegations, the instances of harassment and assault he may know of already. For any man who wants to take concrete steps to change the world.

I know this is socially unacceptable, but I hereby deliberately challenge every single man who interacts with women or men, with girls or boys, to make a commitment, to pick a step or two from a feminist resource on how to be a good ally, to write a list of options and put it up on your fridge, or on your wall, or in the bathroom on the mirror, and do it. Every fucking day. Do it. You can help us change the world by changing yourselves and challenging other men. Do it now.

Include looking at your own actions and exploring, asking questions of yourself, figuring out where you cross lines and how, what your triggers are, what the thought patterns are which you have and which end up in behaviors like interrupting, mansplaining, persisting without consent, disbelieving women, taking credit for women’s ideas & work, allowing yourself to ride on the emotional and logistical work of the women in your life, etc. Do it because you have power and privilege, because you want to be a better human being, because you believe that we are all better off when we are all willing to do our personal work. Do it.

Here is the piece which inspired this posting:
Heather McCuen

To all the men who want to ‘stand with us’ –
Thank you
But
We don’t just need you by our side
Protection is not parity
and our armor
is already battle tested

What we need
is for you to stand
in all your usual places
without laughing at rape jokes

What we need
is for you to stand
without your usual silence
when your friends suggest
we are waiting to be conquered

What we need
is for you to stand
without your usual silence
when you hear that asshole
tell us to smile
or bend over
or just turn around
for him

Because the collective sound
of a thousand ‘me too’s
is no match
for that silence

What we need
is not
pity
is not
excuses
is not
saving
is not
protection
is not
apology
is not
‘because I have daughters’

But that silence
that seems so small
so much easier than
picking a fight
so much easier than
making a big deal

That silence
that you think we don’t see
that silence
is where men learn it’s okay
to be monsters

What we need
is for you to understand
that what we’re afraid of
isn’t just the monsters

What we need
Is for you to understand
that every “me too” posted by a friend
was born in that silence

So if you really want
to stand with us
then fight for us
in every single silence

Speak that solidarity
against every catcall
Rage the way we do
against the idea of asking for it

Fill the silence
with your outrage
and your love
for us

This is so true, and it makes me cry. Male silence kills. It enables horror. It is complicit. You want to be a good man? Challenge other men. Make it a daily habit of mind and communication and action. Choose a couple of phrases to say and practice them: “Women are people with fundamental human rights”; “You are degrading that person”; “Stop looking at her ass”; “Stop looking at her breasts”; “Stop interrupting her”; “Listen to what she has to say”; “Did she say yes?”; “What you did/are doing is harassment/assault”; “Why do you think it’s funny to joke about women being hurt?” etc., etc., etc.

And to women, if you feel like you’re observing something that’s crossing lines, “Do you need help?”; “Do you want me to intervene?”; “Do you want me to call the police?”; “I’m here if you want my support”, etc.,

Act. Acknowledge the ways in which you have crossed lines throughout your life. Acknowledge them and take active steps to make better choices. Ask questions. Apologize when you make mistakes and try again. Listen. And stop interrupting.

Do it because we are humans, like you. Do it not because women are wives, daughters, sisters, mothers. Do it because we are human and you don’t need to be led by your noses like a donkey to a path which honors and respects over 50% of the human species. Do it because you have a brain and a heart, and because you have a commitment to truth and strength and heart and right action. Do it.

“Protection is not parity.” Support and acknowledgment go a lot further. Commitment. Responsibility. Self-knowledge. Accountability. Work us to change the world now by doing your own due diligence. We cannot wait.

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Dating and Other Social Conventions

I have not ever been much of a dater. I have either been single, or been paired off in a monogamous relationship. Now, at the ripe old age of 48, I am dipping not just a toe but both feet and maybe even a knee into this odd experience. Doing so is rapidly bringing me up against some of my areas of challenge, my discomforts, and the realities of our misogynistic world. It has also been revelatory in unexpected ways.

First off, filling out the “About Me” sections on a couple of the sites was an enjoyable process. I wasn’t thinking at all about how someone would perceive what I wrote or who I am: I just wrote out a thoughtful and to the point description of myself and what I like. And, to my immense surprise, my primary emotional reaction to doing so was, “Hey! I like myself! I am not just saying that I am strong and smart, etc.; I actually believe it!”

I like me. That is an enormous victory. I see that I am an extraordinary person with many gifts, and I am proud of what I have learned, the work I have done, and what I am doing.

Secondly, I am deliberately going against my historical pattern of spending so much more emotional energy on whether someone would or does like me than on whether I like them, that I over-accommodate and react and give away way too much before I’ve even realized it on a conscious level. So this time around I am consciously setting aside the question/projection of whether the guy would like me or not (and I have to keep doing so: this is an ancient pattern, hard to change) in favor of answering the question of whether or not I’m interested in him. I am swiping right whenever the answer to that question is, “Yes”, or even, “Maybe”. I am practicing “Yes”.

Doing so is showing me how automatic and firm our categories are, and how I have obeyed them over the years. Ie., “He’s traditionally handsome and fit. I don’t belong in that category. He won’t be attracted to me, and it’s totally reasonable that he won’t be.” Now I’m attempting to assess, as much as is possible, the whole person presented on the screen in front of me, and to answer my internal questions: “Would I like to have a conversation with this person?”; “Is this person emotionally/psychologically attractive to me?”; “Is this person physically attractive to me?” If the answers are yes, I swipe right, or like the profile. If the answers are no, I don’t.

Thirdly, I am encountering language from which I am usually bubbled off, and having to figure out how and why I am reacting to it in the way I am. For example, I have disliked the words “lady” and “gentleman” for as long as I can remember. One man described me in his message to me variously as, “young lady”, and “sweet lady”. To my significant surprise, when I wrote him back and said that as a feminist, the word lady is outside my vernacular, he had a direct, non-offended, and respectful response which included the following: “I like your profile because of the way you are talking about your past experiences. You write about yourself so freely that I can recognize the feminist you are. Talking about previous partners is not a common thing to see in man and woman profile; that include me too. I admire your courage and again the feminist you are.” So I wrote him back.

The exchange caused me to think more deeply about why I dislike those words. And here it is: they are associated with a morals-based code of thinking, dressing, and conduct which is problematic for all of us, in my opinion, but especially for women. Women who are “ladies” are expected to dress conservatively (don’t be a slut); act modestly (don’t be a slut); speak gently (don’t challenge the “natural” authority of men). Women who abrogate those rules can be punished in a variety of ways, from small to large. If someone calls me a lady, that is likely to tell me that he has expectations of women in particular and me in specific that feel dangerous to me. So many guys feel entitled to the attention, smiles, sexual availability, support, etc., of women. So many men feel entitled to sex if they pay for a meal. So many men feel entitled to a smile if they pay you a compliment. The list goes on.

I am not a lady by the regular definition: while I do my best to be respectful and polite to people in general, I am also direct; sometimes quite authoritative in my manner; have a powerful personality; have a pretty strong libido; don’t dress conservatively; and am only interested in having men open doors for me if they’re interested in reciprocal courtesy from me. Etc. Etc.

So my question is, if a man thinks I am a lady, will he actually respect me? And yes, that turns the traditional equation right over on its head.

Fourthly, I am allowing and encouraging myself to say no whenever I feel like it: not capriciously, but in accordance with my intuition and judgment. A man who does not appear to be interested in self-reflection is a man with whom I don’t wish to have either a friendship or a romance. A man who responds with hostility or diminishing language to my setting of boundaries or being clear is a man with whom I don’t even want to have any further conversation. Instead of accommodating, being silent on the subject, or making excuses, I am setting boundaries and saying no when I want to. I am practicing “No”.

I joked with a friend yesterday that I’m sometimes tempted to use the Evil Willow (from the TV show “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”) line: “Bored now.” I won’t do it, because I am aiming to treat others with respect and consideration. But sometimes I have to resist the urge to include the gif in my messages.

Fifthly, I am very conscious of the fact that women are quite regularly assaulted. Well-behaved women might rarely make history, but they are also frowned upon by quite a significant percentage of society. Going out to meet a man whom I don’t know feels inherently dangerous. And before you say this is an overreaction, look at the stats. I wish it weren’t so. I wish this were just a process of figuring out whether attraction is mutual or not. But it is not that simple. It just is not. And I have that voice in my head which says that if something happens to me, if a man does harass or assault me, I am to a degree asking for it by spending time in his company. That is a hard voice to quiet. So, I will have to take some precautions when I do agree to meet up in person with a man. And I will have to accept the risk. And I grieve and rage that simply by dating, I am increasing my risk. And I am moving forward anyway, because I want to have a full life, including a love relationship.

My conclusion is that dating, like everything else, presents rich opportunities for personal growth. I am hoping for some fun, too.

On “Interstellar”, Part 2

GriefHappens asked for further thoughts on “Interstellar”, and I said I’d post them. I am feeling tired and intimidated by writing a long and involved post, however, so I am going to jumpstart this one by sharing a few of the comments from the interesting conversation that ensued on my Facebook page when my post landed there.

    “I just cannot go to movies anymore.”
    “How about the movie being about the daughter’s realization and journey? Or the science officer’s creation of another world? To my mind, the McConnhey character is just supporting them in their journey.”

[to which I replied]

    “Well, I would say that after the daughter has her initial realization about time & the equations, it is the dad in the 3rd/5th dimensional place who does the work to show her the way. It is hard to explain the extent and shape of the sadness and disappointment I feel (and so many other women, too) when, once again, the female roles are not as strong, not as vibrant, forthright, not as brave, not as risk-taking, not as brilliant. And they don’t get as much time, either. I would love to see not just one, not just the rare example, but frequent hero roles held and expressed and experienced by women. It would be a game-changer.

and

    Can you imagine what it might feel like to have a huge global repertoire of books and movies with so few people of your gender in the lead role?”
    “I honestly didn’t see it that way. … I did see the strength and intelligence and agency of both Murph and Brand, as much as there could be given the situation. There were many male characters who were pigeon-holed into roles that may not have been what they would’ve chosen – the son as farmer, the professor father as savior of the earth, even Mann as the symbolic Cain, valuing his perception of the mission as more important than his “brothers'” life, thereby demonstrating typical male aggression/lack of empathy. But Murph and Brand both chose to be where there were and contribute using their own developed skill sets. As did Cooper.”

[to which I replied]

    “I saw the limitations not just as created and presented in the context of the film, but as drawn out of our current limited views of gender and how to portray gender. Murph was described as being brilliant, but we didn’t get much chance to see it in action. She didn’t get to show the full range of her character. We got to see a ton of her father being strong, showing his humanity, showing his brilliance and strength, his pain. I’d like to see more of hers, more of Brand’s, not just one short scene during a 3 hour movie. Or to see the main character played by a woman. I want women front and center, not always on the sidelines. At least, some of the time!”

My bottom lines are as follows:

    I loved the idea(s) of this movie.
    I did appreciate that there were multiple female characters who didn’t spend all their time talking about their love lives.
    I felt strongly that the movie did not grant space, time, or scope for the development of the female characters that allowed the viewer to feel as connected to and to care as much about them as was encouraged in the presentation of Cooper.
    I’d love for some decent percentage of movies to contribute to a societal feeling for and appreciation of the strength of women (and not just in the arena of child-bearing and rearing) which could help us effect a real shift both in perception and treatment of our female citizenry.
    I want female heroes too.

What stories are told says a lot about the culture in which they are spoken and heard. The stories, of course, do not express the breadth or totality of the human experience within that culture. After all, stories are impacted heavily by that culture, and in this one, we don’t value everyone’s story, everyone’s life. We’re much more interested in some stories than we are in others. We are addicted to the polarized construct of winners and losers. And we only like losers when they eventually win. In the [global] rape culture, women cannot really be winners.

What continues to strike me is the extent to which so many people and so many stories are completely absent from our literature, our visual media, and the stories we tell each other. There is so much erasure. And in those vast chasms of invisibility, many people are left feeling that they don’t fit, don’t belong, aren’t valid, aren’t wanted, and indeed, ultimately, have nothing of value to contribute.

We need feminism, because we need to learn to value everybody. We need each other.