I’ve been ruminating about writing this post for a week or so, but I was never able to cement the ideas floating around in my head until this morning, when I had a discussion with Brett about the exact problem I’m hoping to address here. In the aftermath of the Santa Barbara shooting, there’s been a huge outpouring of women telling stories about the violence, harassment and humiliation that they’ve endured, just for being women. All of this has centered around the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter, which aims to express the idea that, while not all men are violent towards women, all women live with the fear of misogyny turning violent. All women experience harassment, just for being women. All women experience being written off, or told to stop whining, or called a bitch when they’re being assertive… just because they are women.
Well, I want to introduce a new element to this conversation: Not all men are violent towards women, but yes, all men are responsible for ending misogyny.
The conversation I had with Brett centered around a friend of his who recently took a picture of a woman in shorts that he thought were unflattering, and posted it on Facebook. From what I understand, he doesn’t know this woman, and she’s just some random person he saw on the street. He then proceeded to make comments about how the shorts “subtract 9 from whatever hotness level she thought she was.” Several of his friends, male and female, joined in and berated this woman, all because her high-waist shorts made her ass look too flat. When I saw the post, it made me so angry, and I wanted to say something. I wanted to comment that it was none of their business what the woman’s ass looked like. I wanted to remind them that women don’t go out in public just for them to look at. I wanted to ask if they knew for sure that she wasn’t wearing the shorts because they were comfortable, or because it was the only thing she had that day that was clean. Most of all, I wanted to tell them that they were being misogynist assholes, the whole lot.
I didn’t say anything, though, because I knew what would happen. It happens all the time. “Oh, stop whining.” “Stop being such a feminazi.” “Get over it, she was asking for it when she went out in public like that.” “Why do women always take things so seriously?”
Any woman who has ever tried to call out misogyny, be it casual or otherwise, knows this routine. It’s one of the hardest things that we as feminists have to deal with: the attitudes that allow society to be misogynist in the first place, also allow them to write it off when women protest that we’re being treated badly. When women point out the dichotomy between calling women “bitchy” and men “good leaders” for doing the same things, we’re being whiny. When women assert that rape jokes are not funny, we’re trying to censor comedy. When we say it makes us feel unsafe when men catcall us while we’re walking down the sidewalk, we’re told we’re over-reacting. It’s cyclical. If people don’t respect women enough to not do these things to being with, how on earth can we expect that they’ll respect us when we speak up to point out that these things are wrong?
During my conversation with Brett this morning, I explained all of this to him. I told him how frustrating it is to feel like the people who hold the keys to your equality, are the very people who are taking it away from you in the first place. His response was to ask what he can do about it. After all, he’s not a misogynist. And too his credit, he tries to recognize misogyny for what it is when he sees it. But the truth is that when men allow misogyny to happen around them, they are part of the problem.
So what can men do? Well, it starts with calling out misogyny wherever you see it. Maybe you’re not a misogynist, but when you stand back and let women be mistreated in front of you, it gives those who are mistreating women the impression that everyone around them is okay with it. Similar to racism, or homophobia, or any prejudice, when people are called out in public for being misogynist, it forces them to realize that not everyone around them agrees with their views. They may not change their ways that day, but if it happens enough times, eventually they’ll begin to feel embarrassed by their behavior, and stop doing it. It also empowers those around you who may agree with you but were too scared to speak up. In the specific case of misogyny, it makes it impossible for other men to write it off as “women being women,” if a man steps up and tells him to knock it off.
Now, even as I write this, I struggle with how anti-feminist this may appear, as if I’m saying that men should do all of our fighting for us because we can’t do it ourselves. That’s not what I’m trying to say at all, and there are certainly men who do take notice when women protest misogyny. I know there are, because Brett is one of them. And it’s certainly important for us to stand up for ourselves, because we can’t expect anyone else to do it if we won’t. At the bottom of it all, it’s demoralizing for me to say that men are the solution to our problems, because it feels like ceding power back to them. After all, if a man is only respecting women because another man told him to, is that really respecting women? And I honestly can’t say I have all the answers for how to get around that problem. I wish I did, because it would probably make life easier for half of the planet.
Here’s the thing though: denying that men are an integral part of addressing misogyny is like putting blinders on. Sometimes, you can’t overthrow a city without a little help from inside.
So no, not all men are scary, violent, misogynist assholes. But yes, all men are responsible for ending misogyny.