I’ve spent a lot of time over the past days following the #YesAllWomen hashtag, and reading articles and stories that many of my friends have posted on Facebook and their personal blogs.
I’ve stayed abreast of the #NotAllMen backlash and the critical assessment of it.
There’s one article in particular that I keep coming back to:
Why It’s So Hard for Men to See Misogyny by Amanda Hess (posted on Slate on May 27, 2014)
I believe that the best thing I can do in this situation is to shut up and listen. I’ve gone back and forth about this post, debating whether or not I should even say anything.
But I’ve heard too many women tell me that the silence of men on this issue is a part of the problem. That by not speaking up I tacitly allow these problems to continue. So here goes…
Back in the early 2000s, I was living in Chicago and doing theatre & event work for a living: backstage operations, set-ups & tear-downs—the invisible heavy lifting jobs. One night, I got off work late and took the bus home in the wee hours. I stepped off the bus at my stop around 2 a.m. I noticed that there was one other person who got off the bus with me—a young woman, maybe in her mid-20s. I started walking toward my apartment and saw that she was walking in the same direction, several yards ahead of me.
It was fairly dark in the residential section of the neighborhood, there weren’t very many lights off the main street where the bus stopped. I noticed that the young woman ahead of me kept glancing back over her shoulder and walking faster. I was sympathetic—2 a.m. on a dark street in Chicago is a scary place to be, and even I felt the urge to glance over my shoulder from time to time.
Maybe it’s because I was exhausted after a long day, or maybe it’s because I was a little nervous myself, but it took me longer than it should have to realize what was really going on.
The young woman kept glancing over her shoulder at me.
She kept walking faster to get farther away from me.
I was vaguely nervous about the general environment—she was afraid of me.
I’d just finished a 15+ hour event load-in and set-up. I was filthy—the kind of grimey that turns the water black when you get in the shower. I was wearing ratty jeans and a worn, stained t-shirt. I was sweaty and I smelled bad. I was carrying my tools in my backpack and they made random clanking noises as I walked. I assume that I was talking to myself out loud, as I tend to do that when I’m tired without being conscious of it.
How could she know that I’m one of the good guys? How could she know that I wasn’t a threat to her? She didn’t know me from Adam. I looked to her like a crazy person.
As a woman living in this society, she couldn’t afford to take that chance. She had to assume I was a threat.
As soon as I realized that I was scaring her, I turned around, walked back to the bus stop, and sat on the bench until she was out of sight. Only then did I get up and walk home.
I grew up in a house with a strong, smart, independent mother, and a very smart, very strong-willed older sister. My aunts and grandmothers are all strong, smart, independent people. I’ve been fortunate to count a number of strong, smart, independent women as friends and girlfriends over the years. I married a strong, smart, independent woman.
The women in my life tell me what it’s like to be a woman in this world. I see some of what they have to deal with. I want things to be better for them. I do my best to be aware of what it’s like for them and what they go through on a daily basis.
My father raised me to treat people well, to be kind and to respect people without reference to their sex, gender, ethnicity, or cultural background.
I want to behave in ways that make women feel safe and not threatened.
And yet, that night, and probably other times that I didn’t even realize it, I scared a woman and didn’t understand right away the effect that I was having on her sense of safety.
And yet, even I’ve been shocked by some of the things women have written with the #YesAllWomen hashtag. Some things that I had no idea…
The point of the #YesAllWomen hashtag isn’t to vilify men in general. It’s not meant to make all men feel guilty. The #NotAllMen posters who are so quick to exonerate themselves and defend their honor completely miss the point.
This is an unprecedented opportunity for women to tell their stories, to say, “This is the world I live in. This is my experience.”
For men, this is an unprecedented opportunity to listen and to learn.