Let me start by admitting something: I would never say what I’m about to say publicly for reasons I’ll outline below. If this were a public forum, Twitter for instance, I would simply come up with a reasonably intelligent quote or photo and slap the #yesallwomen hashtag on it and be labeled as an overall good dude. I think this helps make my point a little bit later on.
I was in Austin a couple weeks ago spending time with Scott and Cassie. Cassie has a pretty intense job as most of you know. In case you don’t, she works at a national dating abuse hotline where she oversees the entire staff of respondents; so she’s dealing with this stuff every day. The few conversations we’ve had about it are enlightening and heart-breaking. I have a ton of respect for her and what she does.
While I was there, the three of us had a conversation over brunch, not about this issue, but about gender roles. Specifically, transgender individuals. I spent some time on Skid Row in L.A. recently. I was learning about Volunteers of America (one of my clients) and how they’re caring for the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender) community there. I confessed to Cassie that while I’m fully supportive and comfortable with the L,G, and B folks, I struggle with people who identify as transgender. My reasoning (which at the time I thought was fair) was that I simply “didn’t understand” them. I was raised being told that I was man and because I felt comfortable with that identity I never questioned it.
Cassie’s response was basically two-fold: 1) You don’t have to understand it, you just have to respect those people and their decision. 2) Gender roles are not as simple as male and female, man and woman, it’s a spectrum.
The first thought made me feel like an asshole, but it was true. Why am I so self-important that I need to “understand” people’s lifestyles in order to approve of them? Sure, understanding leads to empathy and that’s important, but if you can’t get there it doesn’t mean that you should just throw up your hands and call their lifestyle a perversion. Even in trying to be politically correct, I showed my hand. I’m part of the problem. More on that in a minute.
The second answer was the real epiphany. Maybe I’m an ignorant asshole, but I’m 28 years old and just now considering this idea of a spectrum when it comes to various issues. Unfortunately, no one has ever said to me, “Hey kid, everything isn’t as binary as we make it out to be – there are shades here.” Or at least if they did, it never registered. In other words, we label gender as male or female, but the reality is that there is a spectrum with masculine oriention on one end and female orientation on another. Our own gender falls somewhere in between. I’m very masculine in some ways and very feminine in others. In fact it’s probably a multi-layered spectrum when you add in physical attributes, but let’s not complicate things for the time being.
This opened up my thinking on a lot of issues (gun control, homosexuality, racism, etc.) And it clearly applies to the subject at hand.
We put all of our energy into arguing back and forth about who’s right and who’s wrong versus having a meaningful conversation about what’s right, where we stand, admitting our differences and working toward a resolution. OR the more likely resolution is that we simply agree publicly with the popular cultural sentiment, get labeled a good guy and move on with our lives without ever really wrestling with the issue.
We need to have a conversation about gender equality. This shouldn’t get swept under the rug. In order to do so, it’s important that we start from a place of humility and honesty. This is not a binary issue. Saying, “I’m married, I respect women, I would never do that, that guy was a lunatic” is a complete cop out. I’ve spent enough time to with all of you and I know your backgrounds well enough to know that every single one of you has some sexist tendencies. I do too. Culturally, you can’t grow up the male-dominated society that we did in the (mostly) male-dominated families that we did and not have some. And that’s the truth.
Look, we all support #yesallwomen. That’s clear. But that doesn’t mean that we still aren’t part of the problem, even if only in a small way. We have to be able to admit that in order to change ourselves. Let’s not worry about everyone else until we can do that.
So where are you on that spectrum? Do you outwardly hate and objectifywomen, probably not. So let’s not start there. Let’s talk about what you do struggle with. I work in a company that’s a bit of an all boys club. I say that I support women as my equal, but if I’m being honest, most of the women at my office outwork me because on some level I actually believe that I’m naturally more gifted than they are. Until Tina Faye and Kristen Wiig (among others) stepped into my life I would say things like “women just aren’t as funny as men” and I actually believed it. My wife runs 60+ miles a week. To this day, I still consider myself to be a better athlete than she is! That’s fucking crazy, have you guys seen me lately!?
So what is it for you? What are the little sexist tendencies or opinions that you harbor? Who can you talk to about them? Who can you reconcile them with? I would strongly recommend having that conversation with someone that makes you uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because they’ll challenge you. Someone that will disagree with you and call you on it. You’ll know it’s the right person if it’s a difficult conversation to have. Cassie was the one person in the world that I didn’t really want to have a conversation with about gender roles, that’s why she was the perfect person to have that conversation with. As a result, It was a really liberating conversation and I progressed as a human being (I think).
Corey // Dallas, Texas