I think the topic is a difficult one to approach. I think in some ways it’s the conversation that happens whenever you’re around a bunch of white people who are talking about slavery. In that bubble the stance is “well it wasn’t me back then.” “Why am I being punished for something when I’m trying my best to be a good person. Isn’t that enough?”
I think by admitting what’s going on and our role in it, it can feel like acceptance the judgement that belongs to the perpetrators. We have the defense of “I’ve never been a part of violence against women”.
I also understand the constructs we were brought up in. I think in the same way racism isn’t out in the open as much, sexism isn’t as out in the open. Instead of direct messages we were given subtle ones. In reflection as I’ve worked through this stuff myself over the years I know I got subtle messages growing up that my Mom was irrational, that she was the servant of the house, that she was support team for my Dad, that didn’t have much of value to say, that she wasn’t as smart, all kinds of messages.
I have also realized the values I didn’t realize that I believed. In the spirit of transparency, that my wife was to be available to me sexually whenever I wanted her. I absorbed some of my Dad’s beliefs that my wife was support team, that she wasn’t rational, and in some way she was lesser. Even that I could just go into autopilot in our relationship and she was supposed to just take me however I was.
It was a crushing thing to admit to myself at the time, the same as the realization that so many things that I didn’t directly try to absorb, were inside of me, but I had to accept that those things were in there.
I also think there is a major issue with how boys are taught to be men. So much of it is cowardly, posturing, bullshit. I think a lot of the reason sexual violence and relationship violence is about messages we receive. When you see women as an object and you’re told “if you want something in life, take it” when you don’t get it, then you just need to do it by any means necessary. In the end all sexual and relationship violence is about power.
There’s also a message in movies, porn, all kinds of places that you just have to be persistent and forceful and eventually the woman will open herself up to you romantically and sexually. She’ll hate you and say no at first, but there all just waiting for a real man to take them by force.
I also agree that the message to men of “change” isn’t helpful. I don’t blame men for every sexist thing they think. I realize tons of it is socially constructed, but there is a point where there is an action that needs to be taken because I have women I love and I may have a daughter one day, and I would feel frightened sending her out from under what little protection I could offer her.
I think the bystander movement is a great way to approach it. The idea of looking out for the way it even manifests itself in our conversations (I think the first role is education). Then especially those men with social capital to spend (those widely accepted/celebrated by the group) being brave enough to speak up. I’ve seen you do it several times Ben and I’d like to commend you for it.
I just want to take the stance of maybe this is not all my fault, maybe I’m not the perpetrator, but I have social capital. I have power of my own. What I say can carry weight, so I’m gonna speak up and I’m going to intervene when I can and I’m going to do my best that the messages my son or any other boys in my life receive are different that what they hear many other places. I may not have started any of it, but I’d really like to be a part of pushing back the darkness.
Scott // Austin, TX