Men Need To STOP Telling Women Not To Speak Up (As Written By A Man)

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men and feminism


I'm lucky to be surrounded by amazing, fierce, articulate people who aren’t afraid to misbehave in the quest to fight for their own rights to exist as they are and as they choose.

A majority of those people are women.

It makes sense that the people most passionate about equality, liberation, and self-determination are the people still fighting to obtain those things for themselves.

The Internet is one big megaphone, and people who spend their entire lives being told their opinions don't matter at all find themselves more and more able to share those opinions in a way that makes a difference.

Women speak up, and they do so loudly. They magnify the message. People listen.

I personally like to straddle the line between education and entertainment in my work, because I find it an effective way to speak to as many ears as possible while still being real. Still, sometimes I find myself needing to step out of the comfortable space I've created for myself.

Lately I’ve been listening to a podcast called This Week in Blacknessand it’s fucking great — hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time.

Listening to Elon James WhiteImani GandyDara Wilson, and Aaron Rand Freeman focus on issues affecting the black community, and about how oppression can be intersectional, has given me insight into ideas I didn’t intrinsically understand, as well as tools to communicate with people in ways I haven’t always been able to.

I just flat out better understand and better respect opposing voices more after listening to — and truly being willing to hear — to their collective insights.

This has also given me the ability to better understand articles like Victoria A. Brownworth’s Everyday Mansplaining: Can Men Really Be Feminist Allies. 

Even though I thought I'd understood the message and acted on it, I hadn’t felt it. After a recent re-reading it, I now see how awkward and/or creepy men can come across to women and why. And I finally get why men lash at women out when they feel #friendzoned, or when they don’t get whatever it is they feel they’re owed by women.

Next I re-read Jessica Roy’s Is There Any Right Way to Reject a Guy?, an article about how Grace Spelman was harassed incessantly by a feminist “ally." This time through, it was both heartbreaking and recognizable.

Now that I've come to more deeply understand the thought process behind this kind of harassment, I wish desperately I could find something that would pop a societal light bulb and FINALLY get the vicious cycle to stop — just figure this out, accept sincere apologies and go forward as a real team.

Of course, that hasn’t happened, but it doesn’t mean I won’t continue to look for opportunities to make it so.

When women speak up, there is too often disagreement about the construction or tone of the message, or about the messenger, or about the delivery platform, or about the minutiae.

Critics may say "Maybe it’s too soon," worrying the message won’t be well received. Some allies express concern that taking "extreme" measures will turn off supporters and make it harder to pursue the goals we all mutually want.

These disagreement can be healthy, but they frequently turn into fights clubs for ideas. Then some new drama hits, and all the arguments take a back seat to whatever else just happened, and we move forward. Or not.

Many of the spaces in which these ideas get tossed around in are either feminist spaces inhabited mainly by women, or in environments openly intended to be safe spaces, because, again, this is about righting the historical and structural wrongs that make it immensely more difficult for women to build lives professionally on par with those of men, or to walk about the world free of objectification and harassment, or to simply feel safe.

Feminism is about women, first and foremost.

As a man in this space, yes, my contribution is absolutely valuable.

I can help turn systemic oppression of women on its head. I can express ideas to people (read: men) who otherwise wouldn’t listen to those ideas (read: as spoken by women).

As a male messenger, I can bridge gaps in understanding and life experience for men who don’t know what it’s like to live the life of someone who has to fight tooth and nail for the same things we take for granted. In doing so, I provide real support to people doing seriously good work.

That is how I try to be an ally.

Sexism, mansplaining, patriarchy and all those jazzy “buzzwords” are true descriptors of women’s real oppression.

These phenomena affect us all, and they particularly affect and suppress women and their voices.

This is their fight. It’s their movement.

While I can and do choose to be a part of it, that doesn’t mean my voice is more valuable than anyone else’s because I’m doing something I don’t have to do.

It actually means I accept a junior role in the fight, and I have to be ok with that.

I continue to express my opinion of message, on tone, on strategy, and on action, but it’s up to me to do a lot more listening than talking.

When a woman does stand up and take action, I throw her my support because it's the one standing up and taking action who's going to make people think, who’s going to piss people off, and who’s going to be controversial.  

And who will therefore become the targets for those angry men who fear losing control over women’s lives.

Life isn’t a zero-sum game, but the people who have and want to maintain their power treat it as though it is. They to maintain what they have and a world that, unfortunately, is often a frightening place.

Sometimes even men who identify as allies of the movement get sucked in by that zero-sum logic.

Men, particularly white, heterosexual, cisgender men, are used to having their opinions respected and acknowledged. Being told their thoughts on feminism, equality, sex-positivity or anything else has been heard and yet still disagreed with hits in a sore spot.

Sometimes in their struggle to convince people their way is best, men tell women to shut up because they know better.

They mansplain oppression and sexism, as if the women around them don’t understand. These men become jerks, harassers, and assholes as they attempt to hold onto and assert their existing power. In doing so, they clog up the cogs of progress and legitimate discussion with their false pleas for respect and cries for acknowledgement.

Sometimes even men with the best intentions can’t consciously hear that in regard to women’s oppression and experiences, women just don’t give a fuck what they think.

So I'm telling you guys now: Get over it. That is what it takes to be a true ally.

If you hear women complaining about how terrible men are and you feel insulted, you feel guilty about something you yourself have thought or done.

That is your work, not theirs.

By inserting your emotional fragility into their experience, you are not helping, and you are not being an ally.

It is your job to remember they’re not complaining about you, they’re complaining about "those" men.

If it turns out you are one of "those" dudes? Change it.

If you're not and you honestly want to be an ally? You can and must get over it.

If you’re reading this, you likely already know how good it can be when people move through life as equals. It’s a scary world, a world where a white dude’s opinion doesn’t carry any more weight than anyone else’s or even where — Heavens to Betsy! — it’s less valuable when in someone else’s space.

But if you’re a guy surrounded by women you’re trying to help and you can’t bear the feeling that no one cares about what you think, shut the hell up and deal with it on your own time.

Don’t keep pushing and prodding. Don’t keep getting in people's faces.

You have the right to express yourself like anyone else, but those anyone else's have the right to ignore you by not giving a fuck.

Those anyone else's are fighting their own good fight.

Be an ally, or step back until you can.

No one has to give a fuck about what you think, like no one has to give a fuck about what I think.

Let’s deal with it and move on.

Listen now: Talking openly about their experiences as women, Katie Mack and Ginger Bentham get unapologetically bitchy. They share their uncensored and unfettered voices on topics like privilege, female socialization, male entitlement, rape culture, consent, and the true experience of owning your power. Brace yourself. It’s the Bitchcast.



This article was originally published at Life on the Swingset. Reprinted with permission from the author.


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