By Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Hello everyone! Hope you’re having a lovely, gender-equal day.T asked:
I tried explaining feminism to my male friend, but he felt like he was being put on trial. How do I have a productive conversation with men without having to deal with their male guilt?
It’s still only almost-October, but can I say this is my favourite question of the year? It totally is. I love this question because of all the times I sit around dancing around some guy’s Extremely Delicate Feelings, and assuring them, for like the zillionth time that, “No, Amit, I totally didn’t mean you, I meant other people.”
Well, T, I’m so done. As should you be. Women are socially conditioned to please, which means that the need to smooth over quarrels, appeal to people’s better senses and soothe bruised egos usually falls to the women in the room. Here, I’m just going to quote from a piece in the Guardian: “[…]boys develop improved spatial skills not because of an innate superiority but because they are expected and are encouraged to be strong at sport, which requires expertise at catching and throwing. Similarly, it is anticipated that girls will be more emotional and talkative, and so their verbal skills are emphasised by teachers and parents.”
Once you start noticing it, you really start noticing it. For example, one of my TV watching guilty pleasures is “Project Runway”. Which, if you’re unfamiliar, puts together 16 designers who have to create clothes based on different challenges each week, with the final three getting to go to New York Fashion Week. Anyhow, each week, the challenges are judged by a panel of four: two women and a man who are regular judges and one guest judge, usually also a woman. What struck me the last few times I watched it was how when the male judge spoke, the women fell silent, going, “Mmm-hmm, mmm-hmm”. Partly it is politeness, but partly it’s also the reason Hillary Clinton’s smile took on the appearance of a forced grimace while Donald Trump spoke over her at the first US presidential debate this week.
There was an Internet meme going around that I loved. It said (and I’m paraphrasing): “I’m going to make a YouTube video of men saying ‘Not all men’ so that the commenters who say “not all men” will be really confused and won’t know what to say.” The fact is, there will always be some men who think conversations about gender and equality are aimed at them. “But I never,” they’ll say, or, “Women just use the gender thing to take advantage of the system.” (I’ve actually heard that last one and it gave me great pleasure to take that man down immediately. Was he convinced? He was not, but at least I got my words in.)
The thing is, feminism is about half the planet’s population, which means it’s a problem for all the planet’s population. Most of the men I’m friends with have been allies, helping and furthering the cause, but a lot of men I meet are either rude, stubborn or just plain dismissive that any problems exist. Because they don’t, they believe the problem is solved. To which I’ve learned to not be nice to these people, not be all like, “It’s okay, he’s a nice guy, he didn’t mean it.” I’ve learned to say, “That’s very nice for you, but it’s not the case all over the country or the world.” He might argue, nine times out of 10 they tend to argue, but if you’re firm and polite, they usually drop the subject. Some of your male friends, let’s give them credit, might even want to engage with you, once they get past their initial defensiveness.
But some of them you might have to walk away from, and that’s the hard part. When you’re first budding into feminist thought and the movement and you’re looking at everything around you with newly aware eyes, a lot of things are not as they seem. Beloved books and movies. Most pop song lyrics. A person you thought you admired who has sexist thoughts. It’s going to be a crumbling of your idols, and in some cases, a separation from your friends.
But you don’t owe men a #NotAllMen disclaimer, I promise. Remember, it’s your social conditioning, and move past it.