I found myself in a discussion over the #metoo movement a few days ago, and after I had added my insight, I quickly began regretting what I had said. I was advocating for a world of togetherness, of ‘humanity’ and of harmony, where men and women co-exist brilliantly. I’m an idealist, but also a realist, and sometimes I can let my idealism get in the way of my realism. If I have to face facts then I need not look far to see that the world is a horribly unpleasant place for a lot of people. My ideas that I had put to screen were so far off into the idealism spectrum, and not practical, that when I have to check myself, or someone checks me, I have to start looking inwardly.
It’s brought a lot of deep thinking on my part over the last two days, I’ll admit; some of it confusing, some of it brought me the head nod of a reality that I already knew, and other things that I’m still questioning myself deeply on — is it right that I act in this way?
I recall a time when I was about 10 years old and I was having dinner at my gran and granddad’s so my mum could go out and work. That was my routine, I’d go to school, come back, eat dinner and then wait for Mum to get back from work. Today was unlike any other day. I had decided to meet Mum when she was coming home from work; a son and his mum can have such a tight bond, especially when she was the only parent in my life.
It was approaching winter and by the time I went out to meet her, the streetlights were on. The memory I have of that night was that you could barely see fifteen feet in front of you. I had decided to give Mum a fright that night. It would have been funny, I thought, as I would jump out in front of her and make her laugh as she usually would when I tried my luck at giving her heart failure. I heard her footsteps approach my hiding spot and then I tossed my body in front of her and shouted “raaaawr” as loud as I could
She acted different that day. It took me years, maybe until last night to have an inkling of what was going through her mind, but she screamed, and not like a loving mother. She screamed like a woman in danger. I was in for the serious high jump the whole of the remainder of that day, and she cried that night, something I’ve never understood, but I’m trying. She nearly keyed me in the face that night. She was holding her house keys as a weapon ready to plunge into the face of her attacker; her only son.
I’ve never experienced that.
I’ve never experienced gut-wrenching fear from something as simple as walking down an avenue.
Yes, I’ve been in fights, and yes, I’ve had men threaten my safety, and yes, women have been particularly nasty to me on a regular basis, but as I ignorantly call for a space for cis-gendered, able-bodied, heterosexual white men on #metoo, I’ve never actually been in a regular situation where I’ve been scared for my own life. I don’t think men of my privilege get it. I don’t think I get it – yet. I don’t think we’ll ever know what it’s like to go on a blind date and make preparations just in case I don’t come back. I’ve never had to do that. Ever. In any situation that I’ve ever been in, or ever will be in. I guess I’ll only know more by listening to and reading more stories that are continually popping up on my feed.
This also had me thinking of the underlying prejudices that us men (yes, waving my hand here, me too!) have when we discuss these issues with women. I can count the number of hot dinners I’ve had easier than the amount of times I’ve heard a man invalidate what a woman is telling him by saying that she’s neurotic, or worries too much, or is just being crazy like women generally are. I tell my wife that she’s worrying too much and that everything will be fine, yet now I’m learning that, although I mean well, I’m effectively silencing her. That my meaning well and trying to console her is actually silencing her. I’m really good at listening, but goddamn I need to get better at it, it seems. How can we listen if we’re so damn good at silencing women? Seems like I even think I’m doing her a favour by silencing her. This has to change, no?
And damn, the silent refusal to stand up and speak out. I talked about this in an earlier article where I was learning that some men were cretins, where he was married with children but still found it acceptable to objectify every girl in the room barely older than 18, and yet, he was excitedly telling me about it. I got up and walked away from him, but to do so I may have just validated and patted him on the back for everything that he told me. I could have spoken out, but I didn’t. It scared me to do so, but this is something else we need to work on. If we know it’s wrong, then we can work together to take out misogyny from within. I know this is a tall ask for some men, including me, but writing about it is a start? How can we be better, men? I’d love to hear some suggestions, because I need to get better at it too.
My wife, Natalie, and I have worked a system: she now turns the tables on me to make me think about my actions. One thing she’s working with me right now is whenever she’s talking about something that’s painful to hear for me, I shut off, I start tickling her and I start being silly. She’s been doing that to me as of late and I will admit I goddamned hate it. My own actions returned in my face and it has already caused a few arguments between us – so why should I find this acceptable to do with her? It’s been an interesting journey so far. I’m learning, and I promise it is and will be a lifelong learning experience.
I’ve been talking lately about how men have it hard, and we do, but I think as I grow as a person I’m realising that we are making it hard on ourselves. Women listen to us. When we finally open up, we don’t have to justify our position, or defend our stance, or be dismissed as crazy. And now that I think about it, the only people that dismiss me are other men. It’s why I’m slowly realising the playing field is terribly uneven; men are believed instantly, but women have a far harder time of it.
“What were you wearing at the time?”
Jesus. Would you ask a man that?
I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve had it wrong these last few weeks. I’ve been so intent on trying to create an equal space for both genders I’ve missed the practical application of achieving such a thing. Because the playing field is far from equal, how can we hold equal space when there is no equal level? I’ve missed the ball entirely. Equality is achieved through understanding, and if even I don’t understand the basic concept of how terrifying and threatening life can be for women on a daily basis, then how can I advocate for an equal space?
I guess I’m saying I’m deeply sorry and, finally, I’m firmly listening to my female-identified and non-binary friends. I want to do better because you deserve better from me and privileged men like me.