#YesAllWomen and #YesAllMen

Since my last post about sexual assault, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I wanted to post a couple of articles I saw go by about these matters.

The first one is a really good piece about – in contrast to the common refrain #NotAllMen – why “Yes, actually, it is all men.” Not all men sexually assault people, but all men have been trained to perpetuate patriarchy and that helps create the conditions for sexual assault and other less violent but significantly impactful and pervasive problems described in more detail in the second article (scroll down for this one).

I think that just as I have a hard time when white people talk about being not racist when racism is in the air we breathe and the systems of power that dominate all of our lives, I have a hard time when men distance themselves from the kind of sexually aggressive behavior that I was just describing in my last post, because the subtler underpinnings of that behavior are so universal.

Obviously, not all men sexually violate people and it makes sense that one who does not would want to distance himself from one who does. But, the kinds of behaviors that lead me to feeling unsafe and uncertain (and worse) with men come from all men.

I love, value, and respect the men in my life (and feel loved, valued, and respected by them, in turn) and I can’t think of a single one that I am close to that doesn’t sometimes evince behaviors associated with patriarchy. The men I feel safest with understand and acknowledge that this is true and want to hear when I’m being impacted by it, even as they understand that I will not have the energy to talk to them about the barest fraction of the times it arises, because that is grueling emotional labor for me.

Behaviors associated with patriarchy are often subtle or not-so-subtle patterns of dominance that are usually invisible to the person performing them, because they are largely unconscious. So, while I may notice a half-dozen go by during the course of an evening (and feel the impact of them keenly), the person performing those behaviors might not notice any of them at all.

Furthermore, if #YesAllWomen – half the population – have countless stories of sexual assault, groping, boundary violation, and then innumerable garden-variety experiences of being socially dominated, discredited, talked over, invalidated, objectified, ‘splained to, and patronized, it does beg the question of: If not you, Sir, than who?

Who has been doing any of this? Given that women have come to understand that more often than not it will bring them more harm (including potential violence) or trouble to bring it up than to pretend it didn’t happen (see article #2), how would you even know for sure that you didn’t behave in a way that was problematic on the basis of unconscious patriarchy?

You have no idea if a woman has a story about you.

You may have no idea if many women have stories about you or if a woman has many stories about you.

I have many stories about many “good” men, liberal men, feminist men, and even men that I like, love, respect, and value evincing patriarchal behaviors of social, physical, or sexual dominance – and more pile up everyday. Every single day. Most of those times, informing them of the fact that the behavior they were performing was problematic, painful, or injurious on the basis of patriarchal forms of social, physical, or sexual dominance was not worth the potential harm or trouble that could come to me if I did so. While some men are grateful for the feedback and respond with curiosity, interest, and care (and those are the ones I prefer to spend time with), most men do not. So, for the sake of my own physical safety and mental/emotional health and well-being, most of the time, I pretend that nothing untoward happened. Especially if the situation feels dangerous.

My male partners and friends are phenomenal humans – awesome and thoughtful and skillful and kind and feminist and really good at examining their shit and literally I’d estimate that unconscious patriarchy finds a way to show up half-a-dozen times an evening, on average.

This doesn’t mean that anyone is bad or evil. We’ve all (people of all genders) been programmed by patriarchy. It’s not anybody’s fault that they were programmed by patriarchy. You can’t have grown up in this culture and not have been programmed by patriarchy. But working to undo that is the responsibility of each of us, looking inside of ourselves to root out the unconscious patriarchy that is operating there, largely outside of our awareness. This will not happen if we distance ourselves from the problem.

Given that patriarchy and misogyny is in the air we breathe and the systems of power that dominate all of our lives, it is impossible to avoid their influence. So, rather than hanging out in the notion that “I’m not like that horrible, abusive guy,” I think it is more useful to inquire, “How might patriarchy or misogyny be showing up in my life, in my thoughts, or in my behavior in ways I might not be aware of?”

So, here’s article #1:

think-its-notallmen

This next one was going around almost a year ago, but resurfaced in light of the recent current events that has brought the universality of the sexual assault of women to the forefront of national attention. I hadn’t read it the first time. I read it a few days ago and felt chills, recognizing myself so completely in what writer Gretchen Kelly was saying, even though she is talking about something that is so second nature to me that it is hard to even think about, let alone describe. It’s something about the continual dodging that women do, pretending that nothing is wrong, while we are objectified or violated or subtly threatened, because to acknowledge that it is happening is more dangerous than smiling and pretending that nothing just happened. I alluded to some of this process in what I wrote, but she fleshes it out in so much more detail and specificity than I did. For those of you who are, understandably, more moved by the stories of your personal friends and find that more meaningful or impactful than the stories of strangers, just imagine that I (or that some beloved female friend of yours) wrote every word. Because I could have. (Or your beloved female friend could have.) What the writer is describing represents my daily lived experience that is nearly invisible to most men and I believe it is an important one to understand.

So, here’s article #2:

that-thing-all-women-do

Together, they fill in some of the very subtle, very pervasive aspects of how patriarchy and misogyny impact the daily lived experiences of women in ways that are often invisible to the men who are witnessing or even participating in them.

Again, I do not mean to imply that all men perform egregious sexual boundary violations. Not remotely. Far from it. But, all of us who occupy positions of privilege would do well to think about how we may perpetuate those systems of dominance unconsciously, rather than distancing ourselves from the problem, deciding that the problem lives somewhere else, in the obvious and extreme cases.

As I said before, I will say again (and even bold-face it for emphasis, because I believe it is important):

Given that patriarchy and misogyny is in the air we breathe and the systems of power that dominate all of our lives, it is impossible to avoid their influence. So, rather than hanging out in the notion that “I’m not like that horrible, abusive guy,” I think it is more useful to inquire, “How might patriarchy or misogyny be showing up in my life, in my thoughts, or in my behavior in ways I might not be aware of?”

The truth is, as a cis woman, I have to ask myself this, also, although the internalized patriarchy and misogyny in question is sometimes self-directed (being perpetually “nice,” undermining myself, believing that my worth is wrapped up in my physical appearance or sex-appeal, having trouble speaking with confidence, making myself smaller, participating in keeping men happy, believing I have to say yes to ever advance or offer, subordinating myself to men unconsciously, and the list goes on and on) and sometimes the internalized patriarchy and misogyny are directed towards other women (for example, judging them according to whether or not they are complying with the list of patriarchal standards I have internalized).

The work to overcome the influence of patriarchy and misogyny is for all of us to do. It works so much better when we acknowledge that it is in us and not just in that asshole over there.

 

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