I am a human being. That means I am flawed in myriad ways, but I’m working on it. I try my best to see the best in others and do my best to act in a civil manner towards others. But I am well aware I have blind spots, and I often fall short of my own standards.
Some of these blind spots have come to my attention only in the past few years. I considered myself open-minded, but I wasn’t living the life I wanted to when it came to others. I didn’t realize–I mean REALLY realize–the experiences of people I’ve sought to support- people of color, LGBT persons, and women. I’d never attempted to listen to them and truly hear them. My wife will tell you I have a problem listening in general. Again, I’m working on it. There’s no doubt I talk too damn much, and I think it’s why I write all the time. So I won’t drive the people around me crazy.
That being said, I know the political atmosphere in the United States is tense right now. People are happy their candidate won but are angry at the protests that have resulted, and those protesting are angry at the administration and fearful of what may come as a result of Trump’s election. I say all the time I’m caught in between many different worlds. I was raised in coal country in Alabama and have watched the industries dry up and the small towns slowly die as coal jobs have been traded for opiate addiction. I grew up and now have a circle of friends who are unabashedly progressive. I have, however, spent 99 percent of my life in Alabama and the entirety of it in the southern US. That has given me a unique perspective on the politics of the US at large.
I myself am an exception to the rule in my home state — a liberal atheist left winger surrounded by conservative Christian right wingers. In the past I have worked side by side with many of them and have met some wonderful wonderful individuals among them, but I never made known who I am back then. I love my state and its people, but my life experiences have shown me that a good deal of the residents of Alabama don’t care for me or others like me. It has made finding common ground with my fellow citizens difficult. It’s also made it much easier to find true empathy for marginalized groups.
That brings me to my reason for writing this. I’m still going to try and reach out to you, Alabama. This time its the men in my life, though this easily applies to all men.
I’m still friends through social media with a number of people in my home state who hold very different beliefs than I do. A number of them I hold in very high regard. Many of them are asking after the events of the inauguration weekend, “Why are all these women marching?”
Here is my answer and why I think we as men can and should do better.
I reached out to my female friends who did attend the Women’s Marches and asked for their input first. I felt that as a man it wasn’t my job to articulate their reasons for being there. There were many reasons women marched, and they all didn’t share the same motivations I’ve learned- but we’d be less than honest with ourselves if we didn’t admit Donald Trump was the spark to the explosion we witnessed. The only aspect I will touch on is that of standing up to misogyny.
We have a president with a very misogynist past who has said some very sexist things both in his past and in his campaign for the presidency. This struck millions of women to their core. I was 35 before I had any idea what women in my life deal with in their own lives. I’ve told sexist jokes in the past and thought, “Why are women complaining so much when they’ve got it so good?” I had no idea how hurtful and thoughtless my words were. Yes, I am a recovering misogynist myself.That’s where we have to start this conversation. It’s one where we have to be honest with ourselves and that won’t be easy. It wasn’t easy for me. As men we have ran the show from the beginning. We have never had to worry for our own safety when we have been alone. We don’t have to worry someone will roofie our drink and sexually assault us. We aren’t told to smile when we are walking down the street daydreaming with no specific expression on our faces. We aren’t grabbed and groped by complete strangers in a crowd or at a club. We are paid more for the same jobs than women. We aren’t slut shamed for what we choose to wear. We aren’t called whores for being sexually active. Our sex specific healthcare is never up for debate. There is a basic respect for women that is lacking in so many ways. I can go on. I have a feeling this paragraph will bring about responses that will reinforce my point.
…and that point is that like so many other men I’ve never made a true effort to understand what women deal with on a day to day basis and in their life as a whole. The most shocking thing to me was how many of my female friends described being sexually assaulted. The statistics are mind boggling. Men, the statistics say you definitely know women who have dealt with this.
So when the president described how, as a powerful man, he could do whatever he wanted to women including grabbing their genitalia without their consent, this hurt a lot of women. From my discussions I learned that they resolved to march to show the president they are numerous and they are powerful, they will not will not tolerate that indecent behavior any more, and they will be respected. It was about showing solidarity with their fellow women while reassuring and empowering those who are scared.
Why wouldn’t we support them in that? If you didn’t find the president’s words offensive I’m not sure what to tell you. I recommend you do a lot of introspection because what he said is never, ever ok. It’s not “locker room talk” and you know it.
My friend, the musician Al Scorch, posted this to his Facebook page and it says what I am trying to say very well:
We have to listen when the women in our lives call us on our bullshit. We have to listen when they speak, hear them, and seek to understand what we do not understand. We have to educate ourselves and be reflective about our motivations and actions. We have to recognize and respond to sexism in ourselves, our friends, relationships, communities, and institutions. We have to understand how we benefit from male supremacy and seek to end the ways we dominate. The positive changes we make in ourselves will radiate outward and into our relationships, communities, and society as a whole.
So my fellow men, go ahead and ask “Why did they march?” as long as you are willing to make a genuine effort to understand. This was just one of many, many reasons. I am hopeful this sparks a productive conversation between men on Women’s Rights in the United States and how we as men can and should do better.
I’m here if you’d like to talk honestly with me about this. Email me at watidwell @ mail.com (not gmail) or find me on Facebook if we aren’t already connected.
Photo credit to my wife, Jennifer, who marched in Washington DC on behalf of all of the people she works with who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.