A few days ago, I watched in disappointment as a Facebook friend of mine proceeded to upload a status denouncing the importance of the wage gap. The Facebook friend is a cis-gendered white man. The day was International Women's Day.
Not surprisingly, the post ignited a seemingly never-ending thread of comments; which ranged from friendly suggestions of "Hey I don't think you mean it but you're probably not in the position to tell women what is and isn't important about feminism," to name-calling and ad hominem roasts.
The status may not seem remarkably important or particularly antagonistic towards the bigger picture of feminism and women's rights; but to me and probably a lot of women out there, it not only represents one idiot who chose the wrong day to say the wrong thing but also the commonly misconceived idea that the dominator is in his right to represent the dominated.
As a writer, I believe the subject of the story should be the one telling the story. As a woman, I believe the woman should be the one representing her own experiences. It's quite simple.
For years throughout history, women were often under the control of their husbands and their brothers. Under the hands of men, a self-determined future wasn't a possibility they could even try to dream of. There is no question that 21st century America is a different and better place for women to live in. But equality is light years away. From the realities of the wage gap to the lack of employment opportunities, we collectively face challenges every day. And the biggest question of all: what role do men play in all this? The relationship between feminism and men is something that social media platforms have debated time and time again. To me, it seems rather straightforward.
Men are in a unique position of dominance that isn't accessible to women in society. This position is regularly used to heighten their already dominant status. Feminist discourse revolves around such themes. Although such discussions are important, I have always thought that a man's heightened social position isn't always a bad thing. Hear me out.
It's easy to critique and antagonize the masculine status. It symbolizes the structures of oppression that sexism is inherently built on; it represents the sexist culture entrenched within society. Sexists feed on normalized conceptions of masculinity. As a young woman, I go to bed every night thinking how unfair such things are. But what I can't deny is that men do have a position within our social movement. It becomes a question of how they utilize their position within society. Rather than using their status as a way to perpetuate the oppressive structures already in place, it can be utilized to reform the very system it is part of. Men are our allies. They can change these outdated ideals of masculinity, they can reform the ideas of other men who refuse to listen to a woman, they can work with us, rather than against us.
Now the question turns to the methodology. Exactly how will men participate? Start with this: shut up and listen.
It is important to understand that our movement is built upon years of experience. Our narratives are spun from everyday realities. It is not your reality, it is ours. It is our story and just because you are our allies is by no means a reason for our story to be co-opted. Let us tell our story. You're going to feel uncomfortable, your ideas will be challenged. Learn to feel uncomfortable; learn to accept a challenge.