Venus and mars

I wanted to talk about feminism, how my views have changed over the last several months, and how the discussion changed me. Usual warnings: I’m far from an expert, and always learning. Any

The genesis of this was on Twitter, of all places. I started reading some posts forwarded by my followers, and engaging the more active of them in conversations. I was intrigued, if somewhat guarded. Some of it was too far for me.

I thought I was alright. I was a good guy. I didn’t support abuse of any fashion. I respected women. I supported feminism, to a point- equality, great! I was on board with all of that. I didn’t care for the more militant “man-hating” branches, and saw some of what I perceived to be double standards in the way feminists approached things. Or that every little thing seemed to be an insult to women. Cripes, that got tiresome.

But as an open minded sort, I wanted to read and learn, and indulged some discussion and literature. I read, and occasionally was told, that I was doing it wrong. That my thinking, what I talked about, how I approached things, still wasn’t good enough. That I was missing why women were slighted, and not understanding the larger issues that women face in all aspects of life.

That really annoyed me initially. I’m a quiet, thoughtful sort, and tend to think of myself as respectful and gentlemanly. My thinking was that I was ALREADY being a “nice guy“, and having a hard time with women- I still had to do more? Were women really as oppressed as they thought? Was it really worthwhile to pick arguments over speech/situation as much as they were? Or was I right? Were they taking it too far?

It wasn’t an overnight sea change. But it was something partially influenced by past frustration with relationships, where I’d tried to avoid conflict rather than address the issue. I engaged in some discussions with smarter people in both genders, and tried to come to terms with why I felt the way I did, and why feminist ideas provoked defensive reactions in me.

Those people who told me I was doing it wrong: they were right. I’d made my frustration, and the woman’s viewpoint of it, the focus. I was viewing it through my own lens, rather than attempting to understand theirs. In my attempts to be gentlemanly, and my frustration with relationships, I’d missed a more important point in dealing with women in general. It’s not just about me: it’s about them too.

It came to a head for me after I’d posted something on Facebook that dealt with rape, and the reactions to it were split almost entirely along gender lines. A lot of it was about how women often feared men who were strangers. I’m generalizing the reactions, but they were mostly like this: Men didn’t understand why women felt that way, and women supported it entirely. I wasn’t surprised by the split, even as the strength of the reactions fascinated me. The lady deigned to discuss it with me later, when we were out eating.

The discussion was excellent, and there was an exchange of ideas that I’ve come to relish in talking with anyone, and especially with her. She reaffirmed a lot of my thinking, and was glad that I’d come to an understanding of why women thought the way they did.

She admitted that before meeting me for the first time, she’d texted someone with the information on where we were going, and then again when she’d gotten home. This floored me: why would anyone need to do that? I’d never done that, or felt the need to.

But from her perspective, there was a logic to it. She didn’t know me. I wasn’t Dave Church, “nice guy” and mild mannered citizen, I was a mostly-unknown male who might be stronger, more powerful, and with malicious intent. As a woman, she was vulnerable, in a way that I never will be. And that was the kicker: she was a woman, so of course it wasn’t going to be the same for her as for me.

Her experiences and perceptions are different. She will be evaluated more on her appearance than her capability, will be held to a higher standard of conduct, will be paid less than me for a lot of jobs, and needs to be cautious walking alone outside at night, or meeting strange men for the first time. Yes, not all men were going to harass her, but some women feel afraid when they don’t know that man. It wasn’t about me. It was about her.

Repeating for emphasis: it wasn’t about me. It was about her.

I spoke of my own journey, from a place of frustration and defensiveness to a point where I wanted to learn more, and be challenged. I admitted that I had really never thought of that- of a lot in relationships, and life- in the terms that women had. I, and a lot of other men, had made that mistake. A classic Venus/Mars scenario. But having that realization, and discovering that empathy for women, really made the rest of it fall into place. It all made sense. This was why women were fighting. And I felt like an idiot for not seeing it before.

Being a feminist didn’t mean hating men either. Really, the same stereotypes that keep women down, also paint men in an unflattering light. Think back to my frustration, where I thought I was owed something by women because of my own struggles in establishing relationships. That was a disservice to the women (who felt the blunt end of my frustration), but also to myself as well. Wasn’t I better than that? Aren’t men better than expecting something from women for being nice to them. Aren’t we smarter than that? Aren’t we able to support women, not just in matters of equality, but in how we speak/act/think? I think we are, gentlemen.

This is important to me because I feel like there’s a middle ground to find (and that is my nature). At least some of the problem is miscommunication, and the different perspectives that both genders have leading to taking things the wrong way, and often extrapolating to an inaccurate extreme. Feminists don’t hate men- they hate that women’s rights and values aren’t taken as seriously as men’s. And I know that men don’t often “get” women, and react defensively to the mere concept of feminism because they believe it infringes on what they want to do.

I know I have friends who are frustrated with relationships and women, and can relate to that because I’ve been there.. Having success in a relationship has helped my perspective, as well as being with someone who supports me, and lets me support them. It’s unfortunate that it took feeling good about myself in that context to get there, but that’s often the way of life. We don’t always have that “aha” moment until it’s framed in a context that makes sense for us. And here’s the other reason for a relatively peacemaking post: if we go into an exchange thinking it will be adversarial, then guess what, it will be. And that’s not productive for anyone.

There’s still lots of ground to be made for equality, and I want to continue to learn and grow in how I perceive things, but  think some of the fight now for feminism is in culture, and perception, and establishing that foothold will hopefully make the other societal changes easier. As a man, I have it pretty good. I’ll probably never be more than a theoretical activist, but my voice and perception is important, because it affects everything I do. If I can help my fellow men see the good in feminism, that’s a win.

Ultimately, it’s not about how I see things, it’s about how women see it. And how women see things, understand things, and experience things is way, way different than I do. I need to listen to that. There are challenges I will never have, fears I will never face, and though I will never understand it fully, I again have to listen and learn. Understanding is a wonderful thing, and will help your relationships with women. It’s helped how I view men as well, and what I expect out of myself as a man who wants to help the process along.  I’m still learning, and I know It will take time. But I think we can get there, if we want to.

To reinforce: What’s the best thing we can do, fellas? Listen to women. Listen to their experiences. Walk alongside them. Don’t judge, or tell them they’re wrong/angry/dumb. LISTEN. Saying “listen” is ironic, given that I just wrote a roughly 1500 word post of my own experience. But this was for me. I wanted to talk about my journey, and why/how I think they way I do about women. I hope you got something out of it.


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