In light of the recent #METOO movement there has been a lot more conversations about sexual inequality and how it affects woman’s lives on a daily basis. Before this, I don’t think the average man really fully understood just how prevalent it is, at least, my husband didn’t. Let me just say, my husband is a kind, gentle human being who wouldn’t intentionally hurt anyone. I’m lucky that he is emotionally intelligent enough to take new information and process it and he is slowly learning to retrain the way he thinks about sexism.
When I told him stories of my own personal experiences with sexism, he assumed it was because I lived in a bad neighborhood. I had to Google search sexual assault statistics just to prove to him that, no, it wasn’t because I grew up in a more-dangerous-than-average city, and yes, it happens everywhere. All the time.
The question of how to talk to your husband, boyfriend or any other men in your life about sexism has been on my mind a lot over the last few years and even more so in this climate of shedding light on sexual inequity. We have been married for almost four years and he’s a lovely man. But he also was a sexist one.
Far from being a misogynist, society taught him that behaviour as ‘trivial’ as cat-calling to making jokes about women was the norm. In his mind, cat-calling was complimentary and just for fun. He was completely unaware that being cat-called on the street can make a woman feel unsafe.
Playing nice to not escalate a potential dangerous situation was a completely new idea for him. But we have been talking about it, and slowly over the last few years, my husband has come to understand the effects of a sexist society on women.
The question of how to approach this topic with your husband or boyfriend, father, brother or friend doesn’t have an easy answer. This conversation might mean for some men that they too have done things in the pasts to women or have been complacent in the actions of their friends, co-workers, or even mere bystanders of an incident in a public place that they are now uncomfortable with.
My husband and I had a conversation after I had been out in Malaysia, on my own, and two men said “hi” to me as I walked past. I said “hi” back. Then one said, ‘You’re pretty.’ I came home and told my husband how annoying it is that they couldn’t just stop at ‘Hi’, and his answer was ‘Why don’t you see that as a compliment?’ He truly didn’t understand why it would make me uncomfortable. And my husband is smart. He is probably one of the smartest people I know. But his conditioning has led him to believe that this action of a stranger is nothing more than an innocent compliment.
Just as women have been conditioned to think a certain way over our lifetimes, so have men. When we learn to self-talk we say to ourselves, ‘I’m not fat’, ‘I’m not ugly’, ‘I am worthy of love’, etc.
A man also needs to have these self-talks, but they can’t if they don’t even realize there’s a problem. Rewiring the way you think is a process, by continuously replacing negative thoughts with new, positive ones and it doesn’t happen overnight. There is a responsibility of each person to first recognize where they may be doing harm to others, then continuously rethinking their intentions and actions until it becomes the new normal.
Sometimes we assume having a daughter will help men understand that the compartmentalization of women is unhealthy. A daughter, a wife, a sister, a mother, a sex worker in the streets. They are all human beings. They all deserve to feel safe and respected.
When we talk about women—including sex workers—we need to talk about them with respect. All people no matter what their station in life are worthy of being treated like a human being.
I have also talked about the Monster Myth with my husband. He is a pilot and pilots are very much a boys club. I think men need to see that the monster myth creates an environment where it’s easy to turn a blind eye. The predator is not a monster who only lurks in dark alleys, waiting for the girl who was too stupid to stay on the lit path; he could be your friend, your co-worker, your boss.
There was a fantastic video by the Australian government circulating on Facebook, which has mysteriously disappeared but the synopsis is this: There is a woman being continuously stared at by a man on a bus and another man sees it, has an internal dialogue with himself as he recognizes that the woman is uncomfortable but also, his lifetime of conditioning is telling him it’s okay to look at someone, but in the end, he simply shifts his body into the sight-line and blocks the man from continuing to stare at the woman.
When men start to see how sexism affects women they can start to take steps to be non-complacent or apathetic to it.
I don’t think there is a magic solution to helping your spouse understand the effects of sexism and how to stop it from happening. I do think as women, we can help them by talking about our experiences, by showing them the statistics and again, thanks to #MeToo, it is far more visible than before. Things can change if, as a society, we all work together to rethink the way we think about each other.
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