There’s a difference between being right and doing the right thing.
About 20 years ago, I was the only man among eight women in the priority seating area of the bus. This was before expectant mothers were added to the list of people to be given priority seating and while men still occasionally could be expected to be chivalrous. A woman obviously pregnant got on and immediately moved in front of me. I believe that her expectation was that I would give my seat up for her. I admit that my initial thought was to give up my seat, then I paused.
Why should I give up my seat? I’m as entitled to a seat as any of the ten women there. It wasn’t like I was in the five seats closest to the door, but in the four seats just before the regular seating area. She had to take a couple extra steps to get to me. I stayed seated while I worked things out in my mind. Two stops later, a woman gave up her seat. A stop after that, I finally figured it out. There is a difference between being right and doing the right thing.
I’ve thought back on the discussions I’ve had with women. In one on street harassment, I countered if it’s a problem for women, all they have to do is wait 20 years. When they’re 35 or so, men won’t bother them. She told me how hurtful that was. I’ve come to realize that women are in a double bind. Because they are taught that their primary value is in their looks, they are both victimized and validated by street harassment. In my limited understanding I could only equate it to a drug addiction. It’s self-destructive, but there is something there that you crave.
I apologized to her, and in subsequent conversations on street harassment I’ve mostly never brought it up. There are still times I’ll hit send. Why would I do that knowing that it’s hurtful? It comes from the need to be right. An Arab friend told me that this is a trait bred into Arab men, but I think it’s a trait bred into all men. I think it’s a tool society uses to breed compassion out of men. The times I held back were the times I remember our conversation. The other times the need to be right, the need to win over, overrode compassion. If I’m right, I don’t have to care about your feelings. If I’m right, I don’t have to care about my own.
I remember another conversation I had. We were talking about porn use. She was telling me how men’s porn use was damaging women’s self esteem. I asserted an absolute right to porn. I think I made better arguments that she. It ended with her saying I give up. I can’t compete with them. They win. I haven’t heard from her since. At first, I didn’t care. I was right. I do miss her voice and her wisdom, and her heart. If it helps, I’ve come to realize that asserting a right to porn allows me to mask the reasons why I use it.
Porn is convenient. When you’re focused on financial success as men are taught their worth is measured by, you don’t have as much time to devote to relationships. Porn is safer. You can only be rejected so many times until the hurt builds up and you say “I give up,” at least for a while. Porn is not judgmental. I don’t have my 20-year-old physique and don’t have tons of money I could use to impress a woman. With porn I could fantasize about doing things I would never do in real life. I don’t have to deal with why I panic if restrained. I could just imagine myself restrained while not actually being restrained.
There are several things society breeds into boys to rob us of our compassion. You can never be hurt or seek compassion. You have to fix things. Define things as black and white as us vs. them. Things have to be overcome. Problems have to be solved. My initial instinct on the bus was to act with compassion, but I had to be right.
Photo: Ahmed Mahin Fayaz/Flickr