Editor’s note: This post by author Steve Winfield was a comment in response to GMP Columnist Matthew Solomon’s GMP post “I Have Been Listening to Women.”
Hi Matthew. Your column here is amazing! I have to admit that I’ve found it difficult to accept the message of the #metoo movement, because so much of the discussion feels like indiscriminate allegations against “all men”, including me. But your column helped me understand that this was just how I was FEELING, that I was reacting emotionally to the subject largely because the basic complaint (“men” disrespecting women, treating them as objects, forcing themselves onto women) is abhorrent and unconscionable to me.
I have tried to demonstrate support for women and their concerns. Seven years ago, I made the startling discovery that I had been unconsciously perpetuating sexist prejudice every single day, simply by adhering to the “standard, socially acceptable” dress code for men. I realized that I had been avoiding legitimate fashion choices like skirts, strappy wedge heels, nail color, handbags (SO handy!..), out of a fear that people would see me as expressing “feminine” tastes… which was a sexist premise because of the implied assumption that any hint of “femininity” would be demeaning by association with the “inferior” gender. (I’ve placed “feminine” in quotes to highlight my belief that true femininity is not defined or assigned based on fashions, and the only reason these things are CALLED “feminine” is because men avoid them like I did.)
Upon discovering that I was doing this, I resolved to defy the sexist prejudices in the social dress code by incorporating so called “feminine” fashion choices into my personal style, to define ALL fashion as “unisex” and “ungendered” in my worldview. I also resolved to abandon “shame” when it is empowered by that prejudice, and to disregard the opinions of those who would judge me negatively on that basis.
For the most part, women who have noticed me wearing skirts etc.., have interpreted this as I intended, as an expression of “I don’t hate you, I don’t feel diminished by association with you.. I’m trying to find common ground and rapport with you.” But.. I know that I must do so much more to truly understand and appreciate the challenges and dangers women face in the world. I’ve had a few glimpses of it.. I’ve had to consider whether it would be safe for me to enter certain spaces while wearing “girly” clothes, I’ve had to think about how the crowd there might react and what they might do. I’ve experienced shocking transgressions of my privacy and personal space, from women who have interpreted my skirt as an invitation to peek, lift, and even reach out and grope me under, my skirt. I’m not saying #metoo here.. these events simply demonstrated for me how far my mindset is from that of a typical victim or even “typical” woman. Although shocked, I never felt threatened, abused or violated by the women, instead, I mostly enjoyed the attention.
But.. I recognize that this – my lack of fear in the face of a woman’s trespass upon my person, and my resulting freedom to actually enjoy a bit of uninvited sexual contact – this is purely a male privilege, which interferes with my ability to completely understand the emotional trauma that the #metoo victims experience, or the lifelong, habitual fear that many women have of anyone who “could be” (i.e., they don’t already KNOW that they aren’t..) a sexual predator.
Despite my best efforts, all I’ve discovered is that I can’t truly comprehend their fear and anger. I just do not have the appropriate frame of reference to do so. All I can do then is to try to hear them, and understand that their feelings are legitimate and valid, and that they are describing a problem that I can never know, but I can try to stop. And that has to be good enough, because it’s the best that I can do.
What’s your take on what you just read? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.
Photo credit: Flickr