For millennia, women as a whole (through binary lenses, of course) have been treated sub-par in many ways. Since then, we have found a voice of opposition, and that voice has become louder and louder. As well it should. Here’s a question, though: through our shouting — our just and appropriate demand for equal treatment — have we drowned out all the other voices that wanted to join with us? Are we truly communicating — a give and take of language and ideas — or are we saying so much that we fail to listen to the positive male voices around us? And if we’re failing to listen, are we not then incentivizing the exact behavior we seek to overthrow? Let me explain:
I’m sure you’re familiar with Aesop’s fable, the Boy Who Cried Wolf. In the fable, a boy decides twice to trick his village into believing a wolf had descended upon the sheep when really it had not. The village went into a frenzy and regretted it very much once they realized they had been fooled. Unfortunately for the boy, he was then faced with a real wolf who really was descending upon the sheep. Because he had been labeled a liar, the village refused to listen to him.
There is more to that fable than a lesson for children prone to fabricate stories, because it is not just about the boy and how he should not have lied. It is also about the village and how they needed to be willing to forgive the boy and listen once again.
Women have historically been objectified, animalized, refused property, refused voting rights, refused equal treatment in the workforce, subjected to expectations ranging from just plain silly to downright deadly. And by default, when shouting against these things, whether the women wanted it or not, men have been placed opposite. Divided. Polarized.
It’s no one’s fault, really. When women band together, men are, by default not part of the band. And that’s perhaps the only way.
Many men, after all, have fooled us women into believing we were at the mercy of the wolves and then watched patronizingly as we dealt with the ensuing chaos. Laughing even.
But then, what if the men have changed? Or what if not all men are the same? Will we know it? Are we listening? Have we even given them room to change? Or have we labeled them and left them without another thought?
Have you ever felt the weight of a past label you could not kick? Have you ever wanted to throw in the towel on even trying to change because nobody would believe it anyway? If you treat a kid like a criminal, what does the kid have to lose by becoming a criminal?
Then if we label men a certain way, are we not just providing more incentive for them to be that way?
And I know, I know, it is not women’s job to make sure men turn out okay. But there’s that polarization again. It is every person’s job to be a good, decent person, regardless of gender. Are we being good, decent people if we label an entire gender and refuse to listen to them?
As women shout more and more for equal treatment, and again, I believe wholeheartedly that they should, there has got to be room to also listen and watch the change, to stand back and take in the effect they are having.
On the other hand, if we shout and never listen, I fear that we not only marginalize all men by default, but that we marginalize a good number of men who deserve none of it and that we increase their likelihood of becoming harmful to themselves or others as they are forced into a dark place where they are silenced and misunderstood, many of them standing not only on the outside of women’s groups, but also on the outside of “man’s man” groups as well. Alone.
For instance, where is the voice for men who have been sexually abused or harassed? Where is the #mentoo movement?
When voicing their experiences, victimized men are ridiculed by the alpha males for being weak and whiners, while also being patronized by women who immediately compare scars, reminding them of how very small their experience is compared to women’s.
If we really want to overcome the mistreatment — the scariness — that is female gender disparagement, we women do ourselves a great disservice when we force the hurt men inward to deal alone with their pain and shame, refusing to give them space to show either who they are or — importantly — who they aren’t. That — judgment, labeling, refusing to listen — is how hate is created. We are trying to rid the world of hate, not create more of it.
Sometimes, women are a village standing in opposition to a lonely boy who is very sorry for the child he used to be when he cried wolf. Sometimes, women are a village refusing to listen. Sometimes, women create a village, and boys are not allowed in — even the innocent ones who need a home.
I say there is room to listen, once again, to those boys — to give them room to change if change is needed, to believe in and support them if change is not needed — and to do our best to avoid the impending harm that comes when whole groups of people silence others with no outlet.
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