This has been a difficult post to write. Even now I'm not quite sure if it's a wise thing for me to post. If it's a mistake, then I think it's a mistake which I need to make. I think that continuing to stay silent would be the bigger mistake.
I don't think my identity is a surprise to anyone - I'm a middle-aged white cisgender hetero Australian male. I'm restating this today because it's relevant to this post.
I'm not ashamed of who I am. It is a terrible thing to cause another person to feel shame about things which they cannot change. On the other hand, I would be lying or wilfully blind if I didn't acknowledge that it comes with certain privileges.
Privilege is an insidious thing, because it becomes invisible to those who have it. It's hidden by various stories we tell ourselves, e.g. the merit story, the hard work story. I like to think that I started becoming aware of my privileges ever since I first started studying sociology of law and feminist jurisprudence at law school (another privilege). For a time I see-sawed between listening and learning, and feeling defensive, as if I were being personally attacked. Thanks to the patience and compassion of my teachers and fellow students, I was ok.
This understanding and self-knowledge is a never-ending process. I would never claim to have sorted things out, because there's always something else - another layer of previously unnoticed privilege, another blind spot, another flaw. I'm also ambivalent about choosing labels such as "feminist" or "ally" to apply to me. Maybe I am, and I wouldn't reject it if it were given to me by others, but I've been disappointed by people (mostly men) who have clung to superficial trappings of these labels while ignoring the substance.
Up to now, I've been reluctant to write anything about feminist issues or my relationship with these issues. In retrospect, this omission is notable because as a librarian I work in a profession where the majority of my co-workers are and have been women - be they peers, managers, reports. I can think of two insights I can bring from my career:
- One part of me likes being a male librarian because the more this happens, the more it undermines rigid, toxic and outdated gender roles
- From my experience, reverse discrimination as a systemic thing is not real. This is that fear that if women have power over men, then they will use that power to somehow punish men for the patriarchy. It's absurd, but it may be based on the idea that if you are accustomed to various privileges, then any attempt to make things fairer could seem like disadvantage.
- Finally, certain individual women can be just as horrible types of human as certain individual men. Both men and women have potential to be amazing people as well as dickheads.
However, in general I've avoided discussions of gender issues in professional circles. It's been easy to justify staying silent. After all, who really wants another white male perspective? However, I think that there comes a time when saying nothing isn't enough. If I am talking directly with another person and I hear that she has been subjected to terrible injustices, I could not just ignore or dismiss it to her face. I couldn't hear that and turn away in silence, or say, "I have nothing to say to you" and I couldn't just try to end the awkward conversation by saying something like, "yeah, that sucks, but my life isn't easy either" and then changing the subject.
It's the same when it comes to the horrific stories of misogynist abuse I've been hearing about since the #metoo movement started, as well as earlier. It seems wrong for me to just sit back and passively listen to or read about this, and say and do nothing.
It's important to for men to listen, but I think it's even more important that we have a real conversation. In my experience, it’s difficult for communication to happen when only one person is speaking and the other person is silent. Is the silence supportive and respectful or is the silence sullen and angry?
I think that being able to keep silent on difficult or challenging topics is itself another aspect of my privilege. After all, some people believe that all Muslims must always condemn atrocities committed by ISIS or other extremists. Personally, I think that's very unfair, but if this is the way things are now, then it's only right that I should make it clear that I condemn the evil deeds and poisonous words which other men are responsible for, and declare that these deeds are in not in my name.
Recently in Australia, the word "misandry" seems to have been discovered by people who are within the orbit of Mens Rights Activism to somehow excuse or justify appalling behaviour towards women. I wonder if this post or if I may be held as an example of a man-hating man?
My view is this - the MRAs, PUAs and incel types - they are both misogynists and misandrists. I think that any person who excuses heinous male behaviour as "boys being boys" must think that men are quite pathetic cave dwellers, that violent aggression is essential to our nature, and we can never improve or redeem ourselves.
I grew up in Tasmania. It's a beautiful place and every time I return from a visit, I allow myself to dream about moving back there permanently. But it also has problems. Tasmania is also where Hannah Gadsby grew up. In Nanette, Hannah told stories of some horrendous and traumatising things that happened to her in Tasmania.
Although nothing like those things ever happened to me, her stories still resonated with me. I recognise her descriptions of the dickheads who hurt her - not the specific individuals, but the type of person. I remember a lot of that type when I grew up in Tasmania, a shadow of random and undeserved violence from other men, against anyone who didn't fit in to rigid and outdated ideas of how men should behave and how women should behave.
Of course, this sense of menace I grew up with is as nothing when with compared with the actual violence which Hannah was subjected to. Nonetheless, I think that toxic masculinity is a scourge for both men and women. It seeks to control men as well as women. I want no part of this bullshit and I don't care if the people disapprove and call me disparaging names.
I don't like conflict or relish the idea of making enemies, but increasingly I've realised, this attitude is how the dickheads win. They know that most of the time, they won't be challenged when they treat people badly. It's especially true in hierarchical workplaces where authority is to deferred to and being a "team player who doesn't make waves" is seen as the most important quality in an employee.
The whole thing is slightly unnerving and makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Then I remember - that's ok. The desire to just feel relaxed and comfortable, to say nothing against the wrongs suffered by others - that is one of the big reasons why we're in this mess.