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Monday, September 29, 2014

WAMA: Gender Vittles

These "Who Asked Me, Anyway" posts of mine admittedly seem a bit masturbatory: little pats on the back to get validation that I'm a good person and thinking The Right Way about any number of things. For me, they're more of a way to analyze and re-analyze my thoughts and opinions, and maybe ways to spark conversation among or between friends. They may agree, they may not. A friend of mine recently piped up about spanking and even people who didn't entirely agree were cordial.

Or if they wouldn't have been, they kept their mouths shut.

Of course, it wouldn't have been too long before I churned out another example ripe for the WAMA format. An associate of mine posted an article on a blog called "Comments From Men Over 40 to Run Away From." on her Facebook wall. I'll wait until you read it. It's okay. This'll still be here.

Back? All right. Let's dance.

I thought it was funny and made sense. I know as a guy that women have to be on the lookout for creeps and people who would hurt them. I tend to find a kinship between that and the fact that as a black guy, one of my survival mechanisms is to be aware that I likely have to make some people feel at ease with my presence in one way or another each day, or prove that I do indeed intend to pay for that, or that I have no interest in manhandling me that fiiiiiiine white woman. One male friend of hers took some umbrage at the post, frustrated at the idea that a guy might not be able to say these things without a woman thinking he's a creep. He was angry. He thought it was unfair. He thought that it was outrageous that he had to watch what he said on the off chance that he might be prejudged in a negative way. I thought that his reaction was typical of something you see a lot of nowadays in some people during anything that could become (or has already become) a discussion about privilege.

My first statement:

"I can totally understand your reaction, [female friend]. And seeing as how I am someone who is also not entirely of the "cultural default" of the USA, it doesn't seem such an outrage-inducing concept to consider how I might be viewed by others before or after I open my mouth, let alone when I enter a room. I'm laughing and cringing with you.

[Male friend of female friend], I think it's something that more men would do well to practice awareness of: be aware of how what we say can be perceived. Make no assumptions that someone will understand that we're just being nice and even then, we aren't owed the time of day just because we're genuinely being nice. It's sometimes difficult not to take offense, but it's not always how we're being, but rather how we're being received. Women deal with daily crap guys don't."

He then responded:
"We all deal with daily crap. All I'm trying to say is, to the same extent that women do not want to be prejudged as sex objects, men do not want to be prejudged as perverts."

My second response:

"I'm not saying no one deals with daily crap, but we as men have a large amount of social privilege. We have the luxury of not having to worry about being seen as perverts if one chooses to be so oblivious. And as we all know, so many do. Women, on the other hand, have more of a concern of "Is this guy a pervert?" and can get hurt or worse if they make a bad judgement call. On the scale of daily crap, I'd say that one holds a lot more weight. That puts more impetus on guys to exercise awareness, rather than on women, who are scared more for their safety than a guy being scared that someone doesn't get him or gets the wrong idea about him.

On an equal, general human level yes, prejudging is not fair to anyone, and all would do well to be aware of that and act accordingly. But when you add the nuances of being a possessor of privilege, it's far too easy to sound like something on par with "NOT ALL MEN!" or White Whine if your main point is, "Well it can suck to be me/us, too!" Your point is valid, but I think — at the risk of further removing any comedic intent from the original post — it comes across as a standard derailing tactic in discussing issues. To my eyes, the underlying non-humorous issue behind this post is "Why do women feel uncomfortable and how can men take the initiative to make daily life feel as safe to them as it can to men?" instead of "But what about how women treat men back?" Again, a valid discussion and one that is definitely connected along the line, but not the one at the forefront as the subject of the humor post."

I don't know exactly when it happened, but my youthful desire to know it all and let you know that I do evolved into a desire to be understood, to understand, and try to help people understand. I'm always developing a way to express things to people without being condescending and to let them know that it's their way of thinking I'm addressing and not their value as a person. It's not always easy and sometimes I lose my own footing in the effort. Maybe it's just another way of playing "know-it-all". There are a couple of cynical, crotchety, angry/scared middle aged white guys out there who think I'm an idiot. (I'm also learning to be okay with the idea that there are people out there who I've talked to who think I'm an idiot.) There's a lot of opportunity these days to work on understanding, but sometimes I think I would do well to work on disengaging. I think I'm learning that some people just don't get it.

Or they will, and just need more time. Their view of the world and themselves is being shaken up. I may be helping, I may not be. But I suppose I could at least take the chance to help. I may not have to be the answer, but I guess I can still make an effort.