Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Case For #notallmen

For the record, I am the sort of person who does not generally court confrontation. While kids my age (usually boys) were gleefully stirring up bees' nests, I was perfectly happy to let them buzz in peace. So with that bit of info about me firmly in your mind, it might seem a bit odd that I would step into what is a buzzing cloud of hornets surrounding the hash tag and meme known as "Not All Men".

The main reason I am willing to talk about this is because I feel that if there is going to be any change for the better, as regards true gender equality, then there needs to be genuine conversation. That means both sides speaking honestly and respectfully to each other, and being heard. Either party simply sitting there mutely nodding while the other speaks helps nothing in the end,  I believe. At the same time, I completely understand how obnoxious it is when a person is sharing their perspective, and the other party (instead of really listening and taking some time to reflect) just immediately replies with "Nuh uh", and then begins singing what in our home is known as "The La La Song". So, since this is my space, I am going to speak up. I welcome honest response, even criticism. I always expect the same basic respect that you should expect if we were discussing this issue in your space.

So, where to begin? ... Let's start with the basic nature of human beings. We are, to put it simply, kind of a hot mess. We have three different kinds of brains, evolved at different points, over thousands of years. We have impulses that started out in prehistory, and have survived in some cases simply because they didn't kill us. Some of them may have been helpful in a passing on our genes sort of way, but today? Not so much.

A perfect example of this is around food. Back in the before time, in the long, long ago, when getting enough to eat could often be a deadly challenge, those who had the best chance of survival seemed to be the ones who could, and would, gorge when food was available, because there was no certainty when, let alone if, your next meal was going to be any time soon. Generations later, when things like food domestication had come around, many of those survival strategies were well set in our genes and life had not changed enough to make them disadvantageous. Come to today, when food is so easy to come by compared to the deep past that it's almost miraculous and the urge towards high calorie foods and lots of it, has become a problem. A BIG problem.

I tend to suspect that some of the things that are a problem between men and women today may be similar to that. In the deep past, there may have been an evolutionary advantage for those who simply procreated with no consideration to what the other party may have wanted. And certainly, being more blatant in your interest in procreating would have worked out better than hiding that interest. But, like so many things from our past, these ways of being are no longer suitable. Biologically, we are still a lot closer to our prehistoric selves than we'd like to believe, but culturally we have changed a lot.

The thing is that I think most males not only realize the change, but even support it. I think that most men want only the best for women in general, and the women they are in contact with in specific, be they mother, wife, co-worker, daughter, boss, sister, or subordinate. At the same time, those primitive urges and drives are never that far away. They can catch you at the damnedest times and before you know it, you've acted on ancient auto pilot. It may never happen, but all it takes is one time, and it can leave one feeling ashamed and kind of sick inside. Speaking more generally, I have a pretty horrific temper. It's something I've worked all of my life to manage, and to this day I am still far too easily provoked for my own liking. Mind you, I've got a whole barrage of coping strategies, so it takes a lot to get me to a point where I would act on my anger. But just having to deal with the feeling, and knowing how easy it would be to lose control if I didn't watch myself, it's not a good feeling, and not an easy one to have to deal with.

So here you have men, most of whom really do try to be decent human beings. And they hear these stories. Really awful, ugly stories. About people who look just like them,  AKA other men. Often it can trigger feelings of shame, and guilt by association. Sometimes, because the story being related is being phrased in such a way as to give a pretty obvious "All men are scum" message, and sometimes simply because guilt is a dog that sleeps lightly and barks loudly even when in truth there is nothing suitable to arouse it to bark. It is out of this misplaced guilt, I think, that "Not All Men" comes from for many. Add to this the fact that our culture is not very good at teaching people how to both speak, and listen, in a non-judgmental way. It is often hard to talk about highly charged issues like sexual assault and discrimination, because the ones speaking sometimes give a tone of blame that they don't realize is there, and to further complicate matters the ones listening sometimes hear a tone of blame, even if it's not really there.

Then there are the memes in our current culture that have become trendy and popular, and which in my opinion not only don't help but actively hurt the situation. One of my least favorite being, "Don't teach women how not to get raped, instead teach men not to rape." It's sexist and insulting. Let's try a substitution and see what you think, "Don't teach women how not to get mugged, teach black people not to mug." How's that sound? Pretty fucking racist and insulting? Yep. Exactly. It is that kind of crap that results in men feeling the need to defend themselves. And defensiveness all too easily can get out of control and become the default reaction even when it is wholly inappropriate.

Basically, what most men are looking for, is recognition of how hard we are working to be decent, and reassurance, that we are succeeding most of the time. The problem however, or at least a major part of it, is that we are looking in the wrong place. We need to be looking for this from other men, and we need to be giving it to other men. Men need to be having honest conversations about their feelings, about the times when being a good person is not easy. We need to be sharing coping strategies, and we need to be encouraging each other. We also need to find ways to deal with those of our gender who refuse to control themselves.

This is where I think that #notallmen can become a powerful and important tool. I think, that people should start using it, as a way of responding whenever something general and sexist is said about men, whether by a man or a woman. If a man attempts to excuse making a sexist remark, by saying that "it's just how guys think" etc. then it's time to unleash the #notallmen tag. Likewise if a woman says, "Men are absolutely useless in the kitchen", that too, is a sexist statement, and deserving of a #notallmen response.

At the same time, men are going to have to work at being more consistent, in actually listening to what is being said. When a woman says, "I've yet to meet a man who is any help in the kitchen", well, she's not talking about ALL men, she's talking about the ones she's met. And unless you personally know her, and have hidden culinary skills she's just not aware of, she's not talking about you, so put your ego aside, and put the hashtag down. Likewise, if a woman says, "It seems like I cannot get through a single day without some jackass staring at my breasts, or making some stupid pig comment.", again she's not talking about all men, and unless you know her and have been guilty of the behavior she is talking about she is Not Talking About YOU. So unleashing the notallmen tag is wholly inappropriate, not to mention counter productive.

Ultimately, my hope is that if men, and women, work at actually communicating with each other, then things like #yesallwomen, and #notallmen, will become less and less necessary, because we will be more aware of the struggles that we each go through in the quest to be good people, and to be valued for who we are.

Keep The Faith My Sisters And Brothers!

*Thank you to my wife for the editing help (I can cook, I can clean, I can't place a comma to save my life)

**A thank you to Robot Hugs for offering some food for thought about how the idea of "Not All Men" can be used as a force for positive change.

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