I recently found myself in the position of having a male tinder date tell me that women identifying themselves as victims (by focusing on gender inequality) doesn’t help anyone, and we should focus on what we can do instead of what we can’t.
It’s important to note that this guy was very kind, interesting, and well educated. He was willing to genuinely listen to me, but just didn’t understand why I encourage people to focus on sexism instead of trying to rise above it.
Plus he really seemed to believe there was no difference in treatment or privilege between the sexes.
This is one hazard of being single while doing what I do: when I talk about my work and mission, they frequently feel resistant and defensive, as if I’m blaming them or calling them out.
Luckily, I get that.
Fairly recently, if you told me that black people went to jail at way higher rates than white people, I woulda been like… weellllll maybe they shouldn’t do illegal stuff, and then they could stay out of jail like the rest of us? If you told me that white people have privileges black people don’t have, I would have felt defensive too. Are you trying to say my life has been easy?
But the more I’ve learned about the history of systemic racial oppression in the US, the more I’ve been able to understand a few simple facts.
Fact #1: Racial injustice was invisible to me, because I was never directly affected by it.
Fact #2: By being white, I am in the position of relative power, so it’s easy to dismiss the experiences of black and brown people as less valid.
Fact #3: Neither of those first two facts means racial injustice isn’t a real thing that’s happening all around me. It just means it was invisible to me until I started paying attention, getting educated about it, and listening to and believing people of color when they talk about their experiences.
Despite being, IMO, a good person with good intentions, I came from a place of total ignorance with regard to race. I basically felt like hey, your problem is imaginary— but even if it was real, it seems like you just need to work harder and take personal responsibility for making it better for yourself.
Talking to men about feminism often feels like this.
Even the “good guys” don’t get it because the injustice is invisible to them, so it’s easy for them to invalidate our experiences and make suggestions that subtly blame the victim, like how women just need to think positively and rise above.
The work I do in the world (not so much with clients, but with my public writings and personal life mission) is often about making invisible problems visible; putting explicit and specific language to enigmatic and hard-to-explain issues, so that we may all acknowledge and discuss them.
This is why it’s especially frustrating to talk to men, when I say something like “this is oppression, and it happens,” and his response is “do you really think it’s helpful to encourage people to identify as victims?”
All I want is for him to acknowledge that the invisible problem is real, not challenge my way of handling said problem. Men will never be able to understand the experiences and challenges of being female though, and (this is important): it’s not their job to do so.
This is another lesson I learned from getting educated on race:
I will never understand the experiences or challenges of a person of color, and its not my job to do so.
My job as a white person is to get educated on the facts, listen and believe people of color when they speak about their experiences, and continue to do the work of making their invisible struggles visible to both myself and the other white people in my sphere of influence.
That’s all I want men to do: read books written on feminism, get educated on the differences in how each gender is treated and socialized, seek out and believe the stories women tell them about how it feels to be female, and then continue to put in the work to make the invisible struggles of women more visible to both themselves and the other men in their sphere of influence.
We can’t do shit about a problem until everyone agrees the problem is real, and that won’t happen until the problem is visible for people who don’t personally experience it. Which requires, sadly, a massive amount of collaborative labor.
As for the particular detail brought up by my date, I think it’s worth addressing here: is it helpful to “encourage people to identify as victims?”
First of all: sometimes yes, sometimes no.
It can sometimes be useful to identify why you’re struggling in a particular area (to offset shame by validating and normalizing your experience), so identifying the specific forms of oppression, marginalization, or trauma you’ve experienced can be a powerful step in a long process of healing. Plenty of other people would not benefit from identifying this way, and that’s something each person gets to examine and decide for themselves on an individual level.
Assuming we should never discuss the problem in an effort to keep from feeling disempowered (or, put another way “focusing on what we can do instead of what we can’t”) feels completely backwards to me, as if closing our eyes will make the monsters go away. Instead, it is often exactly by acknowledging the severity of the problem that we are able to step into our most powerful selves and overcome.
More importantly though, there is a huge difference between the personal and the political; between individual healing and systemic change.
Oppression is a pattern, not a personal experience. Each individual person gets to decide how they relate to their lot in life, but identifying systemic patterns of inequality or marginalization is about identifying statistical patterns that need to be changed.
Let me offer you this analogy to help clarify the point.
What if there was a pattern in which white people very rarely got punched in the face, while women and people of color statistically got punched in the face all the fucking time? Each person would individually have to decide how to handle the fact that they either do or don’t get punched in the face all the time, but as a society we would all have to acknowledge the injustice and try to make it stop, right?
Ok. Feminism and racism and other social justice issues are just like that. Many of us are going around saying “hey, some people get punched way more often than others, and we should talk about that.”
In response, people say: “Why are you so sensitive about being punched? Anyone can technically be punched in the face at any time so I’m in as much danger as you are! Plus maybe it’s your own fault you keep getting punched, and if you acted more like me, people wouldn’t want to punch you as much.”
I’m not “playing victim” or encouraging a victim mindset when I talk about gender inequality. I don’t feel like a victim despite the fact that I, like most women, have been the actual victim of many actual crimes (let me remind you that sexual harassment, sexual assault, and gender discrimination are crimes).
This shit matters.
Working to expose and acknowledge the invisible struggles of others has a massively healing effect on the world on an individual level, as well as laying the foundation for policy changes at a level that can significantly impact our social and political climate.
Which is why I do what I do publicly, will continue to do so, and sincerely hope you’re on board to do the same.
Cheers, to making the invisible visible.
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