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I need to know how I can still trust, respect, and love men collectively during this (amazing) wave of feminism. I’ve become increasingly distrustful and impatient with all men in this #MeToo, Trump, Brett Kavanaugh—and the list goes on—era and can’t get myself out of it! How do I not make sweeping generalizations about men? How do I give them the respect they (okay, some of them) deserve? And how do I get the patience to teach them about right and wrong (because disillusioned moi obviously believes that we’re the only ones who are going to teach them, all other men are lazy)? HELP!
I feel this question so viscerally. At this point, I’m not even able to summon a mental list of all the times that male power, and abuse of that power, has brought me to enraged tears. It happens so frequently these days that I can’t enumerate. So, when I say I understand, I want you to know I really do. I feel it so much that this anger has at times been a serious issue for me.
For many, the 2016 election was the impetus of a collective primal scream for women. The pain has been echoed in the #MeToo movement that rippled through Hollywood and beyond (a continuation of a conversation started in 2006 by Tarana Burke). It was amplified by the hearings and trial of Brett Kavanaugh. It has been reinforced by the abortion legislation passed earlier this year. Its racial complexities have been brought into harsh light by the documentary Surviving R. Kelly. It’s been a time of re-traumatization and confirmation of our worst fears, and we’ve been made more aware of how high the stakes are both for ourselves and for others. Women are living in a belligerent political and cultural zeitgeist, one that is a daily fight to endure.
What I mean to say is, it’s no wonder that in this moment you’ve felt distrustful and impatient with men. I have too. I’m a victim of sexual assault and workplace harassment. Being on the receiving end of general disrespect and objectification from men has become known as such a universal experience for women that it’s almost expected. The rage that comes with this expectation is a horrible emotion to let fester.
Several years ago, after recounting a bad date that I had ended abruptly, and sharing how it connected to my other feelings about men, a friend responded: “You can’t feel this way about all men. You can’t live your life feeling this kind of anger.” In the past few years, I’ve worked hard with a therapist to help overcome some of the anger I feel towards men collectively. I have actively pursued friendships and proximity to hetero cis-gender men who identify as feminists, but also exhibit the key characteristics of being excellent listeners and learners. They are men who have done the work, and are doing the work, to deny the toxicity they were raised to depend on and are actively educating themselves both in thoughtful conversation with women and outside of those conversations.
You mentioned having difficulty being able to find the patience to educate. Many will say that it is not a woman’s responsibility. Maybe controversially, I disagree with this. Though it’s not a woman’s personal responsibility, I believe it is a cultural responsibility to educate when one’s energy and patience allows for it. I have seen the positive effects of a conversation where a belief of a friend or a loved one has been challenged. I have also seen unproductive outcomes, but holding onto the positive change lifts my head above water.
I should disclaim that my perspective is that of a white woman’s. I know that for women of color, these kinds of conversations are burdensome and layered in a way that I will never fully understand. But when I consider the discussions I’ve had with women of color in my life, not so much for the purpose my education, but as a friend offering support, I know how much I’ve gained from the insight. I’m so incredibly grateful for those moments that have made my feminism more intersectional. I still, to my core, believe that there’s no better way to learn that through living and listening.
I’m not going to say it’s easy to find feminist-identifying men who exhibit the qualities I described earlier. And it’s a constant test of strength when you come face-to-face with toxic masculinity in so many aspects of life to not carry that frustration and pain back to a partner or a friend. Sometimes I do. One night, during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, my partner held me all night. He listened to my every word as I discharged all the pain that had been holding me in a vice grip throughout the media circus and told me he was so sorry. He said everything I needed to hear, which for large periods of time was nothing.
If you are open to engaging, there will be men who will challenge your beliefs about men. I always go back to the seminal song lyrics belted by Angel Olsen on her 2016 song ‘Woman’: “I dare you to understand what makes me a woman.” Stick close to those who thoughtfully dare.
Ask MR identity by Madeline Montoya.