I was traveling this week when the whole Elliot Rodgers thing broke, and I only watched from afar as #YesAllWomen appeared on the scene. It’s an ugly thing. My traveling entailed a lot of driving, and not so much typing, though, and that leads to thinking time. Here are some things I’m thinking:
I remember the first time Lisa (my wife) described the things she did and thought as she prepared for doing things alone. I was probably 20 years old. It boggled my mind to hear her talk like that. How she might need to use her car keys as defensive weapons, how she thought about her purse. How she considered what clothes to wear, and even specifically shoes, based on who might see her, how they might react, and whether she might need to move quickly or not. This made no sense to me, and I admit fully that I did not really pay it much mind. I am a male, you see, and the idea of thinking that way was just wrong.
Sometime thereafter, Lisa described for me a time that she and another girl were attacked by a man. As best as I can tell, the event was actually kind of a surprise attack, physical aggression with more intent to harm than to sexually prevail. It was the first time that I really got an understanding of this dark thing. Neither she nor her friend had done anything wrong, though there was this “risk” involved, of getting into a car with someone they didn’t really know. At the time, it never really crossed my mind that this was a gender thing. I mean, I got into cars with people I barely knew all the time, and I never got attacked. But, sure, I knew it could happen…I mean, it does happen to males sometimes. I was 21 or so. What did I know?
I played basketball for three years in high school–I say this because that means I was an active part of an environment where ultra-competitive males were driven to be even more competitive. Looking back on it, there is no question in my mind that young men do not always consider young women to be “respected.” For some of my teammates, I’m certain that, at best, young women were conquests. They were trophies to be … uh … collected.
What would I say to a man who told my daughter that she owed him sex?
It is true that women can take actions to mitigate problems. Of course it is. The key word in that sentence, though is mitigate–which I’ll get to sometime here, soon. The facts are the facts, and yes, they can reduce their likelihood of getting hurt by dressing more conservatively, or by not dancing, or by not looking at a guy in a certain way, or by not parking in certain places, or by any one of an infinite number of ways. And, given the facts of the world around them, one can quite easily say they should do all those things. I mean, there are lots of things we do that we ought not do. I should, for example, not eat so much ice cream. Too much of it is bad for me. And I should never go out in the sun without sunscreen. But quite honestly, that’s all bullshit. Ice cream and sunshine are mindless things of the physical world, and my decisions to indulge in them result in things that are simple and easy to predict. Men are not mindless forces of nature. We can control ourselves. Women fear violence primarily because men make decisions that are under their control, and are essentially impossible to predict. A woman should not have to roll the dice to wear something she likes to were, or to fear that she’ll get hurt if she park in the only open spot that’s within a decent distance of the place she wants to go (because when she gets out it will be cloaked in darkness).
Insanity. Yes. Some people are insane. Elliot Rodgers is probably one of them. I’m not sure what that has to do with the discussion.
This one is not specifically about guns. Of course, you can’t listen to Michael Martinez’s father’s video without understanding that this is tangentially about guns. It’s a situation where the wrong guy got hold of a gun, after all, so guns are in the mix somewhere. But, Martinez’s father said “My kid died because nobody responded to what happened at Sandy Hook.” And while that is not specifically wrong, it’s also interesting, I think, that his father’s discussion was about guns rather than about gender violence. I think in this case Michael Martinez’s kid is dead because a young man decided he was going to kill a bunch of women, and Martinez happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Rodgers did, after all, kill three people with a knife. I think people who make this one about specifically guns are actually missing the point.
Yes, the implication of “all men” in some conversations can sometimes set me on edge. I apologize for that. But, yeah, it takes me a physical process inside my brain to make that statement be “not about me.” In his self-help books Stephen Covey called this the “pause button.” Sometimes I do this well, other times I’m not so good at it. I don’t know why I fail at times. Maybe I’m tired. Or maybe I’m frustrated with other things. Mostly, though, I think I’m just human.
Up above, I said women do lots of things to mitigate the problem. Mitigate. That means “reduce the magnitude of.” The mere fact that the word “mitigate” works in that sentence is the only sign we should need to understand this is a real problem. And the fact that the word “mitigate” is in that sentence should be all we need to see in order to realize that the woman is not the root of the problem, and that nothing the woman can do will REMOVE the problem. Only mitigate it.
I absolutely hate that my wife and my daughter have to think about these kinds of things.
I spent a long time in the corporate world trying to build work-friendly environments. The purpose behind that idea was that if we make places where people are comfortable, they will perform better. The fact that women have to think about physical security throughout so much of their lives strikes at the root of equality across the entire spectrum of existence.
Again, I am a white male. It is not in my natural make-up to consider these things without applying a great deal of self-awareness. It is just not in my realm of experience to “default” my thinking in the right ways. But when I can get there–or close enough to there, anyway–then everything is so obvious that it can sometimes floor me.
I don’t know if I have any other great thoughts here, except maybe for this one. The problem is not actually confined to men, or male culture. No messy problem is really ever solved by a one note response. Mental illness, gun availability, basic human suffering, all these things play in social issues and affect gender relations. And, yes, it’s not all men. But in the overall realm of cause and effect, the root of this problem cannot be denied, and that root is, at its core, that the more ugly elements of male culture allows for the idea that men are the dominant gender, and that we should be expected to dominate women–or at least that it’s “expected” that they will. Once we fix that, once we as males agree to make it know to other males that we expect certain behaviors, then (and really only then) is it even somewhat practical to start looking at other roots.
I’m going to do better at thinking about this. I tend to be very an analytical in my view of things. I tend to dissect them in order to better understand the “system” they came from. All that analysis is good. I love it. And it helps dig into lots of useful nuance. But sometimes the answer is obvious, and sometimes the obvious just needs to be put at the front of the line and made to stand on its own. I owe that to my wife and my daughter and to all of my friends who are women. But mostly want to do better at this because I want to be a good person.
I’m to the point in thinking about this that I don’t understand how anyone can really think otherwise.
So, yeah, those were my thoughts on this subject as I was driving around this Memorial Day weekend, give or take a few.