Sunday, September 29, 2013

Men: Using Privilege for Good, Speaking Truth to Power, Being Good Feminists

Toward the end of the summer, my boyfriend was walking me back to campus one afternoon. I took an unusual route, looping the outer edge of campus, rather than walking through the main quad. He asked why. I walk that way because it is quieter, not much longer, less crowded, and, in the mornings when I am usually walking home, much prettier. I added as a caveat, assuming ti was why he had asked, that I walked on the busier, more populated quad when I was alone late at night.

He paused and said to me "I am so sorry that you have to think about things like that."

Not "Oh, my goodness I'm never letting you walk home alone again!" He didn't try to claim the experience, or take it over; with that simple phrase, he just acknowledged it, acknowledged that it was something he would never have to face, and reassured me that he was there.

A few weeks later he was reading an article called something like "100 Things Men Can Do to Help Women." As he read down the list he would occasionally ask for confirmation. "Would that really be helpful?!?" Usually, the answer was yes.

There are a lot of problems with men thinking they can improve the situation for women, as so many oppressed groups find, your oppressors cannot unchain you, you must unchain yourself. But we give men a bad reputation. Many, if not most, men are allies.

This wonderful man, from whom I have heard in the course of our friendship and subsequent relationship some unwittingly offensive things, now tells me I can bring him home a pink and black "THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE" t-shirt from work. He has never paused for a moment to question my struggle as a woman when I choose to articulate it to him. He validates my experiences and doesn't ask how to fix them for me, though I'm sure he would do anything I asked. I occasionally tell him to check himself – his position, his privilege – and he does.

The power we have when we trust our allies to be our support, not our saviors, is immense. Too often, we fear letting allies in because we worry they will rewrite our stories as their own. So thank you, Benjamin, for continuing to allow me to struggle, for quietly reassuring me that I am not alone, but creating spaces where I have autonomy, self-authorship, and the freedom to choose my own battles, path, and destiny. 

No comments:

Post a Comment