Here’s the sad truth about any systemic discrimination: it’s systemic. That means that it’s embedded on a cultural level to such a degree that you cannot escape from it, your attitudes are shaped by it, and you are complicit in it unless you are completely aware of yourself and your surroundings. It’s a tall order, yes, but it’s the vital understanding that will take it down.
I’m going to share a conversation I had on Facebook recently. It got a little heated, but I think it’s important to see the full scope. (Warning, it’s a little long.)
It started with this article about how the UN sent a team of investigators to find out how bad American women had it. They found out that we’ve got it pretty fuckin’ bad. And then every single male who read that article turned around and said that we, the women, were being too sensitive and that it wasn’t that bad.
I’m completely not kidding. (Names are redacted, initials remain. First letter is the gender of the respondent.)
MMC: Completely selective. First of all I’m sure that there are plenty of countries around the world that treat women like absolute shit that will never get mentioned in an article like this because it doesn’t fit the agenda. Secondly, there are millions of men in this country that will stomp a mud hole in someone’s ass for disrespecting women, mistreating them, assaulting them… I believe the assholes are outnumbered. I won’t say that women are treated 100% equally in all areas, but I certainly don’t think women are treated poorly in this country either.
FAW: I wish I could agree with you… But as far as developed nations go we rank incredibly low. It’s not selective either… Here in Washington a law was just voted into effect that allows guns to be temporarily removed from people convicted of domestic assault, the severely mentally ill, and it still doesn’t cover everything that ought to be. But it’s a step forward… In my time in Texas alone I can tell you from experience that women are treated like second class citizens especially when it comes to reproductive rights. I cannot think of a single woman I know, that hasn’t been assaulted sexually or molested in some way. Most of those assaults go unreported because of fear of personal attack, fear of loss of reputation etc. Even when someone steps forward and accuses their rapist the victims entire life is dissected and she doesn’t receive the support she needs.
And as far as women receiving maternity leave? Please tell me out of developed free nations where do we rank for paid time off for having a child? Tell me do I have to go into a restroom to feed my baby? If not do I experience public criticism or ridicule for feeding my child naturally? These are things that most women experience… Daily. And here in the states? People still feel comfortable writing articles stating that women’s lives were destroyed by the invention of the washing machine.
Ask your wife if she felt she got enough paid time off to spend with your little girl when she was first born. Ask her about her experiences in her daily life and if she feels like she’s got the same exact rights or if she feels that childcare isn’t ridiculously expensive. I know I was incredibly fortunate to have family, my mother, look after my son when I had to go back to work after he was born. I know I couldn’t have afforded childcare at all and I have friends in that situation. Ask other women and get a more in depth look at how they are treated by society and by their states as a whole. I think it might surprise you. While I have no doubt at all that you and many others I know would go after anyone who treated a woman badly, that does not mean those men don’t exist. It also doesn’t mean that there aren’t an abundance of them either. It means that your experience is a blinder for what others experience…
It’s kind of like coming up to Washington from Texas. I was shocked at portion sizes here and the quality of the food. I was shocked at the air quality and water quality as well. And I’m so grateful I moved… While I lived there I had blinders on to other perspectives because I was living in it and it was what I knew and experienced. Once I left and especially now that I’ve been here for a little while my health in general has improved so dramatically and it’s been environmental and social changes that have shocked me the most. As an example… When I started talking to people here they had never heard of an ozone alert day… or fracking. Or that tap water can be so contaminated that it can be set on fire. That simply is so foreign here that it doesn’t happen. It shocked people I spoke with to hear that these things were happening in Texas and in other parts of the country. That’s basically living with blinders because it’s not part of your experience… but it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. They just weren’t aware of it until they received the information about it.
As a woman my experience growing up was vastly different from men. The majority of women I know had similar if not exactly the same experiences I did as well. And the men in their lives were simply unaware of what they dealt with unless they were told or heard about some off experience and asked. I’m simply asking you to ask the women around you about their experiences and see if your perspective is accurate or if you haven’t had that information to form your opinion.
(FAW goes on to cite sources: Victims of Sexual Violence statistics, Domestic Violence and Firearms, Pew Research)
Now, I’m going to jump around a little because this is a BIG conversation, but bear with me.
FDS: MMC, there is a huge difference between your type of treating women with respect and the overarching systemic denial of rights, services, opportunity, equality, and safety that the article refers to. I think every American woman has experienced this type of fundamental prejudice, and for some, it’s so pervasive that they don’t even realize how much is wrong with it. I do appreciate that you believe the “good men” outnumber the “assholes”, but good men with bad cultural training can still act like assholes – and do, constantly, everyday. Because it’s so normalized, they don’t even realize how much damage it can do. FAW gave some excellent examples, but don’t think for a moment that the article suffers from sample size error or bias. That shit is real, and it’s going to get worse.
MMC: For every guy out there that mistreats a woman (from verbal abuse all the way up to physical) there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, around that person who don’t. I understand that for women who have been victims that it’s a horrible thing and should never happen, but I feel like there isn’t enough credit given to the progress that we have made. There are many ways that we lag behind other countries, education, race relations, the list.could go on. Things are different by region here too, it’s not all bad all over. In general this is the best country to live in for anyone. It’s not perfect, but no place is.
FDS: But that’s not what that article is about. It’s addressing systemic inequality- lack of pay, no equal treatment, no equal opportunity, lack of access to decent care… individuals may speak to their own behavior, but if you know your daughter or sister or wife is never going to be treated with the same dignity and respect as you from the system that they live in, and your excuse to not speak out against it is that YOU think you treat women well, or you think the majority of men treat women well, you are complicit.
MMC: I don’t believe that. I believe that my wife and daughter can get equal care and treated with dignity. I think this article is over generalizing things based on a few bad experiences.
FDS: I’m so sorry, but I can tell you from not only many years of personal experience but also from observing peers locally and in many states, your observation is not accurate. This is not a generalization and this is not a limited problem. Here’s an example: I applied for a job several years ago as a web developer. At the time, I’d worked hard, studied hard, and had a great resume. I was given the interview because of some internal policy, but the lady conducting it told me that I likely wouldn’t get the job because the department was a “boys’ club” and even if I did, I’d be looking at about $27K a year. Do a math and you’ll realize that that’s just not sufficient for a single mom with two kids. Fast forward maybe three, four months, and I suggest that same OPEN position to a male friend – same experience, same training – and he walks in at $42K.
This isn’t isolated, and this isn’t extreme. It’s called everything EXCEPT gender discrimination so that people don’t say “hey, that’s discrimination!”, but it’s still there. This is the very definition of privilege, Matthew, that you cannot see a problem exists just because it hasn’t happened to you. That’s not a dig or meant to be mean, but it does mean that you have an opportunity to see a bigger picture.
Your daughter and your wife most likely will NOT get equal care as males would throughout their lives, and I promise that being treated with dignity is also a crapshoot.
And then someone said that global warming was more important and us women were just being a bunch of fuckin’ whiners, and I may have called him a penis-waving meatbag because I decided to drop the pretense and treat him with the same respect with which he was treating me, but without the double-talk. Here’s the other part:
MST: I just read the first half of this article and I get the impression that these three women were intending to have a negative opinion anyway. First of all, American women have come a long way in getting their rights in this country. Yeah, they had to fight tooth and nail to get all of their rights but how many other countries allow their women to join the military and fight along side men on the battlefield? How many countries other than America, Russia, Australia, and Israel allow women be astronauts and go into space, serve in government positions, or be police officers?? I know women get underpaid in some jobs but America has made tremendous strides in letting women do many things. I think these three women had a bias going in.
FDS: … oh my god, read the rest of the comments here. And, okay, we have the right to vote, but good luck having a vagina and not having to work at least twice as hard as your male counterparts to get almost as far. Unless you have a child, in which case you are forced to make the most impossible choice between family and career, and you’re fucked either way because the man that doesn’t live like household chores might shrink his penis is a rare and precious beast (one might even say mythical). If you, a male, think these ladies are “being biased”, but we, the females, are suggesting that maybe their report didn’t go far enough because we recognize that level of fuckedness all too well, which of us do you think is going to be the actual authority on that problem?
MMC: Rare and precious beast – mythical even? Plenty of men support their wives, marriage is a partnership after all. I cook, I do dishes, I changed diapers until recently when our little lady stopped wearing them. I mow the lawn, I fix broken stuff, feed animals, and I work two jobs. Maybe you can admit that at least part of the gender equality thing is perception.
FDS: It’s fucking not. Your privileged position might make YOU think so, but the fact that you – a guy – are trying to tell me – a gal – that I’m essentially overreacting to being treated like a second class citizen just because YOU don’t actively treat women like crap is the very foundation of the problem. Again, the vast majority of women are looking at this report and saying, “finally someone notices we’re getting fucked”, and all the men are like, “eh, it’s not that bad, what’s the big deal.” Does THAT at least tell you something?
MMC: It doesn’t tell me anything. I am not priveleged and take exception to you saying it. Just like “white privelege”, my fucking ass. I worked hard to get where I am today and continue working to stay there. I’ve seen women get promoted in favor of me, many times, and I’ve seen plenty of others have the same opportunity to make the same or better money than their male counterparts and absolutely kill it. Are we perfect as a society? No, but don’t act like women are absolutely beaten down and spat upon in every corner of this country because it’s horse shit.
FDS: Wow, you really REALLY do not understand what privilege is, especially if you’re getting bent about it.
So, once again for the people in the back: Privilege is not having to suffer through a hardship because of your race, color, gender, or creed. It is not an affront against you to notice that you have privilege, but it’s also not a guarantee that you will be successful – you just have a much better probability of it.
Let me put it a different way, and maybe you’ll understand. The chances of you getting beaten and raped by someone you rejected romantically are pretty small. Not impossible, but really fucking small. The chances that your daughter or some other woman you know is going to be sexually and/or physically assaulted by someone they reject is pretty fucking high. You’ll be hard pressed to find any women who haven’t been harassed or raped, and even if it was one guy out of ten that they had to deal with, the damage is there. It’s done. It doesn’t go away.
But it gets better, because the chances of getting any kind of justice for that are slim. If YOU are mugged and raped in an alley, let’s say, and you actually come forward and report this to the police, they’re going to be out there beating the pavement looking for this “sicko”. Us? We get run through a fucking wringer of emotional hell after already being violated, and the chances of a conviction are LESS THAN TEN PERCENT IN MOST CASES. But YOU’RE not getting raped, so it’s not really a big deal, right? THAT is privilege.
MMC: Okay now you’ve pissed me off. I know exactly what privilege is. Just because I’m a white male does not mean that I don’t have to endure hardships like everybody else. Sure I’m probably not ever going to get raped, or have to make hard decisions about a pregnancy, but my life isn’t all sunshine and fucking rainbows. Fuck you for implying that I’m stupid, or that I don’t give a shit that women get abused.
FDS: But that’s exactly what you said, that because you don’t do it, it can’t be as big a deal as we’re making it. Go back and read it for yourself. Now, in fairness, I don’t believe you’re a bad man, MMC, but your words DID specifically state that you DON’T understand your privilege. Also, you’re not the only person following this conversation.
Discussions like this are meant to nudge feelings and opinions so that we might stand a chance of making the world a better place. It gets heated, it gets uncomfortable, and that’s good. You are never going to convince me that I’m not discriminated against because I deal with it all the time in so many ways and on so many levels – and that experience is echoed by every woman here.
And going back to privilege for just a moment, again, it’s not a dig at you to point out that you have it. Clearly, you’re not comfortable with it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there or that you can in any way divorce yourself from it. You can, however, use it to level the playing field for your wife, your daughter, your friends in small and crucial ways. Our voices are not heard, especially in the political arena. Yours is. Use it responsibly by helping us be heard instead of using it to tell us that our abuses “aren’t that bad”.
FAW: MMC, the problem here is that you literally are trying to say that women don’t have this issue, and we as women are trying to tell you that yes it’s sadly accurate and it seems that you are denying or dismissing what we’ve been through. You sadly cannot actually know what we go through daily because you are male, and your experience in life will be distinctly different from our own. Do we go through what women in several other countries go through? Not to the extent that they have, obviously, but it also doesn’t mean that the way we are treated here in the United States is ok by any means.
I know you aren’t sexist, I know you aren’t a mysoginist, but regardless of if you aren’t a lot of others are. The fact that you don’t see it doesn’t mean you personally are an asshole or that all men are. You know I don’t feel that way and neither do I surround myself with people who are. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist because you don’t experience it or see it. Just as I will never understand the pressures of being male in our society you cannot understand fully what it is to be female either. That is genetic… However, what I’m asking is for you to talk to women around you to understand and to see what their experiences have been. I suspect you will find it is more harsh than you expected.
Here’s why I wanted to share this: I truly do not believe that MMC is an actively sexist jackhole. In fact, I believe that he probably treats his wife and kid pretty well and that he works hard to provide for them. The fact that he noticed that he “got passed over” for promotions by women and other non-status-quo individuals is telling: He believed on some level that he should have gotten that promotion and, for whatever reason, didn’t. He didn’t say, “I got passed over by a more qualified candidate” or “She had five years of seniority” or even “I just wasn’t in a good place right then to take a boost”. He said he got passed over by a chick.
The nature of a systemic discrimination is that we are passively taught from a young age how to treat women, POCs, LGBTQIs, and anyone not Status Quo. The key word is “passively” because, most of the time, you don’t have a father saying, “Now, son, women are generally whiny bitches who don’t know how good they’ve got it, so make sure to shove them out of the way if they’re interfering with your progress.” (I say “generally” because, you know, probabilities.)
MMC is a great example of this.
What could he do to advocate for women? Get on the same type of trains they’re on. Sign petitions, march in protests, call out his friends when they exhibit shitty behavior… is he going to get shit for it? Yeah, probably, but every time you piss someone off, you shake up their world. If you do it right and you keep the conversation going instead of bowing out at the first sign of distress, you have a chance to make a difference, make an impression. Sometimes it starts out really, really small and then snowballs, sometimes it’s an epiphany like a lightning bolt. Sometimes it’s nothing at all.
But there’s no chance ever of that change happening if we remain complacent. Signing off on men because they’re collectively a clench of assholes is actually not unreasonable (lots of experiences support that conclusion), but that doesn’t advance the cause. It doesn’t get us anywhere.
Oh, yeah, and climate destabilization…
If we can’t wrap our brains around something like systemic sexism and start that change, we have even less chance of beating climate destabilization and the raping of the planet. It’s the same privilege that says, “Why’s this so bad? It wasn’t that hot this year,” and there’s catastrophic flooding everywhere and hurricanes and himmicanes and wild fires and tornadoes… just not in YOUR backyard.
It’s all related, boys and girls. The same sickness that gave us this systemic discrimination of non-Status Quos also gave us climate destabilization and a wide plethora of other social ills. It’s all connected. We can’t sit on our laurels and wring our hands about which of these tangled threads to pull. We have to grab one and start unraveling it, or else it’ll be time to break out the scissors.