Had a chat recently with a friend about the experience of being a woman in a man’s world. About being anything other than a straight white guy, really. Although there are a billion differences between people, there does seem to be at least one similarity that both unites and divides us – the inability to express this experience in a way that will be understood: without emotion.
I’ve tried writing about this before, and likely will again. I feel like it’s something that most people either try to discuss, or pay lip service to, but it’s been so entrenched in our global culture that I’m not even sure how aware any of us are of our own responsibility in perpetuating it.
The thing is, I’m not sure there’s really a way to change it. Not really. Even if it were possible to do, it would take unfathomable effort on everyone’s part, and continuous effort at that. And who wants to do that? We’re comfortable. We’re mostly comfortable. It’s much easier to accept the status quo than it is to demand change – especially with no plan or idea of what it would look like – and then have to live up to that change. Take responsibility for it. Own it, the change we brought about in the world. Do we want equality – true equality – enough to battle that hard for it? For the rest of our lives, and expect the generations that follow to fight for it, as well?
What if we take a step forward, and fail? Would that prove that whoever put straight white guys in charge of running the world right in having done so? Isn’t it easier to just let them make all the mistakes, instead? Besides the fact that we can’t even talk about any of it without getting upset and sounding like fanatics. I can almost feel the eyes rolling as I write this.
Here’s the thing: I’m not a feminist. At all. Nor am I a…humanist, or whatever it’s called when someone feels all people should be treated equally. I don’t even really like people. If we lump all other species into it…all life…then that is closer to what I am. Whatever -ist or -ism that ends up being. Maybe there isn’t a word for what I am. Maybe there isn’t language for what I want to express. Maybe there is just the sense – the unshakeable certainty – that something is very wrong. That our balance is way, way off.
From the treatment of and language surrounding women in politics, to the awards show fiascos of late, to…why is breast-feeding a thing? Haven’t people been breast-feeding since, like, there were people in existence? How is it even remotely an issue? There are far more behaviours that people should be ashamed to perform in public beyond feeding a kid. Like urinating and spitting. If guys in particular could control their need to spew their bodily fluids all over the place, we’d all be much healthier. But that’s another conversation.
When I was practice teaching, I did a unit on discrimination and the like, and there was one class – a group of amazing Grade 7’s I adored – that I had the most powerful experience with. Or ‘with whom I shared the most powerful experience’. Whatever.
Anyway, I started a class discussion about the topic, without telling them that I would actually be discriminating against some of them based on some completely superficial element of their physical appearance. I think in that particular case I chose children with blond/light-coloured hair. Most of the class and I had a lively conversation, while I ignored the kids I was “biased” against. I watched their eager little faces change to various expressions of frustration, sadness, confusion, hurt and anger.
It sucked. But it made a pretty powerful example for our topic. I let them (and myself) off the hook after a few minutes, because scarring the poor kiddos was not my intent. Together, we sorted out where I’d chosen to place my bias, and even then, some kids railed against it. “My hair is BROWN, it just looks blonder in this light!”
Sadly, however, it’s my perception that matters. It doesn’t have to make sense, and it’s not something I need to explain. If some quality about you fits my undefined biases, then I shall discriminate against you. I don’t even need to know why.
That’s how discrimination works.
Now, it wasn’t a perfect example, to be sure. I was acting differently with them than I ever had before – interacting differently with them. Some who had been used to receiving my attention suddenly found they weren’t, whereas if I was truly discriminating, I would have been ignoring them the whole time.
As well, I hated doing it. Of course I have ridiculous biases of my own – some I am aware of and some I’m sure I haven’t even noticed yet. But since this was a careful decision I made on my own – a choice – knowing I was potentially hurting feelings and causing all of those other emotions – WATCHING the effect my behaviour was having on people I actually liked – was truly one of those “this hurts me more than it hurts you” things. At least, I hope it was. I guess I’ll never really know for sure, but things did seem better once all the cards were on the table. The playing field had been levelled, at least as much as it ever was, and we moved forward together with new insight.
There’s an impossible amount of history to sift through, and no simple bandaid solution will suffice. Yet, maybe there isn’t a way to fix it at all. We can say children are the future, and that things will improve bit by bit with each generation, but I think that’s problematic and lacks a certain…taking of responsibility. We all carry with us the effects of our upbringing, of our understanding of the world based on the experiences gained throughout our lives. Each generation is, in many ways, a product of the generations that came before. None of us exists in a vacuum. In that sense, children are also the past.
And we can’t change the past. We have very limited effect on the future. So all we really have to impact is the present.
I have no real idea how to do that.
But I’m trying. I’m trying to find words to express myself, my truth, my outrage, my hurt, my joy, my love – my heart, my mind, my soul. There will be many times when it’s so clouded with emotion and a myriad of conflicting thoughts that it won’t make a lick of sense, even to me. This post itself is all over the place. It’s not the first such post, and it won’t be the last.
And that’s okay. That’s what struggle looks like. And so long as I continue to fight to find my voice, there is hope of finally gaining that sense of equality I’ve been looking for.
Because in the end, the beginning has to come from me.