This last week has been difficult for me, as I have witnessed the flood of #metoo posts all over my Facebook feed. I don’t have words for the intense feelings I felt as I scrolled through page after page of women giving quiet testimony to the ways that we have been objectified, threatened, intimidated, and abused by men.
It would be easy to rail against men right now, to get righteous and start condemning the sinners. God knows the despair in me—despair that I feel for my daughters and my sisters and myself—causes my soul to stomp and scream and demand justice.
But the truth is that there is not enough justice in the world to stop my soul from wailing, mostly because I cannot even get my own husband to understand what it feels like to be a women in a country waging war against women’s reproductive rights, against our right to be sexual whenever and with whomever we want. Despite many times of trying, I cannot seem to help my white, middle class, well-education husband to see the myriad of ways in which women’s rights are slowly being dismantled and destroyed.
Understand me…I married a compassionate, kind, respectful man who has never violated a woman in his life…nor would he purposefully discriminate against anyone. And that is a part of the problem.
I believe it is his innocence that makes him utterly blind.
Let me explain.
The biggest problem that this society has isn’t racism, or sexism, or ageism or size-ism. It isn’t body shaming or bullying or microaggressions. It might feel that way, but our biggest problem is that we are utterly blind to the ways we have be socialized to oppress each other.
I’m not talking about white supremacists marching down the street with tiki torches. It’s easy to identify acts of racism when they are gross and blatant. I’m not talking about men like Harvey Weinstein who use their power to harass and abuse women. It’s easy to identify sexual predators when their behaviors are so outrageous and unacceptable. I’m not talking about hateful posts, body-shaming, and cyber-bullying on the internet. It’s easy to identify hate language and bullying when the message in the post is so egregious that it leaps off the page. We don’t have any trouble identifying in-your-face hatred when we see it, because it is so shocking and so ludicrous that we react with disgust. We’re not blind to any of those things because they are so obvious.
The problem is the million subtle cruelties that slip by, unnoticed, even though they happen right in front of us. The ones that are so quiet that when they are pointed out, we immediately think “No…that’s not what that person meant to say/do/imply. Of course not!”
For instance, my husband and I tried to discuss what I call the GOPs “War on Women”; their latest outrage is the government’s recent decision to allow employers to refuse to pay for birth control for women…while Viagra is still covered. I said that it was just another attack on women’s reproductive rights and our sexual freedom and he disagreed. He said that I was totally off-base because “Birth control isn’t necessary and Viagra fixes a medical problem!”
My first thought was what problem would that be, exactly? We all know what Viagra does: it allows men with erectile dysfunction to be able to have sex. There it is: sexual freedom and reproductive rights for men (because that is how you make babies). And of course in my husband’s mind, female methods of birth control aren’t necessary to prevent unwanted pregnancies because…condoms! How do you explain to someone who has never had to fight for their rights that he just willingly put his daughter’s reproductive rights into the hands of men who may or may not be nice men like the father they grew up with? But I can’t explain how the lack of birth control restricts a woman’s sexual freedom when my husband thinks that men already have the solution to that problem. So I tried another tact and explained why his infertile wife still takes birth control.
I am 53 years old and still on birth control for the exact same reason that I went on birth control 35 years ago: to control the pain caused by Interstitial Cystitis. Right now, the only other option I have to control the pain this effectively is a total hysterectomy; in the choice between surgery and taking a tiny little pill every day, I take the pill. Then I had to explain about endometriosis and how it slowly coats your internal organs and abdominal cavity with endometrial lining that bleeds…and had to remind him that internal bleeding is excruciatingly painful. And then I had to explain that those are only two of many non-pregnancy related illnesses that are controlled through the hormone therapy that is otherwise known as birth control pills.
After those few examples he agreed that women need access to birth control “because it fixes a problem like Viagra does.” Seriously? I wish that I could more easily make him understand that women will never have equal rights if they don’t have full control over their bodies, including their sexuality and reproductive rights, but I’ll settle for him understanding that birth control is a valid treatment for multiple diseases.***
If you are thinking that my husband is dense and needs a brain transplant, I want to remind you that my husband is an engineer with two master’s degrees. He has always respected my intelligence and supported my career; he has been a wonderful, supportive father to our two daughters…AND…he is also a trained crisis counselor who volunteers on the crisis line every week. He is an incredibly intelligent, compassionate, respectful man…but he just cannot seem to understand how women are being oppressed by the actions of the GOP.
Male privilege has rendered him blind to the reality that women aren’t free if they have to rely on the action of a man to secure that freedom. Sorry condoms, nothing against you, but you don’t grant women freedom at all.
I swear to you that it’s his compassion and kindness that increases his blindness. The fact that he has never tried to force his will on any woman makes it hard for him to conceive why any man would ever do such a sick thing. Because he always had condoms in his home and car when he was single, he cannot conceive of a man who would refuse to wear a condom while continuing to demand sex from his partner. Because making sexual comments to attractive women at work it feels inappropriate and wrong to him, it doesn’t occur to him that other men at his job do it daily and create a threatening atmosphere for the women he works with…and he is even blinder to the likelihood that he is friends with at least one man like that. In his mind, he doesn’t make friends with that kind of guy. So if a female coworker were to tell my husband that one of his friends made an unwelcome sexual advance, my husband would probably say “Are you sure that you understood him correctly? I’ve known him a long time and I can’t imagine him doing that.” And suddenly my husband is the ‘nice guy’ who refuses to believe a woman, not because she is a woman, but because he can’t imagine a man he considers a friend behaving in such a reprehensible way.
The biggest problem that I have is not that my husband is blind. IT’S THAT I’M JUST AS BLIND, BUT ON DIFFERENT ISSUES.
I have no idea what it is like to live life as a man, or as a person of color, or as a disabled person, or as an immigrant…and I am betting that my compassion and kindness, my habit of attributing good intent to others, gets in the way of my ability to perceive micro-aggressions and other forms of discrimination that my own privilege protects me from. Even worse, I fear that I am blind to the subtle ways that I discriminate, or commit micro-aggressions that I am unaware of, or simply say and do hurtful things out of ignorance.
I am just as blind as my husband is, and I have no excuse. All my life I’ve tried to be one of the ‘good guys’ and to marry one of the ‘good guys’…and now I find out that my desire to be good has caused me to close my eyes when God is actually asking me to be open-eyed and fully woke.
I am so blinded by privilege that I can’t perceive just how much I can’t see; all I know is that I am not alone in this problem.
If there is a way out, it is going to be created when the blind are led by the woke; when the blissfully privileged are educated by the very people we unwittingly oppress. It will require us to start trusting the oppressed and believe that we, as a society, are truly as crooked and depraved as our victims say that we are. We will need to trust that those who agree to educate us will not sin against us despite the righteousness of their anger. Moreover, we must be willing to freely trade places so that the educators can also be educated, because all of us have experienced oppression and victimization somewhere, and none of us should choose to remain willfully ignorant.### It might be uncomfortable and maybe even painful at times, but what have we got to lose besides ignorance, fear, and misunderstanding?
Just think: we might never again have to see pages and pages of posts that say #metoo.
It would be a miracle.
***In case you were wondering, men like Weinstein disgust my husband. He has no space for sexual discrimination, harassment, abuse, rape, or violence against women and children. He respects LGBTQIA persons and gender fluid individuals and goes out of his way to understand their personal struggles and become a more effective ally. I told you he was wonderful and compassionate!
### I am not suggesting that the oppressed need to be educated on how rough us white folk have it…I am suggested that men of color do not understand what it is to be a woman, and that a disabled white man will still need to help the rest of us understand how we discriminate against the disabled, and that despite their oppression, even groups of immigrants have underclasses within their populations, etc, etc.