Many will claim that the surge of women’s stories coming through the #YesAllWomen movement is overstated. Some men will be proud that they have never personally hurt a woman, thinking that exempts them. It doesn’t matter whether a man actually confronts a woman with violence, the cumulative effect of a culture of prejudice results in oppression even when no outward hostility is present.
A couple months ago I wrote a massively viral post on racism. Lots of folks pointed out that the story I shared didn’t include any actual prejudiced persons confronting me or my son. “The fear of racism does not make racism,” they claimed. I too used to say that women and minorities need to just get on with living as if inequalities weren’t present. That living as if prejudice and racism were gone would allow people to get on with the business of living a life of opportunity.
There is some truth to this sentiment. Living a life of expecting and looking for prejudice does in fact cripple a person from living into a life of equality. In fact, that was the point of my post. But the error here is assuming that women and minorities can just turn a switch that allows them to ignore the very real prejudices, hatred, and even violence that they’ve endured. The #YesAllWomen stories are evidence that even small aggressions or the stories of aggression against their friends is enough to cause very real and crippling systemic fear for all women.
Many white persons that read my post liked to claim that they aren’t racist because they are “color blind.” They claimed that they treated people as if race doesn’t exist, and that is the real solution to racism. Others, including minorities and women, just need to do what they (the privileged) do and ignore racial differences. But these folks have failed to understand the differences between individual prejudice and institutional prejudice.
Institutional sexism and racism create a culture that wreaks havoc even when no actual violence is present. A massive amount of research that is being highlighted by Sheryl Sandburg’s Lean In campaign is showing that persons that experience prejudice have less confidence in their abilities and are therefore less likely to even apply for the opportunities that are available to them. In one study, only 49% of girls applied for a science competition while 71% of boys did so, even though the girls did just a tiny fraction worse on tests than the boys did. That’s the effect of institutional prejudice even when individual prejudice may not be present.
That’s the reason that even web-based movements like #YesAllWomen and #MyStealthyFreedom are important to change the culture that supports the ongoing institutional and cultural oppression of women. No. A hashtag will not change the pain and fear of
women that have experienced violence. Only a change of culture will do that. And these movements can spark that change but cannot accomplish it.
There are surely lots of things needed for this change of culture. One of these is for men to begin creating a culture of safety. Each time a man walks on the other side of street or parking lot to give lots of room to her at night begins to reverse those feelings of fear. When a man respectfully accepts her “no” with grace and humility, she gains confidence that her “no” matters.
So this is my call to men to begin those small practices that will create a culture of safety. Confront your friends when they make body comments (to her face or behind her back). Women know to “take care” of their friends when they have had too much to drink. Can men “take care” of their drunk male friends that might make unwanted advances against women while in their drunken stupor?
I don’t know all that men can do to help create a culture of safety. Why don’t you tweet and post your ideas for how good men can help women feel and be safer. Men, what do you do on behalf of women around you? Women, what do you notice from men that genuinely helps you feel and be safer?
Tweet those under the hashtag #CallingAllMen.
This post is a rewrite with attention to sexism of a similar post on racism: You Aren’t Racist But You Make Racism Possible
Related Post: Double Standards, Women, And The Church