If you remember last summer I had a rather sticky time dealing with a male colleague at school who claimed to be enlightened but repeatedly blasted me with microagression after microagression. From calling me a feminazi after my truth made him uncomfortable to commenting multiple times on my make-up free face and how sick I looked. It was one thing after another with him and for someone so “enlightened” he just did not seem to get it.
The good news is after that difficult summer he and I did find common ground. In fact, we were working towards it all summer I would say. To his credit and my own, neither one of us ever backed down from the discomfort of it all and by the end of the summer I think he “got it” a little bit better and I consider him a friend.
This summer is starting to feel a bit familiar for the wrong reasons. I am getting a very sick “I have been here before” feeling that relates directly to my experiences with this friend.
In my theories class we are working on a group project where we have to do research around a certain theory. One of my friends is in this class with me and we both agreed we wanted to be in the Feminist Theory group. When the sign up sheet was going around someone my friend knows walked over and asked if she would join his group. She looked hesitant and asked which theory he had chosen to which he replied Feminist. She told him that both she and I wanted to work on that theory and there were two spots left in the group so we joined.
I am still getting to know the people in this group other than my friend but what I can say so far is that this guy seems to be taking charge. What I have learned so far about him is that he claims to be enlightened, super interested in social justice issues, and may even identify as a feminist.
The other two people in the group are his friends. One of them made it quite clear that he didn’t care about which theory we covered as long as he was in his friend’s group. I get it, having group members you trust to do the work is important, but I also don’t really like it in this case.
The first night we were getting to know each other this man totally made a joke that generalized all women as moody and emotional. It put me in this uncomfortable place of feeling the need to throw him a noncommittal laugh because I don’t know most of my group members and I want to get along with them.. AND.. wanting to be true to myself and not laugh because that is not only not funny, it is offensive.
I chose not to laugh.
So here I am in a group where I am super excited about the work but kind of unsure of the members, with the exception of my friend.
It has been a week since the group formed. The guy who made the not-funny joke has been radio silent. The other guy has not. He has been saying a lot without saying much if that makes sense. I still have a pretty queasy feeling about all of this.
He sent a message the other day wherein he told us all which aspect of this theory he thinks the group should focus on, he then immediately said that we should all discuss our preferences as a group though and that he is not trying to influence or dictate as that would go against feminist theory. I was kind of impressed. Ok, maybe this guy gets it..
Then yesterday my friend and I, through a group message, were asking if the group was available before class to meet and discuss the project. We both listed what time we were available to see if it worked for the rest of the group. No one responded and that is fine, we would still see everyone in class in the evening. This morning I get up and see the guy who has had a lot to say did respond. He said that he was writing to let everyone know we will not be meeting before class and I have to say the message was kind of patronizing.. It ended with Mmkay? kay. Good.
I am trying to give room for the fact that I do not know him and he might have a silly personality which is why he chose to close the message this way but all in all the whole thing was dismissive. Excuse me sir, last time I checked you do not speak for everyone.
My girlfriend and I still might meet and decide to discuss the project before class. I think what you meant to say was, “I am not personally available to meet at that time”. To dictate that a meeting won’t happen though and speak for everyone? I don’t think so.
So this was kind of a long story leading up to this point, a man can say he is a feminist and that he believes in gender equality but he will never understand gender inequality from the perspective of women/gender minorities who experience it. He will always been in a place of privilege and power and I have yet to personally meet a man who was truly enlightened to these facts.
It is just like how I can want to be an Ally to people of color and the LGBTQ+ community but that is the most I will ever be, a straight white Ally. I will never truly know or understand the experiences of these groups of people, it is not something one can learn from research and reading. You only know by living it first hand which is something I will never be able to do. I can try to be enlightened, accepting, supportive etc. but I will never be more than an Ally at best.
I am not trying to vilify this guy. He is clearly well-meaning and wants to do the right thing, much like my friend that I had so many issues with last summer. The truth is I honestly don’t think people really know what the right thing is sometimes though and even if they do, do they have the courage to actually do it?
Like when his friend made the joke about women being moody and emotional, he could have said something. That would have made him an Ally.
This situation that I sometimes run into with so called “enlightened men” or male feminists reminds me of this article I read last year about well-meaning white people. I at least identify with the title because it is true, I don’t know what to do with “good guys”. Am I supposed to give this guy a break because he is trying? Should I ignore microagressions when I know the person is not deliberately trying to offend?
It is easier to deal with blatant sexism than this kind of “I am on your team but not really because I don’t know how to be” stuff.
He thinks he is an Ally while not realizing his approach thus far is putting the females in the group in a lesser position. He did this by speaking for all of us and by not standing up for us when given the opportunity.
I read something a while ago that I am thinking of now as I write this.. Unfortunately I cannot find it to share it but it talked about why more people (specifically women) aren’t feminist. The bottom line is because it is EXHAUSTING. It is exhausting to live as woman in a patriarchal society, it is more exhausting to acknowledge it, it is even more exhausting to try to do more than just acknowledge it.
I am tired.
I am tired of feeling angry when someone who IS NOT ME tries to speak for me.
I am tired of having to be your (the collective you) teacher.
I am tired of the labels that get applied to me without my permission and without any consideration for if they are ACTUALLY APPLICABLE or not based solely on the way I look.
I am tired of being afraid of the world.
I am tired of politely smiling when I feel scared, or offended, or uncomfortable because I do not know if I am physically safe to verbally express how I feel about whatever is happening.
I am just tired. All the time I am tired.
Here is the thing though, feminism is not a choice for me. I have to trudge forward everyday not just for me but for my niece, for my mother, for your mother, for my future daughter, for my homeless cousin, for my neighbor, for women who live no where near me and who I will never ever meet.. and not just for women.. I cannot be anyone’s Ally if I am first my own and there are populations of people who have far less privilege than I do, who are far more tired than I am, and for them it is not a choice either.
I am not mad at this guy, he is trying, just like I am trying, just like we all are. He makes me tired though, he does not lighten my load with his good intentions. Just like my attempts at Allyship may at times be misguided as well. And it breaks my heart to think that but it is just true.
I guess all we can do is keep trying but acknowledge that sometimes even our best intentions do nothing more but make tired people more tired.