Over the course of the past week, several incidents have caused me to reach a breaking point with men.
I vented about the misogyny of Atlanta male political candidates on my private Facebook account and received blow back on and off-line from my male friends and from men who work as campaign staff. My integrity and the integrity of the women who shared their stories with me were called into question. It was infuriating and humiliating all at once.
A day or two later, Fatherly, an online parenting site for Dad’s, syndicated what I thought was one of my more benign pieces about challenging gender norms with my kids. To my surprise, my inbox quickly filled with angry emails from men telling me I wasn’t fit to parent. Those same men then sent follow-up emails, incensed that I had dared ignore their initial messages.
Finally, Harvey Weinstein’s decades long history of abuse and mistreatment of women became public. I was simultaneously in awe of the courage displayed by the women telling their stories and disgusted as I realized just how many people were implicated in the enablement of Weinstein’s behavior. Actor George Clooney, who was praised for his condemnation of Weinstein’s actions, admitted he knew the producer was “a dog”, “a bully” and chased young women. That level of misogyny was cool with George. Harassment and assault, however, crossed the line.
It feels so very basic to have to state ALL forms of misogyny are wrong and deserve attention, from the patronizing and dismissive comments men make towards women every single day to instances of sexual harassment and assault. And yet, it has to be said.
Following my Facebook post, a man told me the type of candidate misconduct I was angry about “wasn’t real” because a sexual assault didn’t happen. You know, some men are just touchy. A man told me I was wrong about how I interpreted a male candidate who interrupted me to say “you’re a real wall flower, aren’t you?” during our conversation about police reform. He would never disrespect a woman.
Rather than being met with curiosity, compassion, or a willingness to even hear me, the goal was to shut me down and shut me up. What these men failed to consider was the concept of impact over intent. As written in Everyday Feminism, “what does the intent of our action really matter if our actions have the impact of furthering the marginalization or oppression of those around us?”
It’s easy to condemn sexual assault in the way it’s easy to condemn overt racism. The more insidious forms of oppression, the comments and microaggressions that are harder to prove are arguably just as, if not more problematic, than overtly racist or misogynistic behavior. The racism and sexism that can be written off as a joke, a misunderstanding or a misinterpretation help form the daily reminders women, people of color and people within marginalized identities receive about their rank in society.
As a parent, acknowledging the ways in which toxic masculinity, the unhealthy and regressive messaging around what it means to be a man, fuels misogyny motivates me to educate my children in a different way. Toxic masculinity and misogyny are perpetuated when we place our children into boxes based on their assigned gender at birth; when we tell little boys they shouldn’t cry; when we tell little girls to be ladies and not play rough and tumble; when we expose our children to books and media that only depict boys and girls in traditional gender roles; when we call little boys heartbreakers; when we restrict the ways our children self-express and play based on our antiquated notions of what it means to be a boy and to be a girl.
I spend a lot of time challenging the regressive messages about gender my kids encounter in mainstream media and books. I spend a lot of time seeking out media and books whose characters’ depict the full spectrum of gender identities and whose story lines and interests expand beyond traditional gender norms. I spend a lot of time encouraging my children to express themselves and play as they wish, while also preparing them for the ways the outside world and peers might receive them.
As the adage goes, it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. Dismantling learned oppressive behavior is much more challenging than disallowing it to happen in the first place. When it comes to misogyny, it’s undeniably an uphill battle to empower my kids to see beyond the gender binary and traditional gender norms, but only because it’s so ingrained in adults and our culture. My 5-year-old gets it. My 3-year-old is starting to get it. Clearly, it is adults and parents who struggle.
I’m committed to pushing through my own insecurities to call out sexism when I see it. I’m committed to unlearning the many misogynistic lessons I acquired throughout my life to raise kids who know better and hopefully do better. While I strongly believe dismantling misogyny is men’s work, I’m not holding my breath on that one. I’m going to continue to demand better of men; for myself and for my children.