In a recent New York Times essay, Lindy West wrote about being invited to speak on the podcast of some white male friends of hers. From the way she explains it, the podcast is for straight, white males to learn how to be better allies by talking to people who don’t get the same societal allowances that they do.
West self-identifies as a fat, white, female feminist. She said that when she sat down to talk with them, only one question came to mind, a question that had been plaguing her in the months since the tape of the president’s “grab them by the pussy” comment came to light, and we heard Billy Bush laugh along, however comfortably or uncomfortably.
Do you ever stick up for me?
It seems like such a simple question, but it is so loaded, especially since the fall of 2016. It’s easy for men to say that women are being overly sensitive in the wake of Hillary Clinton losing the election, and that sexism is dead, but it’s nowhere near that simple. From the minute 45 was elected, there has been a war on women. I say “war” because there really is no better term for it. Men, especially cis-het (straight) white men, often believe that their way of life is somehow being threatened simply because women want to be treated as — gasp — equal citizens.
I know, what a concept right? But the fight for people who are not cis-het white men to be seen as equals is somehow too much for them to handle, and so they are lashing out whenever and wherever they can, in person and online. I’ve seen it happen to colleagues of mine too many times to count since November. The trolls are alive under those keyboard bridges. Some white men claim that they are allies, but are they actually walking the walk? Are they standing up for us when no one is looking, or only when it’s a good opportunity for them?
I admit, I don’t really have straight, white male friends. As a black woman, there’s not really much we’d have in common. One of my closest male friends happens to be my ex-partner, and the father of my child, and I would hope that if he were in a position to defend either me, or another marginalized person or community, that he would do the right thing and not laugh along because it’s the easier route to take.
West uses the word “buzzkill” with an interesting duality in her essay; women who demand fair and equal treatment by men are considered “buzzkills” for speaking up, which in turn makes men who stand up to those who use pejorative language in an all-male space a “buzzkill” by proximity.
Well, listen up dude bros, no one is trying to harsh your vibe, okay? But there is a difference between being funny and being a sexist jerk, and when you’re toeing that line, you need to be called on your shit.
Early in our relationship, I would hang out with my ex and his (predominantly straight, white) male friends, and I was often the only female. I felt an unspoken pressure to be cute and cool and funny and not a “buzzkill.” I would laugh politely at jokes I didn’t necessarily agree with or find funny, so that I would be deemed worthy (“the cool girlfriend”) to be invited back into the space. I’m not proud of this fact, and I’ve grown immensely since those days, but I think that many women can relate to that circumstance.
As a woman in a predominantly male space, the first instinct for many of us is to fold up and take up the least amount of space possible; it’s just how we’ve been conditioned by our patriarchal society. But guess what? I’m not going along with you anymore. I’m taking up all the space I deserve, and then maybe I’ll take up some of yours, too, so you can see how that feels.
Men, it is not that hard to speak up. Do it, and do it often. It is the right thing to do. Period.
If you’re worried about being invited back into a space where misogyny and sexism are prevalent, you need to think long and hard about what kind of a person you are. You can’t say that you stand up for women in one breath, and then laugh alongside misogynistic assholes the next. You’re not being an ally; you’re being complicit.
Women are people, and not just the ones you know. We shouldn’t have to be your daughter, wife, or mom to matter. It was absolutely infuriating when Republicans in high positions started speaking out against Trump’s sexism by making examples of their wives and daughters, and not simply because all women are human beings who never deserve to be treated that way. Women are more than their relationships to men. I am not worth fighting for because I’m “yours” in some way. I’m worth it because I’m your equal and should be regarded as such.
But here’s the real question for the men who claim to be allies or go so far as to call themselves feminists: Do you give women the space we so justly deserve, even when we’re not in the room? Let that sink in.
Are you really putting your money where your mouth is? How can you prove to women that you’re going to bat for them, even when it makes you uncomfortable or when it’s hard?
West’s friends made the point that they get mocked for standing up for women in predominantly male spaces. Are you okay with being mocked? Being called “soft” or a “pussy”? Are you willing to let other men treat you the way women are constantly treated for being women — accused of being on our periods simply because we’re angry? Are you ready to be the “buzzkill” and be the voice of change? If any of this gives you pause, then you’re not an ally, and you should not label yourself as such.
As the mother to a little boy who will become a man sooner than I’d like to imagine, if I ever hear that he is not demanding the utmost respect and equality for women from his male peers, I’ll be on his ass. It may not be something previous generations of men were taught, but we can no longer continue to pretend that this problem doesn’t exist. I’m not here saying that you have to prove your “wokeness” and read all the books and go to rallies and become a radical. But calling your friends or co-workers or even your boss out on their sexist (and/or racist) bullshit is seriously the least you can do.
Women are people, damnit. So grow a pair, stop being cowards, and stand up for equality. Even when it makes you uncomfortable. Especially when it makes you uncomfortable.