XX & XY

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately—often a dangerous proposition. A lot of thinking about women.

And I’m going to try to write down some of those thoughts—perhaps even more dangerous.

Female

Not because I plan on saying anything offensive, something overtly sexist or misogynistic. But because in my position of white male privilege, I might not even realize—as enlightened as I like to think I am on the relationship between the sexes and the systemic and personal crap women face every day—that there are many things I just don’t get. Will never get. And that I exacerbate the problems women face because of my obtuseness.

I’m even more sensitive to making huge missteps in these days of #metoo and the never-ending torrent of revelations of how men—powerful men, seemingly aware men, scummy men—harass and demean and abuse and rape women as a matter of course. An entitlement, actually. These reflections on women started before the news broke about Weinstein et al., and in response to those revelations, some men have expressed their outrage and support for the women they know and love in eloquent ways—more eloquent than what I will achieve here, I’m sure. I’m not trying to write the next post that women share to say, “See, men, this is what you should do/believe/say.” Because I know there’s still a lot I need to learn, to try to understand given that privilege I inherited for no other reason than the appendage that dangles between my legs (well, and the Y chromosome that triggered it). There is still compassion I need to show. And empathy. Yes, I am sensitive to the fact that at least one woman has accused me of lacking both.

So, with those preliminaries aside, let me say this: I like women. And with that, how do women react? There are of course many ways to interpret that statement. As a heterosexual male, I like them as partners in a loving relationship. As a heterosexual male, I do also look at them at times from a purely physical perspective. I’m not proud of it. Nor of not challenging other men when they make comments that are sexist/objectifying, or when in the past I’ve made comments that were sexist/objectifying. I am trying now more than ever to be attentive to what I say, do, and, just as importantly, think; it’s an ongoing process.

I’m not sure if my gender and sexual orientation influence this or not, but I especially like women as friends. I like hanging with women in the kitchen while the menfolk are out talking some menfolk shit. I like talking one-on-one to the many great, close female friends I feel lucky to have (so, so lucky). I sometimes think my comfort around women comes from having grown up in a female-centric family and having a father who was not macho in any sense. I can’t say that he had any female friends that I knew of, but he did enjoy the attention of women, without being in any way flirtatious or inappropriate (at least not that I ever saw). To be honest, when I’m around guys who seem to reek testosterone, I want to get away from them as quickly as possible. My father did not have that male bravado, and I’m thankful for it.

I’m also thankful that in that female-centric family, which extends out to aunts and nieces, the women were/are uniformly strong and accomplished and self-sufficient (as are those friends mentioned above). And they have, as far as I know, escaped outright abuse at the hands of men, though I know they have endured harassment of some sort. As #metoo showed, hasn’t every woman who has walked this planet since the rise of patriarchy endured it?

I can’t say the same for my female friends and partners, that they have escaped the worst of male predatory behavior. I know about the sexual abuse, sometimes at the hands of family members. Of the rapes. Of the mistreatment in so many small and big ways by men who hold power over them, or just feel the women are there for their pleasure. I’ve gotten angry hearing the tales. And sad. And felt hopeless, at times, wondering if things will ever get better. I have tried to be good friends to them, to listen, to offer whatever meager comfort I can. And to treat them with respect.

Have I always succeeded in the latter? No. In my relationships especially, I’ve shown arrogance or indifference. I have hurt women I said I loved. I have lost sight of the compassion and empathy I so often say I want to show to all sentient beings. And with my female friends: This recent self-reflection and all the reports of abuse that have come out make me question if I have failed at times with them too. Was there a comment, a “joke,” that was hurtful because of latent sexism? Were there physical advances that were inappropriate and that I’ve blocked out of my memory because I don’t want to see myself as “one of those guys”? What is the trail of hurt I’ve left behind that some friends have overlooked, for whatever reason, or that have led some former friends to distance themselves from me without saying why?

Questions, questions. They arise at a time when, apart from the recent news, I’ve been examining how I interact with women for many reasons. Because I’m single and don’t want to be but can’t even get a serious glance from women. Because some of my close female friends are a huge part of my life, as always, but now are playing an even greater role in keeping me sane. Because I think about the shit all my nieces have gone through in this world dominated by asshole men. Because I really believe that this country would be better off run by women who understand the sapping effect of patriarchy on everybody and want to create a better society, but they’re thwarted by fundamentalist religious beliefs and the misogyny so embedded in our culture. Which is of course embodied by our pig of a president.

Playwrights sometimes discuss how they can write authentic characters that aren’t like them. How do I write the role of a black man, a queer, a woman of any ethnic background or sexual orientation? Well, I have to try, because plays that have only straight, white, male characters would get pretty boring. You try to call upon whatever empathy you have. You think about, in this case, the women you have known. And loved, in many different ways. You draw on the experiences of all kinds that they’ve recounted. You try to understand. I hope the women in my life will have the patience to keep helping me try to understand. And have the capacity to forgive when I screw up. Because, sadly, I will, despite my best efforts.

Postscript: I did something rare here at the Crisis: I hesitated posting something. This. Me, Mr. No Boundaries when it comes to exploring the minutiae of my internal and external life. I think that’s a reflection of my knowing how sensitive this issue is, of not wanting to offend women I like and love, of not wanting to seem to have some sort of holier-than-thou rap vis-a-vis other men. But I showed this to one of those close female friends I am so lucky to have (and an excellent writer in her own right), and she encouraged me to post it. So here it is.

She also said that it felt incomplete in some way, like it needed more of an ending—unless I was going for something of a stream-of-consciousness feel. I laughed; pretty much everything here at C?WC? falls into that category of inchoate musings. But I think this post’s not being neatly wrapped up is appropriate. As I said, my education, my doing and thinking the right thing, is an ongoing process.

PPS-After writing the first draft of this a few days ago, the first things I saw on FB were about Louis CK and Roy Moore. And it just keeps on coming…

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~ by mburgan on November 12, 2017.

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