I write to you as dear. Dear as in the adjective meaning ‘with affection’. Dear as in the adverb ‘at high cost’. Dear as in the exclamation, ‘oh dear.’
With affection. I write to you as a woman who loves men. As family members, as friends, as intimate partners. I write to you with the belief that you are a whole human who has the full range of emotions, including the ability to control them. I write to you from that place of love and from a place of hope – that you want to do better and to help other men to better. With hope that you also see that the way that you’ve been asked to be is untenable, unequal, damaging, and wrong. I want to give you permission to lower your defence system because I’m not here to make you solely responsible for the whole capitalist, hetero-patriarchal industrial complex. Here’s a way to think about it – Glennon Doyle says, patriarchy is like a form of pollution that has been around in the world for a long time and we have all breathed it in. It has affected you. Sometimes it’s easier to pretend it’s not there. Sometimes it will feel that because you’re not promoting it, it’s all okay. It’s not. Don’t keep breathing this air and pretending it’s pollution free.
At high cost. Oh dear. I write to you as a woman who lives in the world and sees that men murder women for various reasons they make up sometimes on the spot and sometimes in advance. I see that men rape women whether they are strangers or partners or children. I see that men get paid more for the same job and say nothing about it or hide their salaries or think, perhaps, that they earned it. I write from the world where men take up space on public transport with widespread legs or brush up against women without their permission or ask them to smile as if they own the very face with which women must look out into the world. I write from the world where we tell girls not to be bossy and boys not to cry, where we tell girls to stifle their anger and boys to express it, where we call girls aggressive/bitch/ballbreakers and boys assertive/powerful/leaders. I write from a world that encourages girls to be the ‘cool girl’ and asks them to disparage other women and avoid their friendship because it’s seen as a sign of weakness to truly love women. I write from a world where people generally believe it is okay for women to dress ‘like men’ but where fewer people think it is okay for men to dress ‘like women’. I write from the world where girls and boys have sex as teenagers and girls get pregnant and girls drop out of school and the boys go on. I write from the world where domestic labour is almost always done by women. I write from the world where you are encouraged to resolve conflict with violence. I write from the world where men are encouraged to drink to connect to their male peers, despite the high cost in lives and livelihoods. I write from the world where you are told that you must be the breadwinner, be strong all the time, be at the top of your game, be threatened by other men’s success, be more threatened by women’s success, know all the answers all the time, be the best. Be the best. Be the top. Be the leader. Even if it kills you. Even if it kills someone else.
Let me be clear about what I believe. I believe that you can do better. I believe that this disdain for women’s lives is bred into to you, and is unnatural. I believe that you should and can cry and feel the need to. I believe you can resolve conflict without violence. I believe that you are scared. I believe that you don’t know how to speak to your male peers and family members about their bad behaviour. I believe that feel trapped. I believe that sometimes you enjoy the world as it is now because you are assumed to be the best and that this comes with social, economic, and political rewards. I believe that sometimes you choose not to speak up even when you feel uncomfortable because you don’t want it to be ‘awkward’. I believe that you’ve seen your friends acting in ways that make you afraid for their sexual and intimate partners, but you’ve written this off saying ‘he’ll grow out of it’, ‘he won’t do anything’, ‘he’s just drunk.’ I believe you’ve learned to prioritise your own feelings of discomfort about speaking out, over the very real harm that is caused to women by these norms. I believe you can iron, wash, do dishes, clean, parent with love and success, support women, love, comfort, care, hold, empathise, feel. I believe you can do better.
So, over the next few weeks I’ll be writing to you to ask you to do better, and providing you examples of where your behaviour hurts many people, including yourself, in various ways.
I hope that you will read this. That you will ask questions of yourself. That you will try to do better.