I sat at the type of desk that you have to slide into from the left (a microaggression against left handers), and she approached me, bending over to ask a question. In the moment, I had no expectations. I wasn’t thinking about power and privilege. In all honesty, I thought maybe she wanted to have a conversation, to say thanks for speaking up, or to ask how I was doing. Isn’t that what the jobs of the residential directors are? To take care of the RA’s so that they can take care of their residents?
“I want to ask you a favor.” In RA training we talked a lot about having allies on the floor. My first thought was that she was asking me to be an ally, to say something someone else might not be able to, or mention a point to consider. That I could do. “We are going to show a film so you know when it begins. Whenever a male tries to speak, I want you to interrupt.” My heart started to race, anxiety taking over. This wasn’t something I could do, this was something that just the thought of made me uncomfortable, angry, and anxious all at once.
“I can’t do that. It is just generally rude, nobody should be spoken over and dismissed.”
“It is just to prove a point.”
“I know a lot of guys who already feel uncomfortable in these classes because they are defined in terms of social justice as ‘the example of privilege.’ I have 3 brothers and guy friends who respect women.”
“It is only to prove a point. It is a systemic problem. Just because you haven’t had that experience doesn’t mean that you can just dismiss it.” Now my stomach felt sick. Repeatedly people tell me that I am dismissing real problems, unaware of the true female condition. I feel as though nobody is willing to actually listen to what I have to say. She walked away, asked some other girls, ignored the fact that the entire activity made me uncomfortable, and, that in some way, it had triggered me.
I don’t like the idea of a single class representing an entire system of oppression. An individual male cannot, and should not, be asked to represent an entire system of oppression. In my view that is oppressive in itself. In our class sat 6 males, two of which were our supervisors, and approximately 20 women. If sexism can only exist with power (majority) and prejudice (let’s dismiss everything you have to say), wasn’t this an example of sexism? Not to mention, the class was on SEX AND SEXISM. Weren’t we, in interrupting the males in the room, making an assumption about gender binaries (females interrupt males, but what do we do if a trans individual enters the room or a student who prefers they/them pronouns. In our class only he/him and she/her were represented, but shouldn’t we have learned ways to change our gender binaries views rather than oppressing men?)
In residential life’s defense, one RD spoke up and stopped the activity as soon as a guy started to get angry. But I couldn’t help but notice the way the individual guys reacted. Two males got frustrated, one completely shut down, and another just seemed worried he had been rude and talked over someone. Does this not suggest that more than a male/female problem there is the problem of the introvert/extrovert?
I can’t deny that in our world men have power. We live in a patriarchy where women are paid less and often taught to behave in a certain way. Men, too, are socialized in a manner that is generally different from that of women but speaking in terms of systems ignores the individual. I can’t look at a man and assume X, Y, and Z, and I shouldn’t. I should want to get to know them. To change the system we need to create INDIVIDUALS who appreciate humans as humans and embrace all people from all walks of life. People who appreciate stories, who know how to listen, and provide sympathy even when empathy is impossible. No matter what activity we do, a male will NEVER know exactly what it is like to be female, and the same is true when you turn it around. But a man can know that a woman has struggles and listen and accept that though they may not be what he faces, they are struggles too. Isn’t that all any of us can do? Learn to listen? Every story matters, no matter if it is one of ‘male privilege” or female lack-there-of. We are different, and will always have different stories, but we are all still just human.
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