Like most men, I grew up sexist, (and homophobic). It did not help that It was the culture of the Latin American country I am from. My path away from homophobia deserves a whole article of its own. Most importantly, my path to becoming a feminist (and gay rights activist) makes me a much more empathetic person towards racists and others I am diametrically and morally opposed to for what they represent. This may sound strange, but hear me out.
I became a feminist soon after I entered the University of Texas Austin. But it was an intellectual realization that women as a class, like many other groups (blacks, Asians, gays, etc.), were discriminated against. I understood that the systemic nature of said discrimination resulted in the male/female economic and power disparity.
Recently I read an FB friend, Jim Rigby’s post that really spoke to me.
Listen guys, I understand your resistance to what women are saying this week about the prevalence of male abuse of women, but there is a gift in this for you if you can find the courage to set aside your defenses and hear what is being said.I remember my own painful awakening to MY role in the patriarchy- sitting in training classes at the Rape Crisis Center decades ago.
I remember the temptation to co-op the conversation making it about MY discomfort with the conversation instead of what was happening to women. I remember resisting the statistics.
I remember, after that training, speaking to colleges and high schools where the males CONSISTENTLY tried to shut down the conversation by presenting the experiences of women as though they were nothing more than personal criticisms of men.
I certainly remember a fraternity at U.T. shutting down my talk on rape prevention by shouting “f*ck you, f*ck you.”
To recognize how I had been taught to see women as objects and how I had been conditioned by the culture to “fix” women and to try to stay in control, without even realizing it, was not easy.
I, personally, could not THINK my way out of patriarchy. I kept finding flaws in what was being said. I did not realize I was using my own sexist interpretations of my life to measure the justice claims of women. Eventually, I had to GRIEVE my way out of patriarchy. I had to die to my false hyper-masculinity. I had to learn to stop trying to control and fix others. I had to die to my false bravado, and be born into the ambiguities of my deeper humanity.
Like alcoholism, undoing male privilege is a life time struggle, but the reward of being fully human is worth every tear.
Jim Rigby hits the nail on the head. The person in the privileged position tends to take a defensive posture even if they consider themselves enlighted and understand that the aggrieved class is really aggrieved.
It was not until I joined Move to Amend where we centralized on race and gender, that I really understood the concept of just listening through the eyes of the offended class. That organization had some strong women, and it was not long before they penetrated my faux feminism. It was not for me to negotiate an understanding of what women go through, via the lens of my still embedded sexism. It was these women, and some men taking control and breaking me down whether I could accept it or not.
The reality, however, is that I still had the opportunity to walk away to flee the discomfort. Or I could stay and cathartically heal. I chose the latter. But I was ready intellectually to do that. This behavior is true when going through the interhuman dynamics of any aggrieved class.
I once wrote that sexism has a much higher hurdle in our society than racism in my article titled “Hillary Clinton proved that sexism is worse than racism in America.” I got a lot of pushback from white Liberals but especially black women, among my many dear friends at Daily Kos. Am I wrong? I am not yet convinced.
Patriarchy, male supremacy, is deeply embedded in most cultures and “races.” As such males across cultures are offenders. While racism has a worldwide economic power component, sexism is prevalent in absolutely every corner of society which makes it that more ingrained. It is hard to move that juggernaut.
I now view most racists through the eyes of my past sexism and the continual journey to fully extricate it. The mind has two components, the intellectual part, and the muscle memory part. When working with racists, the intellectual part is easy. Even if they try not to get the intellectual argument, they ultimately do. However, the muscle memory portion of our minds requires practice and stimulation. That is where integration in all aspects of living can provide that positive stimulus. But one has to give the racist the opportunity for redemption after a screwup, after a relapse.
Look, I am not naive. There are racists who are willful racists. It fulfills them financially or it empowers them in a manner they find appealing. My contention is that they do not represent the majority. Most are swayed by ignorance, upbringing, and peer pressure.
A racist, a sexist, a homophobe can always take the easy way out. Just like I could have run away from my own enlightenment, which would have been much easier, they can too. If we really want change, if we really want to have a truly functional multicultural, multiracial, and multigendered society based on true social equality, we must give 2nd, 3rd, and more chances.
Also published on Medium.