Men are not the Enemy
And neither are women
Grab a shovel.
Then go stand by the gender divide and decide whether you want to fill it in or dig deeper. Because this is what the mindset we choose to adopt and the opinions we share do every single day. While a piece pointing the finger at men for everything that’s going wrong for women is a sure way to garner clicks and sympathy, it doesn’t advance equality. Nor does it foster understanding between humans who identify as either gender or neither.
Instead, it locks us into behavior patterns and attitudes that do not serve us as individuals or as a society. Blaming men for all our ills is reductive. While the patriarchy has been responsible for holding women back for years, we have agency, we have brains, we have hearts, and we have voices. How we use the latter will determine how soon equality happens.
For background, I’m no stranger to abusive relationships and have survived several rapes. And yet, I refuse to see men as enemies or reject the possibility of a loving and fulfilling relationship with a man. Similarly, I do not automatically assume that a man who behaves kindly toward me has ulterior motives and wants to use or hurt me.
Because, until proven otherwise, he is a decent human being and having a penis doesn’t mean I should treat him with suspicion from the get go.
Cynicism is killing our shared humanness.
Instead of coming together as one species, we keep pointing the finger at those who don’t identify with the same gender as we do. While men who are intent on telling women how to use their bodies deserve our spite and scorn, they’re not the majority.
Curiosity and communication are the architects of nuance and discernment. Without keeping an open mind and open ears, we’ll keep shouting at one another until one side loses its voice. Or goes deaf. Progress is contingent on humility, self-awareness, and intellectual honesty. As long as neither side is prepared to acknowledge their mistakes, we won’t get anywhere.
Power dynamics don’t mean that responsibility always falls to one side; letting men carry the can for all the horrors of the patriarchy is reductive. Women have been rising up for a long time but because many of us have been conditioned from birth to submit, we’ve often failed to question the status quo and therefore we’ve unwittingly enabled men. It’s not because something has always been a certain way that it cannot change. Further, if you want change then you must be prepared to get involved, roll up your sleeves, and make it happen.
Sitting in front of your computer spewing screeds about bad men isn’t helping anyone; you’re just helping yourself to some easy cash. Groupthink and echo chambers mean some people will reward you for being the person who comforts them in their prejudice. What if you used your pen to pry minds open instead? Having a platform and freedom of speech is a privilege most of us in the Western world enjoy as the internet has democratized self-expression.
Why sell off this privilege to the highest bidder with myopic copy when we can use it to initiate dialogue?
Unless we find common ground and join forces, resentment will continue to thrive.
Advancing equality is a responsibility we all share. If you care about it, do something about it instead of acting entitled and demanding instant solutions. Living as if equality were already a done deal is not always a bad way to proceed, but it’s also quite different from acrimonious entitlement.
I have the good fortune of having had strong women as role models, French women who value independence and self-reliance above all else. And no, the values they’ve spent a lifetime defending haven’t condemned them to spinsterhood. Nor have they precluded happy, healthy heterosexual relationships. But they refused to let anyone dim their light, thus forcing the men in their lives to accept and respect them for who they are, as they are.
In a country as conservative as France in the 1970s, this was anything but easy. But those women raised children — girls like me and boys like my stepbrother — for whom equality was always self-evident. Even when I lived in an insular, macho society for three years, my reality never managed to undo their teachings.
I treated men as equals and was treated as an equal in return by most of them.
Wherever I’ve lived in the world, all those who attempted to turn me into a subservient woman over the years have failed. I either walk away or I counter them with endless questions demanding they justify their attitude, which they never expect.
This is how I earn the respect of fellow humans; it’s by talking that we understand one another.
The one hallmark of a good relationship is whether another human has your back come what may.
For example, my parents may bicker a lot but they love each other deeply and their bond is unbreakable. My stepmom may be gravely ill but she still cares for my father, especially when his health looks wobbly, as is the case right now.
Transposed to a societal level, their peculiar dynamic shows that dialogue doesn’t require toning down one’s strong personality. Instead, it calls for the courage to be fully human, strong and vulnerable at the same time, and the willingness to let go of the past so we can all move on.
Because we live in the present.
Focusing on a past that only benefited some of us means we can’t build a future for all as long as we keep pointing the finger. Painful though it may be and much as it may cost us all, why not call a truce, sit down, and forge a new path forward, together? In an individualistic culture where everyone wants to be right, this may be an ambitious approach but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
And since we’re all holding shovels, how about burying the hatchet?
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.