Yesterday, I got into a very charged – but now that I reflect on it much-needed – conversation with a friend and coworker who is an active feminist about rape culture and how it ties into gender inequality. She initially shared with me the following petition being circulated to address an incident of rape culture involving a fraternity at the University of Vermont. (http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/end-rape-culture-now—shut-down-sigma-phi-epsilon-vermont-gamma/).
Now, I won’t make the claim to be a fraternity expert. Joining a fraternity has never appealed to me in the past, and my stance is still unchanged. Still, I have been fortunate enough to have dated an ex who was an active sorror at one point during her relationship. It was very informative going with her to some of the sorror events and learning the history and getting a sense of why it was appealing to her. Personally, I enjoyed all of the sorror events I got a chance to tag along to. They really had a homely chill feel to it, and were always very women-empowering, which always my whistle.
It is what makes the incident involving the fraternity above so striking. Many feminists will tell you that battling chauvinism and misogyny daily is standard operating procedure. There is nothing cool about gender inequality, especially when it comes to the hotly contested battleground of women’s bodies and access to them. Add it the layers of class, ethnicity and sexual orientation, you have as complex a social justice issue as there is.
What made our conversation in the office so charged was how varied our stances on how to address the issues of gender inequality were. Being a woman, her biggest issue is that men don’t come to women to ask what their opinions, thoughts and feelings are on the issues in a truly genuine and transformative manner. She stated clearly that such a discussion needs to happen on an individual and collective basis. She reminded me of how heavy weight such introspection is, and that level of introspection MUST take place before a man can try to walk in a woman’s shoes and empathize with her experience. She talked with great sadness and frustration about dealing with the feelings of constantly being disrespected and not taken seriously as the standard fare that feminists in both her own spheres of advocacy and across the board deal with constantly.
Now, being a male I can only speak from my experience and conclusions I’ve from works I have read. I am of the opinion that men have to become involved in the fight for gender equality at some point – especially men of color. If one takes the lens from a power perspective, it will require the power of all women + power wielded by men of color in order to fully force change and counteract the efforts of the designers and benefactors of the current patriarchal system: white, heterosexual males. In the meantime as the advocacy continues, it is important work on improving our relationships with women in our own groups based on class, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Do I know when and how men should get involved in this discussion? No. But I firmly believe that it is a key point that has to happen.
It was a hard conversation to have, but ultimately a healthy and much-needed one. I could see where we differed, and how we struggled to not lose it as emotions started to run high. The one thing I will say is that my friend here was as cool as could be, expressing herself in manner in which people from all genders could understand, empathize and appreciate.
Honestly, who is to say which needs to happen first – men’s involvement, or both gender’s introspection of what it means to really understand a woman’s perspective? I certainly have no answers, but can agree firmly that both occurrences need to happen, along with the constant evaluation and reformation of relationships that come with such heavy lifting. Those to me are two examples of some of the many things that may need to be addressed to achieve true gender equality.
Perhaps what we really need to do is let the women decide the order or the priorities and when should men get involved after all.
Women do bring a lot to the table and are often more than those draconian “barefoot and pregnant” archetypes that have been so pervasive historically and still are present currently. History has been littered with countless exploits or women as true equals in terms of their advocacy and achievements. Yet women’s contributions are often taken for granted and women’s issues can still be as easily dismissed today as it was in the past in many cultures. Because gender inequality predominantly affects women, they ultimately should be the primary sources lumination, reflection and benefactors of improving gender relations and securing gender equality.
As I reflected on the train ride home one thing stood out the most from our conversation as I examined my own feelings of being uncomfortable and weighed down by the heavy nature of such discourse. She reminded me that at the end of the day that we shouldn’t take women’s voices for granted. What women bring to the table is as unique and equally valued as men. No man has a right to access a woman’s body without her consent, and vice versa. Fraternity brothers should treat their sorrors as sisters and equals, not easy marks for conquest.