Conscientiousness is holding us back… and it should.
We’re f**king adults.
Have you ever tried to explain to a bully why bullying isn’t ok, only to have them point out that they don’t see the problem? They aren’t being harmed, no one dares do anything to them, and they get whatever they want… what’s the problem?
How about the parents who are educated, poised, successfully adulting on a regular basis, but find themselves bargaining with, bribing, or just giving in to the toddler because — for crying out loud — they’re getting nowhere?
When your sole focus is on getting what you want, it’s easy — just make everyone else’s life hell until they give in.
If you don’t want anyone else to needlessly suffer for you to get what you want — or if what you want is for someone else’s suffering to end — you can’t merely make everyone’s life hell until that happens. Can you?
We need a better playbook.
So, how does a savvy, mature person go about achieving anything worthwhile?
Do we protest, get loud, demand that things change?
Well, let’s look at this… the act of joining together in protest is merely an awareness campaign.
It’s necessary to demonstrate numbers and an intention (or desire) to be heard, but let’s be honest: the only time this step (by itself) affects change is when those in power decide to listen. We’re never “making them listen.”
If you have to protest, you’re not a group they’re listening to in the first place.
What about simply taking care of ourselves/each other?
What about building community and space and support for ourselves, without relying on those in power to help (or realistically, to just stop hindering)? You know, what cultural groups have done for centuries (e.g., Jewish, Italian, and Chinese cultural groups within larger communities).
Firstly, the relative success of any of these groups is directly dependent on how much leeway they’re granted by those in power a the time/place. If they are ever seen as a threat — or getting too powerful in their own right — that relative freedom they were experiencing in order to take care of themselves inexplicably vanishes. They’re allowed to get by, but don’t do too well for yourselves, or something might just happen.
Secondly, the larger the group, the tighter those reigns will be kept — getting too powerful can happen quickly with numbers. Add talent or skill, and you’re an even bigger threat. (Take stock: 1/2 the population? Talented? Skilled? With the power to create — or deny the creation of — other human beings? Are you starting to understand the threat women pose to a very fragile power structure?)
Thirdly, most marginalized groups can be self-sustaining if left unhindered — forming family units, growing in numbers, developing stable communities over time. In the case of gender inequality, women aren’t a cultural group. Women are one-half of each of the various cultural groups with which they belong. Yes, they can take care of one another, fostering community, and nurturing growth, but it’s not sustainable long-term… as a group, they cannot grow in numbers organically (or even remain the same size) over time — they have to recruit new members to keep going. This is also true of male groups who have splintered off from their cultural groups in order to prioritize their desires (economic power, military prowess, land autonomy, etc.), but again — it’s not organically sustainable — so they must recruit… many also devolve into kidnapping and holding women hostage in order to take care of their other desires and forced childbearing. I (strongly) suspect that this method of sustainability is distasteful to women who would otherwise desire to belong to an unhindered group of individuals. It also helps that, by and large, we don’t hate or devalue men, so designing a living situation that is completely devoid of men isn’t really appealing either.
How about playing nice and assimilating?
Surely, we’re all “citizens” and if we just stop fighting with each other and chill out, things will naturally level out and we’ll be fine, right?
If that were the case, we wouldn’t have the need to assert ourselves in the first place.
If that were the case, we wouldn’t have had to fight for the right to vote or to take care of ourselves (e.g., reproductive health, to simply not be incarcerated for being female, etc.).
So, what’s left?
The difficult truth is that oppressed or marginalized people cannot liberate themselves (at least not without a lot of violence and a full-on revolt).
They can raise awareness of the situation, refuse to accept it, suggest solutions, keep pushing, making noise, garner support,… but real progress and real change only come when those doing the oppressing — or rather, members of the group that are doing the oppressing — decide that the constraints are unjust, begin to hold each other accountable,… and become allies.
We need allies.
And we need to be better allies.
Quietly supporting ideals from the sidelines isn’t helping.
- Is not beating or belittling your partner enough? What about laughing at (i.e., encouraging) jokes about putting women in their place? Or pretending not to notice when your friend’s partner shows up with bruises, or flinches when he laughs or gets loud? Or going along with it when prep, clean up, and coffee-fetching is expected of the females in your realm, but not the males? What if she’s the expert in the room? Can you learn from a woman? What about receiving criticism? What happens when she disagrees with you? Are you dismissive? What about when your friends or colleagues are dismissive?
- Is not hating your gay neighbor enough? What about reacting when you see two men being affectionate? Or see them raising kids? Or running for office? Or when they’re heartbroken? Or lonely? Or not interested?
- Is believing that one’s body and what’s beneath their clothes is solely their business… enough? What about when they want to use a public restroom? What about when your friend voices frustration because they can’t tell if someone’s a man or a woman? Or when they’re trying to do their job? What if that job is teaching? Or if your friend doesn’t think they should be around their kids? What about your kids? What if they’re being harassed by someone? What if that harassment wouldn’t be tolerated if it were being done to someone you knew? If they’re just someone on YouTube, is that ok?
When watching a fire consume your neighbor’s house, it’s not enough that you didn’t add gasoline, or that you don’t think it should be on fire,… if you also do nothing to stop it or alleviate the suffering of your neighbor.
For those who missed it, the answer to “am I my brother’s keeper?” …was “yes.”
And love hard.
Love especially when it’s hard.
Let’s be better allies, too.
It’s the only way we’ll all get through.