You may remember my poem by the title of, “With the Victimized, White, Upper-Middle Class Male”. The title alludes to one man’s self identification, and the body holds one girl’s sentiments in response to that man’s action.
The general phenomenon exists outside of all these particularities, however, and I’ve finally addressed the phenomenon itself in essay rather than art. While I’ve wanted to share my opinion, Facebook has seemed too relational a platform for the impersonal natures of the poem and essay, neither of which are meant to “be about” specific people, interactions, or relationships.
So now, pardon my prose.
Frequently when a woman calmly and rationally begins to mention a specific aspect of women’s empowerment or systemic misogyny, a man in the room will immediately make a cynical joke about how all men are evil.
This oft repeated and dull joke is a vague shaming and protest, reportedly against whoever out there is both taken seriously and acting like all men are evil.
The man making the joke will say that he’s not protesting the woman speaking or what she is saying. He will say he is not opposed to those fighting against misogyny itself.
However, his making the joke in response to the woman’s words implies, whether accurately or not, that he is protesting the woman, her words, and her fight. This undermines the woman and her words, and is not lost on anyone. It is most absorbed by the people who most need not to absorb it- The young, the ignorant, the misogynists, women, and the woman speaking herself.
The shaming protest, being in the best case scenario extremely off topic, in addition to implying that it’s about the woman, makes the man’s misfortune out to be more important than the woman herself, and certainly more important than her misfortune that she is addressing.
She who was by implication attacked must now soothe a man she never attacked in the first place, and after the very dull conversation where all acknowledge that they believe all the proper things, no one has the energy to discuss the subject she’d only begun to speak one sentence about, and quite frankly, she is scared to bring the topic back up.
How carefully must she tread to not be lumped into the group that was just attacked in response to her first few words? How does she talk about a system we’re all apart of when a man in the room just fervently bemoaned how guiltless he is in the system?
And how quickly will a triggered man who typically denies her the dignity of conflict tear her argument apart now that her argument threatens him.
In the already vulnerable position she’s in, exacerbated by this moment’s new vulnerability, can she articulate herself well enough to stand up to the onslaught? Probably not. Can she articulate what the man himself just did to her? Less likely.
But in the aftermath of all the times I’ve been silenced, I’m trying.
Men and women, perhaps you’re prone to make these jokes because you’re thoughtlessly repeating what you’ve heard before. Okay. Please stop.
But please, if you care about a topic, ask questions or listen for the second sentence when someone mentions it. Even if the first whiff smells like something you might not appreciate the whole of.
And if you care about misogyny, please respect and be sensitive to the woman speaking to you! Even if you are wounded too.
And finally, consider that if you frequently protest man-haters in response to someone who’s not speaking hatefully towards men, then perhaps what you take issue with is not what you think.