Musings of an Ethnomusicologist on Unrelated Topics
The Elliot Rodger shooting, and the #YesAllWomen hashtag outpouring that followed, struck a chord with me. I’ve been relatively lucky not to have been a victim of the kinds of abuse many women wrote about, but I – like #YesAllWomen – live in the real world where sexism and misogyny affect my life on the daily, from media to professionalism to family relationships to sexuality, and on and on. I really believe most all of us want women to feel safe and, more importantly, to be safe in homes and communities without threats of constant self-doubt, limited opportunities, overstepped boundaries, unwanted advances, rebuked touching, rape, and other physical violence. But the reality is that women and anyone affiliated with feminine identity suffer still, and suffer uniquely.
For me, #YesAllWomen has to do with the wide range of low-level assaults that face us as women. For me, here’s a sampling: I’ve only seen a handful of recognizably typical female friendships featured in any television show or movie; I’ve been approached in public to be told “not to wear make-up,” or “smile more;” I’ve been told to “wear more make-up,” I’ve been called shrill, bossy, overbearing, and other names for an admittedly headstrong way-of-being; I’ve been talked over and around by the “men in the room” more times than I can count; I carry my keys like a weapon at night; been told to dress more sexy; been told to dress less sexy; been followed; been stalked; been told I’m a lesbian (because that’s still somehow an insult); been told I’m a slut: All run of the mill stuff many women experience. Many – most – have experienced far worse. But it still sucks.
But here’s the thing: I also learned young not to like women, or to distrust women’s agency. “Girls are catty,” I distinctly remember saying in middle school, parroting the opinions of my schoolmates. “Girls just like drama.” “Girls are just so fake.” I – probably like you – learned to associate masculinity with the authentic, the cool, and the legitimate; I learned to revere the Tom Boy, to hate cheerleaders, and to eschew femininity. I yearned to be the girl that proclaimed, “most of my friends are guys. I just don’t really like girls.” I appreciated, respected, and valued masculinity and comparably preferred disaffiliation with femininity.
Who can blame me? Research shows some pretty crazy things, like, for example: Hurricanes, when named female names, are broadly assumed less dangerous, and thus kill more people. Women’s names on academic portfolios and job applications receive fewer calls than the same resumés submitted with male names. And an oh-so-lengthy host of other examples.
Eve, taken from the rib of Adam, has learned she is derivative, secondary, marginal. She learned to hate herself, too.
It took me years to unlearn those things. I began to identify the misogyny that I carried which affected myself and my relationships, my respect of my peers and my elders. Slowly, I learned to appreciate a wide variety of expressions of simply being on a gender spectrum. I learned to deeply appreciate and loyally support my large cohort of incredible female friends, and to nourish and uphold femininity in all its forms, as expressed by those born with penises and/or vaginas. I’ve been a self-professed feminist and GLBT*Q ally for over 10 years, and have worked actively on these issues. Yet I am still unlearning misogyny that I carry, and am unlearning and learning anew every. single. day.
The corollary to #YesAllWomen has been #NotAllMen, a hash tag that admonishes decrying men’s behavior because only some men abuse. But, I think based on the description above that it’s really not about how all or some men commit acts of violence. Violence that stifles and silences women (biological or identified), or anyone exhibiting any feminine quality or tendency of any kind is the assault of tiny actions that compound day after day, year after year, into a sedimented culture of always.
If I have been the problem in misogyny, if I sometimes am still the problem, then yes #AllMen are sometimes the problem. It’s much easier to decry the evil others have done than to see the face of evil in ourselves. But it’s a critical practice to confront our own tendencies to devalue, decry, or dehumanize based on gender, race, sexual orientation, immigration status, religion, class, ability, or any other identity or status.
It takes a lot of courage to confront ourselves – to open ourselves up to the possibility that we might have internalized ideologies and practices that make life uninhabitable, even in a small way, for us and the people around us. It takes humility and patience to realize the ways that we have been cruel, dismissive, or otherwise dehumanizing – whether intentionally or not – of those with whom we interact and effect. But if we truly want for women – for people – to feel safe and, more importantly, to be truly safe and fully empowered in homes and communities without threats of constant self-doubt, limited opportunity, overstepped boundaries, unwanted advances, rebuked touching, rape, and other physical violence – without being sometimes controlled or constricted into a non-entity – confronting violence we ourselves perpetrate is one of the most important things we can do. Surely not the only thing. But a really fucking important thing.
Before rushing to claim that #NotAllMen, or #NotAll______ (your category), are the problem, really see and confront the way/s that you are indeed the problem. This is a call to all people, but – in this case – for men especially because it’s easier to live in a bubble when you don’t have first-hand experience with the visceral reality of many of these things. We all have shit to confront, we all have changes to make; we all have limits on our perspectives.
Confront yourself, and I promise you’ll find something worth changing. I did. And do. Every day.