People often ask me, “What’s it like working with just women?” Their rather bewildered expression suggests that they could, very easily, have asked, “What’s it like working with space aliens?”. Men will often ask this question, as if I must be the most patient person on the planet to work in an office of “just women” …either that or they hint, desperately, at some innuendo. Some women just seem surprised that there wouldn’t be more men around. Only once have I had it that someone felt that there was somehow a sort of imbalance. Guess what?! It was a man. No surprises there then! Rebecca Solnit has spoken very eloquently on this subject, stating that, ‘Women’s liberation has often been portrayed as a movement intent on encroaching upon or taking power and privilege away from men, as though in some dismal zero-sum game, only one gender at a time could be free and powerful.’ Sums it up really.
Once again, I find myself writing a piece about feminism (see the Not Your Ernst edition of the Allix’s Thursday Thoughts blog) despite the fact that I am the only man in the office. I confess I feel a little nervous sometimes tackling such an in-depth and complex subject, and maybe this is a good thing. Maybe I should be tentative and reflect on my role as an ally to the cause. All male feminists should feel this way; that they haven’t relaxed their focus, that they know how to be a better ally. We need men to be actively a part of the feminist movement. It is important also for their own place in society. The patriarchy wants men to be stoic, to handle conflict and emotions with physical and emotional violence, it creates the kind of relationships where men don’t know how to communicate well with others. That being said, due to a deep imbalance in privilege and status, men have a platform that women do not have to hold other men accountable. So, what is to be done with this “platform”? To all men: you need to hold your friends accountable for the jokes they make, especially jokes targeted at marginalized groups, rape jokes, and hurtful slurs. Not only do you contribute to the fight against sexism, but you help yourselves out of the nastiness of infectious, toxic masculinity.
Toxic masculinity and the notion that men must act in a dominant and aggressive manner in order to command respect is a concept that stems from the perpetuation of the patriarchy even at the most base level. This state of being is also at risk of being perpetuated by women too as they allow themselves to buy into the hegemonic structures created by the patriarchy. Let’s take an example from our very own Speakeasy.
“Where is Allix when we need him?” – a question asked when the chairs need new screws, or their legs fixing, when lightbulbs need changing. Now you might well think that perhaps I am an expert screwer of the chairs – and maybe I am – but methinks it might be more to do with my gender. I am not calling sexism here but rather that it is a shame that even in the 21st century in a majority female office, such stereotypes are tapped into. It is the controlling nature of the patriarchal structures that have allowed for this to happen. There is a very pointed riddle that highlights, beautifully, this unbalanced structure:
A father and his son are driving along in a car; they have a terrible accident and the father is killed, and his son is very badly injured. The son is rushed to the hospital and taken into the emergency room. The surgeon comes in and says, ‘I cannot operate on this boy, he’s my son.’ How is this possible?
Men and women alike will scratch their heads in utter confusion, often responding with answers such as, ‘It’s not possible,’ or ‘the father in the car must have been a priest,’ (WTF?!). When you tell them that the answer couldn’t be simpler, their faces take on a misty-eyed look as they, apparently, slip deeper into the bewilderment (or the “upside down”). Are you reading this newsletter with that very same disorientation? Be prepared to kick yourself as you learn that, of course, the surgeon is the boy’s mother. What world do we live in where we can be so confused by such an obvious solution? A world where people are surprised to find that I am the only boy in the Speakeasy village; a world where if I were the only girl not many eyelids would even consider blinking. That poor lone girl in question would probably just have to deal with the bravado of that male office steeped in its own toxic masculinity as the men try to out do each other, vying for attention with all the casual sexism that they can muster. And is this their fault too? Yes and no (Jein). They are products of a hegemony that favours them, but they are also their own worst enemy as they consciously choose to remain in that murky realm. They can climb out of this toxic latrine, but they must also tread carefully for they can be co-opters of the cause rather than allies, making it about them and how “woke” they are rather than actually playing the part of supportive partner. It’s not #youtoo, remember that. As well as those who insist on asking what it’s like to work with space aliens. Big love to one and all!