I recently commented on the #yesallwomen phenomenon, but since there has been so much discussion over the last week about the movement and the response to it, I wanted to address the male reaction to the outcry.
One of my favorite responses was Jeopardy! winner Arthur Chu’s article on misogyny in nerd culture. Since his essay went viral, Chu has spoken on media outlets to talk about the impact of male bystanders on violence against women. Phil Plait offered a thorough response to the “not all men” series of derailments:
Why is it not helpful to say “not all men are like that”? For lots of reasons. For one, women know this. They already know not every man is a rapist, or a murderer, or violent. They don’t need you to tell them.
Second, it’s defensive. When people are defensive, they aren’t listening to the other person; they’re busy thinking of ways to defend themselves. I watched this happen on Twitter, over and again.
And another hashtag emerged in support of women: #allmencan. A number of male allies went to the internet with selfies and signs of support:
Unfortunately, these affirming responses weren’t enough to stifle a defensive backlash. Poking the misogyny bear on the internet proved dangerous. Rebecca Solnit writes at Salon:
By Sunday night, half a million #yesallwomen tweets had appeared around the world, as though a dam had burst. And perhaps it had. The phrase described the hells and terrors women face and specifically critiqued a stock male response when women talked about their oppression: “Not all men.”
It’s the way some men say, “I’m not the problem” or that they shifted the conversation from actual corpses and victims as well as perpetrators to protecting the comfort level of bystander males. An exasperated woman remarked to me, “What do they want — a cookie for not hitting, raping, or threatening women?”
Now, I’ll go on record and say that cookies are amazing. But, if you’re truly interested in being a person’s ally, you’ll realize you’re not entitled to them.
The goal of allyship isn’t accolades or recognition. The goal is to better love people and to make this place more just. That starts with listening.
I realize that in a culture that affirms male dominance, moving away from misogyny feels painful to some men. It can be confusing and there will inevitably be some resistance to it. While women’s voices are essential to this conversation, it really will take all of us thinking about this to reshape masculinity in a way that affirms the dignity of women. Consider this exchange in a discussion on pick-up culture from New York Magazine [language warning]:
Reporter, Kat Stoeffel: One of my dark, early reactions to the shooting was that I wished someone had just slept with Rodger. Obviously, that’s not the real problem. But is there something women can do to defuse what you call “toxic masculinity”?
Author, Harris O’Malley: Honestly, it’s not women’s fault. Women aren’t the gender police. You’re not going to see as many women complaining or punishing a guy for being willing to show more emotions the way you’re going to see men telling a guy, Don’t be a pussy, man up. It’s not on women to change men; it’s on men to change themselves. We already put so much unfair responsibility on women when we say things like boys will be boys and women have to dress modestly because men can’t control themselves. That’s bullshit. Saying that it’s women’s responsibility is a way for men to absolve themselves. Even if someone had slept with Elliot Rodger it wouldn’t have fixed anything. If he had had a girlfriend she probably would have been his first target.
Stoeffel: Fair enough. What should men do?
O’Malley: The best thing men can do for other men is to be open to each other to support each other instead of treating each other as competition or pawns in status games. Being willing to be honest and not shame each other for having feelings and doubts and for not living up to this hypermasculine ideal.
When we consider that even church purity culture often affirms the role of male as pursuer and female as pursued, we have a long way to go. For men, and women in positions of privilege, there are a couple of affirming ways to respond to new or disruptive truth about our culture.
First, we can be allies by really hearing someone different from us.
The ability to hear hard truths is the mark of humility. Valuing someone else’s experience, feelings, or thoughts above your own is honoring to that person. It’s also Biblically commanded:
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
Second, we can honestly evaluate our own participation in the problem presented to us.
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. -Matthew 7:3-5
The ability to examine our motives without deflecting, defending, or collapsing into a self-pitying heap is a mark of maturity.
I’m still learning this myself. As an ally, I’ve often lamented that I’m misunderstood or misrepresented. After all, I’m one of the GOOD ones! Me want cookies, not solidarity!
Some great tips for overcoming this as it pertains to race could be applied to gender discussions or other contexts from Julia at Love Isn’t Enough (longer descriptions at the link):
Broaden your definition of racism
Acknowledge how racism has shaped you.
Acknowledge your white privilege.
Accept your limitations.
Get comfortable with humility.
Recognize that it’s not about you.
Listen to people of color and accept their truth.
Accept that effect counts more than intention.
Speak up and do your part.
When we are acting as an ally to get something in return, we’re ultimately cheapening what it means to be an ally. As a parent I find myself having lots of these kinds of conversations with my kids:
Me: Can you help me out by doing a quick chore?
Kid: What do I get if I help?
Me: You become a better person and you honor God for helping me without expecting something in return.
Every parent has dealt with this. In our culture of “what do I get?” it’s counterintuitive to find our motivation in love instead of reward. Ultimately love is more rewarding and relationships are priceless. But even our understanding of pricelessness is attached to something that can be bought:
As Christians, our motives should go even deeper than cookies, self-improvement, or what we get. Oswald Chambers writes in My Utmost for His Highest:
Our motive for surrender should not be for any personal gain at all. We have become so self-centered that we go to God only for something from Him, and not for God Himself. It is like saying, “No, Lord, I don’t want you; I want myself. But I do want You to clean me and fill me with Your Holy Spirit. I want to be on display in Your showcase so I can say, ‘This is what God has done for me.’” Gaining heaven, being delivered from sin, and being made useful to God are things that should never even be a consideration in real surrender. Genuine total surrender is a personal sovereign preference for Jesus Christ Himself.
What we’re looking for when we demand cookies is an “even” exchange: I give you my help or loyalty, you give me gratitude and a free pass when I’m making life harder for you. Fair trade, yes?
What Jesus calls us to “trade” are our demands, our selfishness, our foolish way of thinking about the world. It’s inherently uneven. We give away our selfishness when we give of ourselves in humble submission to one another and we get a glimpse into the heart of the God if the universe.
This is grace. It’s not cheap, but it sets us free.