One of the hardest things to recognize is that what is true in your life isn’t always true in someone else’s life. This happens for several reasons. Cultural truths change throughout time and they also sit where they live. What is a true experience for women of New York may not be true of women in Mississippi, and likewise for people of all genders. Catcalling and benevolent sexism take on different forms in different places, the best policy to address these things will also be different.
This contributes to the difficulty of being a blogger sometimes. I can find myself in discussion with people from anywhere in the world through my blog and our experiences will be radically different based on our cultures and perceptions. Perceptions aren’t fun to talk about or get to the bottom of. This is evident when talking to siblings about their parents and the actions of their parents. I’ve talked to people about my childhood who know my brother and they sometimes ask whether we lived in the same household. We did. I’ve had this same conversation with other siblings. It happens for many reasons.
That being said, gender issues can be incredibly difficult to talk to anyone about because the “truth” can be vastly different to both parties in the discussion. Then a debate on what truth means can happen and sometimes one person is called a liar or malicious in some way. It makes it hard to discuss these issues with the people we need most to convince. It makes it hard to discuss these issues and not realize that sometimes we are the people who need to be convinced. Of course, we are simultaneously the people who need to be convinced and the person who needs to convince someone else because truth about society and culture is entirely subjective.
It’s a little hard to swallow, but accurate. What is true in my experience is not true in the experience of others. I have never knowing engaged in friendship with a woman who is deceiving her husband or boyfriend about a pregnancy or some other horrible thing, but that doesn’t give me the option to shut out the fact that it happens and is true of women in the experiences of the men who they do this to. At the same time, I have been discriminated against in many workplaces for being a woman and told by the very coworkers at that place that it doesn’t happen there. They don’t see it or don’t see that behavior as discriminatory. What am I to do about it?
First, I need to realize that their background is different and so is the way that they view the world. The same gesture, such as opening a door for a woman, can be symptomatic of several things. A man could do it because he thinks it’s polite, he may think it’s chivalrous, he may open the door for everyone, he may see her hands were full. The woman doesn’t know which it is. Of course, assuming the worst of people isn’t my go-to move when someone opens the door for me but it is a signal to some women that the man looks down on them. Conversely, some women appreciate it as a sign of a good upbringing or some such thing. It’s just a door, someone was going to walk through and someone had to open it. Who that someone is has had a lot of debate for as long as I can remember. This is a simple example. We should think about the more complex parts of our lives where it’s even easier to throw around what is or is not discriminatory or biased behavior.
We should also be aware of such behavior that we are in the habit of performing. We should be aware that what is true of our behavior in our heads doesn’t always translate to the person’s interpretation but not feel compelled to take responsibility for that persons actions or perceptions. We do what we do and when it’s taken wrong, we can have a grown-up conversation about it. Or, at least, we should be able to. We should be able to reason with people what an action means when it is performed for or against us and we should be able to come to some accord about it. Accusing everyone of malicious intent is not the way to go.
A powerful act toward gender equality is simply realizing that the experience of the genders toward each other are not the same everywhere we go and not experienced in the same way for any gender. I’ve seen it in some of the men I’ve read too. What is powerful to one man is a weakness to another. Non-binary people seem to experience an even wider array of feelings about discriminations and bias as they navigate both of the binary genders or neither at points in their lives. Another powerful act toward gender equality is simply realizing that the experience of one person of a gender toward or with people of other genders does not encompass all people of any of those genders. Just because you know women who have falsely accused men of rape does not mean that we all do it, which is the same for knowing that a man is a rapist and realizing that not all men are capable of such a horrible act. We cannot treat the world as if our tiny portion of it is indicative of the whole.
Accept the experiences of others as true, and the world opens up a little. Discrimination becomes more apparent, as does bias. Your own likelihood of acting in such a way probably goes down too. We need to be open to other people’s experiences in order to create a more gender equal society.
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