I have always wanted to be one of the guys. Since I was a toddler, I have been doing my best to associate with boys, not as the girl in the room, but as one of them, as one of the boys. As someone who is the same. Growing up, I did everything possible to make myself less of a girl. I wore boy clothes, played sports at recess, played video games, and asked for boy toys. I refused to engage in any activity or language that could be perceived as girly. I even hated hearing the words ‘boy’ and ‘girl,’ because each instance reminded me that I was a girl, and more importantly, not a boy. I hated myself for not being male. When I was nine I tried to teach myself to pee standing up, because even that felt like a privilege that the boys in school held above my head, saying, you will never really be one of us. I wanted to play with the boys and not the girls, because I perceived that they had more fun, they had easier lives, they commanded more respect, they had more choices. I remember my mom trying to convince me that women were powerful, and she bought me a book about the suffrage movement. I hated it. It just solidified the belief in my mind that being a woman was connected to being weak. I hated feeling automatically oppressed—oppressed without my choice. And what difference did “equal rights” make if I couldn’t get anyone to be friends with me? The only women role-models I encountered in popular media were inserted to provide girls with a “girl option.” Every girl character was just the girl, not a character who is just a character, a person who is just a person. These girls were not usually girls; they were sexist images of what men imagine girls should seek to become. If I was ever accepted in a group of boys as a child, it was only as the girl in the group. It was not me, Julie, the person Julie.
When I entered middle school and kids started hitting puberty, I began to get labeled as a freak. The first day I arrived in 6th grade, I had short hair, and a girl whispered that I was cute. That lasted for about five minutes, until people realized my sex. One boy used to call me Medusa on the bus because of my hair. If I looked too much like a boy, I had to deal with the shame and awkwardness of a teacher’s misunderstanding when learning that my name was Julie. Sometimes, I would make friends with a boy who didn’t notice right away that I was a girl, and I would watch sadness and disappointment wash over his face when I said my name was Julie. Telling someone my name felt like I was pressing play on a remote control that triggered people’s guardedness and confusion. I would say, “But listen! I’m not really a girl,” and how much any boy was able or willing to believe that statement was the biggest indicator of whether we would remain friends. The older I got, the less any boy wanted to be friends with me. I was tainted from day one for arriving as a freak, and none of the girls in school treated me as anything other than such. Girls would often glare at me in the bathroom as if I had no right to be there, so I tried to do everything I could to hide myself and stay under anyone’s radar.
I quickly adapted to avoid being bullied. I began wearing girls clothes. I grew my hair out for almost ten years to distance myself from the person who everyone said was a freak. I didn’t talk to anyone honestly or have any real friends, and when I socialized with girls, I did my best to be like them. I immersed myself in gossip and three-way phone calls. I wore jeans that made me feel uncomfortable every single day. I put on eyeshadow even though I hated it and thought it was a waste of time. I tried to forget the part of my identity that made me want to be male—or rather, equal—because I was so ashamed of feeling abnormal and unnatural. I hated myself because I was not myself, and I had been taught by both my peers and the adults in my life to also hate the person that I really was, that a word for that person was freak. I knew it was a lie the whole time, but when I was going through it, I always felt that the pain of not being accepted anywhere was more brutal than the pain of not being myself.
Now I see things a lot differently. I am 22 and I have short hair again. I wear whatever clothes I want, mostly “men’s”. Life feels more fine; I no longer spend several hours a day wondering why I wasn’t born differently. The biggest positive change is probably my social environment; I no longer regularly interact with people who consider me to be less than human. Reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X has helped me see that the way I behaved as a child was rational. Malcolm X argues for segregation on the count that the black man should develop a positive identity of blackness, and that this is impossible to cultivate in a culture where black people are seen as secondary humans to whites. He argues that the black man is conditioned to hate himself, to form his identity based around his absence of whiteness. I feel that oppression and inequality always work this way. I grew up hating myself because the only tools I had to construct my identity with told me that before anything else, I was the other. I was not male. I was not the default human being. Now I see that I just wanted to be seen as a person. Everything that I wanted to do was presented to me as a “boy thing,” so I thought that if only I was a boy, I could be the person that I wanted to be. Like many children who feel different, I turned to books as my only friends. Even there I learned that I was the other; I discovered that the language I loved so much could not include me without being awkwardly adjusted.
This is the fundamental principle behind male privilege, and behind any privilege. A man does not have to fight a cultural or societal norm to believe that he counts just as much as every other human being. A man never expects that he will be seen as less than another’s equal because of his sex. He does not have to adjust the world to make room for himself; the world is adjusted with him in mind. I believe the constant adjustment women must make adds an unparalleled psychological burden in the process of identity formation. I must gather my own evidence to believe that I am as valuable as a man, and accept the fact that even after I believe that, most of the people that I meet will not see it that way. That takes a lot of work, and that work changes you.
In the past couple of years I have developed a wide and largely supportive social network of both men and women, but mostly men. I’ve started to feel accepted in my social group for the first time in my life. I have started to feel like Julie, and not the girl who thinks she’s a boy, or a girl who’s “less of a girl so it’s okay.” Being respected and acknowledged as a complete equal to my male peers is something I have always craved but rarely experienced. Recently, I had an abrasive experience with one of my male friends, who I believe used his sex to oppress and dehumanize me. This experience has deeply disturbed my reality. I’ve realized that inequality and oppression can, and do, exist even in the places and relationships that feel safest.
The other day, I was in the car with two male friends. Somehow, we were engaged in a conversation about Nancy, the driver Roger’s ex-girlfriend. After a harsh analysis of her uses of various substances, Roger began to share details about her sexual past. The first sentence that jarred me was, “She victimized herself at sixteen.” That sentence is not paraphrased; those words appear in this essay in exactly the order they were spoken in. Some phrases sting like needles, because every syllable is a slap in the face, and I can remember every word, I can hear his voice rise, fall, emphasize as it did that day, just like a recording playing over and over again in my head. The next thing he said was, “The first night I met her, she seduced me into sex.” After he said that, being in the car felt violently suffocating. I was so upset, I felt every part of my being come into existence through anger, through the tired feeling of helplessly being stripped of power. The next thing he said was, “But I’ve never done anything like that before.” So I didn’t know, you know?
It’s important to consider how the shape of the narrative reflects the thoughts and intentions of the speaker. The picture that is painted by how each point leads to the next is the product of a societal and cultural attitude that objectifies, oppresses, and dehumanizes women. Understanding the thoughts that made these sentences come out in this order is even more important than understanding what each sentence means. The sexism is easy to see when you look at what he said, easier when you think about all the things he didn’t say, and easier still when you think about the thoughts that gave birth to those words. Something like, “We slept together the first night we met,” tells the same story, but there are reasons Roger didn’t use words like those ones. Let’s look at the conversation like this:
-She victimized herself at sixteen.
-The first night I met her she seduced me into sex.
-I’ve never done anything like that before.
My question is: what is happening in Roger’s brain in between these sentences? What do those thoughts look like? Thoughts are so many things. They are feelings, sensations, memories, words, images, textures, colors, sounds. Thoughts are meaning attached to experience. So for some reason, when Roger thinks of Nancy being “victimized,” he thinks not just of their relationship, but of the most private, intimate part of their relationship. And when he thinks of that, he feels the immediate need to distance himself from the situation, to claim that it was his “first time” doing something “like that.” The archaic equality that women = sin = sex is preserved in Roger’s perception of the situation.
The fact that it feels appropriate for us to discuss Nancy’s sexual past is sexist. That Roger feels those details are appropriate to share with his friends is wrong. I contributed to sexism by taking part in the conversation at all; I was immediately offended Roger’s words, but not immediately surprised by the subject matter. The fact that discussing Nancy’s sexual history is a platform for discussing her relationship with Roger is one of the most disturbing things about this narrative. Nothing really needs to be explained to express that the first sentence is sexist. Sixteen-year-old girls do not victimize themselves, and the fact is that those words came out of his mouth in a certain order for a reason. The words that we say are just snapshots of the thoughts we have circulating in our heads all day long.
“The first night I met her she seduced me into sex.” This narrative clearly frames the woman as having a “questionable” past, and her role as the instigator is confirmed definitively in the grammar. She has an active role as the seducer, and he, Roger, plays the role of a passive participant. Roger’s inability to represent himself as a fully responsible and aware individual who made the choice to have sex indicates that he believes sex is shameful, and it’s easy to see who he thinks should shoulder that shame.
The reason we’re having this discussion at all is because the relationship didn’t end well, and that isn’t Roger’s fault at all, because, as we’ve established, he’s never done anything like that before. It was the first time. He had no idea what he was getting himself into, perhaps because he had never dated someone who had victimized herself before. BUT THE GIRL!!! She has some kind of abusive sexual past! She was a victim of some kind (but she did it to herself). And she seduced him. Into sex. On the first night. The first night I met her she seduced me—I am so fucking innocent I am not even quite sure what I am getting seduced into (oh but it’s sex)!—into sex. Our actual conversation was interrupted, heated, and tense. I was getting more upset by the minute, thinking a hundred different sentences every second, and unable to get more than a couple words out coherently, and this was only met with more of the same rhetoric.
The only response that Roger had to my objections was, “She did seduce me.” Then he said, “She touched me!” This made me so much more upset I laughed. I could not believe that he thinks that the fact that she touched him validates his narrative. The details about what actually happened during their first sexual encounter are completely irrelevant. Everything that he said is sexist whether she touched him or not. If she was lying naked in his bed with a condom in her mouth, Roger’s words are still not okay. If she did initiate sex, it is disgusting that this is how he describes sex that he did not initiate, especially when the relationship ends badly. What matters is that this is how he naturally discusses his past relationships with his buddies. That he seeks to form a social bond constructed around the dehumanization of his ex-partner in order to validate himself is a symptom of a broken thought process. It is troubling that sex is the vessel through which he decides to talk about his relationship, and that it’s not the sex that is the result of love manifesting itself between two human beings, but the shameful sex that is a battle between power and lack of power. Roger’s thoughts are broken. The problem isn’t just his speech, it’s the inner dialogue in his head, and the deeply sexist lens through which he remembers and mentally catalogs his relationships with women.
Eventually our car ride was over, and we all got out. I was too upset to be around Roger, so I just walked away from the situation. At the time, and at every time since then, he has referred to our discussion as a “misunderstanding.” He has used the word “misunderstanding” dozens of times, and “misperception” at least once. (After a while, I start to feel like the sexism doesn’t begin or end anywhere, it just feels like it exists everywhere.) I realize now that words like argument, fight, debate, even disagreement or conversation probably give too much credit to my intellect as a woman. Roger is unable to even perceive and identify the situation in a way that implies I am his equal. We did not have an argument. We had a misunderstanding. I just didn’t understand some words that a man said. When we got out of the car, Roger said, “You are just choosing to see this in a sexist way, and it’s not my fault if you want to see it that way.”
Roger really does think I am just misunderstanding him. I’m sure that in his mind he was seduced, and he believes that fully. It is so deeply ingrained that he cannot see it. It’s not just his words or actions that are wrong: his thoughts are wrong. The way that he forms memories is broken. The way that he forms social bonds is broken. He oppresses probably because he feels oppressed. He maintains that the conflict is all in my mind because his perspective is so deeply in his mind that he cannot imagine a mind functioning any other way.
Throughout this whole issue, Roger has not once asked me to calmly clarify and explain why his words upset me so much. He has only gruffly told me that I don’t know what I’m talking about. “This is ridiculous. I don’t see why you’re making this an issue. It was just a misunderstanding. I’m your friend.” I’m your friend, he voiced in the same tone that abusers use to convince their victims they are not oppressors, but “friends.” It’s an insult to my humanity to assume that because we “are friends” my moral convictions are irrelevant, and an insult to imply that appealing to my loving, feminine emotions should calm me out of conflict. He refused to even take responsibility for the conflict by acting like things were okay between us. He has told me that he is not sexist, that he does not have a sexist fiber in his body, and he doesn’t understand why I am on a personal vendetta against him. Notice that Roger defends himself because he is most concerned about preserving his own identity/image/ego. “You don’t know anything about me,” he repeated fifteen times in a row. From my perspective, I am attacking Roger’s views. But to Roger, I am attacking him. It is a deeply personal assault on his identity. If there is one misunderstanding in this story, it is Roger’s misunderstanding that his views are not his choice. His views are ingrained, and so he believes that he sees things the way they are instead of the way he sees them. Since he does not acknowledge that his views are his choice, he cannot separate them from his identity, so he cannot bear to believe that he has done something wrong, because he would falsely believe that he is wrong.
This issue is further complicated by the fact that me and Roger were sharing a living space at the time. It was a temporary arrangement that was made to protect Roger from the discomfort of his previous living situation, which he got kicked out of because his relationship ended badly. (Are things starting to add up?)
The days after the incident in the car, Roger and I engaged in three separate heated discussions. The first happened when I calmly confronted him and said, “Roger, I need to confront you about our conversation on Friday. I need you to acknowledge that what you said was sexist, and apologize to me.” He immediately exploded into a defensive rampage about how I misunderstood him, and said he didn’t understand why I was making this an issue. Notice that even in his response to me, I play the active role in this conflict. I am the instigator, the creator, the antagonistic figure. The anger and passion flooded again to the front of my head. He said, “This was just a misunderstanding.” Every time I heard Roger say the word misunderstanding, I could feel my anger elevate a notch. Unable to coherently form words, I asked him again for an apology. He said, “You should apologize to me for misunderstanding me.”
I would have absolutely fucking lost it then if I hadn’t walked out the door. The next day, Roger sent me a bunch of text messages about how ridiculous I was being. Why was I ruining a friendship over a silly misunderstanding? I felt too unsafe to be around him, so I left my home to stay with friends. When I was getting some of my things the next day, we ran into each other, and he said, “I don’t know why you’re doing this. It’s all in your head. It’s just a misunderstanding. You’re creating this situation. You’re doing this to yourself. You are creating all of this stress.” I left again. Before I had felt like it was my choice to leave, and now I didn’t feel like I had any choices at all.
I felt so ashamed. Men calling women crazy is a classic abuse of power, and when it happened to me, I felt helpless. What Roger is doing here is also a classic tactic of emotional abusers called gaslighting. I didn’t even want to share what Roger said to me with my friends. His words questioned my validity to exist and think independently as a human being. Later that night I did share this conversation with three friends, who also know Roger. Two of them are male, and they both said with full confidence, “I don’t think Roger would ever say things like that to me, make me feel like I was crazy. He wouldn’t be able to get away with it.” Their immediate sureness is what has hurt me the most so far. Before that, I had been fooling myself that Roger’s sexism was limited to just the bad things that he said. At first, I wasn’t standing up for myself or for Nancy, but my own idea of what I believed was right. I didn’t want to believe that he would actually treat me differently because I was a girl. I believed that we were friends. I realized that I wasn’t just standing up against an attitude that hurt others, but an attitude that hurt me, whether I liked it or not. I felt powerless. I realized that no matter what I did, who I was friends with, how much of an individual person I proved myself to be, I was not immune to the deeply ingrained sexism present in our world. I did not have the power to stand up for myself without being called crazy. I did not have the power to question a man’s words without being told that there was an error in my understanding.
Now, I did not have the power to make this person leave my home. Roger refused to leave my apartment. I live in a studio apartment, so there are no walls. There is nowhere else to go, the whole space is one large room. After all this conflict, I think it goes without saying that me and Roger not sharing a living space would immediately be best for us both. I took off and stayed with friends for a few days, half-hoping that he would do the responsible thing and leave on his own terms. He didn’t.
The third, and final, shouting match that we had was the worst. I completely lost my head. I had written Roger a note that he needed to move out by Monday, two days before the end of the month. I had said that besides coming in and out to get some things, I would let him have the apartment to himself until then. I told him that if he organized his stuff neatly, he could leave it there, and just sleep somewhere else for two nights before getting his stuff on the first of the month. He flatly refused. At this point, he had been in the apartment by himself for two days, and was going to have it to himself for another four, if he stayed until Monday. But he absolutely refused. I said, “You don’t understand. This is not a conversation. This is my home. What I say goes.” But it didn’t matter. Roger just sat there like a child, telling me that he wasn’t going to go anywhere, he would not move himself or any one of his possessions until the first of the month.
This is when I absolutely lost it. I screamed and swore at him at the top of my lungs for minutes. Not only had he repeatedly treated me like a second-class citizen, but now he was stealing my home, taking away the power that I deserved to tell a person to leave my home. He had several other places to go. After I spent all of my energy yelling at Roger, I told him that he needed to leave now. I realized that I had been letting him oppress me the whole time; I should have kicked him out the first second that he dehumanized me, but I had been unable to make myself believe that I deserved better, that I deserved to be an equal. After the shouting match, Roger said, “Okay, I’ll leave on Monday.” I could not believe it. What Roger really needed was not convenience, but the last word. What I think he really can’t stand is me, a girl, having the final say.
Roger still refused to leave. He looked me in the eye and told me that he wasn’t going anywhere. My friend Don had to force him to leave. If Don hadn’t been there, Roger would still be in my home. There is nothing that I could have done to make this person leave my house. Absolutely nothing. Roger did not just hurt me as a friend, but he violated my right to feel safe in my own home. He did not treat me like a human being. And it was not just that Roger dehumanized Julie, but that he did it to me because of my sex. Roger used his male privilege to reduce me to having no rights. My humanity was degraded. The power that I lacked was not just a part of popular culture, which I can choose to avoid, but a part of my closest friendships, and now, a part of my home. I don’t think that any male could imagine not being able to get a male friend they were in a fight with to leave their home. I am sure that if I were a six-foot tall male, Roger would have consented to leave. Or, we would have fought, and the strongest man would have stayed. Roger did not physically harm me, but I believe that he did physically overpower me. If I had been there alone, he would not have left, and I would have not been able to make him leave.
“I am not going to leave your apartment and there’s nothing you can do about it because I can overpower you physically. I have no problem staying because in my mind, you have no right to feel upset or uncomfortable around me because it isn’t my fault that you misunderstood me, so I am doing nothing wrong. You are choosing to create this problem.” If you take away all the passive-aggressiveness, that is what Roger’s actions and words say to me. This is an example of how dangerous male privilege is when it goes unmonitored. It oppresses physically and mentally.
Standing inside my own home and being unable to control whether he moved out or not was…emptying. I was hollow, gone, powerless. I felt like I wasn’t myself. It was the first time in my life that I felt truly helpless. Suddenly I had less independence, space, and power than I did when I fought with my parents as a teenager, when at least I could go into my own room. My complete lack of control caved in on me. The fact that Roger’s words and actions can make me feel like this, and that his male privilege facilitates his ability to take power away from me…that is what I am speaking out against.
This stuff is not easy to deal with, and it should make your stomach hurt. A person’s humanity being called into question should make your stomach feel like shit. You should feel completely empty. If you don’t feel bad thinking about this situation, then there is something wrong with you. I later learned that Roger had confided in our mutual friend Ben that he could see why I might be upset at his words. But to my face, Roger has never let on that he believes I have done anything other than fail to understand him. That stings deeply. It shows to me that what Roger really can’t stand is being wrong in front of a girl. I’m sure Roger doesn’t see his behavior as contradictory, probably because he believes his conversation with Ben is protected by the elusive “bro-code” that I am so sick of I want to scream.
I think that the majority of men take part in this bro-code, whether by “force” or by choice. I told Don that I was sure Roger’s words would have been more vulgar that day if I had not been in the car, and Don readily agreed. How quickly Don agreed with me made me sick, because it made me realize how deep inequality really goes. There is a line into the bro-world that women cannot cross; this is a part of the oppression which we have absolutely no power to change. Don, who was in the car with us, had remained mostly silent throughout the ride. His goal had been mostly to temper us, to keep me and Roger from tearing each other’s heads off, and for the most part, to stay out of it. This person is one of my best friends, and I love and respect him, but I do not condone his silence. Don has confided in me that he agrees with what I’ve said, but he is afraid to fully share that with Roger, because he knows that he will be ridiculed, he knows that his masculinity will be called into question, and that is what violating the bro-code threatens. I believe that preserving this bro-code through silence only preserves oppression; I believe that Don’s silence condones Roger’s will to oppress, and therefore makes it stronger. The fear that men feel to preserve this code is a product of ingrained sexism, and the fear and the sexism have a cyclical, parasitic relationship with each other. The bro-code is not brotherhood or manliness or masculinity. It promotes oppression and inequality, and dehumanizes men and women in the process. When I asked Don if he was able to get Roger to understand anything that I said, Don told me that he just told Roger to “not talk about stuff like that in front of Julie.” The fact that Roger has to be told to censor himself in my presence because of my sex is a product of ingrained sexism. The fact that he does not object to it, that he does not find it strange is a product of sexism. The fact that the communication between Roger and Don is limited to Don telling Roger to shut up is a product of the elusive, fucked up bro-code.
The bro-code needs to be broken, and it’s the bros who need to break it. Women will never achieve equality if men continue to think that what “they” say when “we’re” not around doesn’t matter. Under the bro-code, men can’t openly communicate with each other about things like women’s rights or masculinity. The threat of violating the bro-code is being dehumanized, being unbro’d by your fellow bros! Don is a male, and therefore not used to being dehumanized, so speaking out against the code is harder for him than it is for me. It is true that members of the male sex can be dehumanized for things like race and religion, but at least in these cases, they are understood to dislike their oppressor. Women, however, are expected to embrace their oppressor. When men dehumanize because of gender, they often respect love in return, and are shocked and outraged when they don’t get it. And when men are dehumanized because of the bro-code, they understand that the consequence of speaking out is being dehumanized again. So what does this bro-code really do? It isn’t an intimate way that men can connect with each other, it’s a language of fear that shuts down honest communication between every individual man and all other people.
After I split up with Roger and Don that day, they went out for dinner in town. There had been an incident. Some girls who recognize Don from the bus, or from town, were harassing him in a local restaurant. He said that they were pointing at him, giggling, and doing little to hide that they were talking about him. They followed him and he asked them to leave him alone. They didn’t. Don and Roger arrived at my apartment still in a frenzy from this scene. Don was distraught, and it made perfect sense why. He had just been sexually harassed. He felt objectified, alienated, and dehumanized. When a man feels objectified, he is shocked. A woman is taught that she should expect to be objectified at any time.
What was really jarring was Roger’s reaction. When I comforted Don, Roger said, “Those girls were just nervous. You should look on the bright side. You’re attractive! This doesn’t happen to me because I’m not as attractive as you are. You should be happy that girls want you.” Now, I’m not sure why I didn’t call Roger out on all this then. I was in too much shock. The girls were nervous, he said. “I know what it’s like to have a crush on someone.” These girls had never met Don before; they didn’t even know his name. They did not have a “crush” on him. Don told me that at the restaurant, Roger encouraged him to go talk to the girls, and intimated through his language and speech that if he, Don, were tougher, braver, more of a man, he would want to sleep with them. The standard that men should aggressively seek out and welcome all sex is a product of ingrained sexism. The belief that uninitiated sexual attention is a function of coolness, or any other positive value, is a product of ingrained sexism. I am sure that if I had been harassed in the same way, Roger would have protected me, I can’t imagine him saying, “You go girl, you go fuck their brains out.” One of my friends shared her opinion on Roger’s narrative after hearing about this incident: “You know what? This is all making sense now: I think he thought that as a man, he shouldn’t have rejected the offer of sex, and when he regretted it, he blamed her for offering.”
What I will take from this experience is the growth that it facilitated. Feeling dehumanized has helped me fall in love with my humanity more deeply than ever before. Noticing how wrong it feels to not be considered human assures me that I am undoubtedly just a person. Now, for the first time ever, I am so happy that I will never be one of the guys. I will not be silenced by the looming bro-code. Fighting inequality is not just about changing the law. It’s about the way that individuals treat each other. Being friends with someone from an oppressed group does not mean you are not an oppressor of that group. In fact, if you are a member of a group that oppresses, and you haven’t taken the time to deconstruct and dismantle your privilege, chances are you are an oppressor. Chances are you have been unknowingly oppressed into becoming an oppressor.
Feminism is not just a cause that seeks to give equality to women, but to men, too. Inequality is preserved in individuals, in friendships, in families. There is no way to change this without open, honest discussion, and deep, painful probing. People who are dehumanized need to share their stories because it needs to stop feeling normal. It needs to stop being expected. I’ve heard so many men say things like, “I’m not like that. I didn’t create this problem.” No, you didn’t. You’re not responsible for the inequality. But you are responsible for acknowledging that you were born with a power that naturally preserves and strengthens this inequality. You are responsible for understanding your male privilege and disabling its power and will to oppress. If you’re in the presence of someone who is like that, you are responsible for making it absolutely clear to that person that it’s not okay with you. If you don’t, you are just a tyrant who stays silent.
Unfortunately, my friend Roger does not see that this issue is about equality. He sees it as personal. I do not doubt that he will go on to tell the story of how some crazy women kicked him out of his last two apartments. Roger really does believe that I just blew up over a misunderstanding, and I don’t think our conflict makes sense to him. A lot of men have brought this point up, supposedly to explain, but not excuse, his behavior. But how is that not an excuse? Roger’s views are dangerous. His thoughts, words, and actions are dangerous. Feeling dehumanized is unique, rare, and unmistakable. No one should feel dehumanized, ever. The bottom line is that it isn’t okay for him to not know or understand. The power to inflict this much suffering and pain on other people without any awareness of it needs to be debilitated.
One of the hardest things about coming to terms with a dehumanizing experience is sharing it with other people. Having to pause and carefully make space for everyone to say, “But Roger is a nice guy,” every few minutes. Or, “In his defense, I don’t think he understands.” Some say, “Not to defend him, but I don’t think he understands,” but it means the same thing. Some get to the point, “I thought Roger was a nice guy.” The fact is that I shouldn’t have to point out to anyone that this is not about whether or not Roger remains or ever was a “nice guy.” There should be no need to defend Roger; I am speaking out as a victim of abuse and discrimination, not launching an attack that needs to be countered. I am not the person who is responsible for stripping Roger of his “nice guy” flag, but for some reason that’s the issue people take most notice with. Why is that? Because nice guys like Roger are everywhere, and if we tuned into that, our realities would change. Realizing that something in your reality is wrong is pure, unadulterated human pain. That’s why victim-blaming exists and is easy. It’s much more convenient for our precious and fragile egos to blame the victim for stirring up a problem that might not have happened if x or y or z and we could have stayed in this easier world where a nice guy gets to keep on being a nice guy and we get to feel safe, lucky, and comfortable for being around his kind. The idea of the Nice Guy is just a band-aid we’ve slapped on a bullet wound, and it doesn’t make anyone’s experience easier; Roger certainly doesn’t benefit from people defending his nice-guy-ness. He benefits from the truth, just like we all do. Anyone who respects equality would have spoken up to Roger in the car that day. That Don wasn’t as riled up as I was is just due to fear and deeply ingrained social conditioning.
If anything, I hope to encourage anyone who reads this to open up a conversation. If you’re not comfortable doing that with someone else, I hope you can do it with yourself first. And vice-versa. If we can’t be honest and openly talk about gender, about men and women, about the realities of inequality, our progress will always be stalled. If the fight for equality is something you get bothered about in some abstract, distant kind of way, but you’re never really riled up when it happens in real life, then something about you is broken. But you are not broken. All of us grow up believing fucked up, uninformed things about the world. We live in an unequal world, so none of us has a realistic model of equality to base our expectations of equality on in the first place. My idea of equal is probably not close to equal. In my equal world, I am probably a little better off than you are (it actually involves me living at the beach). But we each have the responsibility of doing the constant work of trying: unraveling our beliefs, and cleansing ourselves of the ones that cause harm. If you think you can’t make a difference, you are simply delusional. You have so much power, and to stay silent—in your thoughts and in your words—is to preserve an oppression that threatens the safety not just of women, but of men, too.