How Men Silence Women: A Letter to the Men in my Life

By Ariana Javidi, Age 19

Dear Men,

I have loved you my whole life – two of you are my father and a brother, a lot of you I consider to be close friends, and some of you I’ve even dated. But throughout my life, I’ve noticed a consistent pattern of problematic interactions with you, and certain behaviors that reinforce institutional patriarchy and misogyny by (however inadvertently) suppressing the voices of me and countless other women. Regardless of whether you personally identify as a feminist, an ally, or activist for women’s rights, you may be unintentionally contributing to the disempowerment and systemic marginalization of women through the character of your discourse. Specifically, I’m talking about the subtle micro-trends and little ways you condescend to us I’ve frequently observed in everyday conversations with you. Bear in mind that I do love you, and I think that you’re amazing beings – know that this is not a personal attack on you, but reflects the power of the rampant and entrenched sexism that defines our society.

* * *

We all know that there’s a certain entitlement that comes along with being a man. I can’t tell you in how many conversations, you have explained to me (in a kindly and paternalistic tone) I’m wrong in a matter of my area of expertise, or have undermined the worth of my knowledge and experiences on the premise that you must know more than me. A common manifestation of male entitlement called “mansplaining” has gained notoriety in feminist media recently, most horribly and famously exemplified when actor Matt Damon interrupted successful black female filmmaker Effie Brown to describe to her the essence of diversity (link here http://jezebel.com/matt-damon-interrupts-successful-black-woman-filmmaker-1730553152) or the absolutely outrageous response to the viral catcall street harassment video by Steve Santagani on CNN after it (link here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HI4DC18wCg).

But there are many even subtler methods in the ways you talk to women that repress and invalidate our thoughts, opinions, and emotions. As one of my close female friends said to me in frustration the other day, “Men just don’t know how to listen.” Not only in the workplace, where you consistently talk over us, or take credit for our ideas, but in personal conversations with my closest male friends and family members. When I try to bring up something that’s bothering me, or something that I really care about, I don’t get the unconditional love and support I’m looking for. Instead, I’m interrupted by unsolicited, tone-deaf advice commanding me to fix the problem, or condescendingly talked down to with derisive language mocking my emotions – despite the fact that emotions are what make us human, and comprise our greatest strengths and assets as individual beings. If I try to talk about how I actually feel about something to (the vast majority of) you, your discomfort becomes obvious, you mutter something about how this seems like “girly stuff” and talking to a female friend about it might be more appropriate, or comment “Are you sure you’re not overreacting about this?” or “It doesn’t seem that big of a deal to me” or my favorite and most common response, “Are you on your period?” No matter what I do, I’ll always personify the crazy, overemotional, hormonal bitch stereotype to you.

ariana

In preparation for writing this blog, I spoke to several girl friends about their interactions with the men in their lives. One story noticeably stood out, told by a married working mother of two. She told me that at a party with her husband, another couple asked her about her work, and in her explanation she discussed at great length a specific project she had been working on for several months. Sometime during the conversation, her husband abruptly broke in to explain the project in greater detail, feeling that his understanding of the topic was in some way superior to his wife’s decade-plus experience in her field. Hearing this recollection was disturbing in the least; not only did this man feel entitled to speak for his wife, but he also felt that, as a man in finance, he knew more about the legislation that his wife had worked on for the past year than she, a legislative professional, did.

Similarly, another interesting (disturbing?) incident I documented was between one of my female friends and her male friend. This girl was trying to talk about some of her mental health issues, including her general lack of confidence as well as the feeling of powerlessness she has in interactions with men. The guy asked if she thought these problems were related at all to her gender, to which the girl patiently explained that low self-esteem in girls oftentimes originates from the impossible beauty standards disseminated and reinforced by the media as well as other institutions, and that naturally her sense of helplessness in interactions with men would derive at least in part from historical, systemic power imbalances between men and women. To this, the man suggested that her feelings of insecurity around men must just be completely natural anxiety solely due to her heterosexual arousal and desire for men – and that by that logic, her insecurities only arise around men, but not women.

Thanks to century-old institutions devoted to the propagation and perpetuation of patriarchal and capitalist ideology, simply by being born male, you are endowed with a measure of power and privilege in our society. Thus, when your ubiquitous sense of privilege and entitlement defines social interactions among men and women, our voices frequently become erased from the picture entirely as we’re talked over, ignored, mocked, belittled, and characterized by derisive and toxic stereotypes. For a man to claim that our sense of marginalization and oppression is rooted in heterosexual desire is not only harmful but blatantly offensive, and trivializes the centuries of injustice and persecution we have faced at your hands. We know that you love us, but we implore you to listen to us, to respect us, and to treat us as equals and fellow human beings, or else our voices remain suppressed and invisible.

Young Women Rising encourages Connecticut women ages 18-35 to raise their voices about issues they care about. Each writer speaks for herself as an individual and Young Women Rising as a whole does not intend to endorse the views of any particular writer. If you’re interested in submitting a guest piece please contact us at Michelle.Noehren@cga.ct.gov.

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