I haven’t been as good an example of communication lately as I would like to be. I’ve been having to blog on the fly this week. My mom seems to have had a stroke and I am needing to go back and forth to a hospital in Dallas. Some of my responses via cell phone may have seemed curt. I do not mean to be.
The problem is I get very frustrated when the subject of sexism comes up and it sounds like a roomful of men question the importance of using non-sexist language by citing examples of when someone did it inappropriately. I try to hide the fact that it pushes my buttons, but it might be more authentic to just make a confession.
I am coming from a long history of just such conversations, where roomfuls of men presented logical reasons why they should be counted as friends of the women’s movement, but not have to surrender their male privilege in the process. The radical feminists in Washington DC who helped bring me to consciousness called us SWM,” “sensitive white men” (translation “Guys who want to work on the women’s cause while remaining clueless about the dynamics of their own white male privilege.”
It isn’t fair to project that frustration from another place and time on the men of this blog, and I am trying not to. At the same time, I cannot really think of a good reason on God’s green earth why men would want to protect sexist language from analysis and criticism other than to protect their own privilege. I realize it would sometime be wiser to let the topic drop, but there is something within me that cannot be silent when it seems someone is being mistreated even if it is done so by a dear friend.
Understand I come from Dallas. When MLK was shot, there was applause in my classroom. The people who l loved most, and who loved me, taught me a world that was sexist and racist. I don’t believe most prejudice comes from evil people, but from wonderful people, like us, who have viewpoints that are problematic for someone we aren’t taking into consideration.
All forms of prejudice seem like cancer to me, and purging them all from my speech seems the only way to get them out of my mind and heart. I understand that there may be greater souls who can come in and out of the language of prejudice with their souls intact, but I am not one of them. I am raging against my own prejudice, not assuming I understand someone else’s.
My entry into feminism originally came from working with sexual assault survivors. My trainers were themselves feminists who patiently worked through my resistance to the reality that there was a connection between such abuse and my own male privilege. Like every man in the class I felt attacked when I was held to account, but that superficial pain was the beginning of a healing.
Know that when the topic of sexism comes up, my heart returns to that pain. I picture the end product of sexism to be beaten women and little girls alienated from their own center. Again I realize it is not fair to project that agony on men who have no such motive, but even if I do not say so, those are the storms that rage in my heart when the subject of inclusive language comes up.
I understand no one here wants anything but the best for women, but because of my past, when the subject of sexism comes up, my mind goes to the endgame of sexism which is women who are unable to leave abusive relationships because they lack a vocabulary for their own power, and men who choose violence because they lack the vocabulary for recognizing their own fears and hurts. It is very difficult to think about a truth for which we have no words.
Again, I realize to project my agony on the men of this blog is unfair, so I apologize for any insensitivity on my part. But please realize if you post on this page I will have to respond because my understanding of justice demands it. I am not just responding the men who make a given comment but also to those men who will hear those words as a justification not to self-examine, and to the women who will hear my silence as evidence that this blog site is just another place to be disrespected.
Thank you, Jim. As a woman, I have heard these defenses as well. And, in all honesty, I am probably as guilty in my unconscious racism as well meaning men are in their sexism. But I truly believe that you cannot work to remove your own complicity until you recognize it — and mostly, it needs to be pointed out first. Thanks for your “confession”, your work in this area, and please continue! I guess if it is “burning in your bones” you will have too — applause from this woman!
Holly, you say it very well, we can’t even test ourselves for prejudice if we have no form of measurement. I appreciate your words. Like others are pointing out, escaping patriarchy and racism are lifelong enterprises and we have to help each other see what is unconscious in each of us. Thanks.
Jim try not to be too hard on yourself.You are going through trying times with your Mom.You have done more for women and others that are not also included in society than most of us even begin to think of.I am not a member of your church-as you are aware of-but have heard you speak out for “us women” @ Planned Parenthood events-and at meetings at our church.Yes ridding ourselves of some of these demons is a lifelong process–and we must continue to be kind to ourselves and others in the process.It is so very hard-being kind is not being quiet.Thank you and be careful on your Dallas travels!
Kathleen, that’s good advise for all of us. Thanks.