I’ve always had a contentious relationship with men.
I’ve dated some of them, and been kind of friends with some of them too, but it was never the simple sort of companionship I could appreciate with members of my own sex. I’ve spent the bulk of my grown years being secretly angry with men. This anger always felt reactionary, but only recently did I try to figure out what exactly I was reacting to. Somewhere, I picked up this subtext that men didn’t respect us ladies or want us to have the freedoms we did, and that we had to fight tooth and nail to keep them (the rights, not the men, although judging by popular culture you would think women have to fight tooth and nail to “keep” men, too huh?).
Beginning at a relatively young age, I felt antagonism towards the male sex. First, I was angry with them for breaking the hearts of the protagonists in my favorite books, then movies. Then, they were being jerks to my girlfriends, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to let them be jerks to me. So instead, I was a jerk to them, pre-emptively. It worked!
I’m going to take a deep breath, and share this anyway. Just know that I’m ashamed, ok?
I’ve always been the cheater, the breaker-upper, the “let’s keep this casual-er.” Again, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll add that this approach wasn’t all bad. I’ve got a small collection of exes who are fantastic people. I’m just not sure they’d say the same about me.
Here I was, thinking I was so darn progressive, and fair-minded. I’m not racist, or homophobic, or any of that stuff, and I sure as shit can’t be sexist, since I’m a woman. Duh.
Turns out women can be sexist too. Just like the bigots who buy into stereotypes about jews, blacks, gays, you name it, I fell into that same trap of ignorance. I reduced all men to some kind of one-dimensional caricature – uncaring, stoic, exploitative, and rolled with it.
The irony is that after almost 25 years I’m realizing the complete hypocrisy of my actions. In trying to protect my own little heart, I went around hurting others before they’d get a chance to hurt me. Anyone who has known me for a while would read this and probably struggle to hold back a knowing smile (which is exactly why I am not sharing this with them. Self-preservation still very much intact, thank you).
The point that is finally hitting home is that you always fear what you don’t know. The reason for my antagonism is that I’m only just starting to truly get to know the male sex; to give them enough of a chance that we can get to know each other.
Where some people are afraid of whites, or gays, or muslims, I was (am?) afraid of men. And when you’re afraid of someone, you avoid getting to know them, and if you don’t know them, then they aren’t truly human in your eyes. For too long I felt that a boy wouldn’t really care if I didn’t return his phone call, or just stopped speaking to him, or broke up with him with no explanation. Those behaviors are the very same ones girls are crying over in the movies, so I figured if guys did those hurtful things to girls, they wouldn’t really mind having those same things done unto them. Along with my other pre-conceived notions, I believed men to be thick-skinned, and not truly capable of emotional investment, loyalty, what have you.
As it turns out, that’s not the case at all. I recently returned from a backpacking trip during which I was forced into close quarters and eventually, close friendships with members of the opposite sex. My best distancing efforts were in vain as I woke up every morning nose to nose with these guys. And through it, I learned what they were passionate about, what caused them to be hurt, angry, upset, and happy. As it turned out, we had far more in common than I thought.
So, for all of you sexists out there like me – I’m going to fill you in on a few things I learned:
Did you know that men have feelings? No, I’m not talking about the nerve endings in their boy parts. I mean, like, emotions.
I’ll break this down a little more:
Sometimes, men get hurt. Because they had a bad day, or someone was unkind or unfair to them. Shocking! I know! There’s often, of course, a breakdown in communication on both sides as to how we show or mask our pain, but the pain still exists. And pain is something that, universally, people feel to the same depths.
What else do men and women have in common, you ask? Well, as it turns out, men want to be loved. They like to be comforted, and listened to, and hugged, and told that they are loved. It makes so much sense! Here I thought this was a girl thing, and it’s actually just a human thing.
We’ve come a long way as far as equality goes. Of course, we’ve still got a ways to go with equality of all kinds (can you sense my own fear of fellow feminists with that disclaimer?), but I’ve discovered that when I stopped looking only for signs of chauvinism, I found signs of equality. I can’t tell you how many guy friends of mine were cheering their hearts out for the U.S. Women’s Soccer team a few weeks ago. Or the many guy friends of mine who have confided in me after having those same hearts trampled on by women, in just as devastating a manner as my girlfriends have.
I don’t believe that the antidote to oppressing women is putting men down (although Sharon Osbourne certainly gave that method a try) . Fear and dislike breeds antagonism and just deepens the divide. Just like with all prejudice, breaking down barriers takes place on a personal, individual level. And that, my friends is how I am overcoming my sexism.
Since my time spent backpacking, I’ve actually started to befriend other boys. I apply the lessons learned from my backpacking buddies to my new friendships and relationships. I’m trying to treat all of the men in my life in the way that I would want other women to treat my guy friends. And I’m trying to focus on the positive, and not to take out immature notions of “feminism” on unsuspecting men who don’t deserve it.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the past. I’ve hurt people to keep from being hurt. But – and I’d be lying if I said yoga didn’t play a significant part in this – I’m starting to learn how to protect myself without harming others.
I guess that’s the lesson here, especially for anyone reading this in an attempt to better understand the opposite sex – for the sake of friendship, dating, whatever. Kindness and strength aren’t mutually exclusive, and you can protect yourself – your heart, body, or whichever part of you is most easily hurt, while still showing kindness and compassion to others.
Oh, and that title image? I just figured it’s one we more easily associate with sexism, but that’s sexist too, right?