Friday, July 25, 2014

Men and Their Very Important Opinions

One thing I've observed in my time as a big ol' scary unreasonable feminist is that a lot of men have a difficult time letting go of the idea that their opinions are not always welcome or valuable. That sometimes, they really just need to shut up for awhile. That even if they have opinions, they need not share them.

Shut Up

Sharing this apparently radical idea with men is tantamount to telling a Republican that the government is going to tax their freedom of speech, or something. I've had the most informed, reasonable, sympathetic men who have professed their desire to be male allies be reduced to misogynistic assholes who sound more like MRAs than allies at the simple suggestion that their opinion should be kept to themselves.

What's funny is that these are the exact same liberal men who will recite a dissertation on why people without science degrees shouldn't be allowed on the US National Board of Science because their uniformed, uneducated opinions shouldn't be listened to. They're straight up sign petitions to get them kicked off.

Parks & Rec Mansplaining
Because when it's in their interest, it's perfectly reasonable to say that the opinions of those who don't have experience in an issue are less valuable - or not valuable at all. When in comes to creationism, not all sides of the issue need to be addressed.

But the second that you say that because he's a man, he can't really understand a feminist issue and should therefore refrain from adding his voice when women are discussing it, it's a violation of his most basic rights and you're comparable to someone who spearheaded genocide.

This, of course, all comes from socialization. Little girls are interrupted more than little boys. In the classroom, boys get more attention and are called on more. Boys who voice their opinion are considered assertive or just "normal," while girls who do the same are considered opinionated or bossy or annoying, etc. All of this sends the message that a man's opinion is more important than a woman's, no matter what the subject.

When you pay attention to mixed-gender group discussions, no matter what the setting, it becomes very apparent. Men have no problem interrupting each other (and women) to assert their opinions or tell their stories. They do it so naturally. Women, however, often will always wait until someone is finished speaking. I myself have almost a complete inability to interrupt people. It made working at a call center rather difficult at times. I'll want to, but there's a massive mental block, as though I feel it's just essentially wrong to interrupt someone. I feel like I should do a poll of men and women to see how many of each gender experiences the same issue. I'm betting that few men do.

Unfortunately, this dynamic does widespread damage to women. It contributes a lot to the glass ceiling and pay gap. It's even a part of rape culture. Why do you think people have such a hard time believing victims?

If you're a man, and you're feeling defensive and attacked right now, I'm not sorry. I will say that one of the best types of ally work you can do is to fight the urge to give your opinion all the time. Make room for women to speak in all areas of your life, especially in professional settings. Practice keeping quiet and don't interrupt women. Listening skills are actually fantastic! Even better, try encouraging women to share their opinions and shushing other men who interrupt. Support women's opinions against those who dismiss them. Seriously, this is some of the best everyday ally work you can do.

But you'll never be able to if you don't first let go of the idea that your opinion is always important. You can't be an expert on everything. You probably shouldn't be on the National Board of Science either, right?

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