“Whether it’s a men’s razor advertisement, a sexist comment on talk back radio, the latest episode of Q&A, an article about the scourge of domestic violence in Australia, or a new #metoo allegation, hackles seem to rise instantly, teeth are bared and fingers are flexed over keyboards” –
It’s a Monday morning. I’m sitting at my favourite cafe waiting for my soy flat white and scrolling through my Facebook feed. My eyes stop on a featured article by a well known feminist column writer. I open the link and devour her take on the latest #metoo allegation, appreciating her ability to put into very frank words some of my feelings on the subject and mentally doing a little “huzzah!” for solidarity. Then I take a look at the comments section…yikes.
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. This rhyme has been used as a shield by many of us to minimise the harmful effects of bullying and cruel behaviour but it seems more apparent than ever that words can do quite a lot of damage. Written, tweeted, commented, brailled or shouted, words can be incredibly powerful in their ability to injure us, and there is a particular conversation going on right now where the way people speak to each other seems to be getting more volatile and unkind by the day. That conversation is about gender inequality.
Whether it’s a men’s razor advertisement, a sexist comment on talk back radio, the latest episode of Q&A, an article about the scourge of domestic violence in Australia, or a new #metoo allegation, hackles seem to rise instantly, teeth are bared and fingers are flexed over keyboards. Comments, tweets, opinion pieces and TV spots spill out into the collective consciousness. Men are told to take responsibility for their actions, to step up and get involved in the conversation around gender inequality and violence against women and to pick a side.
Women are told #notallmen, not to ruin a young man’s life over ‘20 minutes of action’ and haven’t you heard about men’s suicide rates? And that’s not even the extreme stuff. Twitter might explode with a viral group shaming and a writer might be sitting in their home feeling sick in their stomach as threat upon violent threat fills their email inbox. It’s loud, it’s angry and it’s all very defensive. I can imagine that for many people there isn’t enough time in the day to look past the headlines and soundbites to see the nuance, depth and humanity behind the stories that trigger such a strong collective response. People go about their days feeling shitty, discouraged and angry.
Behind the headlines
Wading into this subject is scary for me. Even though I’ve spent the last 3 or so years deep diving into the subject of gender inequality I am a classic self-doubter. I usually like to wait at least 5 years until I have a well formed opinion about something before verbalising it let alone committing it to paper. It’s only occurred to me recently that writing is actually a process I can use to try and understand something… that I don’t have to have all the answers in order to have a voice. Shocking I know. Any way, I guess I just wanted to put out a classic disclaimer that I don’t have any answers, I’m feeling confused and this piece (and maybe the next few pieces, because this subject isn’t just a one blog pony) won’t be solving any problems. I’m still learning, and I’d like you to hold my hand so we can go together please. Thank you.
From where I am standing (and to be clear, I’m just one person standing in one spot, I don’t have all the perspectives) it seems that gender inequality isn’t actually the sticking point in the discussions we’re having. If we’re just looking at Australia (where most of the Conscious Living Project community live), I think for 99% of the population, gender equality is a concept we’re all pretty happy with, based on our own understandings of what that actually means. Where the disconnection lies seems to be around who is responsible for ‘fixing’ inequality and who has it ‘toughest’ – right now and historically. How’s that for oversimplifying a really complex issue! Lolz.
What I hear from men (through these discussions that happen in the public forum) is that they feel confused about their role in society, overwhelmed and fatigued by pressure to be stoic and strong all the time, raw, attacked and confused about the change that is being called for. What I hear from women is that they are gut-wrenchingly angry about the violence that is perpetrated against them in public and at home, they’re exhausted to the bottom of their souls carrying the emotional labour of the men in their lives, and they’re confused that when they suggest that maybe men could meet them halfway on this road to equality, they’re met with derision and defensiveness. Both sides are angry, and see the solution in the surrender, sacrifice and evolution of the other. It feels like an impasse – so we go around each other, over and under and off in different directions, seeking solutions on diverging paths. It really feels as if we’re on two tracks that are quickly going in opposite directions, when I think we need to be coming together.
Anger is not the enemy – but we do need to deal with it
I do worry about how angry everyone is (and how angry I am) but I also think that anger is important. It’s a signal something is wrong and it’s a release valve that’s built in for very good reason. If you knock someone in a place where they’re already hurt, they’ll howl. Even if you didn’t mean to hurt them. Even if they know you didn’t mean to hurt them. It’s self-protection and we all do it. Some of us are protecting ourselves because we’ve been hurting for so long, our bucket is so empty we have nothing left but coarse rust and rage. Some of us are protecting ourselves from truths and perspectives that frighten us to our core and we’re not ready to evolve yet and we hate being told we have to be. Anger is not the enemy here. But what happens after anger? What comes next? Are we there yet? Is this just an uncomfortable phase we need to go through to get to the other side, or is the way we are tackling this issue actively keeping us from stepping into the love and potential we all deserve, and doing that in the spirit of healing, respect and compassion?
I know intuitively, even through all the yelling, that healing is what people want. We all want to feel heard, loved and understood for who we are. It doesn’t help at all that we’re living in a time of disconnection. People are feeling vulnerable in a rapidly changing world. A culture of distrust and fear of change is being cultivated by politicians and the media. Once taken-for-granted democratic rights and responsibilities are suddenly being questioned and threatened. It’s really unsettling and we’re all just trying to live our lives, not fuck up the planet and be good people. It’s demoralising and scary to think of all there is still to do and all the hurt there is to heal. I don’t know about you but I feel exhausted already. But we have to start somewhere.
Here’s the good news. That somewhere doesn’t have to be a revolution, a speech at the UN, or a catastrophe that shakes us out of our inaction. It could be a softly spoken word, or listening to understand instead of respond. It could be an apology full of grace or a decision to stay silent and let someone else finish their sentence. It could be doing your own research, finding the humanity and reality behind the stories you read. It could be about reaching out to ‘the other side’ (can’t wait to stop using the word ‘other’ btw!) and challenging yourself to hear another point of view. It’s about taking these small steps together (or at least towards each other!) with compassion for each other and ourselves.I was so proud and so happy when Nikkola first showed me her incredible interview with friend of Conscious Living Project Michael McPherson, founder of Humanity Media. Michael and Nikkola took the courageous step together of having a conversation about masculinity and the state of the rhetoric around gender inequality today. The conversation is full of compassion, acknowledgement and in it Micheal presents some really positive ideas around what is possible for the relationship between the masculine and feminine. Nikkola, as always, graces us with her vulnerability and asks Michael some really tough questions, and in what seems so rare to see in this day and age, Michael accepts her questions, listens to them and acknowledges her experiences with such kindness and compassion that you can’t help but feel like this is the way we should be speaking to each other all the time and that this might be how we can start to come back together.
The interview for me was a sign of things to come. Even though I still have angry days, confused days and exhausted days, I have hope. I remind myself that despite what I’m being told by my Monday morning Facebook feed, most people are just like me, scratching their heads and trying to figure out how to make the world a kinder place. I remind myself there is power in the small steps and in us all as individuals to have a ripple effect in our own lives, when we open our hearts and minds. I remind myself that after the angry howl, someone apologises and then puts the kettle on while the other person goes and gets a bandaid. Yep, there’s definitely something beyond anger and I can’t wait to get there.
You can watch Nikkola and Michael’s full interview on YouTube.