There is still hope
And what I realized from some random office talk
Earlier today I was having lunch at work, having one of those middle-of-the-day senseless office chats. You could hear people talking, discussing, celebrating also, and we were probably talking about something as vain as whether we licked apples or strawberries the most.
One thing led to the other and the conversation shifted rapidly into double-date. Not just any aspect of double-dating, but actually the difference in roles each gender takes — or rather, is socially forced to take — when it comes to helping out and cleaning up.
The people I work with — mostly men— are not particularly feminists (or feminist-allies), most of the them actually exibit sexist behaviors more often than not; so it kind of took me by surprise to hear a bunch of them not only talking about these topics, but also acknowledging the fact that in most cases, when there are, say, two straight couples at dinner, it’s usually women who end up washing the dishes and cleaning up after they eat; while their male partners simply sit and talk, or sometimes even just head outside for a smoke without any intentios to help.
Those people, who I knew to only let out jokes about those ‘trendy feminists’ or ‘brain-washed revolutionary teenagers’, or comment on how sexy someone looked in a picture; they were now in fact analyzing the distinction in expectations and roles when it comes to cooking and doing chores.
It’s not fair. Why should women do all the cooking? This should be team work.
That is probably the quote I rememer the most, together with:
Women should stop doing it all by themselves and ask — or rather make — men help out.
You might have caught a little detail there that I noticed myself at the time. Until that point I was just staring silent at the conversation, as it was flowing on its own towards interesting and very feminist ideas. However, this idea of women having to ask men to help them out sounded a bit off-track to me.
Women shouldn’t have to ask men to help. Men should help out on their own. This might sound a bit silly and overreactive, but it’s inded important. By saying this we are implying that men don’t really have to remember or change, they don’t neet to act upon their sexist attitues; but instead should be compliant to women’s requests. But also, and probably most importantly, we are — once again — telling women what to do and putting the blaim on them.
You have to ask men to help you out
This also implies that men have to help out and that if they don’t, it is because a woman didn’t ask them to. So it’s women who do the cooking, who do the washing, and who do the reminding; and men are just there to help. Are you seeing this? Now, even through speech, we are still implying that these roles are actually intended for women.
I don’t know if they subconsciously think this way, if it’s just the way they learnt to express themselves, or if they just couldn’t express themselves correctly. Whatever the exact case is, it was astonishing for me to find myself in the middle of an agreement about this not being just some 'feminist nonsesnse', but actually a pressing social issue.
Of course, at first this was just some silly lunch talk that didn’t really mean that much to me. However, it kept bouncing around my head for a while until some clear idea of all this formed and I could make something meaningfull of it.
I (unfortunately) have a really pessimistic preconception of men. Despite being one myself, it is uncommon for me to ever meet guys who aren’t sexist, misogynistic, homophobes or that in some way discriminate other non-canonnical minorities. I whish I had the chance to meet more men that arent’t like that, but I usually don’t.
I have to add, though, that starting to realize and change all this is a difficult and never-ending process that we — all men — have to go through. Going into the not-all-men argument would be both totally hypocritical and wrong. We were born with a privilege we won’t ever be able to eradicate. Our mere existence is oppressive to women and it’s something we not only have to accept, but actually act upon. That’s why I try to talk to men about this and share my views — which are not mine, but actually inherited, borrowed and learnt from all the great feminist minds out there — , and encourage them to deconstruct (which is the term used in my country to describe the process of realizing and accepting your privileges, and analyzing and changing your sexist attitudes).
This office chat certainly didn’t change the way I see my coworkers or my preconception of most men, but it did allow me to see that, deep down, some people might be able to change. Last week I was hearing sexist comments that were driving me crazy, and now some of them seem to be a bit more open-minded than I thought.
Office chat will continue being useless and vain; men are still going to have sexist attitudes; and there is no short-term way to change that. But today I learnt, and I hope you did too, that we can still have some hope that at least a few men can think differently. I don’t know if my workmates will clean up and do the washing the next time they have a double-date, but I am a bit more hopeful than I was in the morning.
Friendly reminder to all men
When it comes to sexism, male-privilege, opression, feminism, or any related topic; it’s always women who know a lot more than you do. They suffer that sexism, they are the protagonist of that fight. Always listen to them first and wait until you are given a spot if there is something you want to say. Last, always remember that you play a secondary role in this movement, and that you should not lead it, but merely support and back it.