You are not who you want to be

I read a lot of articles on feminism, racism and progressive ideals in general, and the most recent one (I recommend you read it, it inspired me to write this post) talks about men who identify as feminist; and on the outside it seems like they are, they say the right words, have the right political viewpoints etc… but when it comes down to it, they have many misogynistic behaviours that contradict the image they portray of themselves. Now some of these cases (possibly all of the cases that article mentions) are going to be down to men who just want to get in women’s pants, and use feminism as a mechanism for that, but I have observed behaviours that I feel are much more widespread and general, and are preventing all progressive ideals (including feminism, LGBTQ rights, diversity etc…) from taking hold and enacting a positive change in society.

What’s happening is people are getting exposed to a progressive ideology in some way, agree with the general gist of it, and from that point on identify as aligning with that ideology. They may wear t-shirts, share (or write) blog posts on social media, attend rallies and protests, be involved in political discussions, deeply analyse the behaviours of others and be activists in general. This spreads, ideologies become viral, we then have hundreds of thousands of people, even millions that identify with an ideology, and think it’s a great movement and a force for good! But overall nothing’s really changed… The world still feels the same, and we still feel the need for this ideology to achieve something… including in our smaller, supposedly progressive communities. I live in San Francisco, probably one of the most progressive places on earth… but i still hear stories of (and witness myself) on an almost daily basis, local people’s misogynistic, homophobic or racist behaviours, including from people I know personally.

What’s missing is people who align with an ideology aren’t changing themselves, they see the wider problems in the world, and bad behaviours in people around them, but don’t look inwards. Even when confronted by others about their behaviours, people usually don’t really change, they agree with what they’re being told, but don’t fully take advantage of this feedback. So the world stays the same, and if anything, it gets harder to enact social change, because people then generally fall into one of two categories:

  • They oppose a particular ideal, and it will take a considerable amount of work (though it’s often possible) to get them to see the benefits.
  • They agree with the ideal and are an “ally”. But when you point out flaws in their behaviours, your feedback falls on deaf ears, because fundamentally they don’t feel they need to change.

So here’s a newsflash for you:

You are sexist. You are racist. You discriminate.

You have behaviours that go against the ideals you believe in and align with.

It doesn’t matter how you identify yourself, it doesn’t matter what your gender is, what your race is, what life experiences you’ve had. But you know what? That’s okay! Everyone has these flaws… to varying degrees of course, but everyone has them! The first step is realising that you have them, because then you can do something about it.

It’s easy to see why people behave like this, being critical of yourself in any way is really really hard. It requires you to get vulnerable, to open up to yourself, to come to and accept a viewpoint about yourself that is less than favourable. It takes a lot of practice… but it is worthwhile. This is personal growth.

Closing The Gap

Your ideals represent the person you want to be, and the people you want those around you to be. You are not that person yet, and you never fully will be. This person you want to be will constantly be changing, they’re a moving target, and that’s also okay. But after you notice this gap between who you are, and who you want to be, you can begin to close it. You can start to become a better person, become someone you aspire to be. If you don’t take the time to compare yourself to your ideals, to your causes, you’re effectively standing still… and this only hinders the causes you believe in.

Matthew McConaughey eludes to this in a powerful speech he gave at the Oscars in 2014, in which he says:

My hero, that’s who I chase. Now when i was 15 years old, I had a very important person in my life come to me and say “who’s your hero?” And I said I dunno, I gotta think about that, give me a couple of weeks. I come back two weeks later, this person comes up and says “who’s your hero?”. I said “I thought about it, and you know who it is?”… I said “it’s me in 10 years”.
So I turned 25, 10 years later that same person comes to me and goes “so are you your hero?”, and I was like “not even close!!! No no no”, she says “why?” I said “because my hero is me at 35”.
So you see every day, every week, every month and every year of my life, my hero is always 10 years away, I’m never gonna be my hero. I’m not gonna obtain that, I know I’m not, and that’s just fine with me, cos’ that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.

Come to terms with the fact that you should change, can change, and will change.

This is something I’ve only consciously started doing recently, but I've made it a part of who I am. I challenge every aspect of myself, make a mental note whenever I do something that upon later reflection I’m uncomfortable with, and commit to changing my behaviour for the better.

For example, I’ve previously noticed that I didn’t respond to women participating in conversations quite the same way that I respond to men. I didn’t like this, so I decided to make a conscious effort to change that. So recently I was having an in-person conversation with 3 men and 1 woman (I’ll call her Alice), we were discussing a project we’d be working on, and everyone was getting super excited. There were two moments during that discussion that I’ve reflected on a lot, and they only happened the way they did because of my prior commitment to change my behaviours.

  • At one point, Alice said “ooh i have a really cool idea”, but someone else interrupted her and she went mostly unnoticed, and looked somewhat disheartened. I gestured at her and said “we’ll cycle back to that, hold that thought”. We cycled the conversation back, and the idea was fucking awesome.
  • At another point, someone threw out an idea, Alice then enthusiastically responded, taking that idea to the next level with her own suggestion. I immediately respond that I think that’s an awesome idea. She says “that’s just what X said”, I say “no it’s not, you just came up with that”, X says “yeah I didn’t think of that, you just took it to the next level”.

These may seem like relatively minor encounters, but these are the things that really matter. It’s all the little things that add up, and contribute to people’s self confidence, contribute to people feeling like they’re not discriminated against. The second interaction here is particularly interesting, because it seems like there was some internalised misogyny on Alice’s part at play, and she didn’t even notice her own contributions to the conversation.

The Challenge

So my challenge to you is to analyse yourself, work out what behaviours you have that go against your ideals (they exist). Work out what your gap is (it exists). For example if you identify as a feminist, try and notice what misogynistic behaviours and thoughts you have, check yourself, and compensate for them (this will become habitual). In the workplace and in social situations, if you notice yourself not giving the same platform/space to co-workers/friends of a certain gender or race, elevate that platform, amplify their voices. It’s all the little things.

When you’re speaking to others about progressive ideals, and discover you’re aligned, say “Great! That’s awesome. What things have you noticed about yourself that go against this ideal, and how are you combating them?” (I’m going to start doing this).

Become the person you want to be, it all starts with realising you’re not already that person, and that there’s a lot more work left to do. And challenge those around you to do the same.