On Mammary Glands, the Silence of Men, & #metoo

Or, boobs before breakfast


I was texting a virtual stranger about breasts this morning before the sun was up and before I’d downed my first cup of tea. I know what you’re thinking… At 43, I’m too old for that sh*t, and don’t I know that those kinds of things last forever in internet somewhere? Settle down. It’s not like that.

“Okay, super random question:” the chat opened with a man I’ve spoken to once on video and a handful of times over email and text. He’s in Europe at the moment.

“Is there a better way to tell people there’s breastfeeding in the video than “Please note: There is breastfeeding in this video,” or am I thinking too much?”

And so began a lengthy conversation about normalizing breastfeeding. Highlights included the weird hang ups that Americans, men in particular, seem to have with breasts when there is a child attached to them, and how he, as a conference organizer, should deal with this on his website.

“Personally, I wouldn’t warn them. It does nothing to help normalize breastfeeding if people feel the need to warn against it’s presence, like its a sexual activity warning on a movie. You wouldn’t warn viewers if that mom handed the kid a Goldfish cracker later in the interview.”

This precipitated a long discussion about what to do when that inevitable person complains that he was subjected to two inches of breast tissue during an interview about location independence and building reliable income streams to support that. It will happen. That guy is out there. It might even be a gal, stranger things have happened.

And when it happens, the offended party will have entirely missed the point, as these people with boob issues so often do. Here is a woman living and working wherever she wants, having found a work-life balance that allows her to spend more time with her kid, since that’s clearly a priority. Her set up allows her to be available to meet the child’s needs, and not have to spend two hours of her work day camped out in a gross bathroom with a noisy, uncomfortable breast pump. She can even feed the kid as she gives an interview. How are we not celebrating that?

I’ve written before about the potential for digital nomadism to level the playing field for women. Giving us back the control that is often lost over our lives and caregiving responsibilities (which still fall, disproportionately, to women), narrowing the wage gap, while at the same time allowing us the freedom to do things like, you know, feed our kids with a breast if we want to.

The breastfeeding footage debate wasn’t the interesting part of the conversation, however. The real issue emerged as I explained my reasoning for leaving the footage in and NOT warning anyone:

“Okay, cool,” my friendly stranger said. “I clearly am not qualified to figure this out on my own. I was talking to a buddy of mine about this and he was like, “I have no f*cking clue.”

“Actually… that’s a thing. You ARE qualified to have an opinion about it and we need healthy men with loud opinions about this. Men need to be the ones saying, “Dude. Grow up. It’s mammary tissue. It’s evolutionary biology. She’s a mom. It lasts two years. Chill the f*ck out. Do you want to hear the kid scream?”

I went on: “Women take so much sh*t. it would be great if men would start talking about this. Publicly, preferably”

He was listening, making little comments about how WHACK the attitudes are in the USA about boobs and how in Europe there are boobs out when they need to be and no one even notices. I nodded along and then added:

“Come out in support of women. Someone very likely nursed you or at least comforted you with her breast.”

“Yes, my mom nursed me.”

“Then you get to talk about it.”

Men are Afraid

Here’s where it got interesting. This 39 year old man, who has very open discussions with his girlfriend, confessed to me his worry about coming out with any commentary at all about women’s issues, because he’s afraid. Of women. Because he’s watched friends of his get eaten alive when they share their thoughts and then women school them on their inconsistencies.

This happens. Sometimes the women are justified. Sometimes we get it wrong and are taking out years of pent up frustrations on the one gopher who stuck his head out of the hole and inadvertently said the wrong thing. I commiserated with him, I owned the fact, as a woman, that we sometimes do that and that we aren’t always 100% right in our thought process or our motivations.

Then I said to him,

“Please be brave enough to do it anyway and then humble enough to really think through the responses of women and learn if you need to. Or at least listen and support their positions. If you get hammered sometimes, I think it’s always okay to say, “Listen, I hear you. I was trying to be supportive and come out on the side of equality. I don’t always get it right. I’m still learning. Thanks for helping me think it through.” 90% of the time that will diffuse the situation. That’s all we want to hear.”

“I try so damned hard to understand,” he replied, “and you don’t judge me. Thank you. So if I get it wrong, just let me know please.”

And that last sentence… right there… that’s why this guy is getting it right and he’s going to continue to.

#metoo

And then… I started thinking about the last 48 hours on the internet and the surge in discussion around the #metoo movement. The women in my world are talking about this non stop, because, of course, #metoo.

From the boy in seventh grade who made biology hell because he wouldn’t fecking leave my bra strap alone, to the countless men in bars and on the street, to gropers on trains and busses, to the guy who took up a whole sidewalk on purpose threatening to touch me and forced me to either walk out into the street or be grabbed if I stayed on the side walk. I immediately regretted being forced into the street. If he was there in the morning, I resolved, I’d walk forcefully right through his arm and deck him in the process. Then there was the older man who actually reached out and grabbed me around the waist as I was walking back to my hostel, whispering disgusting alcohol soaked things in Spanish, as if maybe I couldn’t understand him. He got a surprise. But the really hard ones I don’t talk about. And I don’t have to, because what we learn quickly as women is that people don’t believe you most of the time, and it doesn’t even matter any more in the landslide of #metoos.

What I’ve found interesting is the deafening, echoing silence of the men in my life on this topic.

Exactly three men have posted anything at all. One, a quiet “like” on a friend’s post. Another, “I’m so sorry… I had no idea.” But only the third fellow has repeatedly taken to the webbernet to challenge the men, support the women, write lengthy posts asking for female input and guidance while acknowledging that it’s not our responsibility to give it. Reminding men that this is THEIR PROBLEM and working forward through his words and his conversations to be the change. His name is Zen, which I find appropriate.

One man. Out of approximately 1000 on my friend’s list. One. 997 haven’t even dared open their mouths.

And I think my friend this morning hit the nail on the head when he expressed his own fear in entering the fray.

  • Men know that this stuff is their issue.
  • They know they’ve made a lot of the mess.
  • They know that their sex (if not they themselves individually), is responsible for the sins of the Patriarchy.
  • Many of them, good men, liberal men, equality minded men, in their personal lives are terrified of “coming out” publicly.
  • They don’t want to get battered.
  • They don’t want to get slammed.

But I think for most of them, it’s actually deeper and better than that: They don’t want to do more harm, because they know they have the power to… and so silence and doing nothing is a safer, better bet, than potentially making it worse.

The thing is: Silence is deafening.

Silence is a sin of omission. Silence is being part of the problem. Patriarchy and the continual objectification and abuse of women is still happening because good men chose to remain silent. That’s a fact.

I don’t know how to fix this for you, guys. And it’s not my responsibility to.

I’m not going to do the emotional work of organizing it for you, and neither are any of the other women in your lives. It’s your job. Some of you are going to have to get brave and step up. You’re going to have to do your work first and be willing to take the sh*t other men have caused and that you don’t necessarily deserve because, well, we gals have been doing that for a few hundred years. You’ll get used to it, you’ll learn to compartmentalize it, you’ll learn to move forward anyway. It’s part of life.

It starts with little things, like reaching out and humbly asking what the right thing to do is when you don’t know. Like being brave enough to post an interview about location independent income streams with a professional woman who just happens to whip out a breast and feed a kid mid conversation, without commentary, without warning, and fully expecting to get some “feedback” from the Neanderthals among us. That’s the kind of unwavering, unqualified support that counts.

Or, like being willing to also post a #metoo hashtag and own up to what you did when you were young and stupid, or drunk and disorderly, or otherwise not owning and embodying your privilege and responsibility in the community, rightly, where women are concerned. Owning yours. Owning his. Owning the healing taking place for her. Owning the fact that you are complicit in a system that has let this happen, continues to let this happen, and unless you are the one guy out there right now doing the work, preferably publicly, you are continuing to let it happen.

And THAT is why so many angry women are blaming you. You know who they are not blaming? My buddy Zen, who has dozens of women posting hearts and thank yous on his posts this week. He’s not getting it right all the time. He doesn’t claim he is. But he’s doing the f*cking work. Why aren’t you?

WHY AREN’T YOU?

I just went and made a second cup of tea. And some orange juice. I could find only one piece of my three part juicer this morning. My sons, who cleaned the kitchen last night, apparently thought it would be funny to hide the pieces like easter eggs to make my morning more interesting. My husband emerged with the two remaining mystery bits which he hunted down while making his coffee. Seeing exhibit A, and my three oranges cut in half, sitting on the stove top, he realized I was waiting for a more sane hour to clatter through every cabinet on a hunt for what I was missing, and beat me to it.

My friend and I closed the breastfeeding section of our conversation with what I think should be the rallying cry in favor of breasts in public:

“Men love them! Women love them! Babies love them! Yay boobs! More all around!!”

And then we moved on to discussing how to build location independent income streams so that one can live and work anywhere, digital nomad style. As one does, before breakfast, in my friend set.

I live with four men in my immediate family and we are grappling with this every day.

They are part of the problem, because they’ve messed it up, they’ve entertained jokes and perhaps told them, they’ve disrespected their sister and other women through a misuse of their physical power, they’ve remained silent when they should have spoken up, they’ve absorbed messages from the world that I fought really hard against and failed.

But they are also part of the solution because they are learning and working forward. Both my teenage sons have expressed that the books for their women’s studies course this year have been some of the best in their book list and that they’re, “Hard, mom, but good… did you know…” Yes, my dear. I knew.

They are actively building skills in listening and understanding women’s issues. They’re participating in groups for young men centered around healthy relationships skills building. They’re reading, listening, and studying to become better men, to use the privilege and power they were born into to level the playing field for their sister and the other women in the world they know and love.

They’re sitting with their responsibility and sitting with the grief that has been the result. We need men to truly grieve with women as they come to understand #metoo. Because this is what good men do, and I’m doing my best to raise good men, even when they mess up.

It’s what I can do. But the real question, to the men, is:

What can YOU do?

And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming. May it include a topless mother, nursing.

** To see the interview with this rockstar mom and location independent goddess with her sweet baby, sign up for the Work Anywhere Summit. She’s day five.**