To be clear, I am not trying to conflate the most awful of violations — rape, assault, harassment — with who is or is not doing the dishes. But I think it’s worth asking, why is it so hard to listen to and care about women? Why is it so hard to care about mothers? Why can’t you just take our goddamn word for it sometimes? We’re good enough to gestate and birth and raise children, sometimes putting our own lives at risk, but not credible enough to articulate what is happening in our own lives? Why do we have to constantly present our case to culture, at work, and in our very own homes?
Clearly, caring about mothers is inconvenient. Because if we truly cared about mothers, we would support pay equity, early childhood education, maternal care, family leave, sexual harassment policies paired with real consequences, and freedom of reproductive choice. We would need to do more everywhere, on every level. We would have to rethink just about everything. We would, at the most basic level, have to listen.
Experience tells me that my daughter, at 12 years old, may be in the final days of feeling like her body is her own. A body that is uncomplicated and good, an unproblematic body. And that my son, my white son, at 14, will continue to enjoy the privilege of having a body that is wholly his. And if he is in pain, if he feels discomfort, no matter what he wears or where he works, he will be listened to and taken seriously. He will always be believed. And anything he does to ally with girls, with women, will always be seen as extra. Not a must have, but a nice to have.
So perhaps I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed, more than a little frustrated, and beyond caring when men demand an audience and a thank you for the slightest of gestures. And while I tell myself that the right thing to do is to feel grateful for any shift in the right direction, I’m just tired. Even with a husband who does more than almost any other husband I know, I wonder if it’s enough, if it will ever be enough.
I want men, husbands, partners to know that “not being a rapist” is not the rallying cry we’re impressed with right now. I do not want to hear that because you are a good guy, because you like #Metoo posts on Facebook, because you wear a cool feminist t-shirt out in public, that you have done enough. There are more of you, the men who want to help, than there are rapists and abusers and dudes who grab ass because it was right there. To lift a phrase, the only way to stop a bad guy with a penis is a good guy with a penis.
There is profound power in your words, actions, and thoughtful dialogue, and you know this. In fact, you have lived an entire life experiencing it. If you are actively benefiting from the emotional and spiritual and physical labor of women — from your wife, from the mother of your children — then it’s time to start recognizing it and step up. It’s time to catch up, fast, with how you are speaking to your children (not just your daughters). It’s time to take a real look at what your partner is doing every day to enable your life, and the lives of your children, and figure out how you can help. Do not ask her how you can help. That’s actually not helpful. You are smart, figure it out. It’s time to defend the encroaching stripping-away-of-rights that women are facing on almost every front — not because some relationship in your life has allowed you to suddenly see women as actual human beings deserving of equality, but because you quite literally wouldn’t exist without women. And because it is the right thing to do.
If you’ve learned anything by now, let it be that women compare notes. That we are angry. That we know how much we’re doing. (Do you?) We know how much still needs to be done. We know that our children are the first and best opportunity to change things in profound ways we can only begin to imagine. We know we are winning some battles but losing so many more. We feel less safe now than we did just 18 months ago. We are exhausted.
And, increasingly, we feel we have little left to lose.