I am all in, 100% with the real talk, critical commentary about men. I might be in a relationship with a man, have an older brother, and grew up with many close male friends, but I’m still all in.
At least for now, I’ve seen, heard of, and experienced too many questionable and unacceptable things that men have done to focus any sizable fraction of my attention on the #notallmen camp. There is still so much work yet to be done for women’s rights, safety, and protection that I believe it would be wholly unhelpful and potentially damaging to spend time explaining that not everything we say about men are, in fact about all men. (Also, male defensiveness oftentimes speaks for itself in these situations.)
My entrance into this movement of female badass-ery coincides a lot with my final semester of college a little with my learning Latin dance, which has always been somewhat interesting to me. In Latin dance, like salsa and bachata, there’s a very strong, traditional male-female dynamic. Men are the leaders, and women are the followers.
Although I’ve occasionally dreamed of saying “smashing the patriarchy” is my favorite pastime, this supposed patriarchy smashing never also considered removing this male-leader, female-follower dynamic.
While the dynamic in Latin dance is highly gendered, it’s also not been unusual or uncommon for me to see men dancing with other men. Sometimes it’s in jest when there are no followers around, other times it’s out of a genuine want and need to practice and understand what it feels like to be led, to follow a male lead. There does exist a desire to better comprehend what it feels like to be in the position of the female dancer.
At the same time, out in social dance settings, the male leads are rather brusque when it comes to asking women’s hands for dances. The men will oftentimes just make eye contact and stick out a hand in your direction, expecting you to take it. However, if you say “no”, shake your head, or just pull your hand far enough away from his, he’ll take the hint and move on. It’s a small win to celebrate, certainly, that a man can understand and accept a woman’s “no”, but it still nevertheless exists.
Each of these acknowledgements might make it sound like I am coming to the defense of men, that even I know that not all men are bad. This might be true, but even as I make these admissions and observations, many of these same men do not understand the concept of personal space. Dancing well does not correspond with occupying another individual’s personal space, and it would do well for men to be reminded of this.
Respecting a woman means respecting her in every moment and in every situation, not just in selective moments of comprehension that are most convenient.
Speaking at this level of nuance — distinguishing between men’s ability to understand “no” and their lack of recognition of woman’s discomfort at having no personal space — is something we, women, should do.
I know. There are already so, many things that women have had to learn and adopt to keep up in this men’s world. I often question when we can say, Enough is enough, we’ve done our work, now it’s time for you to do yours. The onus is not on women to teach men about our struggles and obstacles.
However, it is still our responsibility to not give up and give in before men are ready to take up our mantle and defend us. Before this happens — and even when this might already be slowly starting to happen — progress may never be made.
As tempting, and as fun and satisfying, as it might be to huffily utter “men” the next time any male does anything ignorant of a woman’s condition, we ought to take a step back and actually define to ourselves what this error was. (Even if it is after we have very bitterly muttered, “Men,” to ourselves.)
There are still so many who do not and are actively unwilling to believe us. In the face of this, then we must take care to express ourselves, our arguments, our experiences, and our criticisms with even greater details and precision until we become impossible to not believe.