Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hostile Feminist

There persists, in our culture a very real and pervasive devaluing of women. Shhhh. Don't let anyone know. If we talk about this we are hostile feminists. If we don't talk about it, we get to stay victims. Pick one. Which is more appealing? For me, the hostile feminist route has not been more appealing, but it has been more true to my fury with some of my experiences. And I have no interest in being a victim or being victimized.

I originally started writing this blog following an event that occurred at my place of work, my professional workplace. The one that is predominantly female, and in the industry of educating young children. The event was so disturbing and the immediate response to down-play and modify the intent of the particular event, opened up a wound that has been festering for a very long time. The initial workplace event let's suffice to say, involved blatant misuse of technology in the form of e-mail. The e-mail was chock full of descriptive violent acts against a woman, a colleague, an important friend. The immediate response to treat this as a joke, “jk”, “lol”, was infuriating at best. The very thought that it wasn't immediately seen for what it was-violent, sexual harassment, created a very clear sense that this branch of the workplace is not in the industry of educating it's staff or leadership. The specific event was taken more seriously at the next level and seen for what it was. Somewhat appropriate consequences followed. However, that's where it ended. Further investigations were not pursued and therefore underlying, long-standing belief systems remain unchallenged and unaddressed. So, it goes on and the culture of dominance and devaluing of women continues to be supported and perpetuated.

In some circles I am considered strong, intimidating, and forceful. In others, I am considered deeply intense, and yet others meek and socially awkward. I am all of these and more, but as a woman I am still expected to be somewhat polite and quiet. At a conference room table, I need to be calm and composed lest I appear hormonal, or evidently in need of getting you know, laid. I have a very difficult time with this because it is integrated into my experience everyday. Worse yet, it is discounted and downplayed and ignored. I am asked to “lol” at a sexually offensive comment, or violent e-mail, or surely I must be uptight and too politically correct, or a trouble-maker. I am not typically permitted a voice at the table when it is predominantly male. I am at times, challenged for wanting to have the authority to manage a situation when a male staff member is available to manage the situation. It doesn't matter that this male is not involved with the original event- there is a systemic belief that he will be able to handle a problem quickly without drama, although these actions keep the drama fueled. It does not matter that I have 6 plus years of education and he does not require more than 2 in a field unspecified. He is after all male, and isn't that more important than my education, or me and my gender?

As aforementioned, there was a festering wound. When I was 7 or 8 I had a very unfortunate experience with a male stranger while entering my apartment building. I was 30 when I finally understood the nature of a re-occurring nightmare and then became free of the nightmare. The experience itself was not fully faced until this year when the work-place event occurred. The e-mail author worked with children, as well as women. My reaction was large and possibly disproportionate, but based on my personal experience this is where I went. My own sense of not ever being “heard” around this experience was replayed when the initial response was to “not take it so seriously.” The need to stifle is disquieting. It was a matter of transference to be certain. I was unnerved. I was angered and I was outraged. The larger truth is that these are not unusual events. They are commonplace and the statistics are staggering. Some studies report an incidence of 1 out of every 4 women being sexually abused before they reach 18. What is the story of the women in your life? What is the story of the men? Victims? Perpetrators, willingly or misguided? How can this information be shared, and understood on a deeper level, acknowledged and changed?

I am fully aware that men also suffer from sexual abuse. While it occurs less frequently, it is not less disturbing or less important. It is not my intent to minimize or ignore this. It is not my personal experience. The culture of power that exists is predominantly male. This factor further promotes the unfortunate consequences of sexual abuse of males needing to be stifled even more. This also needs to be acknowledged and challenged.

My viewpoints are strong. My personal experiences and those close to me, have colored these viewpoints. How do I manage respect and tenderness toward men? One by one, not always easily and often with residual and age-old distrust. Which is similar to my sense of respect and tenderness towards women. I'm working on it. The process has been akin to cleaning out a sewer at times. Looking closely at my own choices in relationships, attempting to find closure and lay some of this to rest. Writing and responding to articles about this issue has been helpful to me but possibly problematic to others. My experience is important and I no longer want to be quietly angry, or hostily polite. I don't need to be a forceful feminist but I do need to speak to these issues and hope that they provoke thought and acceptance and change.

I have great hope in humankind. I don't hate men. Not even close. I do strongly dislike the culture of devaluing women and I wish more women were able to stand up to these problems. Assertively, in control and with respect. I will continue to speak out and stand up. I hope more men can come to understand that these issues are pervasive and detrimental and frequently everyday occurrences. I will not be quieted. I want the future to be better for my children, for sons and daughters, all.

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