To The “Good Men” Who Choose Silence

Recently, I watched a conversation on rape and sexual violence on Nigerian Twitter get derailed by men. I watched these men get into mentions of the women who were talking about it, castigating, insulting, and disbelieving them. They harassed them and taunted them and generally made an already difficult discussion even more unbearable. I even saw a man give an anecdote on how he forced himself on a woman. I imagined how difficult and triggering it was for the women having this conversation. Triggering because for majority of us, conversations of sexual violence are not just theory but out of experience. We have lived this, we know this.

A week or so later something similar happened on South African Twitter. The script followed was the same, the derailing tactics the same, the insults and mocking the same.  Whether it’s US, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, whenever these conversations happen men will come out in large numbers to derail and belittle the conversation. In the end the discourse will end up being extremely violent to the women, some of who choose to fight back. I can imagine the emotional toll this takes on them and how discouraging it is.

While I was watching this conversation, I thought about good men. There were some men who were involved in this conversation, male allies who were helping the women to fight against the harassers, but they were very few. There are always fewer than the men who were harassing women. I looked at the TL and thought about how many men who were seeing this conversation happening considered themselves good men. I wondered what, if anything was going through their minds, whether they felt bothered by what was happening. I wondered if they felt any need to get involved.

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with one such “good man.” It was a long and tiring conversation. It was tiring because it’s a conversation I have had before and one I have seen many women have with men before. The gist of it was that it was unfair for women to lump in “good men” together with abhorrent men who abuse and violate women. It is also unfair to expect men to participate and speak up when these men attack women. It is unfair to expect all men to stand up for women.

It is easy to counter blatant, open sexism and misogyny. It reveals itself and never pretends to be something that it’s not and you can arm yourself accordingly to fight it. But it is much harder to fight benevolent sexism. This is the sexism which pretends to be good and in the fight for women in that it does not actively participate in the oppression of women, but it also does nothing to change the systems that oppresses women. Benevolent sexism is dangerous because it excuses itself and watches from the sidelines but then expects a pat in the back for not getting into the ring. Because this sexism knows there’s a problem, sees it, but choose to do nothing to stop it.

Many men who consider themselves good men, maybe because they don’t actively hurt women, or agree that a woman’s place is not the kitchen, or perhaps are raising their daughters the same as they raise their sons (forgetting their daughters are going to have to live outside their homes) but then keep silent when confronted with extreme situations where women are hurt, are benevolent sexists- although an argument can be made about their silence being a key reason why oppression of women continues. One thing that many men fail to understand is, as a man, whether you are good or bad, whether you actively participate in oppression or not, you benefit from it. Society is structured to benefit you. Every time a woman is denied a promotion because she’s a woman, the man who gets it has benefitted from sexism EVEN if he is qualified for the job. Every time a man is able to walk at night when a woman can’t, he is benefitting from an environment, which denies women freedom while he can do whatever he wants. And every time a woman’s “morals” are used as an excuse to abuse her, and yet a man can do the same things with no repercussions, he is benefitting. And so by virtue of being a beneficiary of this, men who are silent are not just ignoring what is none of their business. They’re actually ignoring something that works in their favour. By quietly accepting the world as it is, you are allowing it to continue as it is.

 

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But there’s one other thing I have also realized based on my conversation with men, and the many interactions I have seen, men do KNOW they benefit from this system. And many men don’t care to change it. For a while I believed that it was ignorance and all we had to do was teach and show them and they’ll get it and change. But now I don’t think so anymore. The man I argued with straight up told me told me that he knows he has privilege, he knows. But he also enjoys this privilege. And he doesn’t see why he should bend over backwards to change that. So according to him, it’s unreasonable for women to expect men to do anything to change a system that works for them. Further, he considers the constant call by women for men to be vocal and active in this fight as an attack of men. WE are harassing them.

Another reason I know that these men are comfortable in the current situation is because majority of these men are very vocal when it comes to other injustices. I have seen these same men who claim they don’t have to talk about “women issues” be loud about pretty much every thing else. They rant at politicians, the government, religious institutions, racism and many other social ills. Some of these men even organize protests to fight against these ill. So it’s not that these men don’t care about society and creating a better world. And it’s hard for me to believe that you can be a proponent of justice and equality in every way, but should not be obligated to do the same when it comes to women. The most amazing thing to watch is a black man using the language of racism to talk to black women. This disconnect is fascinating.

It’s a truly perplexing place to stand isn’t it? To acknowledge that there is a problem. That women are under attack, that this should stop, that it is possible for you to help even in just a show of support…and then choose to be no more than a spectator. To claim that it is unfair to expect more. When people who despise you are cruel, they’re really just doing what you expect of them. But when people who claim to understand your plight or empathize with you stand aside and watch this cruelty; what are you to make of that? Is it because they’re afraid that they will first have to confront themselves and how they have benefitted? Is it because they recognize that they are not really that good, that they have been complicit and allowed men to continue terrorizing women?

Throughout history, women have always fought their own battles in their own ways. Whether men stand by them, against them or somewhere else entirely, there will always be women taking up this fight and standing up for themselves and each other. That’s unlikely to change. What needs a change however is ‘good men’ happy to point out the rotten lot should be stopped and then reeling back in shock when women say, “then help us stop them.” You cannot claim to be a good man when you allow a problem that YOU benefit from to continue. When you choose silence, when you know that your voice will have an impact in changing things. Either you are part of the problem or you are actively working towards the solution. Those who stand in the centre have chosen to be part of the problem.BHF_aKqCMAAJxkk

(With contribution by Kevin Gachagua)
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Comments

  • Brian  On December 7, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Completely agree with everything that’s been said. This phenomenon of men consciously doing nothing when they see women get unfairly attacked or ridiculed online needs to stop. It’s no less damaging than seeing women in real life get beaten, harassed, or assaulted and also doing nothing. Thank you for eloquently writing this.

  • viru5detected  On December 8, 2015 at 12:39 am

    This is why I never bother with people who insist that “I should be gentle with and educate” my oppressors

  • viru5detected  On December 8, 2015 at 12:39 am

    Reblogged this on Musings of an Under Achiever.

  • Avoiding Backlash  On December 9, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    Two things.
    First, not everyone is cut out to be an activist. It is hard, and we’re programmed to take things easy. You’re never going to have all 100% of people supporting your cause actually going out there taking active, vocal steps to ensure that objectives are met. This isn’t limited to just (so called “nice”) men, there are also women who can step up, but don’t. Sometimes it’s just as simple as just not being able to deal with the backlash. Some people can handle it, some can’t, regardless of whether they are male or female. There are a variety of reasons why people will not be active and vocal, it’s not just limited to “the status quo favours me so I’ll maintain shallap”.

    This brings me to my second point, for those men who have chosen that life, and like you said demonstrate it by being active and vocal in other causes, then first thing that happens when they say anything even remotely related to feminism is:-
    a) It’s problematic for men to discuss feminism
    b) Hotep
    c) Fake Deep
    d) He’s trying to get into someone’s pants
    e) On 15th November, 2009, he wrote a misogynist tweet, therefore he cannot start pretending to support the cause
    f) Subtweets/Monologues/Commentaries etc etc

    In summary, you’re dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t. Being vocal and active only exposes you to only the negative outcomes of being an activist from both the people you’re speaking against and the people you’re standing beside.

    There is no upside. You can’t get home and even at least at a bare minimum be happy that at least you tried to so something good.

    So what happens? You shut up unless it’s your mother, sister, wife or friend in the firing line,

    • bintimswahili  On December 10, 2015 at 6:09 am

      Hi,

      Thank you for taking time to read the post and commenting.

      Your first point. I don’t buy it. We are constantly telling everybody about how they should be more active in how their countries are run, about how they should be involved in what the government does so that we can be able to fix what’s wrong with our country. Basically, it’s everyone’s responsibility. So it doesn’t make sense to me to say “not everyone can be an activist.” We don’t accept this kind of reasoning in other stuff, we shouldn’t accept it with this. Because this isn’t about being an activist. This is about doing the right thing. And everyone should be expected to do the right thing. Are there people who don’t? Of course. But do we still not hold them accountable when they don’t? We do. We’re always complaining about the apathy of the Kenyan middle class aren’t we?

      The way I see it, problem is, we view issues concerning women as peripheral issues that only certain people should be concerned with. If this post was about disability and a disabled person was talking about how we able bodied people are not interested in their lives and issues, (which in general we really aren’t) I’m sure you wouldn’t respond to them with, not everyone can be an activist. You’d be ashamed to even think something like that. Because you consider that a “legitimate” issue. So why is it that to support women you require an extra level of compassion and empathy? Why is it that to say “hey don’t abuse women” requires a different and special kind of mind that’s not everybody’s? I don’t buy this. This is a cop out.

      And here’s another thing. Many of us women who speak up and fight, we didn’t choose to do this. We are doing this because we have to. Because our lives are on the line. Because if we don’t, we’re literally gonna die. And for some women, living in this hostile environment they choose to silently survive. Which is within their rights because THEY’RE OPPRESSED. Survival is first priority. So compare you being uncomfortable because sometimes some women will say mean things to you and to us who are actually living in this oppression but still fighting for our lives. And be honest with yourself, are women’s lives the only thing you are silent on or are you silent on everything else. Like have you never ever stood up for anything in your life? Or are there things you actually speak up for? And if there are, why do you consider those worth the backlash and not women?

      On your second point, you’re basically saying that you won’t be involved in doing the right thing because someone might:

      a) say something mean to me (hotep), or
      b) might correct me and tell me I’m doing it wrong (It’s problematic for men to discuss feminism)
      c) or might hold me accountable for my previous actions, because they need to determine whether I’m genuine or not. (you previously said misogynostic stuff)
      d) He’s trying to get into someone’s pants – (this is an interesting one. It’s actually mostly men who accuse other men of trying to get into feminist’ pants when they support feminists)
      f) or challenge you and not just silently accept what you’re saying simply because you’re a man speaking. (Subtweets/Monologues/Commentaries etc etc)

      (though I really think you’re reaching with these because a lot of the men who get this type of backlash are NOT the men who are standing up for women. I’ve never seen a man who’s actually speaking up or defending women (and not telling women what they should do as women according to HIM) being called hotep for example)

      But for purposes of this argument, let’s say it’s true. You’re basically saying because I might encounter any of these push backs and it might hurt my feelings, then I should stop doing the right thing? Because my feelings matter more than the lives of these people. People who their oppression benefits ME. You’re basically saying that as we’re fighting for our lives, we should find time to cater for your feelings and make this easy for YOU. You who is not actually the oppressed person? This doesn’t make any sense to me.

      And also, there are men who are doing this work. Men who tirelessly work with us despite getting serious backlash from OTHER MEN, being insulted and told they’re not real men. Men who also understand that doing this work is not doing us any favours. They owe us. But they’re in there doing the work and as far as I’ve seen, they have very pleasant interactions with the women they work with. Maybe you should talk to a few and find out how they’re doing it?

      I want to say this, and I want to say this respectfully. Your feelings don’t matter. When you are part of a group that is oppressing another group, your feelings don’t matter. I shouldn’t be fighting against my oppression and at the same time worrying about whether I’m being nice to men or not. The same men who are the reason I am fighting IN THE FIRST PLACE. I have bigger problems than your feelings. And this isn’t even me being rude. It’s just the reality. I have bigger problems, LIFE THREATENING problems that require my attention. It’s not really about you. If you really want to help, you would realize that when you benefit from something, the least you can tolerate is some mean words. I want to assure you that this kinda “backlash” is a small percentage of the backlash, real, life threatening backlash that the women who are doing this work are getting. Please, get over your feelings and actually see beyond your personal comfort. No one is comfortable in this fight. You should not expect to have your feelings catered for all the time as a requirement to be involved. Your feelings =/= my oppression and you should recognize which is the bigger issue.

      And finally, when you speak up only when those close to you are on the firing line, you are not really fighting for your wife, sister, daughter, friends, female relatives. Because you show up when the damage is already done, when they’re already facing abuse. It is us who are fighting for them. Because we’re the ones who are fighting to stop the men who would harm them as soon as they step out of the “protection” you think you’re giving them in your circle. Because you would rather keep quiet until they’re actually facing harm to speak up rather than speaking before, to prevent the harm in the first place. We’re the ones who are doing the job of protecting them. Not you. Never you.

      Regards,

      Aisha

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