Why do we presume men are the guilty ones and what would the world look like if that changed?
My daughter is having trouble with her asthma, and I have to get her to the doctor’s. She comes out of school, gets in the car, is dismayed because she forgot her textbook and wants to study in the doctor’s office. Her breathing is already labored.
So I’m elected to run into the school and get the book. “Third floor, Mom. Upstairs, take a left, then right, all the way at the end. Hurry, please.” I dash in the door while someone is coming out; school is about to get dismissed. Run past the admin offices: a meeting is just starting. I hear someone say, “Who’s that?” They glance out, decide I’m not a threat, smile and close the door. I don’t know anyone at this school, haven’t been to the requisite PTA meeting yet. I run to the stairwell and dash up the stairs, where a custodian, mopping, shouts, “Careful! Don’t run!” I run, anyway. At the top of the stairs I forget what Shannon said, “Left then right? “Right then left?” I text her to ask, and as I’m fumbling with my phone a couple of teachers pass by and say “you look confused, can we help you?” Her text beeps in, I say to the teachers, “I’m good” and proceed to her locker.
None of this would make for a particularly compelling story, were it not for one thing. Earlier that day, I had gotten a phone call, a recorded announcement from the principal of the school. “I would like to inform all parents,” said the voice, seriously. “That today at 11:30 am we had an incident. An unknown male was seen entering the building. He could not be identified, and so, as a precaution, we put the entire school in a lockdown while we sought out his intentions.”
You put the entire school in a lockdown?
If anyone’s actions needed to be questioned, surely it was mine—I was not only unknown, but running through the halls, acting confused, receiving directions through outside texts. And yet not only were my intentions not questioned, but nobody even asked who I was.
We get ourselves in a tizzy over “racial profiling,” but surely this is “gender profiling?” An unknown male enters a school. An unknown female enters and the entire school system protocol changes. I was allowed to roam free because I was a woman.
I cannot remember a time when my actions have been treated with suspicion. I can remember a host of times when I have been suspicious, myself. Mostly, of men. And it has so permeated our society; I’ve been socialized for so long to accept this as normal that I haven’t even noticed.
When I look back on my life on how perception equals reality, I have to say this: both men and women have harmed me in equal measure. If I think about the sum total of lies, stealing, physical abuse, sexual abuse—it’s been about equal. Sexual abuse more male, stealing, more female. But overall, “things that have caused me harm” have been about the same when looked at through the lens of gender.
Here’s where you could trot out the statistics—but please don’t. Yes, I live my life based on certain statistics—I use sunblock, eat fruits and vegetables, and wear a bike helmet. Understanding how to act based on statistical data in all those cases has consequences for the quality of my life. The numbers are used to scare me, it works, and I take action. I slather on SPF 45, grab an apple, and put the helmet on.
Few of those things designed to cause fear invoked the persistent sense of panic throughout my life the way that being afraid of men had on my psyche. And what I needed to do was to find a way to deal with that fear, not not argue over the statistical validity of whether those fears were valid.
I remember, after a spate of serial killings—the ones where a man often killed his victims after he stopped to fix their cars—my sister called me up in a panic. She wanted me to make sure I heeded the warning she saw on the news. Women who break down on the side of the road should not even stay in their cars; they were advised to run into the woods and hide until they saw the flashing blue lights of a police car.
And this, to me, sums up exactly what is wrong with the way we are socialized. Instead of teaching women to fear men, we should be teaching women to fix their cars.
There’s a lot less worry about a car breaking down on a deserted street somewhere if it’s maintained and you can change a flat tire in less than 10 minutes. I have done so while eight months pregnant.
The best way to overcome fear is to gain competence.
As a woman, I’ve seen “The Presumption of Male Guilt” get played out in the workplace all the time. Sure, sexism still exists. There’s individual sexism and there’s institutional sexism (which sometimes gets called “Teh Patriarchy”). I don’t deny its existence. But I often think that as women, we’re taught so much to look out for sexism that that’s all we see.
And so, as women, we’re afraid. We’re often afraid to ask for the salary we want, look for innovative ways to both be parents and to lead companies, and we’re afraid to gain the skills we really need to get ahead.
But the wrong approach, in my opinion, is to presume men are guilty because they are men. A better strategy is to gain the competence you need to succeed. Not all men make it to the top slots either. The ones who have are usually there because they figured out what needed to be done and did it.
Eric M.. a frequent commenter here at Good Men Project, had a commented on the statistic about the fact that 87% of Congress is male. His comment was, “In many races, NO women run. So, what are voters supposed to do? Elect no one, or choose from the men who bother to run? Is the feminist movement not aware that women would represent 50% of the electorate if they were 50% of candidates? Since women are the majority of the voters, shouldn’t the feminist movement be chastising them for not running (or at least encouraging them to run way more), rather than using the fact that they don’t run as justification for demonizing us regular guys who have nothing to do with political decisions?”
We can presume men are guilty for holding public office, or we can choose, as an individual, to do something about it.
Look, I’m a CEO of a VC-backed national consumer company—the kind of position said to be held by only around eight percent of women.
Has it been easy? No. Have I made tons of mistakes? Sure. Have I stopped at one of those mistakes and said, “Oh, it’s too hard, it must be that damn patriarchy again.” No. I’ve figured it out and kept going. It’s hard because it’s hard.
I’ve read that most CEOs of large companies—male or female—are there because they kept going long after most people would have given up. That, I believe.
So here’s a suggestion, similar to Eric’s. If you are a woman who is about to trot out the statistic on women CEOs or women as board members or women who raised funding again—if you are about to presume men to be guilty of preventing you from getting there—email me and ask me how I did it. Anyone who knows me knows I will gladly tell you all I know to help you succeed. I’ll tell you every mistake I’ve made (it will take a while, I’ve made a ton.) Here is my email: firstname.lastname@example.org I don’t care what gender you are, I’ll tell you what I know about how to negotiate, what you need for a business plan, how to raise VC money—all the things that make it hard. Learning those things is the business equivalent of learning to maintain and fix a car. You learn to navigate the corporate structure without fear, and you succeed by gaining competence. And then it’s up to you to go out and do it. As Ghandi so famously said, “be the change you want to see in the world.” That’s what he meant.
I consider myself an “equalist.” I am just as concerned, if not more concerned, with racism, ageism, classism as I am with sexism. The “isms” are the marginalization of people we don’t feel comfortable with. And marginalization is the presumption that someone is somehow inferior for something they can’t change. Their gender, their age, the economic level in which they were born.
A while ago, I came across an interesting statement when I was doing research for our series On The Environment. “Ecofeminism is seen as the connection of the environmental movement and the feminism movement. It is one of the only movements that combines multiple social movements.“ The thing that is interesting to me has nothing to do with “ecofeminism”. What’s interesting to me is this idea of “combining multiple social movements”—and how rare that is.
Yet—that is what we are doing here at The Good Men Project. We are about “men’s issues”—first and foremost, absolutely. But men’s issues are men’s issues, in part because society has been structured around a patriarchy, and the patriarchy is changing.
And, in some very fundamental way, we are creating multiple social movements around a variety of important issues—as they relate to men:
- Sex/Porn/Sex Trade/ Sexual Abuse
- Ageism / Women and Beauty
- The New Dad
- Marriage, Divorce
- Prison Reform
The thing that these all have in common (besides men)—is that they are all about one thing: They are problems because they are based on the fact that we marginalize people we are uncomfortable with. “Social movements” eliminate that marginalization by bringing people together for a common cause. And who better than “The New Male Patriarchy” to take a leadership role in de-marginalizing?
So let’s talk about stuff—related to men, of interest to men. Change what needs to be changed, with all the stuff that is good—actually great—about men, let’s just keep that the way it is.
But “presumption of male guilt”—let’s just eliminate that, shall we?
--Originally posted on The Good Men Project
photo: Bao Tri Nguyen Phuoc / Flickr