“But I lived it!” The Past, Pain, Listening and Empathy.

I recently held a family gathering in my home. Imagine the slow-motion, soft-lens picturesque image of a long table full of people laughing, drinking wine, eating fresh tomatoes from my garden and children scampering after frogs against a background of birds fluttering in a fountain and the scent of flowers wafting in the breeze.

Then I heard it “So, how is it that we women are oppressing men, these days, taking away all your rights?” harshed the 70-plus-year-old woman who is often inappropriate with her words, touch and physical proximity, the creepy family friend.

Ah Crap.

“What is the conversation about?”

“Your mother tells us that you think that women have never had to fight for our rights,” responds my godmother. My godmother, the elder of our family, is a kind, gentle and attentive woman with exceptionally refined taste. She is an educated woman and very well-travelled. If ever the term sophisticate applied to any one, it does to her. She and her former spouse raised four girls and one adopted boy, my childhood best friend–and she spent much time parenting me in the summer months of my innocent youth. Here, from the mouth of a wonderful person came spewing torrents of non-sense, unexamined claims, a complete inability to hold anything remotely close to an intelligible conversation on the subject.

“Let’s start over,” I say, “I am an anti-feminist in the year 2014 because I believe that the prevalent political ideology of Radical Feminism is a power that has infected culture though educational institutions, and has created a pervasive acceptance of tenets that make it morally plausible to engage in governmental and media activities that create laws and campaigns that harm men, women, children and society in general. It is a set of beliefs that poisons relationships between men and women at every possible level. Feminism is not today, what you thought it was in your youth.”

I continued making an effort to speak as simply and clearly as I could, listing the specific beliefs, practices, giving examples of the consequences to society at the legal and cultural level. In the time that it has probably taken you, my reader, to read this, I was cut off.

The conversation was very quick-paced, and was a series of interrupting challenges to my responses; I cannot faithfully re-create the conversation here.

Think of every counter-argument to Feminism that you may have heard rebutted by someone without the benefit of practice of clarifying her arguments.

“But women lived this, you don’t know what it’s like to be a woman!”
“Men have always had all of the power!”
“Women make only 70% of what men make!”
“Those women are extremists and a mere fraction of a fraction of the population–they aren’t real Feminists!”
“Never mind statistics, they can be fudged!”
“Politicians are crooked.”
“All it takes to change a law are lobbyists.”

… and so on, and so forth. No grounding in reality, no facts, no willingness to listen, just a big bunch of emotion refusing to accept anything other than her point of view.

The following is the crux of her argument. My mother is almost 70, so my aunt must be nearing 75. They recall a time, being raised in Québec, when the Roman Catholic Church was at the peak of its power. Women could not go to the doctor without a note from a man. Women could not get a loan from a bank without a man’s signature. She listed off a number of occurrences, as my mother had in previous conversations with me. There were many things that a woman could not do without the consent of her husband, or worse yet, a priest.

I neither denied, nor refuted, nor belittled any of this, because it was true. I recall as a very young boy hearing my then youthful elders holding the same discussions. “The priests say…” was the common introduction to a complaint. I’ve witnessed some these things. I recall my mother expressing frustration and consternation at such things. Maudite Merde! I emphasized that at the time, those were in fact the conditions, and that I accepted not only those facts, but accepted that their feelings about such things at the time were legitimate and called for.

My godmother, like my mother, and her sisters, share a common experience of the past. What my aunt could not–or would not–accept is the reminder that this is the year 2014, and that my response to current-day Feminism is not an obviation of her past experiences.

When I gave facts, she responded with “You’re speaking from here on up,” drawing a line from the eyes to the top of her head with her hand, “you have no experience, I do!” I reminded her that I was alive in the 70’s.

“But you were a child, that’s meaningless!”

I reminded her of the time when I was 3-4 and asked my mother “Why am I a Male Chauvinist Pig?” I can still recall the pink buttons with the face of a man-pig and the Feminist symbol. I have had a good number of years being raised with and around Feminists, and have experienced the cultural changes myself.

“But everything you say is from the head only. What are some of your experiences?”

I then proceeded to give her examples of what it’s like for a man, “from the eyebrows down,” so to speak, to live in a society that has had 40 years of Radical Feminist influence.

I could not complete a sentence before she dismissed what I was saying with the equivalent of “Bullshit! You’re wrong! You don’t know what you’re talking about! I lived it. I lived it!” all while cutting me off, refusing to listen, even after having asked what my experience is.

“Well! What you say isn’t true. You are speaking of only an extreme minority, outliers. They aren’t true Feminists, and not all Feminists are like them, those not-true Feminists. Women don’t rape, don’t kill, don’t take advantage of men! Men have always had the power. “And what of incest?” demanded Mrs. Inappropriate, “What do the statistics tell you about that?”

The subtext was evident: men are incestuous animals, baby-rapists to the last. Sneering contempt thrown liberally, as though it were merely a word-game, disconnected and ignoring reality of such words, while expecting me to accept with full emotional impact the words that they were so eager for me to positively accept on their behalf.

“Women did not have the right to keep their own name! The man’s name was forced on us. Mrs. X is not my name! And we had to serve them!”

“And what were men’s responsibilities in those days? What duties were commensurate with those asserted rights?”

Instant change of subject.

Studies? Statistics? You can do anything with those! I lived though those days, you have no experience!”

I love my godmother. I understand that her youth was a different time than my own adulthood. She does not seem to want to acknowledge that she’s reliving there and then and she does not concede that my arguments are based on the facts of here and now, that we are living in two different eras.

My point was a simple one. “Ma tante, you’ve spoken of women’s disadvantages and men’s advantages, without ever speaking to or acknowledging women’s advantages and men’s disadvantages. You make victims of women, while ignoring their privileges, and point to men’s privileges while ignoring their societal obligations and legal duties. You speak of only part of the picture; I believe that the only way that we can restore the damaged relationships between men and women, and society in general is when we can discuss all four, honestly, openly, to listen and learn, so as to break down the walls of pain and hostility with sincere empathy for each other.”

But by this time, my Godmother had turned away to a different conversation with my other aunt. Plausible avoidance, from my point of view; a graceful self-ejection from a conversation where she could not beat me into submission though sheer force of emotional will.

“Yes,” replied another one of my aunts, “but it is difficult for some men… er, people to communicate.”

I agree that it is. And that is why I think we should work at it.

They say that science advances one funeral at a time, but “they” often fail to remark that the next crib regulates the rate of what advancement is made. I am one born of that following generation’s crib, and I choose to shove this mother-fucker beyond most people’s comfort level. No stretch, no gain.

We have partially dealt with racism, relegating it, for the most part, to the dunce corner of obscurity and shame. We are still dealing with sexism, and perhaps for the first time in history, we are addressing the sexism that dismisses men. I have hope. Within three generations, maybe men and women will truly know equality, and not because of an ideology, but because we are so very slowly maturing as a species that can afford to be honest with ourselves. When men are valued as much as women are, I believe that we will be a few steps closer to be a truly collaborative species and that our progeny will have the kind of life that I wish that we’ve all had.

All good things come in time to those that persevere.

PS: I have a small group of regular interlocutors that challenge me as much as they listen me. You are part of the solution, and though such simple acts add to the Better World side of the scale.

Thank you for that.

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