Dear White Men
Some of my favorite people are white guys. My husband, my father, my son, my brothers-in-law, half the parents of my son’s classmates, my grandpas, my father-in-law, a few sober buddies, my girlfriends’ husbands, my therapist. I believe all of these guys really mean well in their attitudes and actions towards me and towards other women. They are “good guys” or “white male allies.” They mean well but they say things that piss me off and make me feel unsafe, sad, and angry just the same. So because I love these guys I offer these pieces of advice:
1. LISTEN. Keep your mouth shut. If a woman is offering her perspective or feelings about current events, or something that happened to her try just listening.
- DON’T try to make her feel better by explaining why it’s not so bad.
- DON’T take what she’s saying personally and try to defend. If she’s talking to you at all it’s because she thinks you’re a good guy or potential good guy. Listening proves you are.
- DON’T explain why white men have it rough too. Most women I know are basically in mourning right now. We are raw and upset. Please share your grief or gripes about being a white man with other white men, not us. You don’t have to understand what it feels like to be a woman right now, just understand that many of us are scared and sad.
- DON’T compliment my outfit, my hair, my body parts, my shoes. Don’t tell me I look like I’ve been working out or lost weight.
- DON’T pat my back or rub my shoulders unless you’re my husband. It’s not that these things are bad, it’s that you don’t know who is re-living that night that thing happened, which had been put in deep mental storage, but is out now, unpacked, tender.
And I’m sorry but when you pat my hand in what you think is a comforting way it reminds me of all those uninvited touches. And I don’t want to offend you by asking you to stop something that you clearly think is innocuous but to me feels a little like a mini-rape. So please, just don’t touch me.
We are re-living our worst moments. We are reminded of all the moments where we and our friends, our mothers and sisters, were targets of sexual violence, sexual intimidation, sexism, and exclusion because of our sex.
One option for the good guys (and the good women) is to hear these feelings and stories and simply say, “I’m sorry,” as you would to a friend grieving a loss. Don’t cajole me or explain why it’s not your particular fault or why I’m mistaken as to the gravity of the situation.
All this talk, the hearings the everything, has made me realize that what’s happened to me, the inequality, violence, and fear of violence I’ve experienced all my life like fish experience water, is not okay. Is not “no big deal,” and I can’t go back to normalizing it.
I don’t want to talk about it. I just want you to stop denying my experience and re-triggering me. Please. Just listen. I love you guys, and I’m hurting. I’m gonna keep going.