A few months ago I was at the Mom 2.0 Summit in Atlanta, Georgia. It was wonderful and I am going back again next year, because... MY TRIBE is there! On the first day of the conference, one of the speakers at the Keynote Expert Sessions was a man called Josh Levs. I'd never heard of him (Canadian blogger-fish out of water and all that), but Josh is kind of a big deal CNN reporter, a father of three and had just filed a complaint against his employer, Time Warner, for denying him 10 weeks of paid parental leave (what new mothers and adopted parents get from Time Warner, but not dads.) Josh was an engaging and passionate speaker and I appreciated that he was addressing the issue of shared parental responsibilities, but what I didn't understand was why this man was getting so much air time (literally) about an issue that women have been talking about and fighting for for years, not to mention one that places the US at the very bottom of the charts in terms of paid parental leave in the developed world.
It felt like, once again, an issue that affects primarily women is not really that big of a deal until it becomes detrimental to a man or a man starts talking about it.
This has been the case time and time again and it is something that I am so very, very tired of.
Case in point. Carla Ciccone wrote a post over a year ago about her VERY BAD DATE with a Canadian radio show host, which, I think we can all admit at this point, was with Jian Ghomeshi. The vitriol and internet hate-storm that was heaped on her after she wrote that post was appalling and I don't even want to revisit any of it (the comments on her post have picked up again given recent developments and are just as awful this time around). And now, after months of investigating and interviewing, Kevin Donovan and Jesse Brown - yes, two men - broke the story via the Toronto Star about Ghomeshi's disturbing and abusive behaviour and more than 10 people have now come forward with similar allegations of violence and abuse at the hands of Jian Ghomeshi. And NOW, it's a problem. Now that it's not just one woman who had at least that little bit of courage to write about her VERY BAD DATE, even though, if you cared to ask around, EVERYBODY KNEW ABOUT HIM! Now it's a big deal and must be dealt with.
Or, look at the new United Nations #HEforSHE campaign. God love her, Emma Watson is a shining beacon for young women everywhere, and I applaud her for stepping up to the plate and literally donning her baby feminist White Coat, but the whole premise of the campaign is that women's voices are simply not enough. That we need the HEs to speak up for the SHEs. That it is not enough for women to be seen and heard and treated as human beings in and of themselves. That we are only valued and validated in this world by virtue of our relationships to and with men as their mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives. Now, don't get me wrong, I too want men to speak up for feminism and for gender equality in our world, but not because they have a mom or a sister or a daughter, and not because they feel the need to be a hero and save the world's collective damsels in distress. I want them to do it because we are all in this place together, because one person's life is not more or less valuable than any other simple because we are not the same gender or colour or sexual orientation. I want them to do it because it is the right thing to do.
The internet is full of meme's and videos of men speaking for women. We've got Feminist Ryan Gosling Hey Girl-ing all over the place, we've got speech after speech from Joss Whedon about why he writes strong female characters and then one where he thinks we should get rid of the word Feminism. Harry Styles tweets a picture of himself supporting #heforshe and it gets retweeted over 282,000 times. Aziz Ansari sits across from David Letterman and tells us he is a feminist and we share that shit all over the place and praise all our wonderful male allies for saying all the exact same things women have been saying for eons!
On the other hand. A woman speaks up and makes a video about her experience with catcalling and street harassment and you know what happens? Sure the thing goes viral and has some serious issues that have been dissected elsewhere, but she also gets death and rape threats. Or how about this one. A woman is not the perfect girlfriend and what does her pissed off ex-boyfriend do when things end badly? He writes a 5000 word manifesto outlining why she is a terrible person, tries to ruin her publicly and professionally and rallies the collective troops of #nogirlsallowed land into a thing called Gamergate. If the situation was reversed, she would just be the crazy, vindictive, bitch of an ex-girlfriend who was out for revenge for being jilted and no one would have taken her the teensiest bit seriously. But we have this WHOLE THING now, because one dude got his heart and ego crushed BY A GIRL. Really. Boil it all down and that is what it is.
I've read multiple essays and posts this past week about why women don't speak up more, why they don't report the violence and abuse and assaults that have happened to them. Denise Balkissoon wrote just today in the Globe and Mail that no, we have not reached some kind of "watershed" moment in the face of violence against women. She goes on to say,
I’m not swayed by the newly enlightened, standing with outstretched, protective arms, advising victims of violence that there’s no longer a need to be ashamed or afraid of coming forward. Let me tell you what too many have heard, and will continue to hear, perhaps forever.
I don’t believe you.
I don’t believe you.
I don’t believe you.
And I don't disagree with her at all. I would also add that not only are women overwhelmingly hearing "I don't believe you." over and over again, even in cases with ridiculous amounts of evidence (see: death of raped and bullied Canadian girl who can not be named because of court mandated publication ban), in this world we live in, it's also a case of ....
We don't really care, because YOU DON'T REALLY MATTER. Your voice is not the one we listen to.
You are not a famous media/radio celebrity and will not have your 20+ year career ripped out from under you.
You are not an elite athlete who brings in millions to sports club owners and helps win championships.
You are not a Hollywood Icon whose brilliance can not be tarnished in our minds, because... BRILLIANT!
You are not a beloved TV character we all grew up with and thought of as our collective DAD.
You are not one of BillBoards most successful R&B/Hip Hop artists of the past 25 years.
You are not some promising young man whose life will now be ruined because you got drunk, he raped you, you reported him and now he has to go to jail.
And this is what kills me every time something like this happens. The voices of the women affected are not heard or are silenced. It's as if women's voices are some kind of background noise that people just want to turn down until a man in a nice suit tells you what to think or who to believe.
Until such a time exists when a woman can say, this is what happened to me and the automatic response from the general public isn't, "well, you should have known better" or "what do you have to gain from this?", we aren't making any progress in the plight of violence against and oppression of women. Until we can take a woman's word for it - whatever IT may be, and not have to wait for that word to be validated by a man, we are never going to get any further ahead in making this world a level playing field for all who live on it.
I gotta tell you...
I dream of that time. Every single day and every damn night.
And I have to believe it will come.
I have to.
This is Day 5 of #nablopomo. I am writing a blog post a day for the month of November. So are a lot of other people. You can find them here.