Good men have an obligation to be aware of all the unquantifiable ways women are taxed, hurt, and disrupted.
It is easier to be a man than to be a woman. This need not be the case forever, but it is the case now, and has been for too long. It is an uncontroversial statement of verifiable fact that any men with a shred of moral character and a bit of sense in his head will readily acknowledge.
Some of these ways can be measured, such as wage gaps and underrepresentation in government and executive positions. The statistics on sexual assault are also stark and damning. Good men must recognize the reality of the situation as made evident by the facts.
To be truly good men, though, we need to do a lot more than just recognize those matter-of-statistical-fact ways that women suffer. We need to learn about, validate, and work to end the ways women are disrupted that cannot be easily counted and plotted.
A good man needs to try to see through the eyes of a woman to become aware, even partially, of the complexity and ubiquity of the trouble women face. We need to be humble to do this. We especially need to build and maintain close relationships with women. If we’re able to establish real trust, then we might just have the privilege of being able to ask them how their lives are and get honest answers. This is the duty of every man who wants to be counted among the good.
It must begin with relating to the women around us in healthy ways. We can’t just sit back in our armchairs and imagine what life is like for women; we just don’t have the information, we lack point-of-view and can’t get it just by thinking hard. After we’ve put the work in to building healthy relationships, we have to ask women what their lives are like and trust their answers.
I have a long way to go in my attempt to understand what things are really like for women, but here’s a non-exhaustive list of the uncounted ways women are unfairly made to suffer:
- The informal curfew enforced by terror. Women don’t get to walk around at night without fear and real risk of violence far in excess of what men experience. They are robbed of the freedom to move through the world freely and safely due to this. This limits them and adds stress, which erodes their lives and health. If a women breaks this curfew and is hurt, society often blames her instead of the men who are truly in the wrong.
- Eating is never painless. Eating good food is one of the most basic joys of human life, but women are denied that simple pleasure. Their eating is policed and judged constantly, witheringly, to the point that not a single meal can be had without some feeling of guilt and shame. Good men should take time to consider just how deeply this inescapable pain would hurt. If a woman cracks under all the shame and spirals into a disordered eating mode she will be blamed, which adds another layer of pain to what should be a purely joyful experience of sustaining one’s body through eating.
- Being casually ignored and interrupted by men. Every conversation with men is likely to tax a woman; men cut women off, speak over them, treat them as though they have less right to speak and be heard, and otherwise and in so many little ways communicate that women are not worth listening to. Men are conditioned to do this and will do it constantly without making a conscious effort to behave better. This is another daily corrosive effect that makes it harder for women to both feel good about themselves and to be seen as valid, which cuts against their inner life as well as hurts their professional and social lives. I can’t stress enough that every single man has got to actively monitor himself and purposely let women speak without interruption or else he’ll be just another casual bully among so many. It isn’t enough for a man to just call himself a feminist or think of himself as a good man, he has to practice listening in ways society didn’t prepare him for.
- The miasma of fear. The totality of all injustices seeps into every time and place. Danger is everywhere for women. They aren’t able to feel secure even in their homes, either because they are alone and risk attack, or because they are with men who present a constant threat (it is close relations that do most of the assaults, not strangers). Many women have had their bodily boundaries violated, which destroys — often in ways that do not ever totally heal — their sense of safety. I’ve heard many women in my own life, as well as female writers, say things to the effect of “I wonder what it’s like to feel safe and secure?” Men, listen: women are denied a moment-to-moment feeling of security — something basic which we take for granted. Good men should make an effort to recognize how destructive this lack of security is, how exhausting and paralyzing it would be to feel always afraid, never secure. There is no metric to tally the effects of this ever-present fear. Good men have got to see it, to listen to women, and to be relentless and creative in their attempts to ensure the women around them both are safe and feel safe.
There are many other uncounted taxes on the lives of women. Men can never really understand, but we have a moral obligation to try to be aware of these destructive forces if we’re to have any hope of making things better for women. Good enough is never good enough for men of real moral character. We should always be ready to listen to women who honor us by sharing their experiences, and to incorporate what we learn into a deeper understanding that lets us better see through the eyes of the other.