Talking about equality is difficult. I mean not really difficult like talking about quantum physics or austerity, but difficult because it can be an uncomfortable conversation, especially if you’re talking about it from a position of privilege such as that of a straight white man.
Whether discussing race, gender or sexuality, it’s easy to make mistakes. When I think about all the ways I’ve personally screwed up it makes me cringe so badly that it feels like my whole body might turn itself inside out. But I’m going to publicly shame myself and share some of those mistakes anyway because I’m betting I’m not the only one.
The times I’ve said “but not all men. . . ”
I’ve impulsively said this more than once as a response to rhetorical questions like, “Why do men think its okay to act like this?” And I think the reason I’ve said it is that I felt attacked and also scared of being lumped together with the Harvey Weinsteins of the world.
But of course, not all men are pot-plant wanking sex-pest predators. Everyone knows this. However some men are, and if you have to walk into a room with one of them it probably doesn’t help much to know that other men in other rooms are less likely to assault, intimidate or threaten you.
It’s not exactly surprising that SWM occasionally feel under attack. I have come across feminist/LGBTQ+ podcasts, magazines, and other media that have all given me the same strangely uneasy feeling that I am not welcome. When something unkind is said about SWM in these spaces it feels strangely personal and I think our first instinct is often to react in anger. But what we should do is acknowledge that this is a very rare and new experience for us. The fact that we are now feeling victimised is perhaps at least proof that spaces are opening up for others, so I think we can handle a joke or two at our own expense.
When I thought that racism didn’t exist
Yeah, there’s really no excuse for this kind of ignorance but there was honestly a time when I was a teenager that I thought racism, much like smallpox, although once quite a problem had essentially been dealt with sometime shortly before my birth.
Now I realise this rose-tinted worldview was mostly a result of the fact that I grew up in a rural town in middle England and that other races, religions and cultures were rarely encountered. It turns out racism is hard to spot when everyone you’ve ever known is white and British.
When I failed to understand the shit women have to deal with
When I was at university my girlfriend worked in a bar about half a mile away from where I lived. I would usually meet her at the end of her shift and we would walk back to my house together. But one night it was raining, and I had a cold, and mostly I just couldn’t be bothered to leave the house.
Later I couldn’t understand why she was so angry at me, but I should have done because the answer was simple. I had forced her to walk through the city alone after dark.
After talking to my female friends about it I found out that almost all of them had at some point been assaulted late at night on trains or buses, or while walking the streets of London alone. Even if it was something I had been vaguely aware of, I had never seriously thought about it before because I have never had to worry about my own safety in the same way, and I suppose that is a pretty good example of privilege.
All the times I have been a part of the problem
They are perhaps the most forgivable of my crimes because they come from a place of unconscious ignorance, but they’re also the things that make me the most ashamed to recall. They include all the occasions where I have ignored someone in a social situation (usually a middle aged woman) because I didn’t think we could possibly have anything to talk about.
Then there are the times that when choosing people to work with I have gravitated towards individuals who are like me, young men from a similar background who speak and dress in a way that I can relate easily to. And yeah that’s definitely not ok, but recognising this, as well as other mistakes, I think, is the first step to changing behaviour both as an individual and a society.