The slow progress of gender parity may be because men are not listening to women


A heated exchange between friends on the merit of men’s allyship in the fight for gender equality concluded thus over the weekend; “You people should go and do your ‘love and light’ activism, let’s see where that gets you.”

‘You people’ in this context are feminists (which for the purpose of this essay are women only) and allies who understand that their place is in listening to women and amplifying and pursuing with diligence their suggestions of ways to achieve a gender-equal world.

That exchange put two things to light I already suspect from years of interaction with cis-heterosexual and homosexual men:

  1. That men cannot be feminist.
  2. Men only listen to women to proffer a solution of their own design as the better thing to do – mansplain if you will.

The risk of tone-policing is ever-present even with men who accept they are allies because they can’t fully grasp women’s struggles sans the lived experience. And that is not the worst kind of male interference that makes it ever dicey to have men identifying as feminist. There is tactic policing, which puts women in the line of direct danger while their male allies sleep soundly protected by their male privilege.

Take the conversation about sexual and gender-based violence for instance. When women bring these issues; one gory story after another to the centre of public discourse, men are often quickest with self-exoneration and then you get a barrage of impractical solutions like; women should carry weapons, learn self-defence or be conscious of what they wear to certain places.

This is usually spoken over women’s clear analysis of the problem – as a cultural menace we can’t defeat without nipping the culture at the bud – and suggestions of more practical solutions like men holding other men accountable for problematic attitudes like normalized rape culture.

The perennial re-emergence of the once-popular South African anti-rape device, Rape-axe,  on Twitter timelines touted by mostly men as a solution for the rape epidemic in Nigeria is a real-time example of the aforementioned scenario.

To a man whose only interaction with a vagina is the brief coital contacts that make up intercourse, it makes sense to think the solution to the ever-present danger of rape posed by men in whatever capacity is to have a tampon-like device snuck up your vagina.

Ever-present means you will need to have Rape-axe inserted at all times. Anyone with a vagina understands how impractical that is and many have explained just how so.

Men live to protect men

“These babes like to dey form, you need to up your game.”

There is a reason that practical solutions which hold men accountable are less appealing to men (feminists, allies, and ‘proud patriarchs’ alike) – it is easier to shift the blame on women when those ‘solutions’ fail, as they inevitably must, because they treat a symptom rather than the disease.

Twitter user, Uyi (@azilithisbae), did a beautiful breakdown of why Rape-axe is a bad idea for women that perfectly nailed the above concern when it comes to suggested solutions men proffer to end sexual violence.

“Imagine this becomes mainstream. Women would be expected to have this in their bodies at all times. All times. If you get raped and you weren’t wearing it? “Why wouldn’t you wear your protection if you didn’t want it? “What do you mean you were asleep? …,” she tweeted.

It gets worse, however.

Another female Twitter user, @Adiaghagan, pointed out other ways things could go horribly wrong for the Rape-axe wearer.

“Or the rapist getting angry and immediately shooting the victim. Or even checking to see if the protection is there and forcing the lady to take it out,” she tweeted.

The solution that doesn’t cuddle the violator is quite simple. Jenny Crwys-William, the host of a popular radio talk show on South Africa’s KayaFM summed it perfectly, “When more rapists go behind bars, rape rates will go down,” she told listeners.

Laws and culture however do not operate in a vacuum, they are reflections of the people they govern and draw across time respectively. 

The reason convictions are hard to come by in rape cases is because the laws themselves are flawed, with holes in them big as manholes that allow perpetrators more than a wiggle room to escape justice. The laws are flawed because our cultures from Kano to Bayelsa have a common uniting ground in the objectification of the female body even if the method it is done differs from one culture to another. 

Judges, priests, doctors, lawyers, police officers, and soldiers, are rapists, know rapists, are comfortable holding discussions that normalize rape or are happy to throw women that don’t conform under the bus. If they could find one reason – say a partying spirit, they think you deserve it then your case is as good as done for.

Tactic policing 

“The fight for equality must not treat women as victims.”

 Tactic policing tells women that their approach is ineffective and advises the use of more radical means that borders on men’s go-to solution for most things; if it wouldn’t budge blow it up.

My friend’s exasperation had built to the point where he ditched his feminist credentials after I insisted on giving credence to nuance and understanding that in a patriarchal world many women lack the privilege of choice.

He thinks women are being mollycoddled when allowances are made for disadvantaged women to catch up without antagonising them in the interim. Which is telling of both male privilege and economic privilege that fails to see how deeply systemic injustice against all women runs, and how much deeper still for poor women.

When you listen to women 

Kimberly Probolus, who in 2019 urged women to raise their voices and write more letters to the editor at The New York Times said in an op-ed, The problem is not that women aren’t speaking up. As far back as ancient Greece — when Cassandra warned the Trojans about that giant wooden horse — women have been speaking loudly and clearly. The problem is that men aren’t listening.”

The trick when it comes to listening she noted is a simple 3-tier exercise:

  1. Stop talking – listening is only listening when you are not preoccupied with what great point you have to share with the person you are listening to.
  2. Leave your assumptions at the door – you may disagree with what women are saying but if you are keen on listening, you will nevertheless pay attention to what they are saying.
  3. Ask questions – this is how you know where you come in.

My friend may have meant well with his concern about mollycoddling women. The patriarchy that feminism works to dismantle already infantilises women in ways that endanger them daily. The counter to that may seem like the opposite that treats women with the same hard glove it handles men. That however, ignores that in trying to dismantle the system, feminism is also challenging its harsh treatment of men.

Feminism is saying we all need a break from the violence of patriarchy that stunts men emotionally and sets women up for sexual and gender-based violence at the hands of emotionally crippled men.

If men listen to women to find solutions against a common enemy and not to assert their preference we will be a long way into solving gender disparity in this crooked world.

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