Dear Straight White Men

Dear Straight, White Men,

 

The fact that I am still having to write something like this in this day and age gives me mixed feelings – on the one hand, I feel as if shouldn’t still have to say some of the things that this letter will address, and on the other I think that this might be the exact right time in history to say them. Because this moment – the time of the #MeToo movement, the time of Black Lives Matter, the time of spreading awareness of LGBTQ+ rights – is one where for the first time you are experiencing a little of what the rest of us have experienced for most of history. I know not every man is a sexist, not every white person is racist and not every straight, cis person is trans- or homophobic. I know that and this letter isn’t going to be an angry, hate-filled tirade against men – of any colour – it isn’t going to be an effort to offend or shove things down your throats; all it is, is a request – a plea for you to listen to what I have to say, to what anyone in your life has to say, who is different from you.

 

The society we live in is one where you – men, many of you being Caucasian – have the majority of leadership positions, whether corporate or political. Out of 193 national governments, only 11 are headed up by women – that’s 5.7% - which means that the reason you as a demographic have been singled out now, is because of this power. Unless you come from a distinctly disadvantaged socio-economic background, you will not have experienced the sort of oppression most of the rest of the world go through on a daily basis – which is why we call on you, again and again, to help change that.

 

An issue that has become familiar to many over the last year, is the issue of sexual assault. It is estimated that 35% of all women will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes – that doesn’t even include the amount of sexual harassment that women experience. You might ask why I’m telling you this – it’s a commonly known fact, why bring it up again and again? The answer is simple: It shouldn’t be!

 

It should not be commonly known about and accepted that almost a third of women will experience some form of sexual assault. It should not be normal that if you ask almost any woman in your life – even a random woman on the street – she will have experienced some form of sexual harassment. For me, I was 12 the first time and I was groped while standing in line in the supermarket. As frightening and confusing as that experience was for a twelve-year-old, what strikes me now is how I reacted afterward. Because even at that point in my life society had drilled it into my brain that I was to be ashamed for what happened – that if people knew I would be judged. Later on, the more I talked to my female friends and family, the more I heard the phrases: “It happens to everyone.” and “It won’t be the last time.”

 

Here’s the thing, it shouldn’t be normal and it shouldn’t be something that is almost regarded as a right of passage. But it isn’t women who have normalised that behaviour – it’s men. For too long you’ve been given the right to see yourselves as superior humans, who can get away with anything and when called out for any immoral action can blame it on anyone, not like you – anyone you consider inferior. That isn’t allowed anymore. You have maneuvered yourselves into positions of power for most of history and now you can either give that power up or use it to help those you’ve shoved into the corners of society. 

 

The reason for this is – at the risk of sounding like a petulant child – that it isn’t fair. It isn’t fair that women need to look over their shoulders when walking home at night, it isn’t fair that women aren’t paid equally for doing the same jobs as men, it isn’t fair that because you weren’t born with the right skin colour you aren’t afforded the same opportunities for social advancement, it isn’t fair that because you love someone of the same gender you’re shunned, it isn’t fair that if you deviate from the “straight, cis, male ‘norm’” that you aren’t as important. More than that, it isn’t fair that the people with the power to help, are you guys, the ones who decided hundreds of years ago that you were superior, and it isn’t fair that society today still lets you get away with that. 

 

I’m not asking you to give up what life has given you, to give up your privilege – what I’m asking is for you to acknowledge that it even exists. That is why people now have issues with stereotypical “straight, white men”, because you too often refuse to acknowledge your privilege, whilst simultaneously staring down your nose at anyone you deem a deviant from your norm. You need to understand that there are different levels of privilege; I myself understand that as a cis white woman, I will never face the same struggles as a trans person or person of colour. That means that I need to listen to them when they speak about their struggles and acknowledge that mine may not be the same, but that does not mean theirs are worth any less – and you need to as well.

 

 

 

Feminism and supporting equal rights is not about attacking men – straight, white, or otherwise – or wanting you to feel inferior, it’s about finally granting true equality, for everyone – which despite many social advancements still has not been achieved. If you think women are treated the same as men, ask yourself how many times women are told that they need to learn to “control their emotions” and how many times rape accusations against men are just ignored because the way a woman dressed meant a man “simply couldn’t control himself”. If you think they experience the same things, compare the answers of men to that of women when asked whether they feel safe in a room with strangers of the opposite sex. If you think that racism is no longer an issue, you need to question why a white police officer can shoot an unarmed person of colour because they looked dangerous, but a white girl can bring a rifle to university with no repercussions. If you think that LGBTQ+ people aren’t still facing harassment now that gay marriage is legal, then I would ask you to think about the fact that 10% of LGBTQ+ people were discriminated against when simply trying to rent or buy accommodation and a third of them don’t feel safe walking down certain streets. If you think that discrimination on the basis of gender, gender identification, race, or sexual orientation isn’t widespread or simply doesn’t exist then you are wilfully ignoring the world around you. Not experiencing discrimination is a rarity and the reason you are being held responsible for that is that we need you to understand what it’s like for those of us who do. What you also need to understand is that you are not being silenced and you are not having rights taken away from you. However, for the first time, you are being forced to listen. For the first time in history, you are seeing people rise up to the level of privilege you have experienced your whole lives. But it isn’t enough.

 

It’s not enough, because the country that has styled itself the “leader of the free world”, elected a man who feels that he has the right to “grab women by the p*ssy” and as a society, we gave him that right and refused to take it away from him. It’s not enough, because it is estimated that it will take another 170 years to close the global pay gap between women and men. It’s not enough because there are still 17 million girls who are never provided with an education. It’s not enough because the rate of suicide attempts among LGBTQ+ youths is five times higher than among heterosexuals. It’s not enough because the main way of trying to get men to understand sexual abuse is by asking them to imagine it was their mother, sister, or daughter who was assaulted – it’s not enough because we still need to qualify a woman’s humanity by relating her to a man.

 

It’s not enough and so while I promised that this wouldn’t be an angry tirade, I have to admit that I am angry. I’m angry at still having to defend the need for women’s rights, just because we can vote and work now. I’m angry that people who discriminate, oppress, and wilfully disregard the rights of others aren’t held accountable because they’re the ones in power. I’m angry that the fact that there are 11 female heads of government in the entire world, means that men feel like women are taking over. I’m angry that in 67% of countries, women cannot have abortions unless there are extenuating circumstances because male-dominated governments have decided that they do not have the right to decide over their own bodies. I am angry that trans people don’t feel safe using public bathrooms. I am angry that being angry in public as a woman means you’re either hormonal or insane.

 

I am unbelievably tired of being angry, but at the same time, it seems to be the only way to get you to listen. We don’t have marches and protests and declarations of pride for no reason, we have them because if we don’t, then you don’t care. If we don’t make you uncomfortable, then you don’t care. If we don’t relate to you again and again how unjust the society we live in is, then you don’t care – because it doesn’t affect you. And you are lucky that you aren’t affected, but that doesn’t mean that you get to stay out of it – not anymore.

 

The time has come where you are being asked to be an ally – and simply listening and becoming aware of peoples’ struggles is a large and important part of that. Once you have listened to people’s stories of discrimination and how it made them feel, it becomes easier to help. You can help by calling out “locker room talk”, realising that “boys will be boys” is no longer an excuse, by defending the discriminated people around you – even if it can cause small disadvantages for you. That is the minimum you can do because it’s basic decency – and really, that’s all we’re asking for.

 

 

 

 

 

images sourced from Goolge Images 

Sources:

 

http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/facts-and-figures

http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women

https://www.stonewall.org.uk/sites/default/files/lgbt_in_britain_hate_crime.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion_law

http://uk.businessinsider.com/countries-with-the-biggest-gender-pay-gaps-2017-10

https://en.unesco.org/gem-report/sites/gem-report/files/girls-factsheet-en.pdf

https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/preventing-suicide/facts-about-suicide/#sm.0003ofebw18gefp2x232pzl2w3ora