In the wake of #MeToo it seems men are still not analysing their behaviour in any kind of meaningful way, says Sophie White
As women, we are force-fed the male experience from nought. I picture us like the unfortunate ducks in the foie gras scenario, or the lad in A Clockwork Orange in the eye clamp contraption just being forced to watch Blade Runner and Taxi Driver and every other film men exalted by men. Films that certainly do not include female characters in any way more meaningful then as a living prop upon which the male characters can project their anger and/or desire. The women in these movies tend be simply a general human woman shape, undefined and completely lacking development or inner world, merely serving to absorb the men's ideas.
Oh that real life were different!
'Mansplaining' is a concept we are all well acquainted with now. It was first hauled out for examination in 2014 with Rebecca Solnit's book Men Explain Things To Me, which was as funny as it was infuriating and enlightening. More recently, comedian and former user experience designer for Google, Sarah Cooper has written How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men's Feelings which further explores what is tolerated in terms of male behaviour and the unfortunately pervasive lack of self-awareness from men regarding same. It includes chapters like How to Be Harassed Without Hurting His Career that explores the myriad ways that women are pressured into self-policing in the name of the sparing men unpleasant self-examination.
Infuriating conversations with men
Post-#MeToo, I find myself frequently mired in infuriating conversations with men on the subject of consent, equal pay and (eye-rolling-so-hard-I-may-cause-myself-injury) men's rights. The not-all-men-camp basically. Please note I am not the person bringing up these debates because much of the time, I don't have the energy – sorry if that sounds like cop-out central but I am very, very tired and also because I am a woman, at all times a small co-pilot in my brain is whispering "don't piss him off, this could escalate".
And my co-pilot isn't being crazy or hysterical or any other words we put on women's emotions to invalidate them. The co-pilot is just remembering past experiences and advising caution. Usually, I find that men are so busy arguing that "not all men would intimidate or hurt a woman" that they cannot seem to grasp that so many do, on such a vast and terrifying scale, that it is verging on a systemic practise in our culture. And that equipping ourselves against the potential threat is as ingrained in us as drinking water.
Bored by female lives
To me all this comes right back to men's inability to be bothered caring about women's experience.
On the most benign end of things, I have found they are often bored by the elements that make up female lives. When my book, Recipes For A Nervous Breakdown came out, one man told me it was brilliant except that "obviously" he had skipped all the bits about motherhood. I was fascinated by this. I thought "wow, you couldn't read two chapters detailing something that's outside your realm of experience?"
"As soon as I embark on answering their questions, they start up talking again. Manologuing at us about us, during answers we're giving to questions they've asked US in the first place."
Think of all the reading we've done about male experience and you can't read one thing that involves a vagina doing something it was built to do. And it is still parenthood, it's a somewhat universal one – we all have parents even if we're not parents. Plus if a man told me a human being had erupted out of his body on a tidal wave of gore, I'd be all ears. I'd be like "Holy crap! That sounds intense, tell me more."
In the post-#MeToo landscape it feels as though we've made many significant strides. On the face of it, men seem ready to listen. This is great even though with them doing all this listening, we're still the ones doing all the work of talking, and survivors are the ones required to eschew privacy and to excavate old wounds to further this shift for the better.
In the lay conversations around #MeToo, there is the potential to convince or convert individuals who refuse to acknowledge the painful hangover of female oppression. Many times, I have found myself appointed some kind of ad hoc ambassador for the complex ideas around consent and power and truth. If a man is asking me questions about these things, I felt heartened by his interest. However so so often, as soon as I embark on answering their questions, they start up talking again. Manologuing at us about us, during answers we're giving to questions they've asked US in the first place.
"How are men even supposed to talk to women anymore?"
Just last week, I found myself at a table with three other men and one of them swung the conversation around to #MeToo. He was "debating" (though it feels closer to questioning) me about "how are men even supposed to talk to women anymore?" After some time patiently and calmly trying to answer his questions, I just started laughing because his badgering and interrupting and talking over my answers was really just proving my point for me.
A friend told me she'd sat through similar manologuing on the matter. "I also keep hearing this “men are walking around terrified” thing too," she added.
Not to sound flippant or gleeful, but personally I cannot stop laughing at that line. Can they even hear themselves? I wonder. If they could take a break from the manologuing and actually listen, they might notice that we've been saying that for years, decades, centuries even.