I sat through the Town Hall, entitled “Am I my brother’s/sister’s keeper?”, without getting up and speaking. I was there to listen with the intent of understanding, not simply to respond. The discussion’s purpose was to bridge the gap between black women and men on campus by exploring normative expectations. We were prompted to answer question on sticky notes regarding our expectations from our counterparts, what we based our views of normative expectations on, how our counterparts fail to met our expectations, and what solutions could be put into place.
I continued conversations days after the Town Hall ended and I took note of the reasons we may seem deeply divided. The individuals that identified as men in the room were a small representation of men on campus, but they chose to be there to hear about the concerns of individuals who identify as women and to express their own concerns. Many of the concerns that were brought to light could be solved by focusing on two main things:communication and personal responsibility/ reflection.
There is not one person in this world that has not said something they did not truly mean, spoke out of ignorance, encountered things that they did not know existed, or struggled to form their thoughts into a clear statement. Therefore, we cannot expect anyone to get their words right the first time. If something comes off as misogynistic or as a form of hatred, we cannot automatically assume that they mean to spread hate. We must acknowledge that people come from many different backgrounds and communities. There are people who have never heard of certain phrases revolving around gender, sexuality, or identity. They may not be aware that those things exist or of its significance. It is not our responsibility to educate people, but we cannot be angry if someone is not educated on topics they have never heard of or been exposed to. Instead of attacking their character or drawing rash conclusions, it is more effective to keep the lines of communication open by inquiring more about their statement or expressing how the statement is problematic. We should aim to educate and challenge one another’s thoughts, rather than tearing each other down.
“The way that you worded …implies … Did you mean to say …? Could you elaborate…? A better way to get your message across is …”
If we continue to assume someone is attempting to hurt us or we draw conclusions based on the actions of people that are not in the room, we will not get anywhere. Naturally, our minds shut down when people scream at us or perceive things in a way that we did not intend them to. Additionally, because of the intensity of the discussion, many people did not get a chance to express what they truly meant.
“… black women are the backbone to black men…”
I do not think this person meant to imply that Black women serve black men or are the foundation for them to build off of. This is a phrase many black communities say which encourages black men to respect black women and their plight. Therefore, this phase can mean something completely different than to those who find it offensive and problematic. Instead of judging this person, we should deconstruct the rhetoric and find out what it means to different people.
“…women should not share their sexual experiences…”
The person who wrote this has fully recognized that the wording did not express his message clearly. He was attempting to convey his concern with a lie that was told within a woman’s sexual experience story that ended up reflecting negatively on him when it simply was not true.
I also took note of a person reflecting on his experience with being objectified and judged based on the rumors of his genitalia. As I was speaking with other people about the meaning behind his statement, I was challenged with women’s experience of being objectified. Yes, women are objectified for nearly everything they do, but we cannot expect our experiences to be heard while we invalidate the experiences of other people. Just because someone may have it worse, does not mean another person’s feelings can be invalidated.
Lastly, we have to take personal responsibility. No one can read your thoughts or your silence. If you want someone to know how you feel, then you have to speak up, sometimes more than once. Get in front of the right people and make them hear you. There are people that care and just because you encounter those who do not care, does not mean one can generalize an entire group of people. Additionally, personal reflection is something we all should challenge ourselves to possess. No matter how you identify, we all possess the ability to apologize, to ask questions, and admit our problematic behavior. Each and every one of us have behaviors that need to be addressed and I have noticed how we can call out men’s behavior, but we are reluctant to address the behaviors of women that can be seen as problematic as well.
Solutions to start applying today:
Lay out expectations with your friends. Don’t expect them to just know your thoughts.
Challenge yourself to find things you had control over or could have executed better in past situations. If you find yourself at fault for anything, apologize.
Do not invalidate other people’s feelings. If your feelings are being pushed aside, speak up.
Seek to understand and to help people learn.
Don’t bottle up your feelings, speak sooner than later about things that have hurt you.
Develop sympathy, empathy, and compassion for those who identify differently from yourself.
Take personal responsibility without blaming yourself.