Here we are, at the beginning of April, and the end of women’s history month. But at least some of us know the struggle of herstory does not nicely run its course within thirty-one days of the year. The struggle persists and it only grows stronger. There might be the belief that having a women’s history month somehow remains a symbol of progress for U.S. society, to show how far we have come in forwarding women’s rights. Well, to officially acknowledge the narratives and movements of an entire gender during only 31 days out of 365 seems short changed to me. What does that suggest to girls growing up to become women, that their stories matter only one time in the year? That they own a month? No, that they were allowed a month to speak out, have their voices heard. Yet the reality is, one month will never be enough time to cover the millennia of women’s experiences, sufferings, and achievements. Look to the women who have pioneered social change and innovation, from Indira Gandhi to Dolores Huerta to Rosalind Franklin to Chien-Shiung Wu.
Our public education system acknowledges the lived struggles of these women (and yet leave out the millions of women like them) only during a particular time of the year rather than inked indelibly in our textbooks and in our minds. And the problem doesn’t stop there. Our dialogue on rape remains focused solely on telling how women should avoid it by the way they dress and behave, and instead of telling men not to rape or hit women. Those very same women who have been raped are told that they might have been asking for it. The homes of women receiving welfare are legally violated and invaded under the assumption that they are being unfaithful to the Man with another man. Many women are afraid to leave their abusive partners because they won’t get the support they need from their own government. Yet we still proscribe blame to mental illness and the mentally ill for the violence against women permeating the nation. This is a problem of widespread violence and of global silencing.
I cannot speak for women, and I would not dare attempt it. I have already seen other men try. The explanations I keep hearing repeated are like a broken record: women are guarded around men, they are too sensitive, they interpret things far out of proportion, and so on and so forth. The overall theme would suggest that men are afraid of women. They are supposedly afraid in the sense that women will persecute them for just being a man. We are so concerned about the actions, the thoughts, and the “sensitivities” of women that we neglect to examine men’s own roles in the violence and in the silence. Too long have women’s issues been addressed as if they needed policymakers (who are mostly men) to create solutions on their behalf. Too long have we as men failed to recognize our own part in the equation for gender violence. Men might be afraid, but women are certainly terrified. History is a nightmare from which women cannot seem to wake up.
Some people might say that women can be just as culpable in the violence, in that men have been abused, raped, and killed at the hands of women as well. Yet does this really justify anything we are speaking to, are we really ready to accept the idea that we are equally violated and that makes it all somehow okay? Equality for all just means oppression for all? I cannot accept it. And again speaking from a man’s perspective, two issues arise. First, men’s violence against women has far outscored women’s violence against men, statistically and systematically across history. Second, we need consider the fact that the violence against men remains statistically and systematically across history at the bloodied hands of other men.
If anything, these deflecting arguments only go to show that men too have a stake in this problem of violence, for the sake of women’s bodies and men’s souls. Within the last few decades, we are just now beginning to comprehend the trauma that women experience from the violence throughout generations, to their bodies and to their psyches. And yet we often neglect the psychological and physical toll that it takes on men (and even women) to believe it normal and even inevitable at least some among them will commit this kind of violence. Imagine the mass delusion necessary to make a society believe it is okay for men to cat-call women, to get angry at being rejected in their advances to women, to have the right to pass policies and laws supposedly on women’s behalf yet remain nonetheless on their terms. The terms must be renegotiated, to have us men stand with women, and not to speak for them.