Every woman has a story that involves men and being scared and/or intimidated which causes the woman to change and/or adjust her plans. This is not a new thing, #notallmen and the response #yesallwomen are very typical of how discussions of gender inequality go in respect to these stories.
Breaking out of typical starts with how the story is told and continues with how the story is received.
This story starts with a camping trip that myself, a friend, and her two small children went on. We originally planned to stay two nights. The first night the guy from the next campsite invited himself over to say hi. Turns out he was quite drunk and toed some lines with the children that made my friend very uncomfortable. Eventually we sent the kids to bed and used that as an excuse to kick the guy out of our camp.
Pause on the story (because it doesn’t end here). Before you start to “solve” our camping dilemma… yes there were some things my friend and I could have done differently, and yes there were some things the guy should have been more conscious of, and yes there was a bunch of campers who did NOT stop by to say hi so we recognize that most male campers did not invade our space. Who we are and what we value change what we could have done to avoid the situation – the possibilities are endless – but we did the best we could with what we knew and what we believe.
Back to camping… the next day we changed to a different site in the same campground and had a lovely day. That is, it was lovely until we were finishing dinner and my friend noticed the guy from the previous night driving multiple times around the camping loop. He then proceeded to stop and set up camp directly across from us. This creeped us out to the point where we immediately packed up and went home despite already having paid for the second night of camping. The best possible spin we could find for his behavior is that he thought he was protecting two women camping with kids.
Gender equality could help avoid situations like this, or at least make it more obvious if we should have been creeped out. Ideally in a gender equal society the guy would have asked if we wanted him to keep an eye out for us. Ideally in a gender equal society we would have been able to ask him to leave us alone (no excuse needed) without feeling there was a risk of escalating the situational danger.
When telling a story of gender inequality, like this one, there are so many “moral to the story” options that are counter-productive to actually forwarding the cause of gender equality. Often stories can come across as blaming or woe-is-me. Also, when hearing a story of gender inequality like this one, it is so easy to try and solve the situation or disassociate from the circumstances (i.e. “That would never happen to me, I’m smarter than that.”). Often responses can come across as victim blaming or defensive.
If we can tell a story without blaming a group or stereotyping. If we can receive a story without feeling attacked. If we can reach deeper to the social cause of the situation and recognize that gender equality is so much more than equal opportunity. If we can do these things and then change our behavior toward those around us then we have started on the road to a more equal society.
What is your response to the story? Do you think I told it in the spirit intended with this post? How do we break out of typical? How do we recognize and change our behavior?