An earnest listen now and again is not enough

Dear President Trump,

Victoria Bissell Brown. Dr. Victoria Bissell Brown, actually. Not a name you’ve probably ever heard before. Not a name I’d ever heard before yesterday, but I’m going to do my best to remember it. Dr. Brown is a retired history professor from Grinnell College and she wrote the mother of all op-eds for the WP yesterday. It’s entitled “Thanks for not raping us, all you ‘good men.’ But it’s not enough.” I’m positive she wasn’t talking to you because there is no way in hell she would have counted you among the ‘good men,’ but I still think you should pay attention to what she has to say because she is spot on in her descriptions of the sources and depth of women’s rage and how ‘good men’s’ complicity props up the patriarchy.

Dr. Brown describes herself as an almost 70-year-old grandmother who basically lost it on her husband of 50 years when he was casually insensitive and dismissive of her. She said she yelled and yelled at him, telling him that she hates all men and wished they were all dead, that his promises to do better, to listen to her better, to improve how he interacts with her were all empty gestures because he won’t do better, he can’t do better. She pointed out that even though he is one of the good ones, one of the men who respects women, likes women, and has never abused or denigrated women, he’s still complicit because he and the other men like him have never organized themselves to actively address how men treat women, to confront what men get away with assuming is their birthright. She railed at him that listening to women is not enough, not enough by a very long shot. Nodding sympathetically when a woman tells him about having been slighted (again), dismissed (again), been the butt of a joke (again), subjected to crass innuendo (again), assaulted (again), or any of the other hundreds of ways women are routinely oppressed by men at home, at work, on the street, at school – it is not enough.

Yes, there is something to be said for bearing witness, something to be said for trying to understand another’s point of view, another’s burden. It’s a crucial starting point, to be sure. But it is not enough. If I, as a white woman, only listen to the people of color in my life and only nod sympathetically when they tell me about the racism they encounter daily, it is not enough. I need to check my own racial biases and I need to step up and say something, out f*cking loud, when other white people are being racist, whether overtly or discreetly. I need to stand up for people of color when they are not there (and when they are there I need to sort out how best to support them, which may or may not involve saying something), much like Lindy West told her male friends that she wants them to stand up for her to other men when she’s not there.

Women can demand that men respect us, that men not assault us, that men treat us like full human beings, but men have to be willing to step up and do that and they have to be willing to hold themselves and other men accountable. And this is going to take way more than an earnest listen or two every now and again.

May we truly care about everyone’s full safety.
May we be happy to step back and be humble.
May we finally commit to establishing healthy ways of being with one another.
May those who are used to having power, make peace with sharing it.

Tracy Simpson

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