Sunday, September 7, 2014

Shut up and listen

Have you heard about those students who came up with the date rape drug detecting nail polish?

When I first saw this news making the rounds on social media I thought it was awesome news!  Unlike a certain locally invented product, this can actually prevent rape from ever taking place so surely this would be good news for everyone (except rapists).  So I was more than a little bit surprised when I saw that a lot of people were actually very unhappy with this development and they weren't rapists, they were my feminist friends!

They were arguing that once again this "solution" ignores the real problem - the rapists - and instead adds yet another weight to the already massive burden we place on women to prevent their own rapes.  Now added to: don't go out alone, don't wear a mini skirt, don't flirt, don't drink too much & don't get separated from your friends we are adding "wear date rape detecting nail polish".  This makes not getting raped the woman's problem and does nothing to stop guys from being rapists.

Now my first response to that was to say, "You know what? I get it!  Teaching about consent should be a prominent part of sex ed and guys need to be taught that sleeping with a girl too drunk to know her own name is not sex but rape, etc BUT those are all long term strategies and this nail polish can help someone right now.  Why can't it all be part of a multi-pronged approach to ending instances of rape?"

But then I went to breakfast.

While waiting for my food I couldn't help but overhear the table next to me talking.  So one young lady at the table seems to be some kind of traveling salesperson, not sure for what and she was telling a story of something that recently happened to her.  She had an appointment with a guy living on a homestead just a bit outside of the city.  When she arrived the guy asked her if she wanted a cooldrink which she declined.  He then became very insistent that she have a drink but she kept on refusing and eventually he said he was going to get himself a drink and she should have one with him.  After clearly hearing him stirring something in the kitchen he returns with one glass and claimed that he had his drink in the kitchen and she should have her drink now.  She still refused and quickly became aware that he had no interest at all in whatever she was selling and was just focused on her drinking her drink.  So she left and now got to tell this as one of those "a funny thing happened to me on the job the other day" stories and not the obvious horror story it almost was.  No, scratch that, it was still a horror story, I was horrified just eavesdropping!  But to her, and I assume her friends at the table, this was just one of those things that happens and you have to deal with.

That's when it hit me.  The truth was that no, I did not actually "get it".  I don't know what life is like for women.  I can't.  Their experience of this world is at time completely alien to mine.  And this goes way beyond that.  There are social, racial and political realities I do not and cannot experience.  Why then do I feel the need to say, "Look guys I may have no experience of your problem but I'm a smart guy so shut up and listen to me while I hand down the solutions to all your problems"?  That sort of thing really makes someone seem like a huge asshole, even if those aren't the exact words used.  I think we all do it sometimes and we probably don't even mean it that way but that is kind of what it sounds like.  At least that's what it sounds like to me whenever the roles are reversed.

So maybe the answer is to not be so quick to give my 2 cents in every single matter.  Maybe the best thing would be for me to shut up and listen.  Really listen, not just wait for an opening to step in and unveil my solution.  After all, even if I'm right, why should anyone give me the time of day if I'm not willing to make a real effort to understand where they're coming from?

Look, I'm not saying you should never get to speak your mind or have an opinion.  But seriously, if you feel the need to always have your opinion heard, valued and admired in every situation regardless of how well informed you are then what kind of person does that make you?

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