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Sexism Affects All Our Relationships

This past year I was the organizer for a men’s leaders’ workshop. Out of this effort I gained a new and unexpected understanding of how sexism limits our lives as men.

During the first half of the workshop, all my Co-Counseling sessions were spent on things associated with the work of organizing—in particular, feelings about workshop jobs that people had failed to follow through on or do as thoughtfully as I would have liked. This is a challenge for many workshop organizers, but there was a particular flavor to it during this workshop.

As organizer, I was approached over and over again for information that was readily available by looking where it was posted. I was routinely asked what time a meal was, where a group was meeting, or if I had seen something someone had misplaced. Men sometimes interrupted my mini-sessions or conversations to ask me these questions. I began to think of them as the “Do you know where my socks are?” questions.

One evening I walked through our meeting room to find it a mess—used tissue everywhere, chairs and mats disorganized, the snack table a wreck. While I picked up and straightened, several men worked on their computers in the back of the room (it was the only room with wi-fi), occasionally looking up to watch but making no effort to help.

The next day all my sessions were spent on this experience. I felt it was stupid to be using my session time for it and thought that my expectations might be unreasonable. But I couldn’t free my attention from the upset, so I assumed that it was something worth discharging on and kept at it, hoping I could eventually go on to “more important things.”

After much discharge, I had a new thought: that what was being aimed at me was sexism—that of course sexism, being a chronic distress, isn’t only active in the presence of women, it’s active all the time! In the absence of women, it seeks out the person or persons playing the closest thing to the “female role”—in my case, the role of workshop organizer.

It was my job as organizer to think about the room, the food, where we would be sleeping, how things looked, people’s physical needs, the schedule, where groups would meet, and a million other things critical to the well-being of the group and the functioning of the workshop—things traditionally thought of as “women’s work.” This meant that I was now being targeted in one of the ways that sexism has us targeting women—with unaware expectations of caretaking.

I began to view my job as organizer differently. I started to ask men more directly to take responsibility for the jobs they’d been assigned. At the end of each class I began requesting that all the men, before leaving their seats, look around and pick up any loose tissue or trash and straighten the chairs and mats in their immediate vicinity. This had the room organized in a few minutes. It also functioned to return people’s attention to the responsibility we all carry to look after ourselves and the environment we occupy.

It’s gotten me thinking about how sexism affects all our relationships, not solely our relationships with women. Thinking of it as a distress activated by the presence of women limits our understanding of what it is and how it affects us. Women are the “target group” of the distress, but clearly it has a negative effect on our thinking about everything—our connections, our environment, our responsibility for each other, what we can dedicate our minds to, and our relationships to each other as men.

Steve Thompson

Seattle, Washington, USA

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of men

(Present Time 182, January 2016)


Last modified: 2020-07-17 20:50:52+00