Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Drop the guessing game, ladies, please...

A chocking experience

When I was very young, maybe around 18 or 19 years old, I got my first real grown-up job. On one of my first days there two of my collegues, a man and a woman, where standing side by side working together. Then all of the sudden, he grabbed her behind and gave it a squeeze...
My first thought was something like: "Naaa... That can't be right... Nobody would act in such a disrespectful way... I must have misunderstood the situation..."
As I turned my head looking at a third collegue, he too looked baffled. "Did you see that too?" he asked. "Ehm... Well... Yeah..." I answered reluctantly "I suppose I did..."
What happened after that I really don't know. After all, I was quite young and quite frankly I didn't have the slightest idea how to react. I was chocked and disillusioned. Never in my life had I seen anything remotely resembling that experience. In my world such behavior just didn't exist...

The MeToo Campaign

Now, why am I telling this story?
Well, I am telling it because that experience has popped up in my head over and over recently as I've seen the #metoo campaign unravelling from a single tweet to global attention in next no time at all.

It all began with actor and singer Alyssa Milano October 15th this year tweeting her challenge for everyone who had experienced sexual harrassment to use ”Me Too” as a headline. The whole point is to raise attention to the problem and make it visible that this problem is much bigger than most people are aware. That mission certainly has succeede. According to a Danish newspaper, Information, at least 1.5 mio. people had been involved in this campaign in less than four days and since then the movement has gone globally viral.

Keep the debate on track

MeToo has created awareness. Important and much needed awareness. For that reason alone, it is extremely important to keep the debate on track, whatever that means...

Being a man I'm both chocked, worried and angered that this problem is so wide spread. Still I'm equally surprised. Surprised that having this very important public debate going, it seems the usual tendency in these matters to make it a gender war, where men are accused of not taking the subject seriously, when in reality they are just experiencing dissonans in their perspective of the world: because what we read and hear with the #metoo campaign doesn't fit what we see in our every day lives!

Self Victimizing Men

In Radio24syv December 1st Asger Juul and Ida Herskind invited three women to debate the campaing in a Danish context. Sexologist Julie Jeune, vicepresident of FOA (a national union) Mona Strib and author Line Knutzon.
The setting was based on getting a nuanced debate and Mona Strib did well to ensure a fair balance so you should think this would be a great recepie for a serious radio show.

But… unfortunately not many minutes passed before sexologist Jeune let the judges hammer fall on men who've reacted with more extreme measures. For example René Fredensborg who says in an interview that he has decided to not dance at the annual Christmas Party. Instead he plans to stand at the bar all evening with a drink in each hand. ”Well... that way i can't... I wouldn't be able to touch anyone inapropriately” he announces. And this is where Jeune gets really clear: ”This is where men victimize themselves. They shift the focus from what's important. Seriously, this is all bout something very important. More important than men getting confused.”

Knutzon quickly buys in on that definition. She is clearly angry - and that's not just my interpretation. She says so herself. And then she drops the "Kindergarten Card" on the table: ”this Kindergarten attitude, Rene Fredensborg sneeking around without his shoes on and standing with a sour face, demonstrating in the kindergarten, yellow group and won't say anything to (women) or dance with (women) making himself a victim... compared to... the seriousness of all this. Really? this is about women who have been raped! And here we have these adult-babies, man-adult-babies standing in the corner getting all insulted and making themselves the victims? That really makes me mad this morning.”

Well, I suppose the scene is set, then!
Women are exposed to sexual harrassment on an everyday basis and men are babies standing with an insulted face in the corner?

I am somewhat surprised at both Jeune and Knutzon, whom I usually see as rather intelligent people. They should in my oppinion be able to see what's going on here!
But... apparently not... Hopefully they will realize given some time...

Something just doesn't add up!

In the meantime I would like to present my thoughts on why some men react this rather extreme way.
As it should be obvious from the story I started this post with, my male collegue's behavious was so strange and previously unseen to me that at first I just couldn't believe my eyes. I was sure I had had to have misunderstood the entire situation. In no way could I ever imagine anyone behaving such a way. In my world such a thing just doesn't happen! So, my conclusion was that I had had to have misinterpreted what I'd seen.

Never since then have I seen any man do something similar to a woman.
As I have said a few times: such a thing just doesn't exist in my world.

Then comes the entire #metoo campaign showing a much broader extent of this problem than I reckognize in my life. How am I supposed to react?
I see no reason to doubt the stories from women posting with the #metoo hashtag. Why would they lie? Maybe some of the stories have been exaggerated and maybe some of the stories aren't really about harrassment. But I believe the vast majority of these stories are to be taken very seriously.

The problem for me is, though, that what I see around me every day and what the #metoo stories tell me don't fit eachother. Both world views can't be true at the same time and this creates dissonans in my perception of the world. Something just doesn't add up!

Men look at themselves

How can my experience be so much different than that of the MeToo campaign? I have to ask myself what's going on:

- Have I as a man not been paying enough attention to what's going on around me?
- Do these things happen out of sight and do most women who have been assaulted refrain from calling it out?
- And have I as a man did or said something that may have been interpreted as inappropriate?

Drop the guessing game, ladies, please!

I'm sure I'm not the only man having these questions. Most men would reckognize that women have a tendency to expect us to read minds, guessing what they moght think or feel. And yes, maybe to some extent we can... But even the most attentive, sensitive of us have limitations in our ability to read your mind.

So, seriously, couldn't we agree on dropping that stupid guessing game? It really doesn't benefit anyone! That silly game is by far the greatest obsticle of inter gender communication. It prevents us from learning from eachother and getting to know the other gender better. If we could get only one obsticle removed, when it comes to communication and relations between men and women, this is the one to loose...