I’ve had countless conversations with women over the years. These conversations have ranged from terrible to terrific and everything in between. Without a doubt, one of the primary drivers of my personal growth has been connecting with the minds of some amazing women.
Here is a little story about how a woman “flipped the script” on me this week and rattled the shackles of my male privilege. A rattle which gave me a rude awakening about the realities of what it means to be a woman.
Before I share my story, I will be remiss if I do not mention that there is a silent, yet powerful unconscious gender bias and we all have it. Even for those of us who are pro-women, a gender bias looms unconsciously unless an action is taken to shift our mode of thinking.
This shift can only occur if we exercise two powerful muscles; our ears. We have to be willing to listen and do so with an open mind.
My story would not have been possible had I chosen to shrug off or tune out the women in the PepperDemMinistries whose bold dialogue about sexism in our society has sparked a national debate about feminism
I work out in the mornings before work a couple of times a week. I typically throw on my gym clothes without a thought in the world. I do try to look good at the gym because one never knows who you may run into, right?
I was feeling proud of myself for having a good workout so I decided to post some pictures on Facebook. I had seen posts earlier from the PepperDemMinistries decrying men who post pictures of their abdomen and muscles on Facebook.
With that, I intentionally commented that I did not want to be “peppered” for posting gym selfies and added the three reasons why I work out.
Let’s just say my plan to avoid the pepper failed miserably with the first comment I received on the post. Not only did my attempt to mask my vanity fail, Maame Awereba, a member of the #PepperDemMinistries hit me with the following questions;
“Why are you exposing your arms? It’s not gentlemanly. Don’t you know someone can come and harass you? Cover them up please.”
“Where is Maame going with these questions? I thought to myself as I contemplated a response. “No one has ever harassed me for showing my arms in public so what was Maame’s problem?
“Where did she get the idea that exposing my arms was not gentlemanly? I kept thinking to myself. “What the heck is Maame smoking?”
After a minute or two of reflection, it finally hit me. Maame simply recited the same questions she had received repeatedly and often as a woman anytime she exposed certain body parts in public. She completely flipped the script on me.
After decades on this green earth, no one had ever said to me that I needed to cover up because someone may come around and harass me. No one ever harassed me for exposing my arms. I am a man so I have the privilege of exposing my arms in public without being policed by society.
Unlike me, Maame could not dress the way she wanted without being reminded every day that exposing a body part could lead to harassment. She could not wear a mini-skirt without someone telling her it was not ladylike to expose her legs. She was used to hearing this script, I wasn’t.
A lot of men may never understand what the big deal is when a woman is randomly harassed by a man.
“It’s just a compliment so what’s your problem?” The thought process for some men goes.
I will admit that I was one of those men in my younger and wilder days. A mini-skirt baring the legs of a woman or a low-cut blouse exposing her cleavage came off like an invitation for me to say something.
I once walked up to a woman with generous assets in her chest area and said,
“If I told you I worked for the post office, will you let me handle your package?”
“Why won’t you men leave me in peace today?” She yelled at me. I had no clue that other men had already harassed her prior to her running into me. I know now that more men would have harassed her that day after she walks away from me.
I totally sexually objectified a random woman and treated her like a piece of meat. Thanks to Maame, I now understand how it must feel like to be treated like a piece of meat simply for exposing my arms in public. Talk about a successful flip of the script?!
Kudos to you, Maame Awereba! You successfully educated me and I am grateful for the lesson.
Truth be told, both men and women objectify each other. Objectifying a man or a woman, however, comes with a cost. It just so happens that women bear the brunt of that cost.
As a man, I have received compliments but I have never been harassed just for wearing something I felt good in. Women, however, have paid dearly for exposing some body parts or dressing a certain way.
Some have paid the cost through daily harassment, cat-calls, inappropriate touching and in more extreme cases, rape and sexual assaults.
The Ladies of #PepperDemMinistries
I recently posted the message below on Facebook about the #PepperDemMinistries:
“I may not agree with some of what they have to say. I may not agree with every style or approach they use. However, I am willing to listen. I am willing to learn. I am willing to change my attitude towards women through them.”
Some have questioned if their style fits into the definition of feminism. Some have asked if fighting for women’s rights has become synonymous with man-hating and male bashing.
As a result of this fixation, we are not listening to what the women have to say. Do the women in the PepperDemMinistries bash men sometimes? Of course, they do!
However, keep in mind that people who take to the streets to protest societal ills also bash politicians and leaders. These protests, however, always carry an underlying message. If you focus solely on who the protestors are bashing, you will lose their key message.
We can agree to disagree on the methods and some of the postings from the women of the PepperDemMinistries. We can’t, however, lose the opportunity to listen to what they have to say about the ills of gender inequality.
They have powerful personal stories to share. Stories that those of us who have not lived through the realities of what it feels like to be a woman in a patriarchal society need to hear.
Here is what I have heard so far from the women in the PepperDemMinistries.
I heard them when they talked about how they have, either by instinct or by trial and error, learned to minimize situations which make them uncomfortable. Situations such as having to sing praises to biblical men who were flawed yet hailed as heroes.
When a man says to them, “you have beauty as well as brains,” they have to smile despite been offended.
I heard them when they said some women have to tread lightly in situations involving men in power at work to avoid angering them, endangering themselves personally or financially.
I heard them when they uncovered how frequent they have had to ignore an offensive comment or laugh off inappropriate attempts by a man to hit on them while swallowing their anger.
The shackles of male privilege have blinded me to the daily struggles of women. I was playing with toy guns at the same time my sister at the tender age of 14, was brushing off adult men staring at her breasts.
Most men have no memories of being harassed or sexually assaulted. Male friends and relatives never shared stories of being abused or harassed with me. My sisters, however, heard their female friends and relatives narrate horrible stories of being harrassed, molested and sexually abused.
I have never walked into a woman’s room or being in situations with a woman where I felt any danger. My sisters, having heard stories of abuse and assaults from their friends, have had to perceive the possibility of being attacked sexually in some situations where they find themselves alone with a man.
We can choose to argue about the purpose and role of the PepperDemMinistries and we are within our rights to do so. We, however, have to listen with an open mind first before we engage in a dialogue with them.
Personally, I have argued that the PepperDemMinsitries need to collaborate more with men and seek doable ways to change institutionalized gender biased structures in our society.
I would love to see these women lead the fight to change the weak laws on rape and sexual assaults which has led to thousands of silent victims dealing with their painful ordeal alone while rapists walk free.
If you listen as I have, you will find yourself not dismissing a woman the next time she complains about being harassed for what she decides to wear.
If you listen, you will understand why your wife or girlfriend complains about being called “honey” at work.
For the fathers out there especially, listen because these women are trying to change the narrative and experiences for our young daughters.
Listen because nothing bad ever comes from listening.
Gender bias and inequality is not a women’s issue, it is everyone’s issue.
By Kwadjo Panyin
Kwadjo Panyin is a Ghanaian born relationship and lifestyle blogger located in Los Angeles, California. He holds three degrees; a Bachelors degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey, an MBA from Franklin University in Ohio and a Masters of Science degree from Northern Kentucky University in Kentucky. Kwadjo is a business professional who blogs for fun. His articles are about the challenges of dating and relationship anomalies. Writing, blogging, world travel, and photography are his favorite hobbies.