Crossing the Target parking lot on an errand, I pass a young man milling with some friends. We meet eyes briefly, and his gaze flicks down my body as I walk by.
“You are beautiful!” He calls out.
“Thank you,” I respond and keep walking.
A hint of anger colors his tone as he raises his voice after me; “I don’t tell many women that either!”
I have no idea how to respond to him. I think about saying “Thanks a lot asshole.” But I don’t. I keep walking in to the store.
There are so many instances like this one, where a man has said something or behaved in some way that leaves me feeling small. These range from instances where men leave me feeling like nothing more than an object, to smaller moments where I simply feel unheard and under valued. In response, I typically just brush it off and try to smile. I like to think that my opinion of myself isn’t impacted by these interactions, but I know that over time the pressure adds up to influence my feelings of self worth.
As I’ve been noticing these moments more and more, I’ve wanted to be better about calling out the men in my life. I recognize that I won’t see changes if I don’t ask for them. I don’t think it should be my duty to correct the behavior of all men around me, but I do think these moments offer an opportunity to open real dialogue that could lead to positive changes.
Thus I have decided to set a challenge for myself. When men in my life behave in these ways, I am challenging myself to try pointing out the problematic behavior. This will start with those men who I am closest to. I know that they would want to know when something they have said or done has left me feeling upset.
For example, I find that anytime I am around more than one man I am consistently talked over. One of the more egregious instances of this that occurred recently was when discussing Al Franken after he was called out for sexual misconduct. Speaking to three male coworkers, I tried to share my opinion on his behavior and the way men behave in general. I repeatedly tried to speak and was interrupted multiple times before being able to complete a single sentence. Eventually I just chose to let them rant at each other, rather than contribute my own opinion to the conversation. I find it extremely difficult in moments like this one to command attention and rather than risk being rude, I often choose to stay quiet. With my new challenge in mind, I would instead take a moment to point out how I was being talked over and ask for their attention and respect.
For the next couple months, I will try and take these opportunities as they arise to start some important conversations with men. For the most part, I am hopeful that men will be responsive to me, but I am nervous to face possibly uncomfortable situations. I tend to be conflict avoidant, so it will take some real willpower to force myself to speak out. I plan to revisit this subject here on the blog with some of the results of my challenge. I will share some examples of moments where I have felt undervalued or mistreated by men, and I will share how they respond when I try and bring to light the negative feelings.
I’m hoping that this challenge will not only help some men to be more aware of themselves, but also to help me be more confident when facing these uncomfortable conversations. As always, we love input! I am interested to hear how other women handle these sorts of experiences. Please comment below if you’d like to share your own story. I would also appreciate advice on how best to go about calling men out and starting productive conversations with them.