A Changing of the Sexes…..
As a man it’s been a weird year. Everything is changing and as I watch older men and men in my age bracket flame out over their behavior it tends to scare me.
If anything has been learned, it’s the mores and expectations of men and women have changed again.The rules of engagement have changed and they are now very very clear in one sense and nebulous in another.Very clear in the sense that the “dirty old man” excuse is gone period. And frankly good riddance. For too long older men have gotten away with abusing women under this auspice and many women and girls have been inappropriately touched, spoken to, and treated as more hired help than as valued members of America…the majority of our workforce….the most educated members.
So only a stupid human would given the blatant vocal feedback from hundreds if not thousands of woman touch, or flirt or insinuate any sexualization at all. I am completely terrified now being around anybody now. I keep asking myself have I hurt someone? I am afraid that any comment would be taken out of context and that terrifies me. There are many women who will read this comment and laugh. To them all you need to do is treat everyone with respect and you’ll get along. Really? As a person of color in particular a Black man that is not so easy a pill to swallow.
If the last five years have taught us anything it’s that while being a person of color with a given a set of rights and privileges, I keep seeing people like me shot by the police, passed over for promotion at work, and working really hard but with an average income 77% of that for White males at $744.00 per week according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So while yeah I get it that the violent sexualization of women is a critical and important issue that must be addressed now. I am wondering where all of these folks were when Black men were and are killed and treated as other by society.
I keep coming back to the same question as man now. What is my role now? What is a man’s place in society and what is expected now? I am a father of 4 young men and I feel like any advice I could give right now is useless. Get an education and work hard and you will be a success is laughable these days. Hardly good advice given that wages have stagnated since the recovery yet productivity has increased. But as a Black man I was also brought up to be strong, to handle your business, to take care of your wife and kids. The language is the same but the role has changed drastically. Being strong means being open and vulnerable to your spouse which is counter to how many Black men are raised. Handling your business not only means going to work but making sure that your half or more of the household and family activities are handled. Taking care of your spouse isn’t a paternal, father knows best, but a partner handling family incorporated and its brand, while helping your spouse to maximize who they are and to realize their full worth. All the while raising children and being engaged in their academic, social, and online lives. This is nothing like how my father took care of me, my siblings and my mother growing up. I can’t find images of my youth in my current family. Maybe that is a good thing. But it’s a change that too many men have not and in some cases will not adjust to.
Yes don’t touch anyone in a way THEY don’t want to be touched. (if you are smart don’t touch anyone at all unless they invite you to and you better ask for the ground rules up front and get a text to confirm it.) Yes don’t speak of or to someone in any way outside of courteous. These are core rules that all men need to abide by now. (and should have all along) But what is the cost because we as a society tend to move to the extreme in moments like this? This may seem obvious but it’s not. Referring to a server, (not waitress or stewardess) as “honey” or slapping him or her on the ass is way way out of line whereas in prior generations men assumed based on power that this was ok. Clearly this is not ok. But it rings hollow when Black women are referred to as welfare moms and Black men are assumed to be sex crazed gang bangers. Where is the anger and wringing of hands then? Silence? I question whose moment this truly is right now.
I hugged a friend today. I actually had in the back of my mind a concern whether showing her any affection at all is appropriate and this is a friend. Yes the guys getting nailed are clearly crossing a line that should never be crossed but is that the true line? As a Black man I fear being pulled over or getting the wrong look from a store clerk. I am saddened when women cross the street to avoid me. That hurts. How will the new focus on predators affect me….I am already viewed as a predator by society to begin with. Does this force Black men to further disappear from society to be considered a “good man”? And what of the Black men who have achieved success? Should every successful Black man assume that accusation is coming? For a lot of women this is a liberating moment and it should be. But we have to place this liberating moment in context around how others who haven’t had a moment like this will be impacted.
I don’t want to lose my reputation or have my career destroyed or tarnished because someone else took any gesture or word as an assault. Sigh. How far will this go and how seriously will men take it if this continues? How seriously will men listen to complaints of distance and lack of emotion when they begin to manifest themselves out of sheer self defense. I don’t know if men will be open to balance at all after this year so much as trying to conform to survive and long term forcing a conforming culture doesn’t work. It pushes the symptoms of the situation into the shadows but it fails to solve the problem. This is a moment where engagement and dialogue around what is appropriate for all American going forward is critical. This is a time and place where all voices should struggle to determine how all people can manifest their worth in America. Things are changing and for the better. But it drags to the surface again that the definition of what is an American and who we are as a people at this “place” in this history. Let’s not make the mistake of the Civil Rights era and place a bandaid over this discussion and further increase our placelessness as a society. The lack of true dialogue and agreement has lead to bitter fights and norms and ill effects that haunt Blacks to this moment. Let us not give into the easy legislative fix. Rather, let us do the hard work of having the hard conversations that include everyone.
That place many men put themselves in is gone. Good. Now; what will we replace this with and does everyone get a voice in this dialogue? We need to redefine who we are. Exciting and terrifying. Let’s get to work all together now.