“Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor.” –Ginetta Sagan
Dear Laughing Man on the Trump tape:
It doesn’t matter what your name is because you really could have been any number of men. What I want to tell you is that you are the bigger problem than Donald Trump. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt here and say that you probably didn’t even want to laugh. It certainly wasn’t funny. I bet deep down, laughing with him actually made you feel gross. I know because I, myself, have done the same. I have laughed at and permitted and been silenced by and let slide misogyny of all kinds in a way I would never tolerate racism or any other form of discrimination. So I guess I should say we are the problem. And it’s not okay. Let me say that again. IT IS NOT OKAY!
It is not okay that I worked for a radio station that objectified women as shtick and that I went along with it and even supported it. It is not okay that my boss, in response to saying my knees hurt, told me to “stay off them.” It is not okay that a different boss, after I told him that I wasn’t going to sleep with him, forced himself on me anyway. That these things are mild compared to the stories of many women I know is definitely not okay.
Last year, I started teaching a gender studies class where the focus is on feminism in the context of equality for all. I was excited to teach it because I admire so many of my students for being smart, compassionate, and aware. I was also excited to teach it for the students who weren’t as aware but were open to learning about oppression in all its many forms. It turns out I was the one who learned the most. What I learned was that in the nearly 20 years since I was a college student, things have not changed much. One student asked me what she should do about her boss who was treating her badly ever since she turned him down for a date. Another explained that a co-worker sexually assaulted her and when she asked to be switched from working shifts with him, he wanted to know why she was ruining his life. A third student admitted that she had been sexually assaulted by her best friend and then had to have breakfast with his family like nothing had happened.
Laughing Man, I cried in my car after class every day that semester. I thought my tears were outrage at the world. I was seething with anger and disbelief that nothing had changed since the days I experienced these things. I think now my tears were just as much out of guilt. Why haven’t we made the world better for these young women? Why do men not only think it’s okay but even appropriate to act this way? Because, like you, I haven’t spoken up.
I have been complicit to my own oppression. Sometimes I still am, so as not to rock the boat, or be seen as a bitch, or even more horrifyingly—to be liked. That is not okay, either. Like you, I thought staying silent was easier.
This is because it is, in the short run anyway. Laugh and say nothing and you avoid conflict with a bully who, when provoked, may turn his malice on you. It almost seems smarter. Yet the price we’re paying for all that silent complicity is much higher. More hate, misogyny, anger, and fear. We are the reason that things have not changed.
I will no longer stay silent in the face of sexism. You, Laughing Man, should join me. So should the man that receives regular texts from his friend bragging about the women he’s slept with and attaching pictures of their panties, all the while calling them sluts. So should the man that, with the same voice he uses to tell his daughter that she can be the boss, also uses phrases like “tight as a two-year-old” and “femi-Nazi.” It’s the men that perpetuate the idea of being “friend-zoned” as if a woman owes you more than that. It’s the fraternities that encourage date rape. It’s the men that think calling someone a “pussy” is an insult because they buy into the idea that all things female are inferior. These are the men that need to speak up. Because we have let things get so bad that it must be more than women to make the change.
Men like you have the power to create a better world one “Hey man, that’s not cool” at a time.
Will the Donald Trumps of the world listen to you? Maybe not. But they definitely aren’t going to listen to me. It’s the people that say nothing that are letting the opportunity for change slip through their hands.
This society that we have helped create isn’t just poisonous for me, Laughing Man. It’s poisonous for you, too. Remember how gross laughing at Donald Trump made you feel? I don’t think you really want to laugh at things that aren’t funny, disrespect women you don’t even know, stuff down your emotions so you can “be a man.” These things are harmful for both of us. We owe our daughters and our sons more than that.
Now, Laughing man, it’s time to stop laughing. It’s not funny. And it’s not okay. It’s time to speak up–not just because you have a wife or a daughter or a mother. You shouldn’t have to care about a woman to care about all women. We are people. ALL of us. And we are in this together.