I realize that's a pretty incendiary title, so let me just state what I'm trying to say right up front. I'm trying to write about how a certain kind of male tone of authoritativeness of opinion is very triggering to me as someone who grew up feeling voiceless around sexist religious racist Republican homophobic men. I hope it doesn't come off like "F men" because I'm pretty into men, their penises especially. (JK, their souls or whatever too.)
But the other day I was having a conversation with a male friend and he mentioned how a film we'd both recently seen was the "worst piece of trash he'd ever seen in his life."
I said, mildly, "Hm. I liked it."
To which he responded with a 5-minute tirade about exactly why the movie sucked so bad, completely invaildating my opinion without even noticing.
I hate that shit.
A couple of months before that I was at a party, standing on the periphery of a group of men talking about bands and vintage album art and right about the point my eyes started to glaze over, one of the men invited me to share my opinion with the group. I did, and the men all listened to me and responded in a manner relevant to what I had just said. I was amazed, because it was the first time in my long history of being in a group of men talking about bands that I had ever been asked to contribute. In fact, I have many times spoken up only to be completely ignored. Usually, someone with a penis says the same thing I just said about 10 minutes later and miraculously everyone manages to hear it.
Those enlightened Brooklyn dudes are proof that what I'm talking about isn't endemic to all men. But there are still a lot of men who seem to feel so uniquely qualified to speak definitively on everything, from the quality of a movie to the state of the world. It's a cousin of mansplaining I guess, this specific flavor of know-itall-ism. I'm sure some women do it too, although I would be willing to bet that men are still socialized to think very highly of their own male brains, and to be confident in their own opinions in a way that a lot of women never fully grasp.
I grew up in a place, bible belt Oklahoma, where nearly everyone believed differently than me on all important matters. Literally everyone I knew was an evangelical Christian, a Republican, believed in the inherent wrongness of homosexuality and espoused traditional gender roles. As a result, I was a perpetually indignant high-schooler. I complained about everything -- a teacher overlooking blatant use of the word faggot in the classroom, powder puff football games which my friends and I deemed sexist, mandatory prayer that still took place before assemblies, my right to wear a stupid Pentagram necklace to school, and hey why did girls have all these rules about what we could wear but boys didn't?
Today I know there are many people, even adults, who feel the same way I did about many of these issues. But back then I was assured of wrongness at every level of authority. There was no room for dissent anywhere -- I was unformly told I was crazy, silly or dumb for thinking as I did.
I knew hypothetically (from the Internet mostly) that there were other worlds of ideas out there, but they made no difference in my day to day life. And as a child, an adult life in a different place is so hard to imagine. I listened to Ani Difranco and Bikini Kill and went back to my complete lack of agency every day at school.
But the men in my life seemed to feel so qualified, so sure of their rightness. Even the boys -- we were both 16, I knew they didn't know any more about electoral politics than I did, knew they hadn't critically thought about any of this and were just parroting things other, older men had said. But their surety was intimidating.
I didn't feel that sure of anything. I was feeling my way to my opinions, largely through emotional empathy for the people inside the issues. I was finding my voice and everywhere I spoke up, men and boys would correct me or laugh at me, insisting that there was one correct opinion that my girl brain couldn't grasp.
I'm sure I was criticized by women, too, but I could see even then that the men were truly in charge. God who I was supposed to submit to in all things was a man, so was the red-faced preacher shouting down sin at the pulpit twice a week. So was my father, whose approval and affection I fruitlessly strove for. The boys who put me on a leash and forced me to give them head one day after school were almost men. They all had a power that I didn't.
My strategy for dealing with all this was shaky -- I alternately raged at men and courted their attentions -- neither ever gave me the power I wanted. Eventually I shut up and shut down, stopped debating and protesting and speaking up outside the world of my own bedroom and my teenage journals. It was simply too frustrating; I waited to grow old enough to leave.
I found my strength in writing. I needed time to build my case, needed hours to craft something I felt I could stand behind while men just said things and expected other to fall in line. Today I am paid largely to share my opinions with others in my writing, but I still avoid debate, still preach to the choir whenever possible, have opted out of politics, stop reading the comments when the men occasionally come to tell me why I am wrong.
I craft my opinions on emotional truth, I painstakingly detail my own experience and how it has played into my perceptions of an issue. I don't traffic in facts and figures. And I try to leave room for disagreement, to welcome discourse and debate, and never trample like so many male words have over me. And I still get triggered when a man in my life, or overheard on the street, or seen on reality television, is too disproportionately sure of his own rightness. It still puts me back in a place of voicelessness, which I guess you never really forget.
I wonder if I've overcompensated by being so very cautious. Perhaps we should be working harder to instill that same kind of reckless intellectual confidence in girls instead. Probably we need to meet somewhere in the middle -- more girls should be taught to trust their own opinons, and more boys should be taught to value empathy and acknowledge the possibility of more than one viewpoint.
Have you expereinced know-it-all dude phenomenon, or is my perception totally skewed by my own issues? Is the kind of voicelessness I experienced specific to where I grew up, or do others relate? Should we start a Man-Hating Monday column?