My Brother’s Keeper: Some Reflections on Love and Solidarity

April 10th, 2011 § 0 comments


Picture this: It’s a gorgeous Saturday evening and I’m taking a stroll down 33rd Street in Manhattan with a friend of mine I haven’t seen in far too long. We’re enjoying a long overdue catch up session when a man calls out to us, “Dread!”* Since my locs are peeking out from under my wool cap, I assume he’s talking to me. I casually glance in his direction, (barely) give him a nod of acknowledgment and keep on walking, never missing a beat in the conversation with my friend. Apparently offended by my unwillingness to stop in my tracks and immediately engage with him he yells, “Oh, so you can’t say ‘hi’? F*ck you!” Annoyed, but largely unsurprised, I roll my eyes and keep moving, ready to forget it ever happened. My friend however, was not having it. Visibly upset by this guy’s blatant disrespect, our conversation quickly turned from life updates to sharing how “this type of thing” happens to the both of us all the time—needless to say, far too often.**

I’ve been mulling over writing a post about sexual harassment for quite some time now, ever since your own post on the pervasiveness of sexual violence. With the blogosphere buzzing around Chris Brown’s recent freakout on Good Morning America, it seems as if I can’t get away from the topic. It’s been like an annoying younger sibling, you know, who keeps nudging you in the ribs while you’re just trying to read your newest library book until you get so frustrated that you throw the book down and yell at him—finally paying him some of the attention he was hoping for (can you tell I’m speaking from experience?). Well, Saturday’s incident, and the all too familiar conversation I had with my friend afterward, was just the thing to push me over the edge to finally sit down to write a(nother) post on sexism.

After listening to many of my male friends and family members share their reactions to CB’s recent behavior, it got me thinking about my own relationships with these men and led me to wonder how they may treat some of the other women in their lives. I read a great post recently on Crunk Feminist Collective that highlighted the author’s struggles with understanding the “personal as political,” that is, actually living out her gender politics (in this case) when selecting a partner. She shared a number of questions she had been considering, and one in particular really spoke to me:

Isn’t that choice, the choice to not care about how the world affects the woman you’re spending time with, a violent one?

(Well…Yes. Yes, it is.)

The question really struck a cord with me and got me thinking not only about setting my own criteria for potential partners, but I also began to consider my interactions with the men in my life that I can’t necessarily “choose” to be around. The men who have always been there and have contributed greatly (for better or worse) to the person I am today. Men who were there when my “politics” were different, and are still here now that my “politics” have changed. Men who I can’t just write off because they are ignorant of or refuse to acknowledge their sexism. Men who I care deeply about and want to see grow. I think about these men in my life often and I worry about the ways that they choose to see and treat the women in their lives, including myself.

It always makes me uncomfortable when the topic of women, usually dating, comes up around any male member of my family. It’s amazing how quickly misogyny enters the room and takes a seat at the dining room table, ready to play an active role in the conversation. Although I try my darndest to be the voice of reason—offering gentle reminders that the disrespect in their tone is unnecessary, the phrase “bros before hoes” is offensive, and laughing at sexist jokes is well, sexist–it gets very very tiring and often leaves me wondering if anything I’m saying is actually getting through.

I want the men in my life to feel comfortable telling me about their dating lives and asking for advice, (particularly because I cringe at the thought of the advice their male friends may be giving them), but it gets hard. I often end up asking myself how I can help to make them see the ways that sexism not only affects me, but it affects them too. How can I help them see that their own unchecked sexist behaviors (even though they may not necessarily be rape or sexual violence) still perpetuate a culture of patriarchy? How can I help them see that the behavior of the man I mentioned above is unacceptable, and not just because it was done to me –someone you know—but because it’s harassment, and his sense of entitlement to my time and attention is a symptom of a much larger problem. As one who truly longs for their wholeness and well-being and understands how it is connected to my own, how can I help them to care?

I just don’t have the answers to these questions, but I care enough about these men to keep asking them (I would love to hear your thoughts!).  In the meantime, I’ll keep pushing and offering my two cents, and hopefully won’t get written off as “the radical one” in the family (too late?) and hopefully more books and articles like this one and this one will make an appearance on their reading lists and speak to their hearts.


*Umm…my name IS NOT “Dread.”  -__-

**I just re-read this post from Postbourgie on street harassment and it is an excellent read. The conversations in the comments section are also worth reading.

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