We sat in the cafe, me drinking an Americano and she a Capuccino, talking about our past, feeling our way through the pain and shame of our previous lives. The partners we had mistreated and been mistreated by. The parents who had shamed us into submission, who had distorted our views of reality. Mostly we talked about how long it had taken us to understand and accept the culture of domination and suppression, the culture we had both, unknowingly, bought into many years ago.
It started with laughing about the ridiculousness of so-called ‘locker room talk’. It is not something that I, as a man, had ever taken part in, or ever supported. I felt on safe ground here—I felt that I was a modern man who did not go in for the sexual browbeating of women.
Then I felt the pain of being a woman…
As the sharing moved deeper into the pain, I saw how ever present the demeaning of a woman can be. I saw how much men simply do not realise it is happening. I saw how much I was involved with it in my life, thinking I was a generous man who took care of women.
She talked about how her partner played the victim in her relationship and, through that, made her wrong. How she came to believe that she was the cause of him not being able to cope with the world. She believed it so much that she broke down and burned out because she could never get it right. Even now if we disagree she feels that she has got something wrong. For most of her life her reality was trashed and put down. As a woman she had to understand that he always knew better. Oh, that one really hit me in the gut!
Then I felt the shame of being a man…
I talked about how persuasive I had been all my life, about how I knew better. Well I did! If my partner would only listen to what I had to say she would see that it was right and that it would help us both. I only wanted to make things better. I only wanted us to grow in our relationship. What I started to see was that it was not a question of who was right or wrong, indeed right or wrong did not come into it. I was pushing my reality onto her and grinding her down. Eventually she ceased to trust herself or what she thought. I had power and certainty and a gift with words, so I was always able to make a convincing case. I must be right.
How can we allow the pain and the shame to wash each other away?
This is the core of the gender gap. Women start by feeling the pain but let it go because, of course, men do know better. Men do not even get to the shame because. of course, they do know better.
The women who understand talk about ‘rape culture’ and ‘gaslighting’. The men who do not understand talk about the tragedy of male suicide and fathers who do not get to see their children. They each blame the other and, of course, they are each right, in their way.
The women who do not understand just think that they are wrong, that they are inadequate and retreat into themselves.
Where does the future lie?
I see men holding the key to opening up the future because they are the ones who hold the physical power over women. More importantly, though, they are the ones that men will listen to. Men will not listen to women because, of course, they, the men, know better. They know what it is really like and if the women will only listen…
When men step back and look at themselves—I mean truly look at themselves—they might just begin to understand, they might just see the pain they cause. Maybe they will miss the shame, maybe they will not see it in themselves—yet. But if they can see, and feel, the pain, maybe they can see a different way.
This is the way of equality. An equality that recognises that we all have a right to our own view of reality, men, women, children, white, black, rich, poor, Christian, Muslim… Right or wrong does not come into it. Truth is not relevant. After all there is no objective truth, we all know that. There is opinion which men often turn into domination.
It starts, though, with men. If men can see, and feel, the pain of a woman who is not listened to, of a woman who is told, all her life, that she is not important—beautiful and sexy, but not important—then they might feel the shame.
That is where it will change. When men feel the shame and vow to never feel it again, when men cease to suppress the shame but let it out, when men stop and shut up, when men are willing to go through life and not be listened to, then there can be change.
Today I felt the shame, today I opened up to the shame, today I took a step forward.
Today I saw the pain, today I owned up to causing the pain, today I took a step forward.
Will I keep walking forward? Will every day be like today?
Will I cease to feel the shame because it no longer exists? Will she cease to feel the pain because it no longer exists?
Come back tomorrow and ask us, and the next day, and the next…
Come back and see if the world has changed.