Day after day, we have new news of a famous man who has done unspeakably stupid and offensive things to women … for decades. Society is, somewhat belatedly, starting to take these accusations seriously.
But change is needed at the opposite end of the fame spectrum. In particular, how we raise our kids. Coaches still call boys "ladies" when they want to inflict an emotional barb, moms tell their boys to "man up" (no one ever says "woman up"). Adult men feel free to tell a teenage girl, "Why aren't you a cheerleader? You're too pretty to be an athlete." I heard about that one yesterday.
Here's the kicker: I'm a guy. I live in a state that is considered the anti-Alabama by the rest of the country. And yet all this stuff persists. My spouse and I talk about all this with our boys, who are similarly outraged, but I hear such ignorant stuff from their friends — who are growing up in supposedly "progressive" households — that I kinda despair for any real change. I'm not looking for advice so much as a spoonful of hope. Do you have any to spare?
— Winds of Rage
Sure. People are talking about this like never before, which means a level of awareness like never before, which means two things: backlash, yes, and then eventual progress. You're talking about this with your sons! In a way I doubt you would have even 10 years ago. I'm talking to my kids, too.
Now take those individual conversations, add time, and imagine the impact on a national scale.
There will be people who scoff in response and, worse, act as if it's a patriotic exercise to denigrate women. Trolls will be trolls. But decent, well-meaning people will flinch a little inside when they use a phrase they've always used only to realize now what its implications really are, and that it makes them complicit in an injustice of long standing. I see women in particular doing this flinching now — you rightly mention the current reckoning with men who've abused their power, but women have been some of our own worst enemies.
We have, for example, a b-word problem. It's hard to see clearly when we're standing so close that we ourselves can adopt language that vilifies or negates us. There's waking up and there's woke.
I think I see what you meant by your reference to "the anti-Alabama," but it's not enough for people to stop lumping others under gender stereotypes. Anyone in the culture who is calling for a cessation of stereotypes has to renounce them in full. Or at least be mindful of how many there are, how ingrained they are, and how complicated they (and their users) can be, before pointing fingers at anyone else.
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor at the Washington Post and none as a therapist. Email Carolyn at email@example.com.