I had midweek day off. It was grand. I changed from night-pyjamas into day-pyjamas, I made a breakfast that takes a ridiculously long time to make and, obviously, I sat on my ass and watched Netflix.
However, my Netflix binge was different. Different because, instead of relaxed, it made me fucking angry. And sad. And honestly? Riled up. And that’s because I watched Hannah Gadbsy’s stand up show, Nanette.
Friends had been telling me for ages to watch it. They gave me testimonials, they TOLD me how overwhelming it was. There were keywords like ‘so important’, ‘incredible’ and ‘cried’. But what did I expect? I dunno? A few good jokes really.
The jokes were there, I can confirm, but let me tell you, although you go for the jokes you stay for the hard-hitting social commentary that (I’m going to say it but PLEASE REMEMBER THE TITLE OF THIS ARTICLE) will make you hate men.
It’s hard to explain because it’s an injustice to spoil the content of Nanette. What I can tell you is that Hannah Gadsby is an Australian comedian and writer. She has a degree in Art History and Curatorship and she was born in Tasmania. She is also a lesbian. She has also been through things that, to be quite honest, are inexplicable. I can’t try to pin them down with a few sentences and feel like I have done any justice in genuinely narrating the trauma she has dealt with. So I’m not going to try. Just know, that the place where Hannah grew up was dubbed ‘Bigots Islands’ in the 1990’s. Those are the years where Hannah was growing up. Those are the years where Hannah was learning about homophobia and, as she describes it, learning to hate herself.
There were so many parts that stuck with me, not all sad - some were just immensely interesting or really god damn funny, but I have to confess, it was the sadness that clung to me the most. Especially one part where Hannah, with what I can only describe as rage, pointed to the crowd and signalled out one demographic - that’s right, you know what’s coming don’t you? She talked to the white straight men.
This is what she said.
“I’m not a man-hater. But I’m afraid of men. If I’m the only woman in a room full of men, I am afraid. And if you think that’s unusual, you’re not speaking to the women in your life. I don’t hate men, but I wonder how a man would feel if they’d lived my life. Because it was a man who sexually abused me when I was a child. It was a man who beat the shit out of me when I was 17, my prime. It was two men who raped me when I was barely in my twenties. Tell me why is that okay.”
It was at that point I thought about how I would feel in a room full of strangers who were men and it clicked, she was right. I would be scared. And it was also at that point where I thought of a post I saw on the internet where someone asked women what they would do if men all around the world had a 9pm curfew. 90% of the answers were that they would walk home alone.
I know I am straying into dangerous territory. I know that I may have already lost any male readers I had the moment I brought it up because, and I understand, you feel persecuted. A whole MASSIVE demographic of people are being addressed as if rapists and that’s not fair. You’re being made to feel like your opinions are not valid in this conversation. In fact the term ‘white straight men’ has become almost a trigger - a surefire way to piss people off before you end a sentence. You know what? That’s fucked up.
But my reasoning of that isn’t as simple as you may think. The reason I think that is because YOU are the most crucial audience. You HAVE to listen because you are the ones with most power. If a group of guys made a shitty joke or made my friend feel uncomfortable, if I say something back, well you know what happens next. But imagine if YOU said something. Imagine if the next time a mate did something that in your heart of hearts you knew was sexist, you called it out. I think they’d listen more.
I know most guys are decent, I know that. I know that a lot of women can be shit. That’s how it is. I know it’s also for women to call other women out for being sexist. However, two things need to happen. 1) Accept that you are sexist. Not because you’re a man but because everyone is. I am. Not intentionally but how could I not be? I’ve inherited about a million sexist ideologies from growing up in a gender biased world. So have you. If you don’t believe me, think of that classic feminist doctor riddle. I remember being asked that, I didn’t have a clue.
2) - Yes, I have said, guys are decent. It almost feels ridiculous to say, like I’m shuffling up to a debate on sexism and sincerely stating ‘Uhm… EXCUSE ME, I have a MALE friend’ but of course, it’s true. My boyfriend, my best friends, my dad, they’re all just stunningly kind and pure people. But you know what? No. I KNOW how many guys have touched my ass in a club or called me a ‘whore’ or sexually abused my friends or NOT listened when I told them no. Some ‘decent’ guys have got to be doing this from the sheer frequency of it. In fact, I refuse to accept that you don’t know a few friends who have probably done or said some shitty things to women. The worse thing is that, for the minor things, because of aforementioned point 1, it still can be ‘nice’ guys who do it. I do firmly believe that most men are good people, I just also believe that everyone is sexist to an extent and men have more power to be openly and potently destructive with that sexism.
But how do we change that?
Firstly, we have to let white straight men into the conversation or else we’re all just in an echo-chamber nodding about how liberal and feminist we all are. We already believe in what we’re saying but we need to find a way of addressing feminist issues without making men feel persecuted or excluded because else nothing will ever change. We have to let people feel able to be honest. It’s about giving people the space to say ‘hands up, i’ve inherited prejudices, please educate me’. Regardless, we can’t exclude men because firstly, a lot of them want to help anyway, and secondly, the ones who don’t are the ones who need to listen the most.
White men are facing what people have been facing since the dawn of time (is this an exaggeration - unsure?) and that’s othering. People like Grayson Perry and Gadbsy have interesting things to say about this but it essentially states that white-straight-men are the assumed ‘normal’, the assumed backdrop to society. However, now they’re getting a label and it’s not so fun. Hence the defensiveness. I can see that.
But this defensiveness, it’s so unproductive. I hate telling men that I’m a feminist. I hate it because they stop listening and I want them to listen. It’s that knee jerk defence that they think I’m about to call them a dick. I’m not. I’m trying to tell them that i’m still scared.
I’m scared that I will have a daughter and I will have to sidestep through a minefield to make her feel valued as a human rather than a body, I am scared of walking home at night because I know I’m not strong enough to fight someone off, I am scared because sometimes I have told men ‘no’ and sometimes that wasn’t enough.
These aren’t vague ideologies - these are just the realities of being a woman. Being touched up in a night club, being called a ‘slut’, feeling like you have to organise your life around not walking home alone at night. And I’m a lucky one because without even thinking, I know two women in my life, friends and close friends, who have been sexually abused and you know what? Hannah IS right - it is men doing it. Not all of the time but a lot of the time.
In Hannah’s stand up she said this: To the men in the room, I speak to you now, particularly the white men, especially the straight white men. Pull your fucking socks up.
In light of what I’ve been talking about, I’m going to rephrase that.
To the men in the room, I speak to you, particularly the white men, especially the straight white men. Please listen. Please include yourself. Please tell your mates when they do something shit. Please help.
These things are important because it is ideologies and environments that enable mindsets and mindsets that instruct behaviour. Dismantle what makes up the ideologies - those small jokes, those small sexist remarks - and you have a chance in destroying the larger traumas.
And if you need some convincing, or if you need a stark reminder of the reality I’m discussing, I can tell you some stats about how 1 in 5 women are raped or about how 1 in 3 women are sexually assaulted or about how 1 in 2 multiracial women are subjected to some form of contact sexual violence…but, firstly, these statistics make me anxious. And secondly, I have a better idea. Simply ask a question. Go talk to your mum, your girlfriend, your sister, whoever, and ask them this - how do you feel in a room full of men?