Lately I’ve been taking a very roundabout route through the ‘burbs of New Jersey. Last night a sweet man who also happened to be the owner of a restaurant called The Quiet Man in Dover, NJ gave me a delicious dinner. If you’re ever in Dover, stop by The Quiet Man for some excellent food!
By far the vast majority of people have been wonderful and positive in dealing with me, but lately I have had a couple of hostile reactions. Last night a man saw my shirt and yelled “raghead!” from his truck, and recently someone posting on a forum discussing my blog offered his one word analysis of my walk: “Feminazi.”
I obviously don’t agree with these guys, but I think it is very useful to try to figure out where they’re coming from and what their comments say about our society.
I’ll start with the “feminazi” comment. I think that this word indicates a lot of fear on the part of the men who use it. It sounds like they’re afraid that changes to gender roles would mean forcefully taking something away from them. In the past I’ve done a lot of anti-violence education with groups of men, and I’m always amazed when they see a challenge to traditional gender roles as something that is threatening to them, rather than something that could offer them more freedom. But it is a common reaction, and I think this is because our society does such a good job of convincing men and boys that the privilege they enjoy is worth more than the freedom they would gain if they weren’t forced to act “like men.” In other words, the higher position in society is held out as a carrot, so most men never consider how big a role the stick plays in keeping them in line and making sure they conform, or what they lose when the women in their lives experience violence.
For the record, I think that the changes I’m talking about would give men a far better quality of life, and far more freedom. I’m not interested in taking anything from men. I’m interested in helping them (and women too).
Now, on to the “raghead” thing. Unfortunately, I think this is a symptom of the strong anti-arab sentiment in America, and a tendency to lump everyone living in the Middle East into a single category. This is an extremely dangerous way of looking at the world. It makes it far too easy to manipulate Americans into supporting military action against any country with a large Muslim or Arab population. If everyone in the region is a “raghead,” and therefore a terrorist, Iraq and Iran (and lots of other countries) are appropriate military targets even if they haven’t attacked us. And it even makes sense to, in the words of one guy I talked to just as I was leaving for my walk, “Nuke the whole place” (When asked which place he was referring to, he responded, “the whole area”).
I think it’s important not to get caught up in an angry reaction to these comments–that will only make it harder to understand them. These people are responding out of fear, and we all do that sometimes. Much better to try to understand and address their fears than it would be to respond by calling them names right back.
And finally, I think it’s important to understand the minority that thinks this way, but also to remember that the vast majority of people have responded with support, kindness and generosity.