A complex and important dialogue has emerged in the wake of the UCSB shootings, including the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter. I have many thoughts on the hashtag and the issues to which it gives voice. Today I wanted to focus briefly on a narrow issue: why I think that men who speak out against sexism and misogyny are valuable and important allies, and why men who sit silent are part of the problem.
Men who speak out on these issues deserve credit for their willingness to stand up for something that they haven’t directly experienced and that doesn’t directly benefit them. (I say not directly because I believe that a society in which men and women are equal is a better society for everyone, but that benefit is not an immediate one.) My point isn’t that men deserve special praise for vocally supporting gender equality. Everyone should support gender equality as a matter of principle. My point is a somewhat different one: that empathy is difficult no matter who you are and with whom you’re empathizing. It’s hard to understand what it’s like to be a woman if you’re not a woman. It’s hard to understand what it’s like to be gay if you’re not gay. It’s hard to understand what it’s like to have a particular disability if you don’t have that disability. Empathy is hard work, and men who undertake that work — and then undertake the further work of speaking out against sexism and misogyny — should be commended. Continue reading