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Personal Interest

When Men Shut Women Down

This morning while I was listening to a podcast episode for one of the online courses I am doing, I had a flashback to two different instances of being shut down by men. I then did an Ecosia search to see what others had written about the topic. Judging by the first page of results, turns out people are writing about why men are emotionally shut off, rather than why they are shutting others – namely, women – down. Even when I used Google to see the comparison, the closest I got was a few articles on the topics of knowing a misogynist when you see one, shutting down sexism and back to why men are emotionally shut off. Even when I looked up “mansplaining shutting down women,” I did not get what I wanted on the first pages of both search engines. I wonder why that is? Getting shut down by men has been a common occurrence throughout my life, which leads me to believe I am not the only one. Or even that I am part of a small group of women experiencing this. To be fair, the topics that show up are directly related to this, they just are not. This.

This is where I got distracted by a toddler requesting some cuddles before drifting back to sleep. Cuddling my toddler is sometimes when I do my best writing: in my mind. And I never act on it. Well. Today is the day. I am tired of my blog being a – sitting duck is not the word. Stagnant pool of my knowledge, opinions and expertise of the past. That’s a good set of words. Back to the cuddle-writing, I went back to thinking about these two moments of being shut down and this post started to take its form.

Post-cuddles, I quickly perused my list of potential blog post topics. I quickly saw that one of the two moments showed up on two other occasions! Not sure I am pleased with the way this person has traumatized me for life or not. No need to fret. Blog post it is!

What happened when this man shut me down? Let me first set the scene. Having spent the summer in Ghana voluntouring (although admittedly, I did not tour all that much), my second year of university was my second year as an activist. A water activist, to be specific. Cinema Politica, “the largest non-commercial community and campus-based documentary screening network in the world” showed a number of fantastic documentaries that year. They always do. And that was probably the year I attended the most screenings. On top of that, I was studying environmental and social justice issues for my degree. So needless to say, many topics overlapped, one of which was the petroleum industry. One of the documentaries was “H2Oil”, a screening that was jam-packed. This documentary was the intersection of my water activism, with an increasing understanding of the injustices associated with the oil industry. As a rookie activist, second-year university student, who had not been exposed to these topics very much previously, I was inspired! I had always known these topics would interest me, but once you dive into them, you develop strong opinions and feelings.

The following summer, I returned to Ghana, having fallen hopelessly in love with the community during the initial honeymoon phase of culture shock – which was still there during this second trip. While I had wanted to volunteer with another organization, that did not work out. So instead of being in a new community, far away from the one I had grown to love, I returned to stay with my host father and to volunteer at my former placements; another thing that did not work out. The friends I had made in town had become my friends because they spent time with volunteers. Needless to say, this continued the following year and so through them, I met the group of volunteers that were there upon my return.

One evening, while we were out for drinks – let’s call this an after supper happy hour – I was telling someone (I do not remember if this was one of my friends or a volunteer) about my activism. In my talking, I made the statement “I Hate Oil.” Considering what I said two paragraphs ago – school, activism, documentaries, rookie – this was a pretty on-brand statement, even if a bit vast of a statement. Well lo and behold, a young man a few tables down, who was volunteering in another region, and had come to visit a volunteer in this region, overheard my statement. His response was to tell me (I am paraphrasing, as this was 10 years ago):

“You hate oil?! Don’t you know that the flight you took to get here used oil? That your clothes are printed with the help of oil? This table we are seated at? Everything in your life depends on oil!”

And then he turned back to the people he was talking to and said (again paraphrasing):

“I can’t stand when people say stupid things like that. I always have to put them in their place.”

And he continued with their conversation. In the moment, I had no response; I froze at this unexpected violent confrontation. He effectively shut me down. Is this really surprising? Sure, I could talk about my low confidence, though I was starting to be quite confident, so that can’t be it. Was it because I was not aware of the facts he was ignoring in his own statement? Looking back, I would have to say that within 24 hours I had a response for him, so that was not the problem either. He humiliated me, as this made me feel like a hypocrite and as though he had given onlookers reason to believe I was a stupid person. But he was making just as much of a blanket statement as I had, just with the opposite point of view.

Did he change my opinion? Of course not. What was the response I thought of within 24 hours? Along the lines of this (breaking down the 3 points he made to prove my statement wrong):

Don’t you know that the flight you took to get here used oil?

  • In 2010, that was a fact. However, knowing nothing about me, how could he be so sure that that was the mode of transportation I had chosen? Maybe (while highly unlikely, especially for me), I biked and rowed the whole way. Sometimes we need some whimsey in our imagined retorts!
  • Now more realistically, I was there to “do good” – a problem in and of itself, that I was still very new to. So if the only way I could do so was to take a plane – the least sustainable form of travel per capita – then sometimes you have to make choices and that was the best one for me at that time.
  • Does that mean I have to like oil? No.

That your clothes are printed with the help of oil?

  • At that time, I was already buying nothing but secondhand clothes, something Ghanaians love to laugh about – Ghanaians call secondhand clothes “obroni wawu,” which translates to “dead white man.” As you may guess, this is associated with their colonial history and is therefore associated with poverty, a common opinion in Canada not too long ago – but for me it is an environmental choice; a humanist choice.
  • Furthermore, IF I were to buy new clothes – and even back then, that would be a huge if – I research my purchases thoroughly before making a decision. In those days, I don’t know that plant-based inks were all that common, though I am sure they existed. And even if not, buying something because you have no other options is accepting. It is not necessarily liking.

This table we are seated at?

  • We were seated at plastic picnic tables, an important detail.
  • Plastic is everywhere in Ghana. It is far more recent than in Canada. Yet it has taken over far more thoroughly than in Canada. The previous year, when I was myself a voluntourist, I was always thinking about the abundance of plastic everywhere, not to mention the abundance of plastic waste. Was I thinking about it because I loved it? Most definitely not!

Everything in your life depends on oil!

  • Life existed before oil was discovered. There are many other advances in culture that play a role in the kind of life we live. Some for the better, some for the worse. Do I like all of these things? Nope.

Notice the trend? To this day, I cannot help but question why this dude-y dude believed (I truly hope this remains in the past) that you have to like everything that you have little choice but to accept. Does revolution happen because people like the status quo? Do feminists exist because they support the patriarchy? Does #BlackLivesMatter exist because black people want to get killed by the police? How many examples of things people have no choice but to live with can I come up with, that people don’t like? What did this young man think drives the kind of activism that brings about change? When I named my dislike for an environmentally and socially destructive industry (even if that is not how I said it) with inherently colonial roots, I was telling anyone who could hear me that I am a trouble maker. Someone who wants to disrupt the status quo. Someone who is bad and therefore who is deserving social punishment, much like the humiliation he subjected me to. He made clear that he valued conformity, exploitation and domination, which are in stark contrast with my values of authenticity, flow and inclusion. Which begs the question: why was he voluntouring in Ghana? We will never know, though it is worth pointing out that as a white male, maintaining the status quo benefits him.

Comment below of a moment where you have been shut down and how power relationships were at play in the interaction. How did that make you feel? Did their violence change your opinions and your ways?

2 replies on “When Men Shut Women Down”

You so right. Being put down by a man happens fairly often. Even when presented in a polite way and without aggressive behaviour, it happens. And because the later is calm and polite, women “fall” for that. Forgetting to respond what’s really on their mind for fear of creating a fight.
Overall, I can say that men are getting better, but they have a long way to go.

You are right. Men are getting better. And this shows us that they have the capacity to keep improving. Everyone has a role to play, though. When we witness these interactions everyone must support the women getting mansplained at.

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