Kimberly Probolus, who Message About the underrepresentation of women on the messages page inspired by the Women’s Project, which reflects a year later.
During the summer, I attended a party where the hostess presented me to another guest as the woman who wrote the letter to The New York Times about why not enough women were writing letters to the editor. The guest, man, must have just heard some of this introduction, because he started telling me about an amazing new initiative by The Times to achieve gender equality in the messages presented. In fact, this guy was so excited to tell me all the reasons why women didn’t write letters to the editor that he didn’t even hear me when I told him so I Wrote the letter.
Finally, at the end of his story, I gave him one last shot. I said “I wrote the letter,” and he responded to it with the appropriate mixture of embarrassment, apology and admiration. While this may sound like an episode of Rebecca Solnett’s articleMen explain things to me“The man I encountered was not the least arrogant, as he showed childish foolishness toward feminism. However, he could not hear the young blonde woman standing right in front of him.
Since the post was published, it has been fun to read more women’s messages and see the efforts of The New York Times to give women a more prominent voice. Like message editors, I hope women will continue to write. But it is not enough to ask women to speak: write more messages, to raise our voices, to “lean back.” The problem is not that women do not speak. As far back as ancient Greece – when Cassandra warned the Trojans of this giant wooden horse – women were speaking loud and clear. The problem is that men don’t listen.
Male readers of the New York Times, this is about you. It is you who call yourselves feminists and attend women’s parades. You who coach the soccer teams for your daughters. Yes, you try, but I was surprised by how many of you were unable to fail to listen, and this is the most basic human skill.
Fortunately, there are practical strategies to help men become better listeners and more active listeners. First, to be a good listener, stop talking. You cannot listen to her story and be present if you are too busy thinking about yourself or your next great comment. Second, effective listening means hearing the words women say and taking them at face value, even if these words conflict with your previous assumptions or your agenda. Third, being an active listener means asking questions.
The woman does not speak with one voice. We don’t all want the same things, which is why you have to ask women what they want and then respect their opinions, and even more especially, if this means giving up some of your strength in any particular situation. Feminist listening practice is something you can start now. Find your paper or screen and ask the interviewing woman, “How can I be a better listener?” Listen to her and do what she says.
This question may seem small, but listening should be the first step towards systematic change. Members of Congress should listen to the views of their constituents and give priority to the legislation they require. Organizations should listen to their employees about the most beneficial policies to support their personal and professional prosperity, and then take effective steps to enact these policies.
Social media should organize online platforms to protect women from harassment and to ensure their voices are heard. Our legal system must discover how it can listen to women, especially in cases of rape. You must respond to women whose identities are at the intersection, and listen to the nuances of the meaning of injuries because a person is a black woman and woman, and a woman is strange. Listening will not solve inequality. But progress is impossible if men cannot hear women.
It is easy to identify and maiming sexually excited men. It is extremely difficult to tell the men in our lives who support us and love us unconditionally that they, too, are part of the problem. I hope they listen, I hope they change. If the New York Times can do that, it might be possible to read it as well.
Kimberly Propolis, Washington
The writer is a historian.