The Importance of Listening as a Privileged Person Fighting for Justice

Everyday FeminismThis is a strange position to be in!  Though I am writing a lot of new content lately, I am now in my third week of not having to post something new to my blog directly!  As a contributing writer to Everyday Feminism, I am expected to write two articles per month for the site.  Well, lately my articles had been backlogged at the site, and now they are all getting published.  I am still writing new content for CFW, but I will keep it in the wings until there is a week when I am not being published elsewhere.

In the mean time, enjoy this week’s post from Everyday Feminism.

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The Importance of Listening as a Privileged Person Fighting for Justice

In my work with high school students, I am regularly asked, “What can I do? I know that injustice exists, but I feel so powerless. I want to help!”

More often than not, the students asking the question is doing so from a place of privilege: a straight student who wants to be a better LGBTQ ally, a white student who wants to be more anti-racist, an able-bodied person who wants to better support his differently-abled brother.

It’s no surprise to me that folks of privilege are the ones struggling to figure out how to act for justice. More often than not, those who are denied access, voice, privilege, and justice in dominant culture know exactly what they need to do to act for justice.

Those of us with identity privilege, though, can simply coast, never considering how our unchecked privileges contribute to a system of oppression.

To that point, my answer to their question is always the same: “Listen.”

Listening Is the Root of Justice

There are lots of steps that someone can take to become a better ally, but surely there is no more important step than listening.

I was raised in a culture where I benefit from a great many privileges.  I am cis-male, white, straight, English-speaking, and able-bodied, and I come from a family of wealth privilege. In the words of Louis CK“How many advantages can one person have!?” 

With those unearned advantages comes a little voice that tells me that I am always right, that I am above reproach, that I have power and deserve power.

And not only does this little voice tell me that I am always right, but it tells me that there is no need to listen to the voices of those who are different from me.

“What could they possibly teach me?”

And therein lies the arrogant lack of perspective that can come with any form of identity privilege.

After all, when a person lives in a vacuum of privileged voices and perspectives, how brilliant can said person be?

Men who refuse to listen to women, cis folk who ignore trans* voices, white people who ignore people of color… In every case, we are denying ourselves the knowledge of powerful perspectives.

And because privilege conceals itself from those who have it, those of us who benefit from identity privilege are often unaware of the perspectives we deny, silence, and stifle with our voice.

As such, I’ve done a lot of silencing in my life, but most of it wasn’t active. I haven’t simply talked over someone or shouted someone down.

Instead, I’ve resorted to one of my most powerful weapons as a person of privilege: my refusal to listen.

For example, white people like myself are taught that we shouldn’t listen to voices of color. After all, if we did, we wouldn’t need study after study to prove that racism is real and that we don’t live in a “post-racial” society.

We would simply be able to hear it in the stories and voices of those folks of color that must live in our racist society every single day.

Read the rest of the article at Everyday Feminism!

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Navigating the Difference Between the Appreciation of Beauty and Sexual Objectification

For the second week in a row, the CFW post is coming to you from Everyday Feminism.  This is, in part, because I have a backlog of work over there that is now slowly getting published.  It’s hard for me to find time to write more than one piece a week, so on the weeks that there is a piece over there, I usually just let that act as my post for both sites.

I’ve written about this topic a few times before, but I brought some new insights to my EF piece.  Hope you enjoy!

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Everyday FeminismAs I come to the end of my first Minnesota winter, I have never been more excited for spring.

Temperatures above 32 degrees!  Sunshine on my skin!  Long walks with my partner and the puppy!  Even just writing this makes me freak out a little in anticipation.

Which is why I was really surprised to see a woman express on Facebook how much she was dreading Spring.

“If it weren’t for the incredible weather, Spring would be intolerable.”

Comments immediately exploded with, “WHAT!?”  “Spring is the best time of year!!”  “Seriously?  Why would you ever say that!?”

She went on to explain, “Don’t get me wrong.  I want to love Spring, but the moment I step out in anything less than a full-length down coat, the street harassment-o-meter goes wild!  I can’t take it!”

I immediately felt incredible shame.  After all, when I am completely honest with myself, I know that I contribute to the kind of masculinity that causes her to dread Spring.

It’s not that I overtly participate in street harassment.  Quite the opposite, really.  Usually I try pretty hard to follow the lead of these guys.

But when I am completely honest with myself, I recognize that far too often, when I meet a woman, my eyes go down.

Every single woman knows exactly what I am talking about, as they experience it on the daily from pretty much every straight man (and even some not-so-sraight men).

And just about every straight man knows exactly what I’m talking about — because we’ve done it.

More Than Just Attraction

When I try to talk to other men (and some women) about this, I often get, “What’s the problem?  It’s completely natural to look at another person’s body with attraction.”

And they’re right.  I don’t mean to communicate that we should experience shame for feeling lust or for checking someone out.

And I suppose if my eyes wandering down existed in isolation, one could argue that it is simply a natural part of attraction.

We want to appreciate beauty, and part of that is taking in the physical beauty of the people around us.

But our actions never exist in isolation.

My wandering eyes exist as part of a daily onslaught women face where their bodies are treated as public property – leered at, jeered at, and objectified in every major media outlet and in the eyes of most men.

Objectified.  Though the word is used on the regular, it is powerful.

Read the rest of the piece at Everyday Feminism.

10 Keys for Creating an Inclusive Classroom for LGBTQ Students

Everyday FeminismThis week’s post comes via Everyday Feminism!  I’m definitely excited to have this piece published at a site with such a large community!

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Lately I have been facilitating a lot of professional development sessions for teachers on building inclusive environments for diverse student populations.

And one thing is clear to me: most teachers want to be as supportive as possible to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) students but aren’t sure how best to do so.

The unfortunate reality is that few schools are safe spaces for LGBTQ students:

  • 84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.
  • 63.7% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 27.2% reported being physically harassed and 12.5% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression.
  • 72.4% heard homophobic remarks, such as “faggot” or “dyke,” frequently or often at school.
  • Nearly two-thirds (61.1%) of students reported that they felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation, and more than a third (39.9%) felt unsafe because of their gender expression.
  • 29.1% of LGBT students missed a class at least once and 30.0% missed at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns, compared to only 8.0% and 6.7%, respectively, of a national sample of secondary school students.
  • The reported grade point average of students who were more frequently harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender expression was almost half a grade lower than for students who were less often harassed (2.7 vs. 3.1).
  • Increased levels of victimization were related to increased levels of depression and anxiety and decreased levels of self-esteem.
  • Being out in school had positive and negative repercussions for LGBT students %96 outness was related to higher levels of victimization, but also higher levels of psychological well-being.

(Source: GLSEN 2009 National School Climate Survey)

As a result, more and more teachers are looking for help in supporting their LGBTQ students, and schools are looking for proactive ways to create a safer environment for students of all sexual orientations.

To try to offer support, I have compiled a list of 10 things teachers can do to create a more inclusive classroom environment for LGBTQ students.  Though these can in no way be comprehensive, they are meant to be a starting place for better supporting our LGBTQ students in the classroom environment.

Read the complete list at Everyday Feminism.

5 Things Men Can Do During Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (And All the Time)

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

In case you didn’t know, April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.  The month was originally created to ensure that there was particular attention paid during one time of the year to the problem of sexual violence.  This was in response to the almost total silence in mainstream media and everyday conversations during the rest of the year.

Recently it has been exciting to see all of the places in which there have been healthy, productive conversations about sexual violence and prevention.  Much of this came in response to the high-profile Steubenville rape case, but there has also been some awesome momentum outside of that media firestorm!  I cannot tell you how many awesome articles I have read in the past six months about healthy sexuality, positive masculinity, sexual violence awareness, prevention of sexual violence, and so on.

With the hope of contributing to that momentum, I figured I would talk to teh menz this week with a post about ways that we can participate more fully in Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  Obviously there are countless ways that men can take part in the struggle to end sexual and intimate partner violence, so if you have suggestions, by all means leave them in the comments, but here are a few places to start:

1.  Self Reflect

One of the best ways to ensure that your relationships are healthy and consensual is to have a strong understanding of yourself and your needs and desires.  As I said in my article, “Want the Best Sex of Your Life? Just Ask:”

The single best thing we can do to encourage healthy, consensual sex is to know exactly what we want, how we want it, and how far we’re willing to go with any given person at any given time. If, before things get hot and heavy, you have spent some time reflecting (perhaps writing?) about what you want and how far you want things to go, you will have a much easier time communicating your needs and desires and will be much more willing to do so. Plus, if you know exactly what you like, exactly what gets you hot and gets you off, you will be able to tell your partner just how you want it. Ain’t nothing wrong with knowing what you want and demanding it between the sheets!

More than just knowing what we want in sex, though, self reflection is important in understanding what healthy sex and consent look like.  Last night my friend and I were talking about sexual violence prevention, and she noted that not all of the sex she’s had in her life felt good and healthy.  When I self reflect, I find the same thing.  I’ve had sex when I didn’t really want to.  I’ve likely pressured partners in unhealthy ways or left them feeling not-so-good about our encounter.  When we take the time to reflect on these experiences, we come to a better understanding of what healthy sex feels like.  When we know what it feels like (and doesn’t feel like), we can do a better job of practicing and advocating for healthy sexuality in our lives!

In this process, it’s also important to ask of ourselves questions like these:

  • Are there ways that I encourage or uphold rape culture?
  • In what ways can I be a better ally to those who have experienced sexual violence or are more likely to experience it than me?
  • What sex and relationship-related patterns in my life are unhealthy?  Which ones are healthy?  How can I make the unhealthy ones look more like the healthy ones?

2.  Talk to Other Men and Boys
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