Alfaro: Men, please stop and listen

Mariana Alfaro, Opinion Editor

Like many women, I heard about Harvey Weinstein and, though it hurt me, I was not surprised. I saw hundreds of #MeToo posts on social media and felt pain but, again, no surprise. I even thought of posting my own #MeToo story, but did not want to open up to concerned Facebook friends and have to explain myself. After a while of sifting through so many familiar stories, I decided to give the internet a break.

So much has already been said about the disgusting system of harassment, sexism and abuse women perpetually face in society — in their offices, at school, in the “safety” of their own homes — that I do not know what else I can add to the conversation. Most of those who are willing to listen understand our anger, our fear. Those who refuse to listen should not be dismissed as lost causes but also, who wants to engage in a discussion about sexism and sexual harassment with a person unwilling to understand the system that led us here in the first place? Not only is explaining yourself exhausting, but having to defend your identity — and the experiences that shaped it — could physically cause pain.

Last week, The Daily published an op-ed by Margaux MacColl about her experience with harassment at a University fraternity house. When I received the column, I teared up a little, because it so accurately embraced the fears and threats many of us face at Northwestern, somewhere we once innocently believed to be a place where we could let our guard down.

Personally, in more ways than one — and definitely not just relating to sexual aggression — men have managed to take spaces I cherish and turn them into complete nightmares. Soccer games that I wanted to enjoy in peace were disrupted by a drunken dude groping my ass. Streets I used to frequent until creepy sasquatches commented on my hair, hips and skin color. Classrooms where I thought my ideas were valuable, only to have a classmate mansplain things to me, as if I paid to have the class taught by him and not the professor.

Even my newsroom, the place where I’ve spent most of my college days, wasn’t safe from the stabbing pain of having less experienced, less knowledgeable men try to tell me how to do my job. Even as I politely try to advise younger, male writers, I am rebuffed, without regard for my position as their editor. They only listen when a male editor approaches them, most of the time, saying the exact thing I said minutes before.

This is not a hit piece on men. It also is not, obviously, a generalization of “all” men, because God knows I have great men in my life — men who have mentored me, men who have taught me many things, men who love me, men who have consoled me after other men have hurt me and men who do the littlest things to make me feel better after a bad day.

This is a reflection on our society and what brought us here — apathy toward women’s thoughts, emotions and a complete disregard for their dignity. The other day, a man in my class questioned why Hillary Clinton wore a white pantsuit in an ad aired the day before the election. A woman politely answered “because suffragettes used to wear white clothes.” To this, the man answered “and guys are supposed to know that?” Maybe I imagined it, but I swear I heard the collective sigh of all the women in my classroom. We all knew that he was unwilling to listen, and we weren’t about to spend 15 minutes of class explaining such a simple concept to him.

How hard is it to stop and listen? How embedded is it in our system that men feel self-righteous enough to ignore women, and women are expected to silently agree to being ignored and being misheard? Me politely suggesting edits doesn’t give you permission to disregard my authority, me wearing tight pants doesn’t mean I want your hands on my body, me saying “yes” to one thing doesn’t mean “yes” to another.

I do not want to equate sexual harassment and assault to discrimination at work or in public spaces. Though they are all different levels of intimidation falling under the umbrella of sexism and violence, they must be discussed and dissected separately and constantly. The first steps toward this involve opening your brain and heart and listening. They involve being mature enough to recognize that you are not always right. It is realizing that sometimes your actions are microaggressions, even if that wasn’t what you intended. It is knowing that you, as a man, could hold certain privileges that women and gender nonconforming people do not have.

I was heartbroken but hopeful after reading #MeToo posts. Heartbroken for the people who told their stories, but hopeful that maybe now people will start listening.

Mariana Alfaro is a Medill senior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.