The men on my feeds are shocked and appalled by what happened to Warren. I’m shocked and appalled because I’ve seen the men on my feeds do the exact same thing.
As you’ve most likely seen, Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced in the Senate on Tuesday while attempting to read a letter written by Coretta Scott King while arguing against Senator Jeff Sessions’ nomination for Attorney General. The censure was so outrageous, and the explanation by Senator Mitch McConnell so ridiculous, that thousands took to social media in protest, using his own words against him to create the trending hashtag (and rallying cry) #ShePersisted.
My own Facebook and Twitter feeds are falling into two distinct categories: men, aghast at the fact that she was silenced, and women who have seen (hell, have likely lived) this before. And this is an important distinction to understand. Because while both groups are standing in steadfast support of Warren, her censure gives one group a vital opportunity to learn —and I fear that many are missing the forest for the trees.
Women are silenced everyday (often multiple times a day) in every way you can imagine. Their speaking voices are silenced by men like McConnell who don’t like what they’re saying. Their written voices are silenced by abusive trolls that drive women writers out of public spaces. (I’m still mourning the loss of Lindy West on Twitter, but I can’t possibly blame her for leaving.) Their ability to express themselves through clothing or hair or other style choices is silenced by dress codes and outdated expectations of how women should look. Women are silenced when they receive unwanted attention (walking down the street, at a bar, at work, at school), afraid to speak up because it may literally cost them their lives.
This is why I’m wary of so many men on my various social media feeds suddenly waking up to this reality. Because, the honest truth is, these are the people who have profited from a society built around silencing women. It’s not a new fact that men are labeled as “confident” and “assertive” when they’re outspoken and women are called “bossy”, “shrill,” and that oh-so-lovely catch-all, “bitch.” It’s not revolutionary that men can say things that women are not allowed to, evidenced most recently by Republicans allowing four male senators to read, without rebuke, the letter Warren had previously attempted.
There’s a reason why a woman’s crafty response to a man questioning her love of sports went viral. (Hint: it’s because women put up with these attempts to silence our passions all the time.) And every woman I know has been talked over during a disagreement, told to calm down if she was speaking passionately, gaslit by accusations of being “hysterical.” The list goes on and on.
The men on my feeds are shocked and appalled by what happened to Warren.
I’m shocked and appalled because I’ve seen the men on my feeds do the exact same thing.
I don’t trust their outrage. First, because their sheer state of shock confirms what women have suspected for so long, that men simply don’t notice when this constant and deliberate silencing is happening on a day-to-day basis. But moreso because of the frustrating inability for these men to look inside themselves and recognize that they are actively participating in perpetuating this cycle of silence.
I want to respond to each one. “You’re mad about what happened to Elizabeth Warren? Be madder about the time you spoke over X at the BBQ, the time you cut off X during that class discussion, the paragraphs of nonsensical arguments you posted on X’s Facebook page when you disagreed with her point.” I want to painstakingly rebuild for them each time I witnessed them shut down, ignore, dismiss, or disregard a woman.
I want to shout at them that it’s not senators like Warren who need your defense, but the everyday women in your lives — at work meetings, in classrooms and on the street. I want to tell them that while Warren faces a battle to be heard, so do your female friends and family. I implore these outraged men who are so mad at the Senate for what it did to Warren to lead by example in their everyday lives. They need to hold onto this anger while looking inside themselves, asking tough questions about their own behavior, seeing if it mirrors the actions they are so angry about.
I want them to be just as angry whenever they witness a woman being silenced.
Elizabeth Skoski lives in New York City. She is the author of the novel, For Girls Who Find Themselves With Child, the proceeds of which are donated to The National Network of Abortion Funds. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Bustle, and The Frisky, among others.
Photo Credit: The Huffington Post