it's been interesting. eye-opening. look, i know it's all the liberal rage right now for me to be appalled at my white male privilege. of course having been me all my life, i have a hard time getting my head around the fact that it even exists. that's the nature of the problem in a nutshell. "well, yeah, i guess racism still happens. but I'M not racist!" turns out i am.
so my very dear friend is getting ready to build a house. i am helping in any way that i can because i have done a little building. sometimes i offer an opinion about materials. i have helped with a bit of the design work because i sometimes have a little insight into areas where design and construction realities interface. she is also working with a builder who is generous in allowing us to do some of the work in order to help with the budget. EVERYONE she has been working with has been really great. and almost every one, at one time or another has exhibited some unwitting sexism.
floor covering sales people. code officials. hardware store employees. designers. even friends. it is sometimes subtle. sometimes it is so painfully obvious i am embarrassed for them, even while asking myself if i do the same thing. telling myself "but i'm NOT sexist!" and hearing my racism protests echo in my head as i do. really? the father of four powerful and intelligent women? the partner of a well-loved and admired community stalwart? "please", i ask myself, "please observe yourself carefully in all your interactions. watch for this insidious and unintended sexism to assert itself and stomp it out every time it appears."
when we approach people on the subject of construction, others almost invariably migrate their attention to me. even in the presence of CLEAR instruction that this is HER house, HER money, and HER decision in every case. the variations are interesting if somewhat painful to observe. and if you are a woman and are reading this, you are all-too-aware of the images i will explain in the next paragraph. i can almost see the knowing look in your eye as you smile that necessary smile as you think "really? REALLY? you're just NOW seeing this?" yes, i am. sorry.
again, these are good people we are dealing with. intelligent. kind. dedicated professionals and trades people. excellent business owners and entrepreneurs. but it is apparent in nearly every discussion. she asks the question, and more often than not the answer is directed to me. sometimes it starts out being delivered to her, but even in those cases they often finish with me and hold my gaze, waiting for an answer. to be fair, in some cases those questions veer toward construction experience or maybe code questions. they may think i have superior knowledge. in many of these cases they are wrong about that, too. she has as many years in the fire service as i have, and probably MORE street experience having been "on call" every day when i only showed up on one out of three. she has been deeply professionally involved in real estate and in legislative processes affecting the real estate and building industries. in the very worst cases, where she and i happen to be standing several feet apart during these discussions, i have had to move closer to her in order to "share" the attention of the person involved in the discussion. one day it occurred to me that this must be a LITTLE bit like what it feels like for a woman trying to have a conversation with someone who can't stop looking at her breasts. it's weird. instead of "hey, my EYES are up HERE!" i get a very similar sensation which manifests as "DOOD! she's standing right BESIDE me!" oh, and lest i be sexist in yet another unintended way, let me point out that it is NOT just men who do this - the answering her question to me thing. women too. though i DO notice that it is mostly men who sometimes get caught staring at her breasts.
so here i am, recognizing myself in others. finding a strange mix of self-loathing and compassion, which should be but are not mutually exclusive. just like being good-hearted, liberal, and well-intended can and often does co-exist right alongside our racism and our sexism. we are not "bad". we are products of our cultural experience. we can't change our history. but we can certainly use our intellect and our powers of observation to open our minds to the uncomfortable awareness that we aren't anywhere near "there" yet. and as the saying goes, "be not discouraged". awareness is the all-important first step. followed closely by acceptance and an internal "call to action". this is just that: a call to action. i encourage you to accept that you are not "there yet" and be OK with that. skip the self-loathing. it serves no purpose once "awareness" is accomplished. move right along to the "action". and let's try to help each other in ways that allow us to maintain our self-respect and dignity. habits take a while to change. be impatient internally, and as patient as possible externally. believe me being harangued - even when well-intended and richly deserved - does not inspire. but being patiently led to one's OWN conclusion is tremendously powerful.