Introspection gives us the empathy to give those who oppose us a second chance—even the racists

Like most men, I grew up being sexist and homophobic. It did not help that it was part of the culture of the Latin American country I am from. My path away from homophobia deserves a whole article of its own. But most importantly, my path to becoming a feminist (and gay rights activist) makes me a much more empathetic person toward racists and others I am diametrically and morally opposed to. This may sound strange, but hear me out.

I became a feminist soon after I entered the University of Texas at Austin. It was an intellectual realization that women as a class, like many other groups (blacks, Asians, gays, etc.), were discriminated against. I understood that the systemic nature of said discrimination resulted in the economic and power disparity between men and women.

Recently, I read a post from my Facebook friend Jim Rigby that really spoke to me.

Listen guys,

understand your resistance to what women are saying this week about the prevalence of male abuse of women, but there is a gift in this for you if you can find the courage to set aside your defenses and hear what is being said.
I remember my own painful awakening to MY role in the patriarchy- sitting in training classes at the Rape Crisis Center decades ago.

I remember the temptation to co-op the conversation making it about MY discomfort with the conversation instead of what was happening to women. I remember resisting the statistics.

I remember, after that training, speaking to colleges and high schools where the males CONSISTENTLY tried to shut down the conversation by presenting the experiences of women as though they were nothing more than personal criticisms of men.

I certainly remember a fraternity at U.T. shutting down my talk on rape prevention by shouting “f*ck you, f*ck you.”

To recognize how I had been taught to see women as objects and how I had been conditioned by the culture to “fix” women and to try to stay in control, without even realizing it, was not easy.

I, personally, could not THINK my way out of patriarchy. I kept finding flaws in what was being said. I did not realize I was using my own sexist interpretations of my life to measure the justice claims of women. Eventually, I had to GRIEVE my way out of patriarchy. I had to die to my false hyper-masculinity. I had to learn to stop trying to control and fix others. I had to die to my false bravado, and be born into the ambiguities of my deeper humanity.

Like alcoholism, undoing male privilege is a life time struggle, but the reward of being fully human is worth every tear.

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