What could have been said…

I understand why men didn’t speak up at the Golden Globes this year. I really do.

I did not watch the awards ceremony, but, boy, did I hear about it. I imagine there are few who didn’t. The theme of recognizing the work and struggle of women with everyone wearing black, the speeches – from Oprah and others – eloquently and powerfully addressing the work women are doing right now to spotlight both harassment and continuing inequality – it was clearly a different awards show this year.

My friend posted an article that really grabbed my attention, particularly when coupled with her commentary. The article highlighted the conspicuous silence of the men present. Why didn’t they address the blatant and important theme of the evening? Why didn’t they speak to their role in the equation?

In sharing the article, my friend also shared the complexity of her feelings on the topic. On the one hand, she recognized that men can support the women’s movement in ways that are not as publicly visible. On the other hand, if they have a platform, a position of power and the opportunity to reach millions of listeners, shouldn’t they use that opportunity? Others commenting on her post pointed out that no matter what the men present said, it would not have been the right thing and would have taken attention from where it should be – on the women and what they are saying. Anything a man would say in that situation would inevitably come across as self-serving or promoting.

The article and the comments my friend made and received rattled around in my mind all day, along with a question of my own: When we are confronted with a situation in which a group of people have suffered persecution at the hands of another group and we are identified with the latter, through race, class, gender or by some other factor, how can we verbally show support for the persecuted? Recognizing the many, many complexities in such a situation, recognizing all that we do not and can never know about the experience of those persecuted, how can we speak out in a manner that isn’t self-serving, that is truly supportive? Do we have to remain silent because to speak is to step into a truly uncomfortable and complex realm?

Or can we learn together? Is there some way to speak from exactly the place of complexity in which we find ourselves – to address it rather than shove it under the rug or use it as a reason to remain silent?

What if the men present at the Golden Globes had said something like this: “I’m worried about saying the wrong thing here, but I believe to not speak up in support of the incredible work being done by women right now is to not support that work. I don’t want to take the attention away from where it should be: on the work being done, on what the women are saying, on the very real issues they are highlighting, and on the important changes that need to happen. I just want to say that I support this work 100% and I’m here to do anything I can to help make those changes.”

I don’t know about other women, but this would have worked very well for me. I would applaud the man who could stand in his discomfort and not-knowing and speak these words, words that stay focused on the work the women are doing and don’t draw the attention towards the man’s discomfort in the face of that work. To be able to stand in discomfort but not make that the story. To recognize that within not-knowing lies an opportunity to learn. To know that even if the work ahead drives straight into uncharted and potentially increasingly uncomfortable territory, your support is the best thing you can give, especially when coupled with a willingness to learn and to be changed in that process of learning.

I get that it is unfair to place the responsibility of teaching on the persecuted party. To do so is to doubly burden those who have already shouldered undeserved weight for far too long. But we cannot know what we do not know. When we pretend otherwise, we further abuse those who truly do know, who have experienced the persecution firsthand.

As I think about the resurgence of so many movements that seek to address the inequalities and injustices rampant the whole word over, I find myself hoping again and again that we can be brave enough to stand in discomfort. May we be capable of admitting when we do not know. May we be willing to offer support while not seeking to take over the story. May we be ever and always open to being changed in the process of communal learning this world so desperately needs.

And may I learn from what was missing at the Golden Globes. The next time I want to show support but am nervous about speaking up, may I remember the words I would have liked to hear from the men present at that awards ceremony.

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