Newsletter editor Lily here.
There’s an incident from last weekend that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind for the past six days. I was speaking on a panel at a small women empowerment conference here in New York, and it was billed as a “real talk” panel about careers in media. Attendees were encouraged to raise their hands and ask about whatever they wanted. Unsurprisingly, many questions were about dealing with sexism in our line of work and finding worth and value in your work as a woman.
In the middle of things, a woman raised her hand and gave that whole “this is more of a comment than a question” spiel (uh oh) and proceeded to make quite the statement: “When I see men who mistreat their female co-workers in the office, my first question is, where the hell are their wives and girlfriends at home who are supposed to fix him?! If a man at work doesn’t open the door for me, I immediately blame his wife,” she said. “That’s what their job is.”
Oooooof. Where to even begin with this one? As this woman was laying out her whole I comment, I couldn’t stop thinking about this Instagram video from Florence Given were she sings, “Stop raising him, he’s not your son!” One of the panelists immediately pivoted the question, taking it in a totally different direction. Everyone started talking out of sheer nervousness to where I couldn’t get a word in. I wish I’d had some more time to speak up and give a more thoughtful response, especially as someone who write about things like gender dynamics and internalized misogyny for a living.
Here’s what I’d say now: Women aren’t to blame for men’s behavior; men are. And if a man is, quite frankly, terrible to women, it’s not up to women in his life to bear the brunt of trying to “civilize” him, nor should a woman’s worth be based on her ability to “tame” a man who can’t treat women with respect. That emotional labor isn’t just inherently assigned to women who are romantically involved with him, and that intervention should’ve taken place far earlier by people who were tasked with it in any man’s life; there’s no reason to infantilize him as a grown adult. And also, where the hell were the other men helping to hold him accountable? I’ll save the conversations around why women put up with this bullsh*t at home for another day.
Of course, there were about a million thoughtful comments and explorations during this panel compared to just that one comment. But yikes, what a reminder of how complicated women’s views about themselves and each other can be. I’ve got to agree with Florence, though: Stop raising him, he’s not your son—and stop placing the burden on other women to do the same.
Check out some of our favorite Chairman Mom threads about explaining complex societal topics to kids. Give ’em a read and add your insights:
- How do you talk about gender equality with kids? The way things are or the way things should be?
- Explaining money and value to kids
- Sexualized too young?