Saturday, December 14, 2013

Second Class Treatment is Wrong, No Matter the Gender

I ain't mad; not really.
                During the birth of your child you’d think the only thing on a man’s mind would be the health and safety of his wife and baby. While that was indeed true for me the other day in the delivery room when my son Isaiah was born, something else was running in the background of my mind and it wasn’t love and happiness. It was resentment.
               Now I’m an ordinary guy. That means I grew up in a place and time in which men and boys were the center of all things. It’s still that way in most places. Like a lot of males, I wasn’t even aware of my advantages and privilege; we just got things female didn’t and that was that. Scientists have a word for this social system: patriarchy. It’s an inequitable arrangement in which both men and women have been conditioned to believe and accept such nonsense like a woman’s place is in the home; females should wear makeup and dress a certain way; or male workers deserve more pay than females for the exact same job.
               I admit to my own continuing participation in patriarchy, even though I don’t subscribe to it. It’s so interwoven into society that I regularly blunder into its ‘invisible’ booby traps of inequity. So while I haven’t completely purged myself of chauvinistic ways of thinking, I’m developing an ever deepening recognition that females live in a world where men have made the rules and tilted them in our favor.
For the gender equity of it all.
               It’s sad but true: I’ll never understand what it’s like to be a woman in a man’s world. I won’t. Can’t. Why? Simple. I’m not female. Oh sure, being African American gives me a measure of perspective, being a minority and all. But I can never really know what it’s like anymore than white people can grasp what it is to be a person of color. Or vice versa for that matter. Many think they can but can’t.
               Anyway, with all my male privilege, imagine my indignation in the delivery room when, as my wife labored and I provided my highest levels of empathy and emotional support, I was completely ignored by the attending doctor. Throughout the process. From the beginning when the doctor first entered the room, she paid me absolutely no mind. No hello or eye contact, nothing. Everything was directed toward my wife.
               This doctor wasn’t just ignoring me like a lot of medical professionals do who suffer from poor bedside manner. She was straight up marginalizing me. Even when I asked questions, the doctor’s response was directed at my wife. I was not a happy camper.
Woman and men, together: in it to win it.
               Yet then was not the time for me to insist on a little respect. Everyone in the birthing room had a job to do, including me. Interestingly, it wasn’t until after all was said and done that it dawned on me: this must be what it’s like for a female manager of a business when a customer directs the conversation to the manager’s male subordinate. Or when a woman comes in to buy a car and the salesman speaks mainly in the direction of her male partner.
               Ironically, I regard my treatment in the delivery room as a kind of gift. That’s because it’s not every day I experience what it’s like at the other end of such a gender dynamic, so it serves as a reminder. One day I’ll share this with Isaiah. Meanwhile men: if this happens to you, instead of drowning in resentment, buoy yourself with critical thinking about patriarchy. Then allow the experience to navigate your own actions toward more equitable treatment of people.

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