Iain looked up. "Why was it important to note it was a female friend? Why not just a friend? What are we supposed to understand about him that he was with a female friend? What are we supposed to infer about her?" He scowled.
"I was just about to say the same thing," I said. I resisted the urge to give him a cookie for noticing precisely the sort of thing his privilege has insulated him from having to notice. But it means something to me when he notices these things.
Still, I sometimes wonder how much he internalizes it. Does it touch him deep down in that place where it matters, the way it touches me? Does it linger?
Yesterday afternoon, he emailed me about the Worst Thing post, sarcastically expressing his dismay at how prevalent that kind of shit is. "Based on the Cosmo covers I see this crap is super interesting, or whatever."
I replied: "There is an entire industry dedicated to telling women what to think, which is really about telling women how to be good members of an oppressed class. And, I imagine the longer you read the stuff I write about every day, the more you realize that's not remotely hyperbolic."
Came his response (which I share with his permission): "No. It's like the other night when we heard a news story about that kid visiting a female friend, and we were both like 'why specify the gender.' You don't really recognize this stuff until you've gone down the rabbit hole."
Not long ago, Iain had asked me to find him a pill case for his stinkabetes meds. The case I bought him (which he loves) suddenly seems more appropriate than ever.
Last night, I told him, "Thanks for coming down the rabbit hole with me."
To feel known is a precious gift—and not an easy one to give. Knowing another person truly, as much as another person can ever truly be known, requires not just compassion, but empathy.
And in inter-sex relationships—as in any other between two people on either side of a privilege divide: interracial relationships, inter-gender (trans/cis) relationships, partnerships formed between a person with a disability or disabilities and a currently abled person, between a fat person and a thin person—empathy requires conscious effort, an authentic and committed willingness to self-examine, particularly on the part of the privileged person who has not, unlike hir partner, been socialized in a world designed to treat hir partner's perspective as the objective reality.
A privileged-by-society partner cannot begin to understand hir marginalized-by-society partner if the former can't begin to comprehend how the latter sees the world.
Teasing out those differences—and acknowledging it's not just down to "Well, I'm a man and you're a woman and we're different and that's why we see it differently and it's all just a matter of opinion, anyway," but down to the internalized prejudices and cultural narratives we have about women and men, and how those influence our perceptions—is the path to real intimacy, to the sort of knowing that honors the parts of a person hardest to articulate, the parts of the marginalized person the world outside your relationship endeavors to deny.
The most basic, and yet endemically disregarded, expression of esteem by a privileged person in a mixed-power relationship is simply this: Your perspective and experience are as valid and valuable as my own.
Examining one's privilege, going down the rabbit hole, is thus not merely an act of love; it is a radical act of respect.
it is a demonstration of fierce loyalty, not just to one's partner, but to the promise of egalitarianism and whatever work it takes to get there.
[Related Reading: Man Haterz, The Bargain, and Its Alternative, Angry Men, Searching Men.]