As part of She’s Right’s participation in 16 days of activism to end violence against women, each article will be dedicated to a New Zealand woman who has lost her life due to gender-based violence. This article is dedicated to Crystal-Lee Selwyn, killed by a man on 26 November 2019 at the age of 38.
By Patrick McTague.
Edited by Jessica Sutton.
Your bubble may be holding you back and you don’t even know it.
I have always, as far as I can remember believed in equality for all. However, I used to know little to nothing about the struggles for that equality, historical and present day. This inevitably led to some problematic views which were pervasive throughout my early twenties.
I used to think that a merit-based hiring and promotion system was the most equal process of employment. It never crossed my mind that the system might be used to conceal gender-bias, either by subconsciously designating “merits” which favour traditionally male attributes, while dismissing typically female attributes; or employers insisting that their merit-based system is free from bias, even while statistics show they favour male employees.
I used to know that there was a gender pay gap, but never understood its machinations and implications as I hadn’t experienced it in my own workplace. I also never understood how much higher the cost of living is for women, from the cost of tampons and pads that men don’t need, to the price of birth control (remembering that men are not the ones who would have to carry a pregnancy), to everyday items at the supermarket. These things can add up, on average to US$1,351 a year.
I used to know that women were harassed more than men in everyday society, but I never knew that almost every woman I know has been cat-called, groped, outright assaulted, or harassed by men in some way.
My thoughts and ideas were moulded by my environment, I was surrounded by cis, middle-class, straight, white, men and thought like an empathetic but ignorant typical cis, middle-class, straight, white, man.
It wasn’t until my circle of people grew more diverse, and my media consumption evolved, that my thoughts and ideas, my entire mindset, began to change. I’ve always been good at listening to people, so when the people I was listening to were talking about experiences I’ve never had, challenges I’ve never faced, or ideas I’ve never considered, my mind was opened and my pervasive ignorance was brought to light. It wasn’t until I was faced with overwhelming, personal, evidence that I had been living in a bubble, that I could escape it and start being a true ally.
Now, when people talk about the patriarchy, I don’t get defensive or offended. I realise that knowing there is a system in place which benefits men and keeps women down is not an attack on men, it’s an open-eyed look at the realities of challenges facing women in society.
Generalisations about men do not offend me. I don’t take them personally; I assume that I am not being included in said generalisation for the most part. It’s a simple truth that people generalise because it provides an easier way to make a point. So, I can look at a generalisation such as “men are always trying to grope you when you’re dancing” and realise this is simply a reflection of the speaker’s life. They are often being groped when dancing and it is always men who are doing so. I don’t see this as an attack on men that I would need to defend with a “not all men” comment. I see it as a sad insight into our society that some men are consistently harassing this person. Their comments shouldn’t be dismissed, they should be heard, believed, and treated with respect.
Everyone has biases, everyone makes assumptions, and everyone generalises. I still have all of these things, I’m very aware of that; I’m not even close to perfect and I’m more flawed than a lot of people. All I can do is try to make the world a better place for those people who face more challenges in everyday life than I do. I am actively trying to learn about, and bring awareness to, these challenges for women, from the pink tax to the pandemic of gender-based violence. I am working to put women first, in the same way that men are put first in society by default. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to start raising awareness, and it doesn’t cost anything to do, but I feel a much better, more whole, person for it. I would encourage every man reading this to try to learn something new about your own privilege, and the challenges women face, in everyday life. Read a book, search online, or just talk to a woman in your life, and you will realise how easily you can pop your own bubble and start making a difference.
 Caroline Criado Perez Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men (Penguin Random House UK, London, 2019) Chapter 4.