You cannot read the news without seeing some new allegation about a politician, news person, or celebrity being accused of sexual harassment or abuse. The list grows daily which raises the question of why women continue to support men that are committing crimes against women. Seemingly bright, educated, and grounded women defend or even ignore the allegations against these men, and are giving them a free pass.
One possible answer is invisible and entrenched gender bias in which women hold men’s opinions as more important than their own, granting them a large margin for error and copious amounts of forgiveness. Even small changes to this pattern could be women’s greatest gift to themselves this holiday season.
There is word for this- ‘Himpathy’, a term coined by Kate Manne, a professor at Cornell. Himpathy happens because both men and women have been socialized to believe that the male gender is the center of the universe and has the right to exercise authority over women. Sadly, women not only allow them this position, we endorse it by acquiescing to male power and ultimately cross over into subservience. Every time we anticipate the needs of the men in our lives and make them paramount while denying our own we are practicing Himpathy.
For example, we plan social evenings out to activities they enjoy, even if it is not what we want to do. We became enamored by the fact they are agreeing to go to the movies with us so we choose the war movie because we know they will like it without them having to ask. They live comfortably in a world that is all about them and women make that possible. We encourage their inappropriate behavior by shrugging it off saying that they are just ’silly boys’. Melania Trump did this with the Access Hollywood tape dismissing her husband’s indiscretions as simply ‘locker room talk’.
Some men feel that this categorization is unfair and biased. But is it really? Do men defer to women’s choices, especially women in power positions? The exception may be men’s mothers, but isn’t it interesting that these same men often do not show the same respect for women in the workplace.
It is women who grant men the power and status that makes them believe that they are the experts. How else do you explain allowing men to give a dissertation on a subject (mansplaining) which they know very little about to women who are more knowledgeable in the area?
We vote for men who we know do not respect women. How else do you explain all the women who voted for an abuser and objectifier of women? And in spite of it being counter-productive, women support men’s belief that they are the only gender capable of holding the top jobs. Then, when some men choose to abuse their position and cross the line to harass women, we keep quiet and excuse them for not knowing any better. How can we think that they deserve the pinnacle of the hierarchy while being uninformed?
Not only do we excuse men and give those who act badly a free pass, we are overly grateful to those who exercise even the smallest, teeniest bit of decorum. We are ever so thankful when we are included in the 5:00 watering hole and treated like ‘one of the boys’ with no one making a pass at us. We are beholden to men who don’t pat our bottoms or brush up against us when we bend over for a file. We are appreciative when we don’t have to dodge a grope or improper physical grab thinly passed off as a joke. Ignoring offensive actions while being filled with gratitude to those who treat us respectfully is warped. Accepting the status quo to get along makes us complicit.
Whether these men are breaking the law, using their position as a form of entitlement or simply being a boor, it is time to give up Himpathy and establish boundaries. Only when we acknowledge our own needs and express them as equally important to those of men will they start thinking of us as partners rather than peons. That will not only give us the strength to avoid buying into their reality, it has the power to change the ‘good old boy’ culture.
During the holidays women often can be found in the kitchen or cleaning and decorating the house while men watch “the game” or relax. This lack of equality sends a signal to children of both genders that men are to be served while women are there to support. Invite them to help you prepare meals and decorate home. Make a rule that the television and electronics are turned off during these preparations and that once the work is done, everyone can relax together. You may to thinking that your man would never agree to it, or worse rationalize that they deserve the time to relax. Women have a power that they rarely exercise- and that is to say “no”. No, I am not going to cook by myself. No, I am not going to decorate by myself. Imagine the reaction of an empty holiday table? Neither can your man, so figure out ways to work cooperatively.
It is time for women to take care of themselves, by expressing their own needs, not making excuses for men’s inappropriate behavior and not being overly grateful when men treat them well. That is something women should be able to take for granted. Making even a small step change to our levels of Himpathy could be the greatest gift women could give to themselves this holiday season.