I got a notification on Messenger the other day, saying that I had a message from someone who wasn’t my Facebook friend. It happens relatively often, people I don’t know contact me every now and then about my blog or my art. So I checked it out thinking it was probably something like that. However, when I clicked on the notification, the message had been deleted. The person must have changed their mind. The sender was still visible though, and I was curious to see who this person was and what it was all about, so I clicked through to get a better look.
Having public profiles on social media, I get my share of creepy messages. They are often from guys who must think I look ‘hot’ or something and are looking to be ‘friends’. Their messages usually just contain a ‘Hello there’ and nothing else, and they never change their minds and delete their messages, so I really didn’t think this was anything like that.
So, I clicked through to see who this person was and I thought I recognized him from his profile picture. As a matter of fact, I was pretty sure it was the dad of a sweet, little girl who was friends with my daughter almost two decades ago. My family was located in Sweden at the time and this dad and I were both on parental leave with our daughters and had met through a play group. Our girls got along beautifully and we would sometimes meet up in the park for play dates. I remember them well, I really liked both of them.
We only lived in Sweden for a couple of years. We moved back to Finland and lost touch with many of the people we had met. I had not been in touch with these particular friends since we left and had no idea where or how they were, so I was really happy to see that it was him.
I didn’t think twice. I shot back a message saying I saw that he had tried to contact me and is he so-and-so’s dad? He messaged me back saying yes, he is and that he had found old pictures and decided to see if he could find me on Facebook. But then he had changed his mind after messaging me. Whatever, I didn’t care, I was thrilled. What a blast from the past!
By now we’ve chatted over Messenger a couple of times about old memories of when our girls were little. Sometimes he apologizes in case it seems like he’s prying or if he’s messaged me in the evening. He really doesn’t need to, there has been nothing inappropriate about any of this, but I get the feeling that he just wants to be sure that he won’t offend me or make me feel uncomfortable. He doesn’t want to come across as a creep.
I appreciate that, but let me say right off the bat that this guy has never, ever been even remotely creepy or inappropriate in any sort of way what-so-ever. We had some good conversations as our daughters played and he was always just a really nice guy.
Being the gender scholar that I am, I thought that was interesting. He was clearly apprehensive that I might misconstrue his motivations for getting in touch after all these years. Maybe it’s just who he his, I don’t know, but what I do know is that a lot has happened since we last met. #MeToo for example.
The #MeToo movement has been, and continues to be, a hugely important movement. Sometimes I hear comments (mainly from men) about how it has gone a bit too far. I really don’t agree, it hasn’t. On the contrary, it needs to go further because awareness isn’t enough, we also need change and we’re just at the beginning of it.
One problem, however, is that it is an uncomfortable truth and like all uncomfortable truths, it makes a lot of people feel like they don’t know what to say or how to act. It’s the same with racism, also a hugely important topic, but one that many white people avoid talking about. Many are scared they might say something wrong. I notice it when I write blog posts about difficult issues like these. Unlike other posts, they are usually met with almost complete silence. They hardly even get any likes.
But back to #MeToo. Every once in a while, I will see frustrated posts and comments about how it is possible that men have become unsure about what is and isn’t appropriate when it comes to women. Do they really not know how to be respectful? Do they really not know what is and isn’t appropriate behavior when interacting with another human being?
Although I really get where these frustrations are coming from, I also understand guys who all of a sudden feel unsure about what is and isn’t okay and are worried they might say or do something around women that may be considered offensive. How can they know if they’ve never been taught?
We live in a world where inequalities are built into the very structures of our society. Misogynism and racism can be overt, and when they are, they are of course relatively easy to detect and people really should understand that it’s not okay to treat others that way. But in this day and age (because a lot of people know it is not okay to be openly racist or misogynist) it is more often than not rather subtle and difficult to detect, although potentially just as damaging.
Since #BlackLivesMatter became an international phenomenon in 2020, many white people have started to become aware that they need to listen in order to learn what is and isn’t okay. We are invariably racist, whether we like it or not, since racism is built into the very structures of society where we have been brought up. It’s the way we have been raised and we have to work at being better – at not being racist.
In the same way, there are probably men (and women) who need to learn what is and isn’t okay to say and do, because we have also been brought up in a very gendered society with very gendered social structures.
So, when men do feel unsure and ask, we shouldn’t lash back and ridicule them for not knowing. The fact that they are asking is a sign that they are listening. They want to know and they want to unlearn and relearn.
It is the men who don’t ask and who think they already know that we should be worried about.
It saddens me that these things are so difficult to talk about. People tend to avoid them like the plague in the fear of seeming ignorant or saying or doing the wrong thing. But the fact is, it is only by talking about these things that we will learn and it is only through dialogue that we will see change.
And if that old friend of mine is reading this and I completely misinterpreted whole the situation, I apologize. But it did get me thinking, so thank you for that!