I never remember being taught that men did certain things and women did certain other things and never the twain shall meet.
In fact, that idea was mocked in my household. Possibly in a bad way — sometimes when my dad was asked to help with something around the house, he would sarcastically reply that it was squaw work. Hunting, fishing were brave work, (with commensurate sarcasm) in an urban setting, of course.
Looking at it now, 30 to 40 years later, it probably wasn’t the best analogy, but knowing that it was used to break the social dynamics of the 70s when I was a child, it worked for me. I learned that there really was no such thing as “women’s work”, even though it was couched in Native American (yes, Indian at the time) terms. There was just work around the house that needed to be done.
(I have no experience with appropriation of the culture or whether what my parents’ engaged in was racist. I would not say things like this now — there is a feeling that it is wrong today though I can’t put my finger on what exactly is the problem. And that’s how I know I am still learning.)
I also don’t remember any men volunteering at my elementary school as my mother and my classmates’ mothers did. I don’t even remember any dad’s picking up or dropping off their kids at school. Regularly at least.
I remember the woman who helped out at lunch. I remember the woman who helped out at recess and raised rabbits — and held me when a game at recess lead to me getting 5 stitches in my head due to smacking it into the school fence. My mom and my oldest friend’s mom (they met in PTA, we lived around the corner from each other) put together at least one musical variety show to benefit the school and PTA.
I didn’t see my mom as a particularly strong woman, as most think of it, while I was growing up. It turns out that a lot of that was because my parents didn’t tell us everything my mother’s family tried with their pressure. Still, she wasn’t out there on the front lines denouncing how women were treated in the 70s and 80s. She just lived the life she wanted to live.
We didn’t know it at the time in the 1980s, but our brains don’t seem to be fully formed until our mid-20s. There are many links to resources if you just put “brain fully developed” into Google. I am going to say right here that I have always been behind that curve. Two or three years for sure. I still don’t need to shave everyday, as a comparison.
That said, during that awkward time from late teens until mid-20s (late-20s for me), I did things that were not necessarily respectful of women. I have massaged a woman’s shoulders without being asked. I have prompted women for smiles, though as far as I can remember, they were women I was familiar with — whether coworkers or college classmates. I have yelled out of a car at a woman I thought attractive — this mostly consisted of the incredibly useless, “Oh, yeah!” or, “Woo, woo!” And this could all be my own rationalizations about my own behavior, and I could have been much worse. I don’t remember it that way, but I have read enough books now about how the brain works that I can’t be sure.
I spent my late teens and early twenties as a centrist. The country was doing OK, as far as I could tell, which wasn’t far at all, but it didn’t seem like much change was needed. The internet has done one hell of a job at spreading the news of what actual people are actually dealing with. I started learning more in 1992 when I got onto said internet — Gopher and Usenet were my friends for awhile.
I am not sure what the final trigger was, the last step breaking free from the tribalism that rules a lot of people’s lives. My tribe for my life was straight middle-class white people. I worried about what black or Hispanic people were doing — they were all looking to rob everyone they could. Gays? Flamboyant lisping freaks. Homeless? Yeah, you can imagine.
I was never that extreme that I can remember, but there were hints of it in my life. Although I lived most of my life just not caring or thinking about those outside my “tribe”.
I met my wife online in 1996. As an attorney, she was able to explain to me the intricacies of the legal system in several areas. Classes in law school gave her an understanding of the Constitution that I had never met in my life. I credit her with making me a better person, though I still needed to learn.
But I still can’t say for sure if there was one definite switch that led me to what Depeche Mode explained so very well:
People are people
So why should it be
You and I should get along so awfullySo we’re different colours
And we’re different creeds
And different people have different needs
It’s obvious you hate me
Though I’ve done nothing wrong
I’ve never even met you so what could I have done
I can’t understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand
Help me understand
Now you’re punching
And you’re kicking
And you’re shouting at me
I’m relying on your common decency
So far it hasn’t surfaced
But I’m sure it exists
It just takes a while to travel
From your head to your fists