Alec Baldwin has done the unthinkable: acknowledged his sexism. Baldwin’s statement at The Paley Center this week stands out amongst a litany of generic statements from the accused. Baldwin has not been accused (that we know of,) yet his words are closer to ownership than what we have seen from Weinstein, Spacey, Hoffman, and all the other men that have been accused recently. On the surface, this could easily be spun as an attempt to get ahead of an incoming story, and it may be just that. However, the sentiment of Baldwin’s speech raises an important aspect of the conversation around sexual violence by highlighting the role of the male ally.
Men accused of misbehavior seldom acknowledge their actions. That is not because we are inherently soulless or evil, but due to stubbornness bred into us through a patriarchal upbringing. Men are raised to conquer, and there is no time to stop, think, or feel. The world is ours to uplift or destroy, whether we are conscious of this reality or not. To hold us accountable is to shake up the status quo. The patriarchy is a system that benefits us, thus we are inclined to maintain its rigidity and traditions, not necessarily because we consciously agree with them, but because human nature dictates self-preservation and a desire for comfort. The issue is that we tend not to see beyond our own experiences, thus our self-preservation comes at the cost of women.
The patriarchy benefits all men to some degree. Within manhood, there are stratifications based on race, class, sexual orientation, and other markers of identity. Nevertheless, the nature of conquest in the patriarchy is not solely sexual in nature, but also extends to academia, the professional sphere, and beyond. There are an unquantifiable number of experiences we do not think twice about: walking the street alone at night, selecting our gender on an application, and speaking our mind once to be heard, among others. These are privileges not afforded to women, and examples of the day-to-day advantages we may not be aware of. That is not to say our accomplishments are not our own, but you are well to question the context of your achievements in order to truthfully gauge their impact.
Acknowledging our internalized sexism is only one step in joining the conversation. It can be seen as cloyingly brave when men speak up on certain issues because often our words are deemed enough without action. These are low expectations afforded to us by the languid maturity of masculinity. We have not earned these lowered expectations, but instead were brandished with them at birth. As men, we are allowed to spend our entire lives growing up. A 26 year old Kevin Spacey is a “boy,” and thus his actions are not his own. On the other hand, women are thought to mature faster, and thus are treated as grown women before they are old enough to make their own decisions.
The patriarchy may benefit us, but it also contributes to a toxic culture of masculinity that hinders all men. If lowered expectations are an advantage of the patriarchy, then the expectation to perform masculinity is the side of the coin that hurts us as much as it benefits. I did not write this piece to point a finger, but to share an experience that may drive you to rethink your role in the conversation. Baldwin’s admission was met with derision, but his honesty is somewhat refreshing in that it releases some of the expectations placed on him by the patriarchy. Men do not acknowledge their role in misogyny, because we do not like to be wrong. Nevertheless, it is crucial to be wrong in order to move forward. Men are limited by the scope of their experience, and can only learn by actively working against their internalized misogyny and, most importantly, listening to the women in their lives. There is much to gain from having conversations with others that you may not gain from a textbook. In fact, it’s a downright simple answer to the question on many of our (male) minds: “Well, what am I supposed to do about it?”