Splitting Hairs

Wherein I learn to pick my battles. 

Over the past several years, I have become increasingly aware of the system of oppression and enabling that is broadly called rape culture.  A few weeks ago, if you had asked me how many women I know have been either assaulted or harassed, I probably would have guessed almost all of them.

Then, this past week, the “me too” movement hit social media.  I was and am dumbstruck to read so many stories and testimonials about the horrible experiences inflicted on women I know, women I love.  I am absolutely disgusted that harassment and assault are so widespread, and am beginning to understand why some women are mistrustful of men as a default.

The movement has also caused me to be introspective in two ways.  First, and most difficult, is examining and acknowledging the ways in which I, as a male, have contributed directly to rape culture.  I know I have made thousands of jokes or joking remarks that were insensitive, offensive, and even potentially traumatizing if the listener has abuse in their past.  I have advanced stereotypes that serve to protect the status quo, and reinforce oppressive gender roles.

The second introspection has been focused on what I can do to help fix this pervasive cultural problem.  Frankly, social media has been shit help with this.  Almost every day, I see some well-meaning dude getting piled on for responding to “me too” by expressing sympathy, clicking “like,” clicking “sad face,” asking victims for advice on how to do better, or a wide range of other engagements.  I’m not saying the criticism those men are receiving is off-base, but it is daunting to observe, and makes it feel risky to engage at all.

There isn’t any truly good guidance on what men should do, leaving me to extrapolate from the negative space around tried and objectionable approaches.  I saw one article that was moderately helpful, and shared it, in the hope that other men might find it useful.  One of its major takeaways was that men need to learn to say “not cool,” and “that’s inappropriate” as a response to sexist or oppressive comments.  I know this is an area where I have been personally lacking, so I resolved to keep those responses at the ready going forward.

In a completely separate train of thought, I have been long neglecting to get my hair cut, so today, I finally set some time aside around lunch and made my way to the barber shop near my office.  This particular barber shop is inexpensive, plays reruns of How I Met Your Mother on a loop, and generally gets my hair cut moderately well in about fifteen minutes.

Today, however, I had a new barber.  He told me he’s been there for a few months, but we hadn’t yet crossed paths.  I gave him his marching orders- No. 2 buzz on the sides and back, short scissor cut on top- and he got started.

Now, in my experience, barbers come in two flavors: those that like to do their work in silence, and talkers.  Most of the barbers in this shop speak primarily Russian, which is fine by me, as they leave me to my thoughts.  This guy, however, was a talker.  While I tried to appreciate Ted’s shenanigans on the small screen in front of me, he asked about my job, where I live, how often I come, all that stuff.  Then, he stumbled on a topic we could both engage on to some degree, sports.

Specifically, we talked about the recent injury of my favorite quarterback, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, who is likely  out for the season with a broken collar bone.

New Barber Guy told me that he used to play basketball, and had been injured lots of times.  He asked if I could guess what injury hurt the worst.  I shrugged.

“My pinky got fractured, man.  That was the worst.  I cried like a little bitch.”

My eyes widened: I had my moment.

“Not cool.”

“Huh?  What’s not cool?”

“That’s inappropriate.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Saying you cried like a little bitch.  You shouldn’t say that.”

“Why not?”

I had reached the end of my rote script, and had to improv.

“Uh, well, two reasons.  You shouldn’t call women bitches, and also, you should say that women are weak and cry and stuff.”

I was not being particularly articulate, and won’t clean it up for this recounting.  For context, though, the barber to whom I was speaking had about a foot of height and at least 75 pounds on me.  He was also doing the edges of my beard with a straight razor.

There was a long silence.

“I dunno, man,” he finally said.  He proceeded to continue cutting my hair in complete silence.  I felt uncomfortable, but a quick glance at my watch told me that there was only about five minutes of hair cutting left.

That assumption was wildly off-base.  Unnamed Barber Guy took forty-five more minutes- for a total of nearly an hour- cutting my hair in awkward silence.  He didn’t say another word throughout it. When it was done, he pulled off my apron, and then pulled down a small mirror to show me the back.

I thanked him, overtipped, and went back to the office, my entire lunch break now squandered.  Later in the afternoon, catching a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror, I noticed that the front of my hair is completely wrong- he left a big poof where no big poof is supposed to be.  I have decided this was probably on purpose.

My first reaction to this was to say “well, next time pick your battles, don’t fuck with the barber, particularly while he’s cutting your hair!”

But it occurs to me that the little bit of discomfort that caused me pales in comparison to the constant oppression that the women in my life are going through every day because we have normalized shitty behavior.  It’s going to be uncomfortable from time to time, but that’s really no excuse when silence is complicity.

So yeah, pick your battles.  I’m gonna try to pick all of them.

-AG

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Published in: on October 18, 2017 at 2:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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