Change Begins by Listening

I’ve noticed an appalling tendency in online commentary to minimize and redirect women’s concerns.
Take the case of Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old who went on a shooting rampage near Santa Barbara, California, that killed six people before ending his own life.

Online debates raged as pundits weighed in on whether a culture rooted in misogyny was really to blame for his actions. That’s despite his video message clearly stating that anger with women was his motivation. The discussion opened much-needed dialogue about the patronized and potentially dangerous position many women are often forced to accept and the role society plays in placing them at the mercy of men who desire to do them harm.

It’s a problem with deep roots. Gender roles are often well-defined before boys and girls even enter the classroom. Boys and girls fall into established patterns that limit one sex and give too much power to the other. That tutelage begins with parents. By the time we enter the workforce, power dynamics are often set and change becomes an uphill battle.

Feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once said, “We teach girls to shrink themselves. … You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you will threaten the man.”

Perhaps the issue is not why Rodger killed those people but how we can prevent more needless suffering. It won’t be easy to enable women to adopt their rightful place in the workplace and live in the world without fear, especially if we refuse to listen to their concerns without the defensive posturing that ensures few are heard and nothing gets done.