There is a comic and a discussion that has been making the rounds on the internet, and although it appears to be originally intended to address interactions around race, it is applicable to us as well.¹
Imagine a land where the inhabitants are all either circle-shaped or triangle-shaped. Imagine further that at some point in the history of this land a solid wall was constructed that divided the land in half. The kingdom on one side of the wall – where everyone lives – is primarily residential, while the other is commercial and industrial. Throughout the length of the wall several circle-shaped holes have been drilled, perfectly shaped to allow the circle-shaped people to pass through, but impassible for the triangle-shaped people.
There has been considerable speculation about the origin of the wall and the holes, as the history has been long forgotten over millennia. Most believe they were placed there by God, although the more cynical suspect that circle-shaped ancestors are responsible. Most of the circle folk don’t understand why the others spend so much time complaining about it. Circles can get whatever the triangles need from the other side, right? Those who are willing, anyway. The problem is that many of them aren’t, at least not without some kind of compensation.
Over the years, the triangle shaped folk are finally able to scrape together the resources to drill a triangle-shaped hole so that they can reach the other side of the wall. The triangles can finally procure the needed resources for life without begging or bargaining for others to get them and hand them through the wall! This is great!
Then a circle notices what they’ve done, and starts to scream, “Why are you drilling a hole that I can’t fit through? Why would you do this? I thought you wanted equal access here?” The circle is honestly offended that he cannot use it. “We circles gave you what you needed to make that hole! Why did you make it so we can’t use it?”
A Triangle responds, “Can’t… you… use one of the circle holes?”
“This is inequality!” cries the circle, “You can’t just drill holes that only you get to use!”
“This has been our reality for centuries,” remarks the triangle, “and you’ve only recently lifted a finger to help us change it. Now you’re going to lecture us about oppressing you?”
And on the conversation goes¹…
This illustration brings up an excellent point, however, where the fight against inequality is concerned and it shows us one of the pitfalls that we men must avoid if we are determined to be allies to the women around us. There are more, of course.
I’ll be straight up about the fact that I’ve only been about the cause of women officially as a author for about 2 years. However, in those 2 years I’ve learned a lot from listening to women, and very little from speaking. I’ve learned the most from seeing others’ mistakes and observing how they responded when made aware of them. Many of these mistakes fall into definite categories, I’ve found, so I would like to list them out here for the readers’ benefit.
Working against equality because it hurts him
In the intro story to this post, the circles represent men, and the triangles represent women. Gentlemen, sometimes the efforts women put forth to achieve equality are going to look like they’re directed against us. Shielding our eyes and screaming “MISANDRY!!!” doesn’t help anybody. We men need to come to grips with the fact that equality is not always going to work in our favor, and we need to get over that. Do we trust our sisters in Christ to handle their rights and standing before God with greater grace than has historically been associated with men?
Speaking when he should be listening
We don’t speak for women. Ever.
Let me repeat that. WE DON’T SPEAK FOR WOMEN. EVER.
It is hard to accept sometimes, but we men need to spend three times as long listening to women as we do speaking. In fact, even when we speak to other men about egalitarianism, we really need to take a moment and ask ourselves, “Has a woman said this better than I’m about to?” It’s not that we need to be completely silent, but a greater emphasis needs to be placed on amplifying women’s voices than our own.
Invading women’s spaces as a man
We men have an unfortunate habit of assuming that we are welcome everywhere, and of assuming that wherever we’re invited we are also “centered”. Because we are used to having the world around us tailored to us, the concept of a women’s space where we are not automatically allowed to speak our mind and be heard is foreign to us. So often I see men come stomping into egalitarian or feminist discussion groups expecting to be heard without establishing any sort of trust first. Guys, this needs to stop.
“Offering the Olive Branch” to the privileged
It is important to note that men are privileged, even allies. It’s a fact of life, regardless of how much we check that privilege. We’re members of a privileged class of people. It is therefore presumptuous for us to try to be a bridge between members of our class and members of the class ours is oppressing. Can we prepare fellow men to come to the table in humility with listening ears? Sure. However, the olive branch – the invitation to that table – is not ours to extend to other men. That belongs to women, and if they don’t extend it, it means we have more work to do to prepare those men for the encounter.
¹ I am not confident that I would be able to find the original with any surety, but here is a re-posting of it that shows the needed content.