Questions, Caring, And Who Gets To Be The Default -The Toast

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I keep thinking back to this piece written last week by Meaghan O’Connell about the types of questions women are asked about their work. The assumption that they care, or should care, what their parents and children think about their work. That all women’s choices are threaded to their relationships, and that they do not and cannot exist outside of the expectations others have for them. This is, of course, presented in contrast to what men experience.

We don’t ask male artists to consider the consequences of their work, we don’t reframe them as fathers or boyfriends or sons. We don’t keep trying to pull them back down to earth, to admonish them, the way we do women. We not only give them the benefit of the doubt — assuming they’ve done their own calculus as to how much is worth what, whom they’re willing to betray or embarrass or make uncomfortable and why — we operate as if their work is worth all that.

That personal calculus is something I realize I hadn’t even assumed men did. I just thought they were above it, or somehow preemptively forgiven for using their personal lives and relationships in their writing. It’s yet another way the patriarchy has snuck up on me.

The whole piece has me thinking of defaults, and whose experience is the one to aspire to. Typically, the answer is the white, straight, cis male experience. They get all the stuff. Everyone else compares their experience to that, thinking that if we could all be treated that way, things would be markedly better. And they would probably! But I’m also interested in, instead of stopping asking women these questions, asking them of more men. Making the default the experience those men don’t get.

I don’t think it’s controversial to say my family and friends are very important to me. I am human and have formed bonds with other humans, and I value them! Rarely do I make a decision without considering how it would affect those I care about, whether it’s whether or not to write about a certain experience or invite someone to a party or decide I have no social energy even though I’m wracked with guilt that at all points there is someone I haven’t seen in too long.

Men have to feel this way too, right? I have to think they do, but also that we do not encourage them to the same way. And they may be conditioned not to care. The question, of a man, “what does your father think about this?” just doesn’t feel weighted enough. Men should be asked these questions, but would they cut them the same way? Or would they know to say “who cares?” and move on?

I think about, also, how it is only women who have been concerned for me. I know on a professional scale there are men who assume women don’t want job promotions because they want to have kids, or other ridiculous things, but on a personal level I’ve never been asked by a male friend or family member if I’m worried about what people will think. It’s the women who worry if I’m revealing too much, if I’ve thought of my relationships or my future. Maybe it’s because they care. And maybe they care because they’ve been taught to.

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