Written by John Contreras, Racial Justice Community Engagement Manager
International Women’s Day reminds me of how much privilege I have had throughout my life. As a man, I realize that the struggles I see in my everyday life are vastly different from what my peers of other genders experience. It reminds me of a conversation with a very close friend I had during high school on how unsafe she felt walking home from a train station in Chicago. We both had taken the same train that day and it was getting dark outside. She expressed how she was dreading the walk home. I distinctly remember being very confused as to why she would need to be so concerned. My narrow perspective did not allow me to understand the dangers of being a young woman out alone after dark, and the anxiety and fear that came along with it. I could not possibly understand where her fears were coming from, and what these fears physically looked like. So, I decided to ask.
What she told me made me feel so hurt. As a 15 year old young man, my heart broke at the thought of how many older men were harassing her verbally. Her fear of physical violence was a risk that was always present. It pained me to learn that someone I deeply cared for was living in such a state that I could literally only imagine what it felt like. My ignorance toward the issue made me feel so disappointed in myself. I believe it changed me permanently. It made me want to understand the experiences of others so that I could help in any way I can. To this day, I often find myself having this same conversation with other men explaining to them how we often live in a state of ignorance because our gender comes with many more unseen privileges than we can imagine.
In that moment, I was incapable of providing any type of permanent solution and felt mostly helpless. Living a life of ignorance toward the issues of loved ones made me feel like I was not doing enough to understand. So in that moment, the most I could do to help in this situation was contact my father and ask if we could give my friend a ride home. Thankfully, my father was more than happy to assist. What I took from this was that I can control my own efforts and change how I view women. The skewed perspective I had of women that I was taught earlier on in my life by peers and media needed to be dismantled. From that moment, I knew I needed to take control of what I believe is truth. Men can dismantle the toxicity that is often associated with masculinity so that we can assist in making a more welcoming, inclusive, and safe environment for women. My first step was acknowledging that I did not know the experiences of others. The second step was wanting wholeheartedly to change my perspective.