Conscious women today are like the 300 Spartans, and unconscious men are a bit like the Persian army. On the one hand you have one of the most elite forces to have ever existed in all of history – and on the other – an overwhelming tyranny of millions hell bent on controlling and exploiting them.
Every day, all over the world, these forces face off in a modern day Battle of Thermopylae where a small, courageous few attempt to hold back the tide of millions in a narrow mountain pass of the present moment.
Think about it.
As a woman, when a man says or does something that disrespects you, when he subtly treats you in a way that is beneath you, or is not fully present to you, when he fails, even momentarily, to see you, you are in precisely the same kind of confined, emotionally charged space in which that battle took place. You are in the same “Hot Gates” that a courageous few held their ground in the face of oppression, and ultimately, enslavement.
Even now you can probably recall back to dozens of these moments in which you have experienced this over the past year, perhaps even over the past week. For most women being confronted by an unconscious male at work or in public is something that happens so regularly that it has become the norm. And yet while so much of modern culture is supporting men to grow emotionally, and women to live and work to their fullest potential, the Hot Gates remain … those private moments by the water cooler, or in line at the grocery store, or having dinner one-on-one when no one’s watching, and he says or does something unconscious and you are suddenly left wondering how to respond to something that in the 21st century you should have no business still having to deal with.
And yet you do. And by accounts, you will not only have to continue dealing with this for some time, you will also have to teach your daughters how to deal with it as well.
Because once an unconscious man has left the guidance of school and whatever chance he has of having a positive parental role model he doesn’t learn from other men as much as he does from other women.
Men often don’t admit it. And women certainly don’t want the responsibility of it, but it’s the truth. Nothing changes a man more than a woman. Not failure, not pain, not poverty. It’s one of the great powers of women.
That’s why when a man unconsciously acts out in front of you and you find that it’s difficult to maneuver and hard to respond with skill and courage, it’s essential that you stand firm, and not let a single moment of disrespect go unmet.
And yet when I say this I know what many women must be thinking: “Why should I stick my neck out and face every random jerk who subjects me to the Hot Gates? Do you have any idea how often I experience this kind of thing? It would be exhausting. And more importantly this is their crap, not mine. I’ve done my work, and now you want me to do theirs too? Unconscious men are like accidents on the road. I’m not going to pull over and roll my sleeves up every time I see one. I’m not an unconscious male paramedic.”
And I hear that. But when you respond to a moment of disrespect you’re not simply doing it for the sake of that man. You’re doing it for the sake of all women. Because every time you let a man do or say something stupid or unkind to you in a private moment when no one else is watching, and you don’t call it out because you’re too tired, or stressed, or self conscious or because you simply don’t feel that you know how, you are tacitly telling that man that his behavior is acceptable. And you are giving him permission to continue. And as a result you are setting another women up to receive his bullshit at some point again in the future. You are literally Passing the Man-Buck.
And do you remember how the Spartans were finally defeated? Don’t hate me for saying so but the metaphor was just too good not to take all the way. They were betrayed by one of their own.
What do you want me to say?
We’re all in this together.
So here they are:
1. Catch him in the act.
Unconscious men are like puppies taking a crap on the carpet. If you start schooling him ten minutes after the fact he will have no idea what you’re talking about.
2. Keep it simple.
Call it out with as few words as possible. The puppy responds to tone and emphasis more than a lecture and power point. Also, the more details you give him the more opportunities he has to find an insignificant chink in your argument and worm his way out of taking responsibility.
3. Be cool.
If you can’t stay calm then you’re giving him the perfect excuse to stick his head in the sand like an ostrich or simply claim that it’s that time of the month again. Don’t give him a reason to go there. Breathe and stay relaxed. Give his unconscious male defense mechanism nothing to project onto.
4. Call on his inner hero.
Humiliate him and his ears will close and he’ll double down. Invoke his inner hero and he’s more likely to want to bear the heat of transformation. “Where’s my hot-warrior-man-stud in this moment? Taking a lunch break? Could we page him? I don’t know who this guy is but he needs a time out.” Yes, these are poor examples, but you get the point.
5. Go into detail only if his is receptive.
On some level we always know when we’ve soiled your honor. So just point to the stink, and hold space. Then if we squirm or try to wriggle out of it, call that out too, and wait. Above all, never feel that you have something to “prove.” You’re on the right side of history.
6. Trust Yourself
Sometimes it’s hard to explain what just happened. Disrespect can be subtle, complicated, energetic. So don’t let him confuse you into thinking that “it’s nothing,” or that “you’re dreaming,” or worst of all that you’re asking for too much and that he’s “only human.” These are excuses. A good man, if he cares about you, will see these moments not as punishments but as opportunities to untangle whether you actually are projecting onto him, or actually pointing out one of his long standing blind spots.
7. Re-contextualize the pain of being held accountable
Every single one of these moments in which he bears the heat of accountability and learns to take responsibility will serve him in his career. Most men just don’t make that connection. Most don’t realize that if they don’t want to clean their crap up here and now with you, that they’ll just end up having to face it at some other point in the future with someone else who may not be as nice. All intimate relationships if used correctly heal and train us for life. They’re dojos. Our lovers, sparing partners. Make him see this and he’s more likely to get on board.