As I was sitting with Sue, my wife, watching an episode of Silk recently, a thought captured me more strongly than it ever has before. Silk is a TV drama based on the lives of barristers and various other members of a London chambers. It’s a few years old now, though we’re watching it for the first time.
The particular episode features the main character, Martha Costello, learning that she is pregnant. Both Sue and I like Martha. She is smart, sharp and has a keen sense of justice, but she’s very human. We see her when there is no-one around and she is just as vulnerable as the people she defends.
As I was watching I had this thought – I have no idea what it would be like to learn that I am unexpectantly pregnant! Martha doesn’t look like she is in a steady relationship with a man and her focus is very much on becoming a “Silk” – a Queen’s Counsel. What does she do? Should she sacrifice her career and keep the baby or does she have an abortion?
Putting aside Martha’s dilemma, I was struck with how different it is to be a man at the peak of his powers who is pursuing a career to a woman. But this is the thought that really surprised me, though it was just a tiny whisper in my ear, “it doesn’t seem fair – this is no choice any man would ever have to face.”
This may be confessing a lot in a public forum, but the reader must understand my conservative pedigree and upbringing to know how surprising this little voice was. I remind the reader that I belong to that auspicious demographic that some might refer to as “angry white men” – somewhat entitled middle-aged men who believe that they are the ones who are discriminated against in our modern western societies. Weren't there hints of this in Donald Trump's accusation that he was being unfairly targeted in a presidential debate by a female journalist?
The problem with angry white men, it seems, is that it’s really, really hard for them to put themselves in the shoes of people who haven’t had their advantages, however much they may feel that life hasn’t handed them a bed of roses. After all, they've worked for everything that they’ve achieved.
Recently Michael Kimmel came to Australia. Kimmel is an interesting guy who is the professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University, New York. He has spent a lot of time studying men – their attitudes, values and behaviour. His talks in Australia centred on gender equity, particularly in the workplace, prompting an article in the Australian Financial Review. The article opens with these statements, “If you are lucky enough to have privilege, you don't tend to see it, says American sociologist Michael Kimmel. So how do you alter people's perceptions of others and their own sense of entitlement?”
Good questions indeed. Kimmel’s response is that entitlement needs to be recognised as a fact, rather than as a judgment. The discussion then shifts from becoming a defence to a discussion. "This is not something you chose, this is not a bad thing. You are not a bad person because you are white or male. You simply live in a world where this gives you a leg up.” This approach makes sense, as white, angry men have feelings too. Who wants to apologise for something they had no control over?
Perhaps, a more radical thought and one that stems from a Gospel orientation, is that I regularly ask God to open my eyes to the various filters which prevent me from seeing the world as He does - regardless of whether I'm an angry white man or not. This will take time, effort and humility. I also need to be prepared to conclude that all my attitudes are not necessarily borne from a carefully formed study of the Bible but are rather the outcome of the culture (or sub culture) to which I belong. This will require honesty.