Scenario: I was sick. I ordered Chinese food. The next morning, half of it was missing.
What I was brave enough to say:
I know this should go without saying, but please do not eat my food. Thank you.
Once he responded, “Sorry for the inconvenience,” and I said, “It wasn’t an inconvenience so much as I thought it was kinda rude,” and he said it was not his intent to be rude, my feminist response that may not seem like a feminist response:
So what was your intent?
What I was not brave enough to say because I have still not found a way to say this where it can be heard:
This has happened before. Because when you want something you want it. You never offer to replace it, because it was yours to take.
I don’t think you do intend anything by it. What’s interesting about male privilege is that intent is often supposed to matter more than impact. In its most extreme cases, lack of intent is supposed to matter more than impact – if men didn’t intend to harm women, that is supposed to count for more than the fact that they did hurt women, for example.
I’m complicit in this. When you borrowed one of my umbrellas without asking and it broke, I told you to go ahead and borrow my other one instead of pointing out that you should have replaced the umbrella that belonged to me that broke. When you didn’t return the second one and I had to go to church and preach looking like a drowned rat, I stewed and sulked but I never told you to replace it. Because I knew I would sound as peevish as I felt. And I don’t want to be that kind of woman.
There are a million reasons I don’t think this is your fault. You were raised in a male-preferencing society, because all societies in their own way preference males, and you work in technology, a male-preferencing environment. So there are a lot of reasons you might not even be aware that it’s not cool to take stuff and not replace it if you knew it wasn’t yours. And on a totally different note, the ugly thing about patriarchy is that it isolates men and can easily make men turn in on themselves and experience isolation so that a lot of men’s actions of indifference towards others have a lot to do with low-grade depression that makes it hard to focus on anything but one’s own needs.
But as tiny as this is, it’s part of the toxic air that misshapes relationships between men and women. This and mansplaining and manspreading and all the tiny little things I feel like an ass for mentioning, all the tiny things that I get judged for mentioning because they ARE so tiny, they all connect to a culture that allows the bigger stuff, like the entitlement that results in men verbally abusing women who won’t go out with them and in the men’s movement that invites men to fight against an equality that doesn’t even exist yet and all of the other bigger forms of entitlement that threaten women’s jobs and stability and family lives and safety.
In short, pay as much attention to impact on others as to intent (or really, lack of intent), and you’ll be a necessary part of the solution.