An Invitation to Men in Madison’s Entrepreneurial ecosystem
Checking your privilege is an inherently uncomfortable process for all of us.
To build inclusive and equitable communities, those of us with privilege MUST learn to recognize the benefits we gain and begin to see the world through the eyes of those without that privilege.
I’m not just talking about straight, white men. White women have a privilege that black women and men don’t. People with able bodies have a privilege that those with disabilities don’t. People with financial wealth and stability have privilege that those with economic instability do not.
Our privilege, however narrow or expansive it is, means we can live in ignorance. It means we have and use power that we may not even know we have. It means we have opportunities that don’t come to us based on merit, but based on our position in the cultural hierarchy.
I am sometimes asked the bewildering question, “Does Doyenne hate men?” I don’t get it. How does supporting women’s equality = hating men? The math doesn’t work for me. One of Doyenne’s guiding principles is “Women aren’t broken, the system in which they operate is broken.” This broken system of power and privilege doesn’t benefit men in the long term either. Doyenne advocates for women to have equal power WITH men, not over men or instead of men. We believe the world will be better for it.
Doyenne knows that there are many, many men who embrace the idea that women should have equal power in all aspects of our culture: social, political and economic. These men are willing to do the work, but aren’t currently able to do it. They have the desire and intention, but they simply don’t have the skills.
We know that men (and women!) have unconscious biases about women, and in particular, powerful women. As my mother would say, “No shit, Sherlock!” Since birth, we have been bombarded by a tidal wave of these biased messages, day-in and day-out. Doyenne doesn’t fault men for having biases; they are human beings.
At this year’s Forward Festival, Doyenne is inviting the men who are willing to acknowledge their privilege and want to do the work of creating equitable communities and businesses to our Doyenne workshop: Voices of Solidarity – Men’s Role in Advancing Women’s Entrepreneurship. This is not a light subject that can be tackled in an hour. It’s heavy stuff. It’s hard work.
To fully engage in a discussion of our own privilege, we need to do some homework. Here are five topics to reflect on before you attend any workshop or event designed to help you recognize and confront your privilege.
- Ask yourself if you’re ready to attend
- Understand the difference between safe space and productive space
- Be honest about what you are hoping to get out of the experience
- Identify and name your greatest fear about entering a space like this
- Reflect on times you have been challenged about your behavior.
1. ASK YOURSELF IF YOU’RE READY TO ATTEND
Are you open to the messages you are going to hear? Some of the thoughts floating around your head could be:
- “I know there are issues out there but I just don’t really understand.”
- “I know I’ve been culturally trained in ways I don’t recognize.”
- “I see things happening that I know aren’t right, but I am just not sure what to do.”
- “I’m afraid that I might be one of the assholes making things worse.”
- “I don’t want to be embarrassed or humiliated.”
It’s OK to feel ill-equipped to assess your own behavioral patterns that have developed out of your privilege. But it’s not acceptable to use that as an excuse to not explore, learn and practice.
What steps you have already taken to prepare yourself for challenging conversations around gender? What conversations have you had? What have you read, listened to, and watched to help you better understand gender and power dynamics?
If you have any of the following attitudes, this workshop may not be for you right now:
- Apathy: “This is just how the world works, and no one can fix it.”
- Skepticism: “The stories that women and people of color tell are exaggerated.”
- Victimhood: “We are under fire.”
2. UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SAFE SPACE AND A PRODUCTIVE SPACE
The phrase “this is a safe space” is often misused and misunderstood. I have been attending “diversity training” for decades. From my observations, the insistence on “safe space” usually prioritizes helping the oppressors feel comfortable at the expense of the oppressed.
The overarching tone in most diversity and inclusion training is, “We shouldn’t make men (or white people) feel too uncomfortable because they won’t want to attend the training or there will be a backlash.” In the name of diversity and inclusion, women are silenced again.
We aren’t here to create that kind of safe space. We fully believe men are capable of listening, getting feedback, and engaging in productive conversations. We won’t prioritize men’s fragility over women respectfully speaking the truth about their experiences.
For personal growth to happen, we have to be pushed outside of our comfort zone. But
somewhere beyond the comfort zone, there is the panic zone where we retreat into defensive behaviors and close ourselves off to new, threatening ideas.
Doyenne’s goal is to design workshops to be “Productive Spaces.” Participants’ experiences and perspectives will be respected, but challenged.. We need to be ready to hear things we have never heard before or that we may not want to hear.
3. BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE HOPING TO GET OUT OF THE EXPERIENCE
Why do you want to attend a workshop about your own male privilege? Every social justice movement has seen its share of true and false allies. How do you know which one you are?
Are you seeking validation that you’re one of the good guys, and not part of the problem? Are you trying to signal your virtue to anyone watching you? Are you trying to check off the box that says you care?
Are you seeking to change the status quo and learn what you can do to level the playing field in entrepreneurship? And, how hard are you willing to work to do that? What are you willing to change or give up?
Most likely, you’ll have a mix of all of these motivations (and more), because it’s human. But it’s important to take note of what you expect to happen and what actions you plan to take as a result of attending this workshop.
4. IDENTIFY YOUR BIGGEST FEAR ABOUT ENTERING A SPACE LIKE THIS
Your innate sense of self-preservation is probably acting up as you read this post and in anticipation of this workshop. Is this event going to make me feel guilt and shame about who I am or how I have behaved?
Guilt and shame are natural reactions to learning about your privilege, but they are not useful emotions. If you let them monopolize your thoughts and reactions, you’ll end up justifying your past behavior or wallowing in self-pity. Instead of guilt and shame, we hope you will feel enraged and empowered to take tangible steps forward — with us.
Perhaps you’re afraid that your hard work will be discredited. It’s possible to both have privilege and to work extremely hard. Your privilege does not negate your effort, but it does mean that you probably met fewer obstacles in your journey than someone with less privilege would have.
At the heart of this insecurity is the fear of discovering that you’re mediocre. How do I know what I achieved through talent and hardwork, and what I achieved through privilege? Women ask themselves these questions constantly, but in the reverse. Am I meeting this obstacle because I am a woman or because I simply am not capable?
The world has told men their successes are because they are awesome and women that their failures are because they are inept. Flipping that narrative can be painful and exhausting to explore.
5. REFLECT ON TIMES YOU HAVE BEEN CHALLENGED ABOUT YOUR BEHAVIOR.
When you’re challenged on the subject of equity and gender dynamics, what is your initial response? Do you get defensive? Do you deny that you did anything wrong? Do you look for ways to flip the blame onto the other person?
Or do you listen, ask questions to understand, and begin to explore the implications of your behavior? Do you ask for help in figuring out how to approach things differently? Do you collaborate and communicate with the women in your life to grow and learn?
As virtuous as you might like to be, it is natural to become defensive. It takes hard work and discipline to keep those natural tendencies in check. My recent blog posts about white fragility and giving and receiving feedback provide practical tips for how to manage your emotions and behaviors when you’re confronted about your privilege, or anything that’s difficult to hear.
Both men and women are products of the cultures in which we are raised. We are all learning to navigate and build new cultural rules and expectations. Every generation in every community in the world does this. Doyenne believes we are at an inflection point in history and herstory where we can make dramatic change. But we need to do this work together.
If you are committed to building a more equitable and inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem and are willing to do the personal work to become a powerful ally, we invite you to join us for this workshop. This journey is a long road and this workshop is just the beginning.