Thoughts on Being a Man

It’s International Women’s Day 2006 and men still get a free ride. Women still do most of the world’s work, and much of the most important, most difficult work is done by women, at great cost to themselves. So many men who could use their privelege to work in solidarity with women and push their societies towards more justice remain silent, speak diplomatically, or conform to expectations. At the same time I am amazed at how many women take chances and speak out.

Malalai Joya in Los Angeles
I was lucky to spend some time with Malalai Joya (pictured here), who is in the US for a few weeks on a speaking tour. She is the only person in Afghanistan’s Parliament who is willing to speak the truth about her warlord colleagues. She has had her life threatened time and again, but she refuses to back down or compromise. My partner Sonali Kolhatkar and I met her in her office in Farah, Afghanistan in February 2005, and again in Los Angeles for the beginning of her US tour, which Sonali organized. Her bravery and tenacity and integrity are only matched by her courtesy and humility. Few men anywhere have done what Malalai Joya has done. She says she does her work on behalf of the silenced majority of Afghanistan. When asked why she ran for Parliament, Malalai said,

it was not really my decision. Hundreds of people from Farah and other provinces continuously insisted that I run for Parliament. I was intending to decline from running because I believe that the Parliament will never bring anything positive for the nation. But my supporters kept saying “your voice at the Loya Jirga gave us a hope that there is at least one who understands our suffering. Now we want you once again to be the voice of voiceless at Parliament.” I couldn’t help but accept the honor to be the voice of my oppressed nation in a Parliament dominated by criminal warlords.

I will feel satisfied if I succeed in exposing the real nature of the current parliament and informing the Afghan people from within the Parliament that the criminals sitting here make laws for the benefit of the rich, the drug traffickers, warlords, and high level bureaucrats, and against the aspirations of the down-trodden masses.[1]

In all my years as a man I have not really challenged my own privelege in a serious way. I allow myself the luxury of being a scientist, following up my curiosity with respect to nature. As a man I had the privelege to receive training and encouragement to follow that career in the first place. I write about political issues in my spare time “when I get the chance.” I have the freedom to decide when and how to do so. Meanwhile my wife, an immigrant and woman of color, produces a radio program every day, putting herself on the front lines with her words, bringing radical voices to the airwaves and bringing an activist message to audiences around the country. Like most men, I play it safe; like a surprising number of women, she takes chances. Sometimes I feel ashamed – a constructive emotion if it provokes action.

International Women’s Day should be a day to reflect on our roles in perpetuating male privelege, and looking for ways to join women’s movements in an effort to end it.

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