The Bystander Effect

final thing

This article was written by Morgan.


I could hear the rubber of my shoes tapping furiously against the linoleum. My hands were clasped anxiously together, almost in an attempt to trap my nervousness. Something was swimming inside the pit that was once my stomach, and my mind was starting to turn with it. My gaze had been led by a fuzzy, hypnotizing line right to the floor, but I forced it to lift, and I turned to look at the others in the circle to which I passively belonged. Occupying the cold, metal chairs that formed it were impassioned girls with whom I went to school, all of which, like me, were dissatisfied with the way we were being treated by the men in the school. We were the Young Feminists Club and, though we hadn’t done much more than put angry posters on the walls and discuss issues that we and women the world round were facing in an even more animated fashion, I looked forward to running down the stairs and into the cold basement every Wednesday to meet with them. Normally, I would speak my mind freely and without the burden of censorship, but that very impediment was proving to be remarkably restricting today.

One of the male students had asked to join, and we were discussing whether or not he should be permitted to do so. “Feminism is about gender equality,” some of the girls had said, “and the patriarchy hurts men too.”

I wanted to ask her if she knew that she wanted to invite a man into the very space that many of us went to escape them.

I wanted to ask her if she understood that men had created patriarchy. I wanted to ask her if she wanted a progressive liberation or an unproductive cooperation. I was scanning the faces of the other girls because I wanted to see if any of them, by some miracle, shared my sentiments, but that was all I could do. I had seen how women like her responded to feminists who wanted nothing to do with men. I could not understand it myself, despite many attempts to do so, but it appeared that they did not want to be free from men; rather, they wanted to appease them in order to move them to behave decently, so they needed their input in order to keep them—the true leaders of feminism, in their minds—satisfied. It confused me to no end, but any attempt to question this horribly faulty logic usually resulted in hostility on the part of the male-enabling woman calling herself a feminist. They had a talent for burning a damning brand onto the arms of those who disagreed with them, and this mark was so captivating that the others who saw the tainted individual were so focused on the label on their skin that they could not hear the ideas that they spoke.

Even the thought of this was so powerful that it filled me with a fear strong enough to render me silent.

I realized, though, that any ostracism I would face here would be a minor inconvenience compared to the stifling effects that the presence of a man in the room would have in our discussion.

I knew that I feared that far more. I knew that I feared the possibility that a man would contribute to, influence, and perhaps even guide our normally unbridled discussion. The hostility with which I would be met would be harmful, yes, but the restriction of the ideas that have and will continue to liberate us as women would be infinitely more so. I sat up in my chair, uncrossed my arms, and quieted my tapping foot, prepared to present a fearless opposition.

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