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Mona Eltahawy and me, Aspen Ideas Festival 2013

Mona Eltahawy and me, Aspen Ideas Festival 2013

I have tons of stories from Aspen, but only one I’d like to share in this space.

After former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, US diplomat Richard Haass, and Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy went at it onstage (verbally), everyone started to clutter around their favorite. While I didn’t see too many people around Haass, the room was evenly divided between Albright and Eltahawy. After her vagina monologue, I jumped onto the Eltahawy line.

While a couple of my colleagues wanted to build a friendship with this sparkplug, I just wanted to thank her for speaking up and out in this predominantly male setting.

So I’m in line when this short White lady looks up at me and says, “So, are you here to talk about women’s issues?”

OK, OK, OK, what? I said whatchu mean am I here to talk about womens issues you trying to make me feel like I don’t belong here that I shouldn’t care that what you have to say matters more than what I do because you have some inferiority complex that says let me get this Black guy away because I can’t tell why he’s really here like omg you’re so the reason why I don’t give one ounce of …

Then, after a small breath, I said, “What do you mean? I’m here to hear women talk about women. That’s an important thing.”

Sure enough, she smiled and turned back around. I doubt others saw my twitch of disgust. At first, I didn’t get why she brought her prejudices to this event. My second thought was, “Maybe she too is tired of men trying to tell women about what they should do, how they should feel, and what they should think about the regulations of their own bodies.” My third thought was, “Can we assume a bit of intellect and compassion here?”

It’s disheartening, but I get it. One of my passions happens to center around teacher voice, and, as of now, the teaching profession has mostly a female voice. I’m not saying men can’t contribute their voices. I’m simply arguing that the fate of women is inherently tied to the fate of teachers. Thus, in my male privilege (yes, there is such a thing as Black / Latino male privilege), I want to come into these situations as someone’s equal, not above or below based on my gender.

When I got to meet Mona, it was obviously all love. I thanked her, took a picture for my friend, then posed for a picture of my own. She might have stood shoulder-height, but her personality is really where her stature lies. I came to hear women speak on women’s issues. Tucking in my privilege made me a better man, not lesser.

Jose

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