Over the past several months, I’ve sat back and watched allegations of sexual abuse and harassment stun Hollywood and the media. The reputation-crushing headlines, the expensive legal proceedings, do they surprise you? To me, at least, they don’t seem like anything new.
But what is new about this massive (albeit, incomplete) list of allegations is that they’re allowing women to question and confront what was once considered the routine of our everyday — a grope here, a sexist comment there — with the potential of toppling decades of secrecy and shame. As claims against Miramax mogul Harvey Weinstein exploded into public view, Louis CK was put on blast for jacking off like a stunned Boy Scout in front of two women comedians, and celebrity chef John Besh stepped down from a hostile corporate culture where he allowed sexual harassment to thrive, countless courageous women have quite literally looked their demons in the eye to speak publicly about their experiences with sexual harassment and assault.
I don’t know the courage this candidness could possibly require. As someone who prefers writing over talking, I understand the progression of panic that settles in your chest at the release of words into the quick-shooting skirmishes of our modern day wild west, the internet. I mean this in any sense of my own publication, whether it be this piece, one about climate change, or the cat film festival I covered back in 2014. Don’t even get me started on eye-contact.
I’m pretty confident that the majority of men in my life know that even the smallest aggression towards women makes us feel at best, bad. That the once over of eyes on our bodies, the easy comments like, “hey, girl” and “smile,” have us wondering if we’ll experience something far worse and not at all conversational in the mere seconds following these relations. Some of the men I’m lucky to call friends even know that the likelihood of them interacting with women who have experienced past trauma is high. They know their own hurt feelings are not the same as deliberate misogyny.
There are other — and far too many — men who I’ve told about these exchanges, only to be met with the baffling and strangely universal, “But we don’t mean any harm by it,” or the simpler and possibly more invalidating, “It’s nothing.” These men seem to agree that these experiences are not at all desirable, while somehow maintaining the belief that sexism has nothing to do with themselves or the extremely flawed power structure we happen to live in. It’s disheartening to say the least, but even worse? These men genuinely believe themselves to be good at heart.
And that is really fucking depressing.
For years, I struggled to believe that the aggressions of men came from a mindset far too skewed by their own place in an impenetrable binary for me to possibly comprehend, and that as men, they allowed themselves to think their actions came from the naive aim of having fun. It’s laughable, I know, but I’ve cut the past some slack. I was raised by two well-intentioned baby boomers who taught me to dress a certain way, to fear walking home alone at night, to consider taking one of those terrible women’s self-defense courses—you know, How To Not Be Raped 101.
And then one day, I woke the fuck up.
The men who pursue these aggressions without thinking twice are those who have learned that it’s okay to disrespect women in the guise of their own entertainment. These are men who think that their opinion and need to express their sense of power is more important and acceptable than allowing women even the slightest sense of autonomy.
Surprised? It’s nothing new.
In my lifetime, a calculated language of denial has been established to cover damaging events and incidents that leave behind visceral and disturbing repercussions. It’s a code that begins with “I never did it,” “I was only joking,” and “I’m just having fun,” and ends in a place of extreme and systematic selfishness. It ends when we tell men that their aggressions make us feel anxious, unsafe, objectified, even fear for our lives, and nevertheless they react in a way that says, “you don’t matter to me.”
To all the men who are reading this and think I’m overreacting at your hopes for a good time, that I need to stop being scared, or that my experiences are the result of a few bad apples, let me ask you something.
When will you stop having fun, and start taking us seriously?