Liz is right, it’s time to flip the script.
I’ve mostly stayed silent about things this week, not out of guilt, but from not knowing what to say. (That and being in grief/mourning over a family issue and working back in Quebec.) But I’ve been reading stories and listening and reading; I believe every single story I hear or read, and while I should be shocked at how pervasive sexual harassment and rape culture is (especially from the experiences of about 99% of my friends), I’m not surprised. Masculinity is toxic, and it destroys lives. When I say I want to destroy the patriarchy—as a white cis straight lapsed-Catholic male—I’m not just saying that to score points, or just saying something to beef up my progressive credentials, or because it’s prototypical passive male feminist praxis—I fucking mean it.
I’ll be the first to admit that I need to step the fuck up, take ownership of my own moral failings and personality flaws, admit when I’ve said stupid shit (now and in the past), admit that I’ve been a shitty ally in the past, not bringing these issues up with fellow men much, much sooner, and take full responsibility for my silence and my inaction. It’s what I’m most ashamed of, if anything I could’ve done in the past—much sooner and with the passion I feel now—could have changed anything.
I’m a feminist.
But I’m sure everyone is tired of us men out there—the so-called “good” men among us—proclaiming our political stance, then not following through on what that phrase actually means. It means we believe women, without doubt and without question. It means our feminism (and ideas of equality) are intersectional, and we must fight against systemic racism and discrimination too, listening to and raising the voices of all women, especially women of colour. It means shutting down the male gaze and to stop the unwanted sexualization and policing of women's’ bodies. It means calling each other out on our bad behaviour, on our snide comments, and standing up to each other if necessary—from the locker rooms to the boardrooms, and in marches of millions to supporting our friends no matter what.
In America, men have agency, ownership, immunity, and seemingly unchecked power. In that same America, women barely have sovereignty over their own bodies and choices in life. So tell me again about freedom and democracy. Tell me again about liberty and standing for the fucking flag and national anthem. How deluded are my fellow brothers to think that just because it’s almost 2018, everything’s okay? We are not okay. We are to blame. We need to shut up and listen to the brave that choose to share their stories and experiences, as traumatizing as it is to relive nightmares we’d all rather forget. We should be physically ill. Empathetic. Supportive. We can no longer avert our eyes and fault our selective memories to the physical and emotional pain that surrounds us. If we are indeed feminists, then we must own our shit, take responsibility for the shitty behaviours of other men and let them know this is not okay. We are not okay. We are to blame.
Only the most twisted form of logic could conclude otherwise.
We must give up our privilege, or at least use it to elevate the voices that aren’t taken seriously, the voices that are never believed, the voices of our sisters in the struggle for equality, for ownership of their bodies, for freedom from want and racism and discrimination and oppression. We must stand up for those in the LGBTQ2+ communities. We must raise our fists in solidarity—yes, #BlackLivesMatter—yes, we’re killing off our planet, and therefore ourselves—yes, we’re failing our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico—and no, we will not stand idly by, allowing our silence to become deafening, and our inaction to speak volumes.
To be perfectly honest, I had something to share, something personal and topical. It’s…not easy to share things like this, because it’s either been so long since something has happened that you’ve built up a protective shell so nothing and no one can hurt you again—or you’ve failed.
Men don’t talk about any of this. It makes us feel weak and vulnerable. We’re trash at expressing our feelings and emotions. We’re all children of what society and culture has taught us how we should behave and react to emotional trauma—but that is by no means an excuse.
We must rid ourselves of this other form of toxic masculinity.
I Can Tell You About Pain
I’ve been a victim of sexual abuse and violence and harassment for most of my life. For over twenty years, and I can’t seem to escape it. It’s a feedback loop of fucking misery and PTSD and reliving nightmares while asleep and while awake. I’ve never been able to block all of it out, try as I might.
- When I was a tween, I had a distant family member sexually violate me all summer. They still contact me via email every so often. They’ve written about it, obliquely in their work. Every time they email me, I have to avoid a panic attack even though their emails automatically go into the Junk folder.
- In high school, I was so far ahead in credits, that even though I was going to graduate a year early, I still had one class period to fill with…anything. So I became an aide for my French teacher, who was, actually hot. A dream, right? No. She already had an aide earlier in the day, so as her second aide I had the final period and had to stay after school three times a week. Those were the days of the week she didn’t go distance running after classes got out. My grade was entirely dependent on how much I learned from her about oral sex and she actually tested me on it. It was extremely fucked up and to this day I still have hangups about receiving a blowjob.
- At the same time, I lost my virginity in a threesome (FFM). I was peer pressured into doing it, and when I became uncomfortable and wanted to leave, I was tied up and given too much vodka until I was still conscious but not in control and never gave consent to anything. You can call it what it was, because to this day I still can’t.
- A few months later, a guy my mother was dating (cannot say who, as this person is actually very well known in music) tried to teach me bass guitar. A few lessons in, he fondled me. I asked him to quit, and he did. The next time, he jerked off onto my back and neck. I whipped around with the guitar and sliced him in the neck, barely missing his larynx, which would’ve ended his (successful) career. He broke up with my mother immediately and I never heard from him again.
- Every year at UdeM was non-stop sexual harassment. An “advisor” made my graduation contingent on an affair; I felt so used by her, and I was actively discouraged from filing charges because she was part of the provincial government as well.
- I think it’s worth mentioning that around this time I really began to develop my inner slut (or sex addiction, however you want to define it). It was a coping mechanism to try to take back control. I dealt with it by writing sex advice columns and by having too much sex.
- A few years later, after confiding the chronicles of my abuse and low self-esteem to a therapist I was seeing, she turned emotionally abusive and coerced me into a purely sexual relationship. A doctor took advantage of my emotional vulnerability every week, 55 minutes at a time.
- I was in extremely toxic relationships, and a few good ones. The good ones were always interrupted by work and careerism. The toxic ones kept rearing their heads and I dealt with far too much to process and to cope with.
- A similar situation to what I was in at UdeM came back around circa 2015 and even as recently as a few months ago. All I’m going to say is that I’ve never felt so violated in my life—physically and emotionally. It was humiliating. To this day I feel a layer of dirt and grime that won’t go away.
There’s more. Even recently. I can’t even talk about it, because I finally stood up for myself and for what I believe in. And I was burned so badly. So to court we go, because I’m sick of this.
What nobody tells you about standing up to these situations is how lonely it truly is. It’s you against the world, and there are no words to describe how overwhelming it is, all day every day, eating away at you inside.
Unless, of course, it’s happened to you—and after these past few days, I know I’m not the only one.
That’s still not enough. This is a call to arms, brothers. Entrenched, systemic sexism, harassment, and violence happens because we let it happen—not just in the past, but we continue to let this shit continue unchecked and without consequences. It’s up to us, the ones who wave the feminism banner and genuinely believe in it in our hearts, to take it upon ourselves to set the example for young men, it’s up to us to confront shitty men, it’s up to us to call each other out, it’s up to us to believe women, it’s up to us to keep it intersectional and inclusive.
It’s time to step up and solve this. We have a debt that’s owed.