The Good Men
One of the most toxic viewpoints I hear constantly is that being a feminist means you hate men. It baffles me. To be a feminist means to support feminism, not that you support misandry. Simply put, to support feminism means to be in support of women’s equal political, economic, financial, cultural, and social rights. It means you support humans. It’s a topic that has been written about time and time again. Feminism isn’t the topic of this piece, but before I begin, I want make clear that as a woman who believes strongly in feminism by definition, I also believe in good men.
My father is one of the good men.
A lot of what I learned about being a “strong woman” (you know, one who has a career, who speaks her mind, who isn’t afraid to say no — traits that are mis-labeled as masculine ones) I learned from my father. He has always encouraged me to run my fastest, to try my hardest, and to do my best. I credit him for never shielding me from the cruelties of the world, for giving me the space to make my own mistakes, and the freedom to learn from them.
Growing up I always admired how one minute my dad would be holding a plate full of chocolate chip cookies in a circle of moms at the high school bake sale, and the next minute he was giving me a high five, a gatorade, and a pep talk before the game. One minute he was on the sidelines cheering me on, and the next minute he was on the court reminding me that I didn’t get a free pass in a game of one-on-one just because I was a girl. One minute he was waxing poetic on Bruce Springsteen, and the next minute he was running out the door to buy me tampons.
“DAD! Remember! NOT the cardboard kind!”
“I know, honey. I have three sisters.”
I know what a good man is. I was raised by one.
I believe in good men. I think men are wonderful friends, boyfriends, lovers, husbands, fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and bosses. I do not have daddy issues, or boyfriend issues, or whatever issues people unjustly prescribe to young women who “don’t make the right choices” in regards to the men they date, associate with, or become harassed, beaten, and even killed by. If that’s a hard sentence for you to digest, you can imagine what it feels like to worry that an assault could be your fault. I also fully understand that not all men do these things, but the acts of the benevolent in no way minimize the violent crimes of the monsters. And just so we’re clear, not sexually assaulting women is NOT one of the things that make you a good man.
When I was seven, I attended my uncle’s wedding with my entire family. After the ceremony ended, the entire group made their way to the reception, rows and rows of fold up tables underneath a white outdoor party tent. After an hour of sitting patiently next to my mother, I asked if I could grab my yoyo from the van, which was located only a short distance from the tent. As I closed and locked the door to the van, the minister of my uncle’s wedding approached me, violently, from behind. He wrapped his hand around my neck and pulled me behind a row of cars where nobody could see me. He growled that I was to walk in front of him, and If I tried to run, he would hurt me. Terrified, I followed his orders, as he pushed me into the men’s bathroom, just around the corner from where my mother was sitting. Luckily, before he made his next move, we heard a toilet flush in the bathroom, and he realized we weren’t alone. It all happened in about 30 seconds.
The minister fled the bathroom, and I ran, teary eyed and terrified, to my mother’s lap.
They investigated for months, and stumbled upon complaints from other young girls like myself, but an arrest was never made. Sometimes I think about the faceless man from my memory. I wonder what would have happened had we not heard the toilet flush in the public bathroom he assumed to be empty. I wonder how many other young girls necks he wrapped his barbaric hands around. I wonder if he remembers who I am. Then, I remember that he’s not wondering anything about me.
I’m just the faceless girl he almost assaulted.
For years I feared the hands of every man that came within wrapping distance of my neck. I gently reminded partners not to put their hands there during intercourse. I cringed when male friends playfully placed both hands upon my shoulders, even if it was just a little too close, and asked them not to do so. Each time these things happened, I felt uncontrollable panic surge through me, followed by guilt for asking this of the good men in my life with whom I’ve always felt safe.
I know that my father would take the life of a man with intentions to hurt me. I know that my male friends try to be empathetic and understanding when I go on a tirade about the asshole who said he wanted to stick his dick inside of me while walking down Broadway. I love my male friends for forming a barricade around me when a drunken fool gets a little too grabby, for watching the bartender pour my drink, for not criticizing what I was wearing, and for not telling me to calm down. I also love them quite simply for knowing that telling a fired up woman to calm down is as calming as watching an episode of The Walking Dead. In fact, if you want to see an adult woman turn into a flesh eating demon faster than you can find an escape route, tell her to calm down after she’s been treated like an animal.
Regardless, I love them for being good men.
But the good men in my life will never understand the paralyzing terror that races through a woman’s body when she realizes she’s being followed. The good men in my life will never fear their own dying cellphone battery. Never count the blocks left to their front door against their rapidly increasing heart rate. Never have to use their words to fight for their own right to exist walking down the street. Never wonder if, moments later, defending that right may lead to defending their own lives. The good men in my life will never have to balance running through a range of sexual assault survival tactics, (mace, key between the knuckles, palm of hand to the nose, knee to the crotch), with the realization that it won’t matter. He’s bigger than you. He’s stronger than you. You will claw, kick, and scream, and somebody will still point out how you could have better avoided being attacked.
“Why didn’t you scream louder?”
“What were you wearing?”
“Where was your mace?
“You should have called 911.”
“You should be carrying a gun.”
“Why didn’t you morph into Sonya Blade and FINISH HIM?”
The truth is, the good men in my life will never have to memorize a laundry list of rules to stay alive. They will not be told to to stay away from the shadows. To wear more layers. To be less provocative. To be more sober.
They will never be told to not trust all men.
To only trust some men.
To only trust the good men.