A protester at the 2016 Women’s March in DC. Photo by yours truly.

What’s next in the #MeToo conversation?

For us to make any progress, it must be empathy. For men.

Oh yes, we’re going there.

But hear me out before you crucify me.

I’ve been ruminating on all the #metoo posts running through my feeds, from close friends and distant acquaintances alike. I feel many of them in my heart. And I think about them.

I think about my best friend, whose uncle decided that she would make a good sex toy at the age of 14, who has endured an old man’s hand on her ass up her skirt on a public train, with him leering at her all the while — just to name a few instances. About the incredible baggage that she carries from those scars — in lightness and an effortless abundance of grace, as is her style.

I think about Carrie Fisher personally delivering a cow’s tongue wrapped in a Tiffany box to the office of an Oscar-winning Hollywood executive who had attempted to force himself on a personal friend of hers, with a note reading:

If you ever touch my darling Heather or any other woman again, the next delivery will be something of yours in a much smaller box.

I think about my own experiences, which are…complicated. They always are. I’m very lucky to never have been physically assaulted…er…well…yeah, it’s complicated. I’ve written about some of them here already. All things withstanding I feel that I’ve fared a lot better than most of my sisters, and I’m honestly not quite sure how I feel about that.

Then I think about my husband. And I think about my stepson. I think about my colleagues, and the countless amazing husbands and fathers and brothers and friends who touch the lives of the women I love, and I wonder what they’re thinking. I wonder how they’re feeling.

We wouldn’t really know. Most of them are afraid to speak right now, and if they are talking, we’re definitely not listening to them.

The root of this male predatory behavior — as this audio of Harvey Weinstein attempting to coerce a 22 year old woman to remain in his hotel room demonstrates, as well as Donald Trump’s “locker room talk” with Billy Bush, etc ad nauseum — seems so clear to me. I mean, Weinstein’s voice is shaking with emotion as he begs her not to embarrass him. He’s a famous guy. Please don’t embarrass him.

You can do anything you want when you’re a famous guy, says Donald Trump in the infamous pussy grabbing locker room talk with Billy Bush.

Donald, Harvey, Bill “I’LL DO IT FUCKING LIVE O’Reilly, and all the producers who have sponsored girl bands as fronts for prostitution, and my best friend’s uncle, and the “family friend” of so many of us — they’re all trying desperately to exert power.

What fragile, brittle egoes must lie beneath all that bluster. What hurt, and insecurity.

Yeah, they’re vile, and I’m not going to waste any time trying to convince myself, let alone others, to have empathy for the aforementioned list.

As much as I fancy myself similar to him, I am most definitely not Jesus.

No. Fuck those guys. They’re serial abusers at best and serial rapists at worst (Oh, yes — I haven’t forgotten about Katie Johnson’s mysterious last-minute withdrawl of her rape lawsuit against Donald Trump).

But our husbands, fathers, brothers, friends, and neighbors, who we know and trust?

They deserve our love — especially when they consider themselves to be our allies. But it isn’t just their allyship we need. We need them to be healthy, and for masculinity to have tools for healthy self-love and identity, so that others can learn these tools, and these things happen less.

Yeah, I know, I know: this conversation isn’t about men.

But why shouldn’t it be all about all of us?

As I’m finding to be the case quite universally, it’s this AND that. It’s not that what’s happening in the #MeToo conversation is wrong. It’s that we need to be talking about this…AND opening the door to empathetic, realsauce conversations about the impossible catch-22 of what it means to be male in modern society.

I’m sure that my suffragette 3x great grandmother Mary Jones would vehemently disagree with my including men into the center of a conversation which is about women’s rights to own their own bodies.

But she doesn’t live in today’s society. I do, and I can see clearly that right now, things are not that simple.

This, really, is the crux of my issue with modern third-wave (or whatever the hell you want to call it) feminism. It’s not inclusive.

Feminism has taken a huge beating lately for being mostly white, and for not considering the intersection of the experiences of women of color. The larger issue that this call for intersectionality — which is highly necessary — has failed to address (in its dissolution into identity politics) is exactly that: true intersectionality.

Feminism has not, historically and today, brought all impacted stakeholders to the table as equitable members of the conversation — including men.

Yes, I understand basic feminist theory. Men belong by association to the power structure, and therefore centering their voices is counterproductive to the movement to elevate women’s, blah blah blah.

And you know what? When my triple great granny Mary Jones was marching for the 19th amendment, that was completely correct. It was the right strategy — then. This is now.

Isn’t it time for feminism to put the torches down, and hunker in to our true selves, as humans? To join hands with our sisters AND brothers in exploring that inexplicable cocktail of masculine and feminine which is our humanity?

Are we interested in keeping a crusade alive, or in solving a problem?

I’m interested in solving problems. And to that end, I think it’s clear that feminism needs to evolve.

If I’m honest, I agree with Joss Wheedon, my favorite storyteller of all time, and second favorite feminist (second to my husband, who hates it when I call him that, but it’s totally true), in his speech about why he hates the word “feminist.”

The word ‘feminist’ includes the idea that believing all people to be people is not a natural state. That we don’t emerge assuming that everybody in the human race is a human. That the idea of equality is just imposed on us. That we’re indoctrinated. That it’s an agenda.

He eloquently pitches the idea that our verbage needs to reflect the shift in our public consciousness, which considers universal equality to be the default and anything other than that to be morally incorrect.

There are clear oppressors here, but they’re not of any specific gender. They’re organizations and structures which we perpetuate and allow in the way we vote and spend our money, and in how we raise (or fail to raise) our consumer voices. And they’re individuals who abuse their power in the most vile way possible.

It’s time to change the way we talk about this, because the times, they are indeed changing.

We need to talk about what all this means for men. We need to not let this important #metoo conversation exist, and therefore die, in a vacuum. We need to give it context, and life.

Friends and family, we need to drop the black and white thinking and self-righteous attitudes and get real about how deeply toxic masculinity is hurting our brothers.

We need to take this conversation deeper. We need to listen.

Because as long as we have no empathy, how will we design a solution? How will we create tools to fix this sickness if we don’t map out and design for solutions for one of the system’s key stakeholders — men?

Kali Holloway investigates the dark, unexplored other side of the coin in her piece in AltNet, “Toxic masculinity is killing men: the roots of male trauma:”

When masculinity is defined by absence, when it sits, as it does, on the absurd and fallacious idea that the only way to be a man is to not acknowledge a key part of yourself, the consequences are both vicious and soul crushing. The resulting displacement and dissociation leaves men yet more vulnerable, susceptible, and in need of crutches to help allay the pain created by our demands of manliness. As Terry Real writes, “A depressed woman’s internalization of pain weakens her and hampers her capacity for direct communication. A depressed man’s tendency to extrude pain…may render him psychologically dangerous.”
We have set an unfair and unachievable standard, and in trying to live up to it, many men are slowly killing themselves. We have to move far beyond our outdated ideas of masculinity, and get past our very ideas about what being a man is. We have to start seeing men as innately so, with no need to prove who they are, to themselves or anyone else.

Sexism hurts us all.

Our men are grieving with us, in #metoo. Of course they are. They love us. No, it’s not about them, but if we love them, we’ll welcome them into the conversation.

Because this really is about all of us.

It always is.

I’m not gonna lie — I really love Axe’s #isitokforguys campaign:

The British version of the brand, Lynx, has delved deeper into this, with a series of #meninprogress videos:

Yeah, for sure, they’re all shiny and marketingy and still reinforce some unhealthy body ideals, but they’re chipping away at something really, really important.

Yes: what does it mean to be masculine? What is it about masculine that is good, and essential to our humanity?

The key to true gender equity is for everyone along the spectrum of gender to celebrate and explore their identities positively.

The feminism of my grandmother Mary and her fellow suffragettes was necessary because they were literally fighting for their legal rights to personhood. Feminism took much of that power away from men which they had enjoyed under the patriarchy.

But it never gave anything back. There was never any balance.

We’ve told men what they shouldn’t do. But is it any wonder that they don’t know what to do?

No, for sure — it’s not my job to tell them. But it is my job to listen, and to help us grow a society which is nurturing to everyone.

What we need is for all of us to be healthy, as one human race.