All men can take some responsibility for “me too” and help change the culture.
Let’s talk about all the women out there bravely sharing their sexual abuse experiences. It makes me sad. But you know what makes me angry? For every woman public sharing their story, there is an abuser out there who remains silent. Some are quick to say “not all men” and absolve themselves, but I reject that mentality because we can all be a part of the solution. This is not just a women’s issue. As men, we need to ally with women and help change the culture.
The first step is to listen. And when I hear about these terrible experiences, I find it infuriating in three ways. First, I am upset at the horrible injustice and the hurt it has caused. Second, I see the unfair power structures that perpetuate the problem. And third, I feel like I personally know the urges these men are feeding, and that makes me even angrier about their selfishness and lack of control.
Let’s focus on that third one. It’s uncomfortable to share, but in a weird way, I can relate to sexual abusers. I don’t know if you look back at your teenage years the same way I do, but the dawn of my sexual desire was a pretty fucked up experience. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that I spent my teens and early twenties getting swept around by wave after wave of emotionally and sexually charged thoughts, feelings, and experiences. They just came out of nowhere in high school and started trying to shape my words and actions.
Some make the claim that men are by definition sexual predators and should celebrate aggressive desires. Some see those waves of sexual urge as some kind of natural masculine instinct to be nurtured. These arguments don’t justify reprehensible behaviour — we all have lots of natural instincts that we curb out of respect for ourselves and others. We try to eat healthy, exercise, and generally avoid attacking each other, even though our instincts guide us to eat as much sugar as possible, conserve energy, and aggressively defend our territory.
In fact, with the incredible amount of objectification and sexualized images we see in advertising and pornography, the idea that mistreating women is “natural” is even more laughable. Many of us have spent literally 1000s of hours looking at objectifying ads and questionable pornographic images. How can we claim that this hyper-sexualized culture of dominance is “natural”? But at the same time, we also can’t pretend these intense sexual desires don’t exist — many of us feel them every day.
I haven’t personally sexually abused anyone, but that doesn’t mean I can dismiss the issue as someone else’s problem. I have definitely had objectifying thoughts and done things I regret. I’ve spent the last two decades teaching myself to control these base urges and see past them. When I hit puberty and the desire first appeared, my teenage self had no chance, leaving me frustrated and selfish — a dangerous combination. Since then, I have put a lot of effort into learning to surf these waves of sexual desire and rise above them to be a better person.
I’m not perfect, and I know all too well the experience of sexual desire and how it can cloud my judgment and control my behaviour. And I also know that I’ve worked hard to take responsibility for my desires and treat women with the respect and love they deserve. To be sure, there’s a lot of fun to be had exploring your sexuality — but giving in fully to your selfish desires in ways that hurt others is cowardice. As men, we need to commit to never let desires, power structures, intoxicants, or social/cultural pressures lead us to cross the line of decency.
When we truly listen to what women are telling us about their experiences in this society, we quickly realize that — even if we’ve never abused anyone — we can’t just sit back and play innocent. There are many opportunities for all men to help refute the idea that these are “natural” instincts and change the culture. We can avoid spreading the toxic culture by curbing the machismo which arises when women aren’t around. We can make sure our friends know that bragging about manipulative sexual conquests is not cool. We can publicly call out guys who are treating women poorly. We can identify and address our own questionable thoughts and habits. We can stop flooding our minds with fictional objectifying images and pretending they don’t affect the way we relate to real women in our lives.
It’s not okay to let this continue. Not all men commit these atrocities, but culture change is on all of us. The burden rests with all men working together to take responsibility for how our intense sexual desires shape the world around us. It’s time to get our shit together, speak out when we see other men being assholes, and prevent intense sexual desires from manifesting into hurtful words and actions.