How to Listen to Women When They Share Their Stories of Sexual Assault
Bridget Phetasy

My non-expert opinion is that it’s a complex interplay of a guilty conscience, ignorance and powerlessness …

I can only speak for myself but this is wholly incorrect.

Why should I feel guilty for something I am in no way connected with? What am I supposed to be ignorant about? Without trying to be funny, I don’t know the answer to that. Do I deny that sexual offenses take place and that they can be extremely traumatic? No. So where is the supposed ignorance? As for powerlessness, I am obviously powerless as regards past events. Everyone is. As for being powerless about the future, no one is. So why should I as a man feel any more or less powerless than anyone else? What you have written is very much your opinion of how men feel — just as you mention. But it is very misguided as regards at least me.

“But what about men who aren’t perverts and don’t abuse their power for sexual gratification?” instantly shifts the conversation from a woman opening up about her trauma to protecting you and your feelings. In this regard, always remember: THIS. ISN’T. ABOUT. YOU.

Yes. If it you want to use capitals to make that point extra important, then ask yourself how you can then expect a man to bother listening other than as some sort of wet rag who is not allowed to voice his opinion. This really is asking for a man to effectively have no opinion. You might just be looking for a sympathetic ear, and that is fine, but do not use that as a pretext for denying men the opportunity to speak. If you want men to pay attention to your prerogatives, try recognizing theirs.

Try to respond to this crisis the same way you’d respond to others: “This is really upsetting. How can I be a part of the solution?”

On a wider front, the problem for many men is that if they try to mention that women may in any way want to adopt that same attitude, they are instantly shut down via accusations of victim-blaming and lack of sensitivity. We live in a culture that has many problems, and to take such a sexist attitude regarding who ought to be ‘part of the solution’ is to excuse vast numbers of both sexes who are involved in perpetuating that culture. I am obviously speaking in terms of a wider solution — not immediately comforting a victim. Sexual assault is merely a symptom of a sick culture — not the root cause.

So give her the benefit of the doubt.

In a word, no. Keep your mind open. You do not know what you do not know. No one does. It is that simple. Asking anyone to give accusers the benefit of the doubt is carte blanche for false accusations by which men’s lives can be ruined by any vengeful woman. And the long term result is the very one you are trying to fight: that legitimate accusations are not taken seriously.

All I’m asking is that you think about the privilege you received physically when you were born a man. Living life as a woman is living life as prey. We don’t know that the man who catcalls us isn’t going to follow us home.

Yes, but how willing are you to listen to the privilege YOU received by being born a woman? How about all those arduous laboring jobs no one expects you to do? Your likelihood of living longer due to a less stressful and punishing life? Your much-reduced chance of ending up in jail or dying in a work-related accident etc. etc. I am sure you have heard the list and yes, this is more ‘whataboutism’. But the point is that almost the entire female sex remains silent on these matters, whilst feminism positively clams up if anyone dare mention them. Certain men are plain fed-up with the sort of ongoing attitudes you express of listen-to-me–because-I-want-you-to-only-consider-my-problems-as-a-woman. Such an attitude does not actually bother me. But it is so obviously selfish. And so it only makes some men even more convinced that women in general are becoming more and more like spoiled me-me-me brats. That is hardly gaining you the respect you seek, although I’ll accept that men too are generally becoming more selfish. And I accept that none of what I have said detracts from the very real problems women can face — especially if they are victims of sexual assault. I would not try to do that.

Step outside of yourself when you’re feeling reactive and keep repeating the mantra, “This isn’t about me. This isn’t about me. This isn’t about me.”

Altruism is bullshit. People in relationships always act in their own interests, albeit that can involve building mutually and highly-beneficial trust with others. But life remains always about ‘me within my wider situation’. Only a fool would try to delude themselves into any other view. Do you really think you can date guys and then expect them to extract themselves from the situation as if they have no interest in what is happening? Life is not one long sunny day on your Daddy’s yacht where sexual assault is the only issue.

Resist the urge to say things like “as a husband” or “as a father of daughters.”

FFS! Are you a fully-fledged member of the thought and speech control police? How about letting people speak freely, as in say whatever they like? If they are an asshole, tell them. The world of men is not there for you to mold it to what you would like it to be. Even when men might try to be constructive, you are obviously not going to be happy until they are constructive on YOUR terms. Grow up. If they are trying to help, at least allow them some ‘mistakes’ according to your terribly precious parameters regarding what they can and cannot say. You are banging on about ‘male privilege’ at the same time as you are actually trying to get men to self-censor the very words coming out their mouths. Can you not see the huge elephant of irony in all of that? A man talking is not actually the same thing as another man perpetrating sexual assault. If you want respect, pay attention to the vast difference between these things, and drop the endless generalizations about ‘men’.

If you truly want to become part of the solution, try to view things from a woman’s emotional experience and see all women as people, not just the ones related to you.

This is indeed good advice, but for the subtle and ludicrous barb implying that men in general do not already see all women as people. And what a shame that this advice is in no way reciprocated from your side in terms of properly understanding men’s experience as something other than what you mistakenly imagine it to be.

In fact, just shut up. I get it — you feel like a failure and you want to fix it. Or this topic makes you uncomfortable and requires self-examination. Or you want validation that you aren’t like that, so you interrupt women speaking out to get that validation.

Charming! And NO — you actually don’t get it at all. Contrary to your ideas, I do not feel like a failure. And any interest I have in fixing matters is only sapped by this endless bleating and the underlying inference that only men are involved in creating and fixing this issue. I self-examine every day. This topic is incidental to that process. And I do not seek validation that I am not ‘like that’. I fuckin’ KNOW I am not like that. Plain and simple. And I am not ‘interrupting’ you for any reason whatsoever. I am ‘responding’ to let you know the idea that you know who I am, or might be, is most seriously MISGUIDED. I think some other men might be in the same boat. And you might note in the passing that I do not have a whole screed of text trying to mansplain to you my ideas of how your mind works, or why you have written these things.

When you’re really hearing what a woman is saying without needing to comment, she will feel her experience and emotions are safe with you. You don’t have to say anything. You don’t have to do anything. You’re simply holding space for the emotional distress she’s in.

This is very true. But it is not what a post on Medium is about. If you think that men who do not get this point will benefit from you writing that, then fine. I am not convinced, but it is no big deal either way.

Your last few paragraphs are about compassion and are certainly far more sensible than the earlier stuff.

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