What does #MeToo mean for men?
Content warning: sexual harassment/assault.
When I opened Facebook today and saw post after post proclaiming #MeToo, I started thinking about how it applied to me.
I thought of the time that a sexual partner crossed my explicit boundaries repeatedly and I had to end things and leave.
I thought of the time I was walking down the street and a person passing by groped me.
I also thought of the time I coerced my partner into having sex before she was ready. She told me about it months later.
And then I thought of the time last week that I saw a friend of a friend drunkenly kissing a woman at a party. She looked uncomfortable. I didn’t say anything — during or after.
When I saw #MeToo, I thought about all of these stories. I’ve been on many different sides of sexual harassment and assault — I’ve done it to others, I’ve had it done to me, and I’ve watched others do it. I asked myself, what should I say? What should I do? Should I write #MeToo? As I ruminated, I started remembering how all of these experiences felt.
When my partner crossed my boundaries, I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t want to say something and offend her, or ruin our friendship. So I made an excuse and left. I felt uncomfortable, but what about what I didn’t feel? I didn’t feel scared that I would be physically overpowered and wouldn’t be able to leave. I didn’t feel obligated to stay in the situation. I felt uncomfortable, but I didn’t feel disempowered.
When I was groped on the street, I felt surprised and weirded out. The feelings passed after a few minutes. I didn’t feel violated, or triggered. It didn’t remind me of many other experiences of being groped or catcalled on the street, because I haven’t had any.
When I learned that I had coerced my partner into sex, I felt guilty and ashamed. I carried those feelings for years. I worked hard to apologize to her. I was inspired to learn how to not repeat those mistakes. I felt afraid of being judged by others, so I very rarely shared the story.
When I saw the uncomfortable kiss at the party, I felt angry at what was happening. I also felt scared of how that friend of a friend would react if I confronted him. I forgot about the incident by the next day.
Examining my subjective experience in these situation, I can’t help but notice how they are all colored by my gender. As a man, I had the physical and social power to escape from sexual assault. As a man, I’ve only rarely experienced strangers feel entitled to touch my body. As a man, I avoided sharing my story of coercion for fear of being labeled a rapist. As a man, I was able to watch a potential assault occur and have the power to confront another man about it. I was also able to choose to do nothing and forget about it.
I don’t want to claim that all men experience sexual assault in these ways. I know there are many men who have felt disempowered, and I don’t wish to minimize their voices. I also know that trans people experience harassment and assault at an incredibly high rate, and their stories can be easily excluded by talking about sexual assault using gendered language.
I do want to claim that sexual assault is a gendered issue. I was raised as a man, I identify as a man, and I am perceived as a man. This influences how I walk through the world. It has especially influenced my experiences around sexual assault.
I decided that I won’t write #MeToo, because my man-ness would make it mean something different from all of the women and trans people who have written it. I don’t share their experience of oppression through sexual harassment and assault.
I wonder, though, how many men will read about my experiences and think to themselves, “me too?” I wonder, as I read post after post bravely proclaiming #MeToo, who enacted all of these assaults and harassments? Certainly there are predatory, creepy people out there — the repeat offenders. How many men like me stand quietly alongside them, knowing we’ve pushed a bit too hard, or crossed a boundary, or ignored what we saw in front of us? How many of us don’t talk about it because we’re afraid of the consequences, afraid of being lumped in with the predators, creepers, or worse — rapists?
What does #MeToo mean for men? It can mean simply listening to the stories of the people around us. It can mean realizing that, for women, having experienced sexual assault is the norm. We can carry that upsetting realization into our future interactions with women, assuming the worst and acting accordingly. It can mean an opportunity for empathy.
But I believe that #MeToo can be more for men than just an opportunity to understand the experiences of others. It’s opportunity to examine our own experiences. #MeToo applies to us in a different way. It means that we are part of the culture, part of relationships, part of sexual assault.
So, men: what role have you played? What makes you think “me too?” And what would it take for you to talk about it?
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Thanks for reading! I’m trying to share these ideas with more men. If this post resonated with you, would you help by sharing this post with one man you know?
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