It has not been my experience that this #Metoo conversation has been as full of blame and venom as many people are describing, but I will take your word for it. The gender conversation has always been a bit loaded but I’m more interested in the more sophisticated, sincere, and rich dialogues that I’ve been seeing and engaging with.
Your piece raises good points, obviously, but I would suggest this: This is a unique moment in history. There has never been such an opportunity for truth telling on the emerging phenomena of social media EVER. It is a de facto Truth and Reconciliation process — perhaps without a container or context that formal processes hold, but one that has all the makings of it nonetheless.
And this moment focuses on the widespread quality of sexual harassment and assault of women primarily by men, and the underlying power dynamics that have made it possible. And there’s a lot of fucking pain, trauma, and yes, anger about it. This moment, I would dare say, is an opportunity for women to be seen, heard, witnessed, felt, and acknowledged in order to heal from this collective trauma and create a new cultural narrative together with their brothers (and by male or female I include cis-and transgender folks).
It’s a moment to be raw, angry, and even a bit unrefined in our expression. And it’s a moment for men to hear, acknowledge, tell their stories about ways they’ve violated female boundaries or abused their male privilege. And to share commitments moving forward.
This is not to say that men don’t get assaulted or that women can’t be violent. Obviously.
And of course men’s socialization and patriarchy has not been much of a picnic for men either. By sending them off to wars and dangerous back-breaking labor jobs, told not to show emotions and shamed if they demonstrate ‘feminine’ qualities, by circumcising them, by stunting their sexuality by porn and tits and ass being splashed all over advertising and media. All this has oppressed and traumatized men too and certainly these issues directly relate to the ways they are aggressive and abusive towards women.
But that is a different moment, a different conversation — or at least, a different point in the conversation.
What concerns me about prematurely widening this conversation by talking about men as victims or women as abusers now is that it risks diluting this moment of truth telling and for the feminine experience to be really seen and heard without distraction or analysis. It’s safe to say that it’s clear that the dominant trend is that women that are victims and men are perpetrators. So there’s a specific power imbalance and it’s related to gender. Saying otherwise at this moment is just belittling the conversation with false equivalence (ie the same things happen to both genders by both genders on the same scale — we all know that is not true).
I am advocating for better understanding the PHASES of healing cultural trauma and the specifics of that. And that involves being sensitive to timing and context for how and what we share.
For example, First Nations people have every right to have safe spaces and focused containers to be heard and acknowledged for the legacy of colonization that still plays out for them today. When I was at Truth and Reconciliation forums for residential school survivors and they were sharing stories of being molested by nuns or priests, EVEN if I had also experienced the same or the story resonated with me on a personal level, I would have simply suspended my desire to speak or share my story in that context. I did not expect their expression to be perfect, free of blame or victim-mentalities or anything else. I heard a lot of raw emotion there, and a lot of it was not pretty. But I felt like my job was simply to receive the energy of their anger and pain. I was happy to do so. It’s not a proud moment in history and it was beautiful to play a part (however small) in transmuting this pain.
I imagine it would have been super painful for survivors to have me come in and in some ways REPLICATE the experience that they are already tolerating every day — of being marginalized and displaced by white people. Similarly, when I see comments like men are also assaulted and women are also abusers, for me personally, that feels EXACTLY like the same dynamic that plays out there in the world — one of being somehow sidelined in some way by the male experience. Especially because women are socialized to abandon their own experience to validate the male experience. It feels exactly how it felt for #BlackLivesMatter activists to hear the #Alllivesmatter response.
I know that’s not the INTENTION of these comments. I think the intention is to include and broaden the inquiry and bring in the ‘bigger picture’. But it doesn’t feel like we are quite there yet. Let’s just witness and be with the pain, the anger, and the confusion, before expanding to more perspectives, more universal themes, or solution-finding.
And let’s go easy on women who might right now be too angry to listen to (even very intelligent) arguments or invitations to widen their perspectives. Let us be raw, without having it be something that needs to be overly contained.
Being simply heard and acknowledged is the first step. Since this is a legacy of a power dynamic that has played out for centuries, it is at the very beginning stage. I am strongly advocating for hearing and acknowledging women (cis and trans) about this issue before prematurely widening a more general cultural inquiry about sexual harassment and assault.