It’s time to start necessary communication with well-meaning, harm-doing men.
It’s the second week of #metoo, and all of our hearts hurt. We’ve watched our friends, coworkers, mentors, mothers, aunts, sisters, classmates, girls who annoy us, girls we met on a cruise when we were in middle school, women we met at the LaGuardia airport during a delay, and one-time uber drivers we made a fast connection with and then followed on twitter tell or at least acknowledge their individual stories of sexual harassment and assault. It has united women and come as a surprise to….some men and that’s it.
The reaction, at least on my facebook and twitter feeds, has been swift, heavy, and confusing. People are criticizing the movement for implying that survivors who don’t speak up are shirking their duty. Men are posting lists of their transgressions to both apologize and serve as an example for other men. Women are meeting these posts with mixed response — both thankful for the gesture and allyship and resentful of men’s ability to exonerate themselves by making women read about the hurt those men have inflicted upon them and/or other women. Women are saying they are exhausted, angry, over it, sad, traumatized, ignored, finally heard, skeptical, hopeful, and myriad other different human reactions to this thing that affects many different humans in many different ways.
I feel conflicted more than anything else. Desperately looking for a solution, but also wary of the implications of any and all options. I’m angry that people are surprised. I’m FURIOUS that people are disbelieving or judgemental. I’m sad that my mom and my sister said it. I’m sad that they had to read it when I did. I’m hopeful that this will be a turning point while simultaneously trying to deactivate the pessimistic part of my brain that says “lol” and then just whispers “Cosby, Turner, Allen, Clinton, Trump, Hefner, Simpson, Rice” on a loop. But mostly I’m thinking what, in many circles, is considered an unspeakable thought — something so ignorant and taboo that it’s more of a punchline than an actual sentiment. I’m mostly thinking — What about the men?
Hear me out.
We have identified, by now I hope, that the sexual violence that results from male feelings of entitlement to female (and male) bodies is a systemic issue; one that stems from a societal definition of masculinity predicated on power and invincibility. But to truly believe in a fatally flawed system is necessarily to relieve a portion of the burden from those who are born and grow up immersed within it. If we really think that this is a pervasive epidemic infused in the marrow of our collective consciousness — which I believe it is — then we must also acknowledge that while there are exceptions on either end of the bell curve, a majority of men who fall somewhere in the middle of this system are simultaneously well-meaning and causing women harm.
There are men behind the ‘me too’ that would do anything to make it up to that woman, to those women, to all women. But regret does not mitigate impact. To those women, actual intentions don’t matter; and I’m not suggesting they should. But to us — the greater us — the us that wants our children to grow up in a world where saying ‘me too’ does not indicate membership in the world’s most tragically inclusive club — those intentions should matter. And while the fact that obliviousness, complacency, and ignorance are capable of such destruction should horrify and anger us, those are the diseases we must set out to cure.
And yes, that puts the burden on women. But we’re overturning a status quo and can’t expect the people who benefit from the way things currently are to bear the brunt of the effort. That responsibility does fall to us, whether we like it or not. We do not have the luxury of declaring that there is a battle and then refusing to fight.
And make no mistake, this is a fight. But one that requires us to lower our fists and our voices and load up on emotional labor once again as we patiently tell men how we expect them to behave. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. The time we’ve decried the need for for so long. After we’ve been taught time and time again to not go out at night, to not wear revealing clothing — after we’ve been taught not to leave our drinks — taught to say ‘I have a boyfriend’ instead of just ‘no’ — taught to protect ourselves — taught to speak and walk and dress and fear adequately. We finally have enough attention on the issue to do what we’ve been saying needs to be done for years — teach men not to rape.
This education obviously does not stop at the prevention of the extreme. Men under the bell curve that are trying or are trying to learn how to try, also need guidance on what affirmative things to do in their daily lives. Many wonderful women and publications have compiled ‘don’t’ lists in the wake of the me toos, and a few have offered suggestions on steps men can actively take. And I think that’s the play, here. We have to, as painful and ridiculous as it is, be clear, instructive, and empathetic. Because as counterproductive as it feels to say ‘they don’t know any better,’ to truly call this monstrosity systemic is to acknowledge that, on some level, they don’t.
Our first responsibility is to ourselves. And many of us are not ready to even type me too let alone patiently explain to the people that have injured us how they can present as better humans in the future. Everyone heals, copes, resolves, rebuilds, and fights at their own pace. I love you all. I am proud of you all. I am sorry grateful for how much closer I now feel to every woman in the world.
This is not meant as a prescription for all women. I wish that people would stop handing those out like [widely available drug that sure as hell isn’t birth control]. But it is, I hope, an observation that those of us fortunate enough to have incredible support systems and expendable emotional labor can take to heart when considering our next steps. How do we speak to the men who truly want to help? How do we educate our friends who have lived in ignorant luxury? How do we acknowledge minor, unintentional infractions by those who love us most? How do we forgive the people while keeping the system in an unrelenting chokehold?
I think these are real questions now. And those of us who are capable of trying to answer them, should, rather than shifting focus or rolling our eyes at the question ‘What about the men?’ Boys will be boys and we have been given — or rather we have forcefully and necessarily taken — a moment to redefine in our own terms what it means to be a good boy and a decent man. Let’s seize it.