After Kavanaugh: what I need from the men I love.
What one woman needs from the men in her life following last week’s hearings.
I wasn’t prepared for the rage.
I was prepared to weep, to feel alone, to feel exhausted. I was prepared for irritation and heartache. And as I watched Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, all of that came in time. I wept as she wept, waves of hot tears came like monsoons to my searing, red face.
Like many others, I found myself astonished at her composure, her clarity, her forthrightness in the face of this: reliving a major trauma in front of a nation prepared to pick it apart for their own satisfaction and political allegiances. Following in the footsteps of Anita Hill, Dr. Ford said she knew what might await her. As she put it, she might have thrown herself in front of a moving train, only to see that train pick up speed and annihilate her in the process. She may yet be right.
I knew the undertow of my grief would catch me during Dr. Ford’s testimony, but for Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony, I expected only irritation. As he spoke, though, something shifted in me: a tectonic movement that couldn’t be undone. An earthquake through the whole world of me.
Kavanaugh spoke with indignation, entitlement, anger. He spoke of his reputation, his career, bemoaned what might become of him. He spoke with no regard at all for Dr. Ford, or for any other survivor. He spoke only to men, never to women, never to survivors. And as he spoke, I saw the face of my friend’s abusive ex-husband. I heard the voice of the building manager who insisted I date him if I wanted to keep my apartment. I felt the chilling presence of the abusive fathers and brothers and boyfriends I had come to know.
As he spoke, Kavanaugh’s acidic testimony curdled in me, made something spoilt and acrid. Anger does not come naturally to me. I can count on one hand the times in my life when I have raised my voice in anger. I cannot recall wanting to physically hurt anyone, even in my darkest moments. I have never felt a violent anger within me — not until last Thursday.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh told us that his testimony was his own, and I believe him. Those were the true and terrifying words of his heart. And as I listened, I became increasingly certain about what needed to happen next. I would not be hit again, would not be pinned down, would not be assaulted, would not be touched. I would not let that happen to any other woman, nonbinary person, survivor of any gender. My muscles grew taut, every one clenched like a fist, ready to strike.
Kavanaugh, my landlord, these husbands and fathers: this was the brotherhood of abusers. They were rapists and assailants, yes, but also men who violated women’s boundaries in less catastrophic ways. Bosses who rubbed subordinates’ shoulders. Colleagues who wouldn’t halt their unwanted advances. Men who insisted “not all men” in the wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp. Men who didn’t sexually assault anyone, but quietly harbored misgivings about accountability for those who did. Men who defended other men without asking survivors, without talking to women & nonbinary people. Men who felt threatened by those who held other men to account for their abhorrent behavior.
Suddenly, I was awash in anger. A lifetime of being on the down side of power — of being called too sensitive or so emotional or crazy bitch — suddenly reared its head, renewed by rage. And as I spoke with other women, nonbinary people, survivors, I was met with the same reaction: immobilizing, incandescent rage.
In the days since Judge Kavanaugh’s hearing, I have waited for that nuclear blast of rage to subside. It hasn’t.
I am rudderless in a sea of my own anger, a foreign emotion that proves wily, slippery, resistant to any control I try to exert. I am endlessly tossed about on the waves of my own wrath. I have to remind myself, actively, that there are men I love and trust in this world. Sometimes even that isn’t enough. On the day of the hearing, I tried to think of remedies — things that I could ask of the men around me — but came up empty-handed as my anger short-circuited my thoughts. Stop existing. Beat up other men. I don’t know, just fix it.
My anger has not subsided, but I am learning to work with it. I am learning what to do with my fury at men’s radio silence on this issue, time and time again. And I am finding my way to my requests of the men I know and love.
To the men I love: here is what I need from you. Immediately.
Start talking about sexual violence as a men’s issue.
Too often, because women, nonbinary people and survivors of all genders come forward with our experiences of sexual violence, it is miscategorized as a “women’s issue.” Certainly, sexual violence disproportionately impacts women and nonbinary people. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 5 women have been raped in their lifetime — to say nothing of other forms of sexual assault. 1 in 4 have been attacked by a boyfriend, partner or husband. Half of all trans and nonbinary people in the US have been sexually assaulted.
But we simply live with the realities that men create: the cultures of harassment, abuse, sexual violence. The casual disregard for the boundaries of people who aren’t men. The silence in the face of an epidemic of sexual violence. All of these behaviors — even those that aren’t themselves sexual assault — pave the way for the widespread violence women and nonbinary folks face today.
Own up to your complicity.
You may see yourself as a good guy; you may be one. But that doesn’t mean you haven’t been complicit, in big or small ways, in a culture of masculine violence. A lot of men think of themselves as “nice guys,” even while acting as aggressors or remaining complicit in rape culture. This may be difficult, but it is essential to recognize that your beliefs about yourself may not square with the experiences of the women and nonbinary people in your life.
So start by looking inward, finding your own complicity. Think of the times you have drunkenly hooked up with people who didn’t give their full consent; the times you have laughed at rape jokes; the times you have interrupted or spoken over women; the times you have called an ex-girlfriend a crazy bitch; the times you saw a man’s hand drift to a woman’s breast and didn’t speak up. Not all of these are the same offense. Not all of these carry the weight or trauma of sexual assault. But all of them make that trauma possible.
I know it’s tempting to think of other people: worse men. Cruel men. Men without a sense of propriety, whose lack of boundaries with women startled you in the moment. It is tempting to find the very real villains around us. There will be plenty of time to think of them, to confront them, to challenge them. Right now, think of yourself.
Ask for feedback.
Follow John Oliver’s example in his interview with Anita Hill. Ask the women, nonbinary people and survivors in your life what you could have done differently, how you could have better supported them. Ask your girlfriend, your exes, your coworkers, your friends. Ask them when you are prepared to take in their feedback without reprisal, without making them take on the emotional labor of comforting you for your own wrongdoing or incomplete actions. Do not ask them to absolve you. Ask them, hear their answers, make a plan, and do better.
Intervene in harassment, abuse and assault.
Speak up when you see a man disrespecting someone of another gender in big or small ways. Challenge him not just in his most aggressive moments, but in his casual misogyny, too. Tell him to stop feeling people up without their consent, sure, but also call him on interrupting women and nonbinary people.
If you’re a father of a young man, talk to your son about consent, about transphobia, about misogyny. Talk to him about the aggression and entitlement that is too often offered up as men’s birthright. Talk to him about the toxicity that has been fed to him for so many years. Talk to him about survivors’ experiences so he doesn’t create more of them. Interrogate your own behavior so you don’t, either.
These actions will not assuage my anger. They will not free me from drowning in my own rage. But over time, your vulnerability and accountability will chip away at this monolith, this masculine legacy of assault, disregard, disrespect. It will establish a higher standard for you and the men around you. It will stifle the booming, stentorian voice of misogyny and violence.
It won’t change how I feel, or the history of abuse that has led me here, to this ocean of anger. But it can shape my future. And it can make you the man you’ve so long aspired to be.
Love me enough to hold yourself to a higher standard. Love yourself enough to become a better man.
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