What do you do when womxn want you to yell louder and (some) men want you to shut the hell up?
CW: rape, assault, harassment, men’s violence against women.
The majority of men responded to my last story graciously, with productive discourse, questions and curiosity. This is all that I ask and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for taking the time and emotional energy to engage meaningfully with my and other womxn’s experiences. I have these words though for the minority of men who were just plain rude to me, rude about me and rude to those that shared my work~
Let’s clear up a couple of things first:
- I am not going to stroke the egos of any man whose giant ego is “hurt” by what I write, nor will I apologise or censor myself to make my words go down easier.
- My voice doesn’t exist to please men or adhere to men’s interpretations of what I should say and how I should say it.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way…
These are just stories to men, but they are our lived experiences, ie. of assault, harassment, violence and rape. These are the experiences of every person who identifies as a womxn. Every time we say them out loud or write them down, it takes a massive mental toll on us, not to mention the toll of the actual act of violence or harassment.
Men need to use their energy to actually, truly, really, give a shit about how horrible it is to be terrorised everyday just because you have breasts and a vagina. In fact, the experiences I outlined highlight my incredible privilege as a white-passing, highly educated womxn living in America, as many go through much worse than what I wrote about. Men need to let go of the false perception that I am/we are attacking them personally through some fucking hashtags that pale in comparison to our real and prolonged suffering.
Fake-feminist-men and pseudo-gender-equality-supporting-men use “taking men with us” on the gender equality train as a weapon and a tool to silence us into submission. This is what being a fake ally is. I am going to borrow Laura LeMoon’s words: “An ally should be personally gaining NOTHING through their activism. In fact, if you are an ally, you should be losing things through your activism; space, voice, recognition, validation, identity and ego.”
If womxn say something “out of line” or use a hashtag that men deem offensive (but is actually nothing compared to the rape, gang rape, womxn-bashing, fat-shaming jokes that we are subjected to on a daily basis), they will only take about 2 seconds to jump from the moving train, or threaten to jump. If these men genuinely support womxn and want a better future for the incredible womxn in their lives (and the men and boys, because a fairer society will benefit all), they would not be so quick to bail on womxn as soon as things get a little uncomfortable. Self reflection and introspection is hard. Emotional labour is hard. No one knows this better than womxn.
Men have the privilege to decide if and when to get on and off the gender equality train. There are definitely womxn who feel that they are privileged enough not to ride this train either, but many of us do not have this luxury. This is a matter of survival for us, and many womxn won’t make it to the so-called terminus of gender equality without being assaulted, raped or murdered.
I am well aware that men’s cooperation is necessary to move society forward on a number of different issues relating to womxn’s rights. I won’t go into specifics about these issues in this story. However, I see inherent challenges in men and womxn working together in partnership. Firstly, the power imbalance reinforced over centuries of subjugation and abuse cannot just be forgotten when men say that they are feminists, and meanwhile other (or the same) men continue to rape, murder, assault and harass. Secondly, there is the real risk that gender equality will just become another movement co-opted by the majority oppressor.
Think about a time you have worked together on a team or group project. One person usually takes on a leadership role and calls the shots, otherwise the project will descend into chaos. The group may decide on the overarching narrative, maybe each person writes a section of the paper, and then the group brings it all together into the final product, with one person in charge of proof reading and submitting. The final product is built on compromise and the will of the leader.
Are womxn going to lead this effort? Or will we still be followers who must compromise (sacrifice) everything we are entitled to, in order to get to “equality”?
While some men haven’t realised that this is all in fact, a test, many have, including my friend Adam. I am amplifying him here:
“Let us guide them [men] to be curious and to seek understanding rather than using a moment when a woman speaks of her experiences about being harassed as an opportunity to lecture her on the ‘right way’ to handle gender equality…Women have endured horrible slogans and objectification for centuries and we as men want to focus on emotive hashtags? Not me.”
When womxn use these hashtags we can weed out the men that are worthy of our trust, from the ones that aren’t. A number of my friends (male and female) have told me that their male friends have come to them after reading my story, seeking conversation or seeking conflict. A man’s reaction to reading womxn’s lived experiences of violence is a reliable barometer to determine whether they can be trusted as partners and friends. Formidable Minna Salami, of MsAfropolitan Blog wrote that womxn “should never love and trust a man who doesn’t question social norms about masculinity. Ever.” I couldn’t agree more.
It seems that some men still need cold, hard facts that prove our oppression. Here are just a few key figures from Australia only, because I need to call out my people — the casual misogynists/bystanders/slut-shamers/victim-blamers who call themselves “good Aussie blokes”. One Australian womxn is killed by a partner or former partner every week. One in three Australian womxn has experienced physical violence, since the age of 15. Eight out of ten womxn aged 18 to 24 were harassed on the street in the past year. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander womxn experience both far higher rates and more severe forms of violence compared to other womxn. (Our Watch)
These are the numbers, but they don’t tell our personal stories or create spaces for us to commiserate about the incredible collective pain that we endure. So by adding a hashtag that says all men must die, that we bathe in and drink male tears for breakfast and that men are trash, womxn are creating these spaces where we can joke about our shared trauma. If we can’t change men’s shitty behaviour, at least we can unite in laughter about it (while screaming and crying on the inside).
There is a stark difference between womxn’s jokes about men and men’s jokes about womxn. Firstly, although womxn would like to extract buckets of male tears to drink and bathe in, there may be logistical difficulty that makes this an impossible task. Contrast this to when a “good Aussie bloke,” friend of my friend posts on Facebook joking about his mate’s rape den (true story, I have screenshots). Which is more likely to occur? Bathing in male tears OR men luring womxn into a space, to sexually assault or rape them? Hmmmm…
Secondly, the approximately two seconds of discomfort that men feel when reading hashtags like #menaretrash #menmustdie etc., or hearing “men have tiny brains” and “men are dumb” is nothing compared to systemic disenfranchisement. And before men ask, no, this is not what oppression feels like either. Straight, cis (and white, depending on where we are geographically) men are still the majority holders of privilege and power in societies. As oppression can only be carried out by those in this position of authority and power, it is not possible for womxn to oppress cis/white-passing men.
When majority/all womxn elected representatives pass legislation that removes men’s ability to make choices about their own body and well-being, when healthcare costs more for men simply because they are a man or it doesn’t even exist where they live, when men experience side effects from bloat to depression to cancer from contraceptives, when men are blamed for their own rape and publicly shamed (or even murdered) because of it, when the justice system prioritises men’s rapists’ futures over theirs, when acid is thrown in men's faces for things they may or may not have done, so on and so forth…then we can talk about how it feels to be disenfranchised institutionally and systemically. (Just noting here that trans people, and womxn of colour experience these injustices even more acutely than white/cis folks)
Men will deny this until the cows come home because it is a matter of ego, but every man in this world has been a bystander to public and private misogyny and this is why it is so hard for men to hear womxn’s reality without taking personal offense. Men will always see a part of themselves in stories about the perpetrators of our harassment. However, it is no longer a question of “good men” and “bad men.” It is in fact a question of where men are on a spectrum that can shift and change over time, the more introspection, self-work, and calling out of misogyny that they do.
Australian feminist author and general badass, Clementine Ford defines the feminist movement as one that “seeks to empower men to be something other than the reductive stereotypes so heavily ascribed to them.” Indeed this piece would be biased if I didn’t mention some of the empowered men I know who have smashed through these stereotypes by raising and nurturing me to be the badass bitch I am today.
My dad always wished for a daughter and when I finally came, seven years after my older brother, he was over the moon. My dad decoupled gender from capability and growing up I never really considered that my brother and I were any different simply because he was male and I was female. If he played soccer, I played soccer; if he played the violin, I played the violin, so on and so forth.
When my dad extricated himself from our lives, my brother stepped into his shoes. He taught me to love fiercely and without abandon, speak my mind, ask the hard questions, stand up for myself and never shy away from a hearty debate. My violin teachers invested as much time, emotion and energy in me as they did with their male students. My co-worker when I worked in government gave me the confidence and drive to confront injustice head on, because silence is complicity and is just as bad as being the perpetrator. These men buck the typical Australian male “good Aussie bloke” and “footy bloke” personas that are deeply entrenched in casual misogyny and racism, rape culture and toxic masculinity. Instead, they embrace emotional literacy, vulnerability and introspection. They should not be anomalies. They must become the norm.
The main reason I am writing these stories is to provoke dialogue; exposing deep-seated emotions and feelings will be par for the course. When confronted with a little discomfort, people are prompted to have conversations that they would otherwise never have. That being said, (some) men have reacted poorly to this discomfort and will probably continue to.
So now I must talk about rules of engagement:
I always want to hear what men have to say, provided that they respond productively and reflectively without discounting my and other womxn’s experiences of oppression, cursing at me and invading my and my female friends’ personal spaces with aggressive and/or problematic private messages. Don’t be that person. No one has time for that shit and I will block any and all man-babies who disregard the sanctity of my emotional wellbeing by engaging in this behaviour.
And lastly, the more that you try to silence me, the louder I will yell.