From the day women are born, we are responsible for everything we do and what is done to us.
From the day men are born, we make excuses for everything they do to themselves and others.
This seems to be culturally universal and I won’t even begin to unpack why this is, but I will talk about how this manifests in my life, as well as hurts everyone.
Women have been responsible for sexual violence as long as I can remember. We are trained from a young age to be on guard, to mistrust strangers, to wear appropriate clothing, and to protect our virtue. When it comes to the violence itself, women are the ones most implicated:
I’ve apologized to a man whose sexual advances made me feel uncomfortable because I thought I had disappointed him by refuting these advances. I followed up with him to make sure we were cool. I hated myself for it, but I was more worried about losing the connection (it was a business situation) than I was angry about feeling violated. When the Jian Ghomeshi trial was going on and women were being told their testimony was invalid because they followed up after the assaults, I sunk a little deeper into my personal shame.
This man was a gatekeeper to opportunities. Of course, I was never granted those opportunities after that incident. I told myself to be smarter and swallowed mountains of anger and shame and moved on.
Well, I sort of moved on. Every incident like that has left a shadow that casts itself over all of my relationships.
Women are responsible for all women ever in nearly every situation.
When I step onto a stage to talk about my expertise, I represent all women. If I have a good day, I represent them well. I open up minds in the audience to listen to other women speak authoritatively. If I have a bad day, I ruin chances for all women. I reinforce the stereotype that women are bad speakers.
When I’m given an opportunity to lead a project, I represent all female leadership. If I succeed and am the best right kind of leader, one who inspires and encourages and works my ass off and leads her team to victory, I open the opportunity that women can be great leaders, too. I change the face of what a leader looks like. But if I fail and stumble or struggle in my leadership role, I just reinforce the idea that women aren’t strong leaders.
When a mediocre man*, one who is unprepared and rambly, gets up on the stage and bombs, he, himself is a bad speaker. Well, sometimes he is seen that way. Sometimes people make excuses for him: “He’s an eccentric genius,” “That’s his style,” “There were lots of great nuggets.” Either way, a man that sucks at speaking doesn’t implicate all male speakers in his incompetence.
[* I went to a conference last week where nearly every white guy got up to talk and said, “I thought I’d just throw out some things, but then open the floor to questions.” My first question, “Why are you wasting my time? PREPARE!” I could never get away with that sh*t.]
Same goes for leadership. There are so many terrible male leaders, but I’ve never heard anyone say, “Men are terrible to work for,” or “Men just don’t make strong leaders,” or “People just don’t like to follow men.”
Women have to perform, not just for themselves, but in order to change the perception for their entire gender.
I’m the first to admit that I wasn’t the perfect mother. I love my son so much and, as he grew up, I wanted the best for him, so I tried to make sure he was always happy and healthy. Admittedly, though, I had a tough time balancing being a mother with being a driven career woman. (Ugh, even now I’m so riddled with guilt, I can’t even write this without hating myself.)
Either way, my son’s father was very absent from his life and he always seemed to get a pass. He was a pilot, you know. His work was time-demanding. He wasn’t equipped, you know.
I didn’t have any more children after my son because I realized that I wanted to prioritize my career. My ex-husband went on to have three more.
When my ex-husband prioritized his career over being a father, it made him a bad father — at worst — but mostly it was excused. When I prioritized my career over being a mother, it made me a bad person. Period.
Women are emotional. Men are passionate.
Women are demanding. Men are assertive.
Women are “ambitious”. Men are go-getters.
Women are self-promotional. Men hustle.
Women are bitches. Men are perfectionists.
Blah blah blah.
I was presenting at the Personal Democracy Forum in 2009 — get this, I was doing a fireside chat with Douglas frickin’ Rushkoff (one of my heroes) — and a male colleague of mine came up to me afterwards and said:
“Hey. I want to give you some advice,” he said (pro tip: most good advice doesn’t follow that opening), “People are saying you’re a little too self-promotional.”
All I could do was get defensive. Then I thanked him. I walked away and swallowed another mountain of anger and shame.
My husband was the first man in years (maybe even my life?) that saw through my anger and bravado and recognized the whole woman underneath. On our second date, I told him I was tired of dating drama and didn’t want to deal with another man who couldn’t handle a strong woman. He answered, “Honestly, I’ve wondered what I could possibly offer you. But then I realized that you are probably tired of being Miss Rogue day and night and might want someone you can just be yourself around.”
I almost fell to the ground and bawled like a baby. Instead, I let him in. I’m glad I did. It wasn’t a line. He’s helped me lift the shadows slowly, but surely. He’s helped me purge some of those mountains of shame and anger. I don’t have to have my defences up with him.
But that doesn’t mean I dropped the defensiveness right away. Years of shame and anger and carrying the entire future on my shoulders led to me pushing him away for many of our early years. I hated myself, so why should he love me.
I’m not writing this to get pity. I don’t want pity. I’m writing this because you know many women who feel this way inside. You think they are angry bitches, but they aren’t. They hate themselves. They would sooner destroy their own lives than to be vulnerable to another moment where they had to swallow more of that pain.
So many times, I stood outside of myself and watched as I destroyed, and I kept thinking, “Don’t do this. Let down the wall. This isn’t you.”
Have you ever seen the cartoon Moana? [spoiler alert] Well, you find out that the lovely goddess Ta Fiti, who provides greenery and life to the Polynesian Islands, was the demon Te Kā, who is spreading death and destruction, all along. Either way, I was Ta Fiti, watching my Te Kā destroying everything.
We need to stop the phrase and the idea that “boys will be boys.” We need to make boys responsible for their actions and take the extraneous responsibilities away from girls. We are stunting boys’ growth and putting such a pressure on girls that they can’t possibly shoulder it without consequences.
I know that there are already parents that do this because my husband exists, as do so many men that I’ve worked with over the years who treated me as a peer. Men who will call me on my shit, but not make me feel shame. Men with whom I’ve shared many drinks, but never used my drunkenness to their advantage. Men who will stand up to other men who want to put me in my place for being too ambitious. These men are amazing, whole people.
Most of the women I know have been whole people for as long as I can remember — most likely because we have to be so damned self-aware from such a young age. I want the same for men.
The day of reckoning is upon us — the number of men being unveiled as predators who wielded their power unabashedly to their own satisfaction is astounding. The part of me who is still angry and ashamed is satisfied — calling for blood like a pitchfork wielding villager — but the healed part of me is saddened.
Not sad for them and what is happening — hell, this is the perfect opportunity for them to heal, too, and become self-aware and whole — but sad that I doubt that this will lead to their self-awareness. I hear too much of the “boys will be boys” type excuses being thrown around for these men. Hell, even I want to reach out and oddly protect them — especially those men I know…even after I was a victim of their sexist bro-culture myself for many years!
I don’t want to see them burned and destroyed, though. I just want to see them understand. Like REALLY understand. Call me naive, but I still believe that there is basic good in everyone — like Dr. Phil Zimbardo says, “There are no bad apples, only bad barrels” — and “boys will be boys” is SUCH a bad barrel for men.
I have no conclusions or big lessons to share. Only a lot of stuff buried deep down inside of me over the years that I couldn’t bear to surface until recently. The bravery of people like Rose McGowan, Jemele Hill, Colin Kaepernick, and the hundreds of thousands of women and men who followed this up with speaking out and support gives me hope.
I just ask that we wipe “boys will be boys” — both the saying and the sentiment — out of our culture. I no longer want to be accountable for anyone else’s actions but my own. I’m old and I’m tired and I’ve earned the right to be responsible for just me. I’m sure there are many women who read this who feel the same.
As part of this, let’s hold these men accountable and make them feel accountable. Burning and destroying may feel good right now, but it won’t change anything. I don’t know how they learn and see, but I’d love to try.