This one’s for the men.
I scrolled through my facebook feed today passing countless posts of “me too”, the result of Sunday’s tweet by Alyssa Milano. The storm of “me toos” comes in response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and is meant to call attention to the gravity and prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment that women experience. Most women, myself included, are scrolling through our facebook and twitter feeds unsurprised. So whose attention are we calling?
Well, it’s men.
Many men* are shocked by these displays of solidarity and en masse survivorship every time. Of course they are. Firstly, men do not exist in a world where concern about being sexually harassed or assaulted lies beneath every decision they make. Secondly, if that many women are being sexually harassed and assaulted on a daily basis, it stands to reason that more men are sexual predators than anyone would like to believe. But is it that there are more sexual predators? Or is it more likely that men in general commit more sexually predatory actions than we’d like to believe?
Most men can take a look at Brock Turner and not see themselves in him. Most men can hear stories about violent sexual assaults and not find themselves reflected in the perpetrator’s face. But there’s a strong disconnect between what men picture when someone says “rapist”, and what women picture. The men who assault women are overwhelmingly their friends or acquaintances. They are quite rarely the kinds of perpetrators that we see on Law and Order: SVU. And while many of them are predatory, some of them are quite simply ignorant and misogynist.
Today, I talked to two men that I love about sexual assault, and about the #MeToo Movement. Both of them had the same reaction: men need to hold themselves accountable for the mistakes that they have made. This is not a case of strangers in a faraway place assaulting your female friends while you’re nowhere to be found. This is a case of that time when you took a girl home from the bar and you were both trashed, and right before things went all the way you realized she was no longer conscious, and you went ahead anyway. This is a case of that time that your girlfriend was asleep and you thought it’d be okay, because you’ve slept with her a thousand times before and she’s always allowed you access to her body, so why not this time?
I’m sure most men can dredge up some story, recent or far in the past, about a time that they’re still not sure about, that they wished they had asked about then or handled differently in the moment. Maybe somewhere out there, there’s a woman who’s typing “me too” and thinking about you.
Both of the men I spoke to today about #MeToo have those stories. Both of them are willing to share them, are holding themselves accountable, are recognizing that in the light of hindsight and years of experience and the emotional labor of their female friends they can see and admit things about those experiences that they’ve never been able to see and admit before. For me, this is the true goal of #MeToo. I don’t want any more generalized apologies from allied men, no more “I’m sorry that happened to you” or “I’m sorry this is happening to you”. I need more than that. I want you to hold yourselves accountable. I want you to recognize that you may have made mistakes that have hurt women, may have done things purposefully and selfishly that have hurt women. I want you to tell other men these stories. I want you to stop saying, “I had no idea- women don’t talk to me about these things,” because women are only half of the equation here, and you are the other half.
I want an internet-wide movement of men admitting that they have hurt women, that they are holding themselves accountable, that they are willing to learn and grow from that place. I want men to face those memories that make them sick and queasy with guilt and recognize that their discomfort does not measure up to the discomfort of the people they hurt.
Men who can do this have the power to change the world for women.
This is not a “women’s issue”. This is absolutely a “men’s issue”. If you want to stop seeing the #MeToo posts, if you want to stop hearing about catcalling and sexual assaults of the women you care about, then Men, you need to talk to each other about sexual harassment and assault. Share your stories. Talk to each other about how to prevent your friends and acquaintances from sexually harassing and assaulting the women in your community. Tell your boys to quit with the unsolicited dick pics, and with feeding women shots at the bar. Listen to your female friends when they come to you about a guy you know. Volunteer to talk to him about his behavior, if that’s what she needs. Don’t rush to defensiveness when a woman says that you’ve made her uncomfortable.
Hold yourselves and each other accountable.
*While I am specifically speaking about sexual assault of women by men in this post, I am aware of the prevalence of sexual assault in the LGBTQ community, in prisons, etcetera, which is why I chose to not specify “straight” when I referred to men and women (I also did not want to erase the identities of queer men and women who may be victims or perpetrators of heterosexual assault and harassment).