Intellectually, I’ve known that life is different for women. I know that I can do simple things without fear, like go running by myself, get drunk at a bar, or (mostly) speak my mind to male work colleagues and superiors and not worry about repercussions. And I’ve coasted on “knowing” that.
After all, I don’t rape women. Or withhold promotions from them. Not all men, amiright?
Nearly every woman I know on social media can say #metoo. And, with the topic competing with everything else going on, it could very well be all women and I just missed their posts because football players did something that made our president mad or something. Which means that, statistically, there’s no possible way that it’s just one or two Bad Guys here or there. Nearly every man, including myself, has some role in these stories.
There are two possibilities here. Either:
a) Men aren’t taught what sexual harassment and assault are ( … burden of proof is on men by this point, so doubtful).
b) Men are giving ourselves way too much latitude – as in, “OK, I did that one thing once, but it was one time, and I didn’t do something worse, so I’m not a Bad Guy.”
I’m absolutely certain the answer is b. Not that we shouldn’t continue to teach men and boys (and, really, everyone) what consent actually looks like and how much of a better time it makes for everyone. But, every woman? Every woman in the free, Internet-using world has a #metoo story? Every woman has been sexually assaulted or harassed?
Education isn’t enough. It’s time for a reckoning. Men need to take accountability for their actions and reconsider their past. We need to start our own “Me, too” campaign (but not #metoo, that’s taken). As in, every man is most likely part of the problem? Me, too.
I’ll start. My past could be better.
In high school, I thought it would be funny to decorate the girls’ dressing room before a play with bananas, apples, and oranges “playfully arranged” to look like full dick and ball sets. Complete with frosted tips – y’know, because jizm. If they saw it as just a prank, great.
But, what if they thought they had to “go along with it?” Nobody wants to seem difficult or get a cast member in trouble. Did I get a pass because it was more important to start the play on time?
I did not have permission to go into their dressing room. My intent was for the room to be empty, but what if I walked in on someone getting changed? No one was in the room, but does that make me less of a bad guy?
What if someone was going through something even worse (e.g., abuse), and I just reminded them of it because I think dicks and balls and cum are funny? Or somehow made this hypothetical abuser seem normal, that “all guys are like this,” so it’s not a big deal? I’ll probably never know if that was the case, but considering the possibility doesn’t make me feel like I’m much better than some other Bad Guy.
I also catcalled women on at least one occasion during college on a friends’ front stoop into an alley people used as a shortcut all the time. It seemed funny to me. Maybe it was funny to my friends, or maybe they weren’t going to call me on it if it bothered them because who wants to make trouble, right? I wasn’t going to do anything to these women, but how the fuck were they supposed to know that?
I hate what I did. I hate that I thought it was funny – at the time and some years later. And I hate that it’s not until much later that I see where I contributed to someone’s #metoo. It’s not that I didn’t “intellectually know” that these things were wrong – it’s that I gave myself a pass because, c’mon, it’s not like I raped somebody.
As multiple writers have pointed out this week, “it’s not like I raped somebody” is the laziest benchmark for being a decent person. We all easily determine, every day, who sucks at driving long before they kill someone. Usually, they just have to cut us off or run a red light. And we didn’t have to wait for every child in the ‘70s to be staked to the ground before deciding that lawn darts were a bad idea.
Men need a better benchmark for ourselves, especially when it may not even be true – did we get consent every time we went under the shirt? Maybe? Or did she put up with it because she wasn’t supposed to be alone in the house with a boy or drinking, which she’d have to admit to if she said anything?
And, we need to be better friends to our fellow men. Letting shit like this slide isn’t good friendship, isn’t good for men or women, and is how we ended up with an entire of generation of women saying #metoo. If we want to pretend that men haven’t learned what is and isn’t acceptable behavior by now, then it is our duty to refresh that lesson when our brothers forget it.
Intellectually “knowing” or being woke (bruh) isn’t enough. I’ve been in meetings where women in similar positions or sometimes higher were interrupted. Or, once they walked out of the room, their ideas were ignored at best or derided by the boys’ club. I always advocate for my peers, but that doesn’t erase a time I failed to speak up in the past. Or, as evidenced above, a shitty thing I did.
My point isn’t to make up for anything. I can’t undo that; we can’t undo everything we’ve done to women to this point. But it won’t get better for women unless we stop pretending what we did was OK or “not that bad.” We need to pledge to do better, be better, and raise our next generation to do the same from the very beginning.
For every #metoo, there’s a man who did it. Women aren’t assaulted; someone assaults them. Women aren’t harassed; someone harasses them. Women aren’t listened to; we’re not listening to them.
We need to own our part in this. Me, too.