This is not an essay. This is a request.
The public conversation about sexual assault taking place online is getting exhausting, especially for women. And, also, men.
Women are exhausted because, essentially, they are now reliving sexual trauma nearly every time they open their computer, check twitter, or turn on their television. It is also partially because women are confessing, sharing, revealing and all but literally begging for the widespread problem of sexual assault to be addressed — but we are doing all those verbs at a brick wall. A potential rapist was rushed to confirm to sit on our nation’s highest court, where his job is to serve the very thing he couldn’t give his likely victim: justice. It leaves you feeling a little hollow, bruised, powerless, as if you’re staring at a white ceiling, asking yourself “what just happened?”
Justice Kavanaugh’s rushed senate hearing, uninvestigated assault charges, and subsequent confirmation has started a chain reaction of public dialogues on men’s consistent, blameless sexual assault of women, and more importantly, how our culture permits it far too easily. Yes, women can be perpetrators of sexual violence, and, yes, there are thousands of male and trans victims out there, still struggling in silence. But it is the specific, culturally and statistically common problem of men assaulting women, and getting away with it, that Kavanaugh has coerced into the cultural spotlight.
Despite the glaring focus that has cast sexual assault out of the shadows, the solution to the problem of sexual violence is stagnant. It will stay stagnant until something critical happens: men start speaking up.
That is not a typo. I am referring to the masculine half of our still-largely-gender-binary society.
Outlying meme’s aside, men are fairly tight-lipped about the whole business of sexual assault (except, of course, for those who vocally attempt to shove it back into the shadows, but this request is not for them); women are doing the talking.
I am convinced this is not because men “just don’t care.”
I believe a good number of men see the #metoo movement as a conversation they don’t really have a right to take part in. This is a time for women’s stories, the recognition and support of female victims. It would be quite selfish if they appeared to be overpowering the shaky voices of victims with their own privileged opinions. So, they don’t speak. Listening has become the only polite and respectful thing to do.
Except, I think, their opinions are what is desperately needed.
Because we have been focusing on women’s stories of sexual violence, sexual violence has been categorized as a “women’s issue.” It’s an easy mental step that appears logical: sexual assault happens to them, ergo, it’s their problem. But this is a false equation. We have effectively conflated victim’s bravery with the responsibility of solving the thing that hurts them.
Women are not going to solve the sexual assault crisis. Men are.
In our justice system, it’s never assumed that it’s the victim’s responsibility to solve the faults of their offenders. By the same token, women need to stop pretending our culture’s acceptance of male sexual violence is women’s problem to solve. It’s not. This is an issue for the male community. No female social media blackout, girl-powered tweet storm, or panel of distinguished women’s studies professors is going to fix America’s love affair with toxic masculinity. Only men can look at each other and define what it is to be a good man. Regular, every day, white and blue collar men. (Jackson Katz calls this out much more eloquently than me).
Speaking more frankly, I am tired of trying to tell men what is appropriate or inappropriate behavior. I also suspect that men, even those most feminist-leaning, pussy-hat wearing, goddess-worshipping of them all, get irritated when a woman tells them what is “correct” or “incorrect” behavior for them to display (and ladies, you know we do this a lot). Aside from my lack of experience being a man, it’s always just felt like bad manners.
However, to you men who feel hen-pecked, there is a reason we keep f**** pecking about this stuff. You have not been living up to your end of the gender re-definition plan that three-to-six waves of feminism have been ushering in for the past 100 years.
But, perhaps it’s not your fault. Although it might seem obvious, no one has really asked you. In fact, not a lot of people believe you can, or want, to do this.
In our culture, male violence is viewed as a standard feature of having an XY chromosome. After all, openly bragging about sexual assault won’t even disqualify you from becoming the President of the Free World, and being very credibly accused of it will be little more than a speed bump on your way to a supreme court seat. It is unremarkable, expected, normal. “Boys will be boys,” where “boys” = predators (and women will be their victims). This is not my original thought; This is gender studies 101. Countless books have been written on how patriarchy — men’s inherent dominion over women — shapes every facet of our culture. It is the water you are swimming in, whether you’re a little pink fish or a little blue fish — why would you question it unless it was hurting you? If you’re a boy, your gender norm includes a perfectly normalized propensity for violence, principally sexual violence. I mean, you might get in a little trouble, but, hey, you’re only a boy. You have urges, right? You can’t be asked to help yourself.
If you’re offended by that, good. This is masculinity as we know it today. And it’s a fucking disaster.
Granted, some men DO find this definition offensive, and a bit alarming. Pieces like Cassie Jay’s documentary The Red Pill, Tony Porter’s 10-year-old, under-viewed TEDTalk, and, to an extent, this little social media post by Francesca Fiorentini’s on Newsbroke, are some examples of people welcoming men to the conversation about the societal norms that push them to do, and get away with, terrible things against women’s bodies.
But this shift is quiet. For the most part, you don’t hear gaggles of men running around asking each other “gee, this is a real issue. What’s up with the normalcy of our gender’s sexual violence against women, guys?”
I have heard some theories as to why:
“Men don’t want to talk about this stuff” and “men prefer to punch rather than talk.” These are real arguments against men’s lack of participation in gender politics that I have heard for years.
They are hot garbage. Women, we need to stop saying this to men.
Firstly, saying absolute, dismissive statements like “men don’t like to talk about their feelings” and “men are just naturally more violent” is myopic and hypocritical if you truly crave a society where both men and women are expected to be diaper changers and bread winners. Furthermore, the “men just don’t want to talk about it” appeal to ignorance does not give our brothers, sons, fathers, and friends who make up 49% of the world enough credit. Every woman reading this knows and interacts with men who are respectful and thoughtful about their role in society, who listen, care about their impact, and wake up every day just trying to get through it without being an asshole. Believing men are incapable of having a conversation about icky-sticky feelings because they suffer from excess testosterone is a pathetic argument that can’t survive in the gender-equal world you very likely desire to live in.
Another argument is that men have never been left out of the gender politics conversation; they have been encouraged to participate this whole time, their egos are just too soft to really engage. If you believe this, this is where we will start to disagree. Yes, there leagues of male feminists out there who know the lingo and want their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters to be people, not chattel. To quote Caitlin Moran, “we ladies may all toast you in champagne, before coveting your body wildly.” However, many men, even those who consider themselves feminists, still feel that they should not participate in conversations on exploring male violence against women. Because we have classified women’s abuse as a women’s issue, many men believe speaking about women’s abuse in any capacity will make them appear selfish. So chalking men’s silence here up to “male fragility” is lazy, and again, does not give 49% of the world enough credit.
There is more here, if we want to see it.
Take Gabriel Moussa, a teenage babysitter who loves his job, has perfect references, yet loses clients frequently when they find out their children’s babysitter will be a boy. He says, “I should feel comfortable being an empathetic, caring person. But the truth is, I can’t have a serious and personal discussion with most of my male friends. That’s just not what’s expected.”
This kid is smashing the patriarchy with a sledgehammer before he can even vote. For his efforts, he receives distrust from mothers and social isolation from other men.
Another example is Colin Stokes, whose Tedx Talk examines the difference in media heroes given to his daughter, and in contrast, his son, and their lessons about patriarchy. Using Star Wars and the Wizard of Oz, he examines that male protagonists virtually never win the day by making friends, cooperating and helping others, like red-heeled Dorothy. Instead, their message is to fight a battle with a weapon and win a reward — invariably a girl (as if she were a trophy, and not a person). He’s concerned. Now the tide seems to be shifting from portraying girls as damsels, to empowered fighters. But the message for boys has barely shifted at all. Teaching girls to “bring their battle uniform,” through modern heroes like Princess Merida and Katniss Everdeen is great, but he wants more for his sons; “they are doing a phenomenal job of teaching girls how to defend against the patriarchy, but they are not necessarily telling boys how they are supposed to defend against the patriarchy. There are no models for them.”
The comments in the YouTube posting of this video consist of men accusing Stokes of waging war on masculinity itself, and self-proclaimed feminists telling him to shut up.
It appears a lot of us, both men and women, don’t want to hear men talk about how they don’t want to be part of toxic masculinity. America, largely, has not responded well to men and boys who want to release themselves from the demands of patriarchy.
And then we wonder why this problem isn’t fixing itself.
This needs to stop.
Men, I implore you. Please don’t be quiet about sexual assault and toxic masculinity. Let me dissuade you from believing your silence is beneficial. There are people out there who think you don’t want to examine what society expects of you, and what allows your gender to hurt others with little consequence. They think violence and coldness is your natural state. They think you’re fine with living in a society that lets men assault women without investigation or consequence. Prove them wrong. If you’re tired of hearing women debating the right and wrong actions for your gender, take the reigns. Right now, it would actually be really nice to hear “everything is going to be OK, you don’t have to be afraid.” Especially from you.
Women, we do still have a role here. There are men out there who think if they are anything BUT dominant, cold, and controlling, you’ll see them as unattractive, weak, “beta.” Storyline after storyline proves that domination wins women. Flip this narrative. Like books, we need to make empathy sexy. If you go home with a man, and he can’t tell you about one movie that makes him cry, don’t fuck him.
This is not a request for a #notallmen revival, to be clear. This is a request for a #letsfixit. This is a request for “non-violence balls” to replace purity balls, where instead of girls promising their virginity to their fathers, men promise not to assault women. This is a request to set up male violence seminars in the same spaces as women’s self-defense classes. This is a request for women to stop exhausting themselves trying to solve men’s problems.
Women have been at the hammer for some time now, redefining what our gender will and won’t do. To quote comedian Michael Ian Black’s perceptive essay, “to be a girl today is to be the beneficiary of decades of conversation about the complexities of womanhood, its many forms and expressions. Boys, though, have been left behind. No commensurate movement has emerged to help them navigate toward a full expression of their gender.”
It’s men’s turn to pick up that hammer, and let them define, for themselves and to us, what they will and won’t do.