Dear Men: You Can Do Better
Although I am completely, absolutely, entirely exhausted from explaining women’s issues to men in the hopes that they will listen instead of saying “okay, but not me!” it seems we are not quite finished. Large-scale predators like Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., and Kevin Spacey are finally being held accountable for their actions, and it has been heartening indeed to see condemnation of these creeps from men. But I don’t want to simply give men a pat on the back for this because the bar is so incredibly low. It takes no courage whatsoever to write a tweet about how you’ll miss watching House of Cards but you just can’t do it anymore because Kevin Spacey and Frank Underwood are apparently one and the same. It takes no courage whatsoever to insert “yeah, he is hilarious and smart, but I guess he’s a sexual harasser” in conversations about Louis C.K. So while your efforts are nice, I want to see so much more from the men in my life.
What I desperately want to make clear is this: just because you have not sexually assaulted a woman does not mean your hands are clean. Every time you stay quiet when you hear a rape joke, you are contributing to our misogynistic society that allowed men like Donald Trump to become president despite the allegations against him. Every time you grab a woman by her body parts in a bar, you are assaulting her personhood and her agency to simply exist without being an object in a man’s general vicinity. Every time you argue with a woman who is trying to explain her own account of sexual harassment or assault to you, probably at the great risk of reliving terrible personal trauma, by saying “but not all men are like that!” you are invalidating that woman’s experience.
Every woman has an experience of harassment or assault. This probably was an astounding statement the first time you heard it, but it is one hundred percent true. The reason it is true is because there are so many small things that happen to us on a daily basis that you are completely unaware of, and why should you be? They don’t affect you, so they are often invisible. I know it can be difficult to look at yourself and wonder about what wrongs you might have committed to women without even realizing it because of the patriarchal structure of our society that has kept you in the dark. But that’s what women are asking for now: we are asking you to look at yourselves. We are not saying that every time you made an inappropriate joke you should be prosecuted as if you committed rape. We are only asking that you recognize the fact that your tiny behaviours contribute to a larger system that oppresses women in every single aspect of life. In reading many articles on harassment and assault over the last few weeks, this idea stuck out to me: sure, men are afraid of being attacked or raped at night too, but only women have plans for trying to keep themselves safe. Only women carry pepper spray in their purses and hold their keys between their fingers as a weapon. Only women feel they are safest in a group. Only women.
Allow me to speak for the men in my own life when I say it must be getting really boring for all of your words and actions to be picked apart. I’m sure that’s super, super hard. I can see the light leave your eyes when I begin to speak because you know I’m about to open the feminist floodgates. But I am angry as hell, and I have been for so long. I am furious and it’s exhausting, but I also know that it is so necessary to keep the pressure on men, to insist on difficult conversations even when we could just as easily talk about sports or the weather. To quote the brilliant Lindy West: “Like every other feminist with a public platform, I am perpetually cast as a disapproving scold. But what’s the alternative? To approve? I do not approve. Not only are women expected to weather sexual violence, intimate partner violence, workplace discrimination, institutional subordination, the expectation of free domestic labor, the blame for our own victimization, and all the subtler, invisible cuts that undermine us daily, we are not even allowed to be angry about it.”
I do not approve of men’s inability to look inward and to charge themselves with their own small crimes. I do not approve of being talked over, of being actually-ed, of being scoffed at. I do not approve of men continuing to hold up the patriarchal structure (under which, through toxic masculinity, they suffer as well – but that topic is for another day) just because it’s extremely uncomfortable to be introspective when it comes to sexual violence. I am sick of being scared at night. I am sick of being afraid to turn my back for one second in a bar for fear my drink might be drugged. I am sick of being on my highest guard in a professional setting for fear that my actions may be perceived as some sort of ‘invitation’ to invade my space and assault my body or my mind. I am sick of avoiding men’s gazes. I am sick of being afraid to say no. Men must take responsibility and take this historic moment as a chance – for crying out loud, make it about yourselves, men! Harassment and assault is disproportionately your problem, so you are the ones who must create the solution.