There is a growing conversation about the global culture of violence against women. Our media is flooded with images and headlines of men who have behaved in very heinous ways towards others in our society. We witnessed the monumental #MeToo movement, in which we pretended to be “shocked” by how many women so close to us suffered violence, specifically sexual violence at the hands of our brothers, friends, colleagues and ourselves. This conversation, and the light that is shining on this issues has been a long time coming. It’s been coming for centuries.
For some, it’s a really hard conversation to participate in. Some men get defensive and feel the need to stick up for men everywhere.
Woman: “We live in a rape culture where men objectify women from the earliest ages and reduce us to mere sexual objects with very little other value”.
Man: “Not all men”.
While its true that perhaps not all men commit acts of rape or sexual assault or other noticeable infractions. That not all men utilize violence as a method of controlling their partners, the hard pill to swallow here is that all men participate in this culture. We participate when we actively choose to ignore the pain that our fellow humans are made to endure. We participate by telling rape or violence jokes. We participate by touching without consent, or assuming consent. We participate when we invalidate the experiences of the women who surround us, opting to call them liars or some other unsavory name. We participate when we don’t hold our brethren accountable for their crimes. Every time a “John” isn’t held accountable for his crimes against a woman/girl, another predator gets his wings. You see fellas, when we don’t hold bad men accountable for the awful things we do, we are complicit in the crime. We are quite literally acting in concert on a moral and witnessable level.
It takes a very serious amount of internal work to get to a place where you are able to recognize that as “good men” it’s not enough to refrain from raping and beating our partners and children. It’s not enough to threaten to shoot any man who would dare lay a finger on your precious little girl. What has to happen is something as monumental as the crime. We all need to look inside ourselves and examine what it is we actually believe about women. What value do we assign to them and how do we want to react when they demand better. Rape and intimate partner violence is not a “women’s issue”. It’s everyone’s issue. Let’s ask ourselves, “men”... if you believe that the way women are treated is wrong, and you also believe “Not all men”, what is it that stops you from confronting men who are to blame, who make jokes in that way, who actively demonstrate the potential for problematic behavior by addressing underage women, who brag about awful things to gain esteem? To all you “good men” out here, what is it do you think you owe these guys?
Quite literally we don’t owe any of them anything. We don’t owe them the authority to define masculinity in heinous and barbaric ways. We don’t owe them the right to hide amongst us, allowing them to believe that they can fundamentally alter the lives of other human beings in painful and gruesome ways and then retreat to this “safe space” provided by a strategically crafted hegemony. We also don’t have to allow them the authority to take our masculinity away when we refuse to behave in such abominable ways.
If you want to be a better man in the face of this movement, if you want to give up the ghost of defending men who are guilty of atrocities globally, and if you want to be a Man who is actively making the world safer for women and everyone else start small.
1. Listen to what the women around you are saying. Believe them. Stop pretending that their experiences are misunderstandings. They are not.
2. Don’t become defensive in conversations where “men’s” behavior are being discussed. Try validating what you are hearing. Chances are you have observed directly what she is saying, and even if you haven’t, this isnt anything that’s a surprise to us at this point. A lot of us have seen our fathers hit our mothers, we have seen headlines where guys are not going to prison for sexual assault on underage, unconscious, trying to get to class/work/home/anywhere on time women. If you’re in a conversation and you feel the need to become defensive, instead of saying something unhelpful and problematic try saying something like...
- “You know, men have been responsible for a lot of harm”
-“It must be really scary to witness people who are supposed to be protecting you, take advantage of you” -“Yeah, that’s really fucked up”.
3. Listen to our sisters as they tell us what it’s like to have a moment of panic each time a stranger walks past them at night...or during the day...or is in the elevator with them...or in the parking garage...or at the doctors office...if you’re not afraid in these situations we have just found a fraction of our male privilege. You can stop denying it now.
4. Look for ways to show that you’re not a threat to her. If she is your bestie, ask her for a hug instead of just taking one. If you’re walking down the street just generally announce your presence as you pass by unexpectedly from behind. Support her when she chooses to hold him accountable for his crimes against her, and encourage other “good men” to abandon their alliances with those who commit these acts and work collaboratively with her as she teaches us how to make the world safe for all of us.