Simple exchanges among friends on Facebook.
Sublime. Seering. Calling out.
I woke up this morning with this almost fully formulated, spilling off my dreaming brain…
If you are feeling a little unmoored, disoriented, uncertain how to act or even whether to speak, if you feel as if people are blaming you for things you never did, never even knew about, I just want to say, “I understand”. We are in uncomfortable times.
I am going to ask you to sit a minute with this:
If a repudiation of one man (okay, lots of men, but individually, for specific grievances) stirs in you the feeling that *you* are being attacked, or “men” in general, all men everywhere are being unfairly destroyed, you might want to take a look at why you feel that way…
What is it in you that makes this conversation about you?
If you have never done such things, would never consider doing such things, how does it hurt you that suddenly the veil has been pulled back?
Why does it make you so uncomfortable?
If it’s because you truly had no idea the extent, variety, pervasiveness, scope, scale, whatever of harassment, discrimination, and assault endured by women and girls (and, yes, men and boys, but jeez, stop with that for *one* *damn* *second*) and now you’re looking at every guy you see with new eyes, wondering how he acts around little girls, or whether he gets grabby with the interns, well, welcome to our world, the one we’ve been living in for all of our lives.
The one we’ve been trying to show you.
The one we’ve been trying to change for our children and grandchildren and so on.
I am going to ask of you two things: to dig deeply into why you feel so uncomfortable, and to both resist and explore the urge to deflect and deny.
All morning, stuck in my head for no obvious reason, a lyric: “Tell me why you cried / And why you lied to me”
It played over and over like that “living on easy street” clip on Walking Dead: torturous but familiar.
I know why I cried. I lied that I was okay because I knew no one believed nor cared.
Let’s make this world one where someone believes and cares.
I think what makes me so angry is the inability to stay focused for a hot minute on the women coming forward. It is another way of dismissing and minimizing our collective experience.
What’s so complicated is the numbers game. Not every man, but yes every woman.
Like racism, the tough questions are grappling with institutional sexism. Not every white person wears a hood, but there are very tough questions we have to ask ourselves about how we benefit from “privilege” as white folks. My disappointment is profound that many allies don’t ask those same questions about sexism.
We, women, survived, and many of us ultimately thrived. Neither our strength nor our silence imply consent. We are not complicit simply because we found ways to love openly, to build beautiful lives. In this moment, though, give us time to be angry before asking us to nurture again, before we have to affirm your individual goodness. As you said, if that’s your focus as a man in this moment, you might ask yourself why.
But my attention is on the 14, 16, 22, 30 year old girls and women of the past, present and future.
If you’re a man who knows women, please be aware that most of us are feeling deeply, and feeling confusing and conflicting things.
Seeing women believed about how they were made to feel like helpless prey, and men held accountable for that, is cathartic. It validates the ways we tend to disbelieve our own selves about the things that happened to us.
But that process is also painful. I thought I’d worked through all the ways I was sexually assaulted, but something about the allegations against Garrison Keillor reminded me of an incident I’d forgotten, where an older man called to me as I was leaving a restaurant alone, in broad daylight, and when I stopped to see what he wanted, he groped me in public, then hobbled to his car, leering and laughing as I sat in my car, shaking and helpless with rage, and wondering if I’d imagined the whole thing.
If you’ve never had someone treat you as an object, assert dominance over you, and derive enjoyment over your inability to react, it’s difficult to explain how traumatic that is. It takes a piece of you, because that person treated you as less than human. Regaining that piece is difficult, long, and confusing.
If you’re a man, the best thing you can do for the women in your life right now is simply believe them. Without question. Believe their stories, validate their feelings about them, and above all, don’t take their anger personally. Don’t burden them with the job of validating your good guy status. Ask yourself that question, and prove it through your empathy and love.
I’m so lucky to be married to a man who does all the above, and I can’t describe to you what a refuge it is.”
Things Were DIFFERENT Then?
This goes out to the men, of a certain age, back when “things were different,” 40 years ago they say; except that 40 years ago, I was 14, and even though I wasn’t male, I actually felt every bit a person as the men alone assumed they were; so that the only thing that was “different” was that there weren’t as many voices holding space for my non-male humanity; but back to YOU–MEN of a different generation–Those who I worked alongside as I came of age, in sometimes intimate settings, or with whom I shared cocktails on a Friday evening after work, or bumped up against at a gathering of some sort–personal or professional–You who did not seek to diminish or degrade or grope (let alone rape me)–despite how much we had to drink, or what I was wearing or how flirtatious I might have seemed or even if it was really late at night and I didn’t belong or was priviledged to belong, as the only non-male among you.
Must I thank you? Must I celebrate you? Must I be grateful that you did not assume my humanity as less than yours?
I am grateful. I do thank you. But I won’t wait any longer for you to stand beside me and say: