How many #metoo tweets and posts have you seen lately? A lot, I’m guessing. A damn, devastating lot. Which was the point, of course. The campaign was started to demonstrate just how many women suffer sexual violence. As more and more women come out of the woodwork, we are seeing that so, so many women have experienced sexual assault or harassment. Like all of us, pretty much.
How many #metoo tweets and posts have you seen from men? The campaign, which began in response to the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault scandal in Hollywood (edit: apparently it actually began something like a decade ago, but was revived because of this scandal), was created to highlight the male-dominant culture that allows “everyday sexual violence” to be a thing in the lives of women. It’s become an opportunity for people previously silent about having experienced sexual assault and harassment to open up about it and relieve themselves of the burden of secrecy. That includes men, right?
The issue of whether or not men should be part of the #metoo conversation has become hotly contested. In some ways it has usurped the initial conversation this was intended to start, which by all accounts ain’t cool. But since I talk a lot about sexual assault and recovery on this blog, I don’t feel guilty taking a moment to examine the issue. Should men be included in #metoo?
#MeToo Is Also For Men
We know that rape culture affects men too. Toxic masculinity is the result of rape culture. This shows up in effects like the inability to express deep feelings that many men and boys in the United States experience. The pressure to conform to a culture of assholery that says relationships are dumb and using women for sex is cool. Difficult, over-muscled body ideals. Machismo. Men are affected by rape culture.
Men are also raped. Men and boys can be raped by both men and women, too. I’m sure that the men who are tweeting #metoo are telling the truth. They too were violated. I’ve known men who were sexually assaulted. It really messes them up, just as rape and sexual assault messes women up. I don’t want to say that male survivors of sexual assault have it worse; sexual assault is horrific no matter what gender experiences it. But sexual assault challenges the male identity that has been crafted by our toxic society. Men who survive these experiences often feel emasculated. Women who survive sexual assault feel many terrible things, but feeling “less female” isn’t one I’ve heard before. Less sexual, yes–I experience that myself. Less female, definitely not. In this society, being female is, crushingly, tied in with being vulnerable to assault.
I remember hearing the story of a male sexual assault survivor who was raped as a child. He was so confused and dehumanized by the experience that he felt excluded from dreaming. Yes, you read that right. He no longer felt that he had the right to aspire to anything. Another survivor of rape, who is gay, feared telling anyone because he didn’t want them to attribute his sexuality to the trauma.
Men are raped. Men are traumatized by rape. Men are silenced from speaking about their rape. If this moment gives you, a man, the courage to share your truth, then yes, by all means, empower yourself.
#MeToo Is Also Not For Men
The men who are tweeting #metoo are referring to a single incident, or a series of related incidents (probably perpetrated by the same assailant). When women tweet #metoo, we are referring to many, many ongoing incidents.
Take me, for example. When I tweet #metoo, I am not only referring to the statutory rape, date rape, and sexual coercion I experienced at the hands of The Ex. I’m also talking about the man who grabbed my ass in the street when I was eight years old. I’m also talking about the popular boy at my middle school who teased me relentlessly for having small breasts. The stranger at my middle school who called me fat at a school dance and inspired me to become anorexic. The two boys who were my friends that grabbed my ass repeatedly without my permission as we walked home. I’m also talking about the guy who followed me across two buses into my high school when I was 14. The various men who solicited me for prostitution when I was a teenager. The homeless guy who invited me to smoke weed with him at age 16 and then grabbed my breasts when I was stoned. The guy who dated me for a couple weeks, only to reveal–disappointed–that he’d been with me because he wanted to have sex with a virgin. The men who gave me a ride home from the Rainbow Gathering when I was 16, and talked loudly about how fucking me in the ass would “break me.” I’m also talking about my heroin addicted friend who pulled his penis out while we waited for dope and demanded I assure him it was an okay size before putting it back in his pants; who another time attempted to sell me for drugs as though he could. I’m also talking about the friend of my tattoo artist who used to make jokes and watch me get tattoos while my breast or crotch were exposed, and that was supposed to be okay. I’m also talking about my tattoo artist, who had sex with me without disclosing his Hep C status. I’m also talking about the countless guys who have catcalled me from car windows, or told me to smile while walking down the street. The guy who called me a bitch for no reason in the grocery store two months ago. The homeless guy who sat next to me last summer, then told me how plump my breasts looked “for a mom.” I’m also talking about the co-worker who constantly joked about having sex with me, and then acted offended when I finally told him off–“I’m just kidding, jeez, I’m married.” The other guys in the elevator with us who said nothing. I’m also talking about the stranger who grabbed me in the dark street, dragged me down to the sidewalk and attempted to rape me. I’m also talking about my father, who didn’t believe me when I told him–because not believing is a form of violence too. I’m also talking about all the things I didn’t write here, but they are too common to recall. And all the things I didn’t write here, because they are too scary too recall. I’m also talking about the fact that some days I don’t go outside at all, not because I don’t want to be around people, like I say aloud, but because I don’t want to be female around people. I’m also talking about the fact that some days I want to kill myself just because I’m tired of being a woman in this world.
It is a terrible thing to be raped, no matter your gender. But it is a whole other thing to experience sexual violence as a daily experience. And for women–or people who present as women–that is the reality. That is what #metoo is about. That is why it’s not for men.
Don’t Be That Guy
We all derive courage from seeing others do the thing we are most afraid of. If this trend has given you the courage to speak your truth as a sexual assault survivor, then yes, please do it. But don’t change the conversation. Don’t make the whole damn thing about you. Understand, please, that while you deserve to heal, this hashtag is about more than a single experience, or a single person’s experience. It is about a collective experience that women around the globe are having, and you are not. You just are not.
Then there’s the issue that this is an awareness campaign that is kind of all about men. It’s about the experiences of women at the hands of men. If men truly want to be a part of #metoo, I invite you to do it! Yes, participate! Participate by not sexually harassing women. Participate by calling out other guys who do it. Participate by calling out other guys who do it even when there are not other women around. Let’s squash rape culture once and for all, shall we? If that sounds impossible, you’re not trying hard enough. Rape culture ends when you choose not to rape, or condone rape and other forms of sexual violence. If you think you’re not part of the problem, good sir, I guarantee you are.
A man who I knew as a boy got very offended by this campaign. He wrote “Me Too, and if I thought any of you cared, I’d tell you the details.” I understand the pain of feeling unheard, but in the comments below his post, he tried to claim the campaign was a power play. He tried to say that gendering this issue is wrong. The conversation grew uglier and uglier until he was literally deleting the words of women who gave cohesive counter-arguments and then saying no one was giving a good argument why he was wrong. He said that he was sick of seeing white men having to apologize for being white men. And then he said something that shocked me even more. In response to a comment I said about the complictness of people who call known abusers “alright guys,” he said, “Who called your abuser that? Certainly not me.”
Ten years ago, this man who I knew as a boy worked at a phone sales company alongside my abuser. I went there one day, trying to find my boyfriend, pregnant and in tears, I don’t remember about what. He wasn’t there, but this boy was. I asked him, “have you seen my boyfriend.” He said, “no,” he wasn’t in that day. I don’t know why, but in that moment, I broke down. I confessed. I told the man I knew as a boy how badly my boyfriend was treating me. How he hit me–and worse. And the man I knew as a boy replied,
“He actually seems like an alright guy to me.”
More men are complicit in this violence than you realize. We don’t want you to apologize for being men. We just want you to stop making us fear being women.