Image note: The image originally chosen for this topic over on the F4T post has now been changed as it created a conversation surrounding what images are appropriate to accompany the #MeToo movement. Lighting candles at vigils and for those we have lost is common practice and as such I decided that the image I’ve chosen to accompany my words is in keeping with the tone of this post.
When deciding upon the topics for Food for Thought, sometimes we just go ahead and add them to the coming soon list and sometimes we discuss what we’re considering scheduling with our fellow host. When May asked me what I thought about #MeToo – What It Means To You I immediately said we should go for it, despite instantly thinking I had no chance of writing a post for it.
As it stands, at this moment in time, I have never been subjected to a violent sexual assault or rape. I haven’t had to work through the trauma that is left behind by those kinds of attacks. I have never been sexually abused and I can only begin to imagine what effect that can have on a persons life. I am to my mind blessed to have avoided these scenarios because I know so many women, and men, who have found themselves in terrifying, violent and abusive situations where their body and safety was violated.
Here’s the thing about the #MeToo movement it isn’t all about the violent crimes, it’s about the insidious nature of sexual harassment, sexual assault and I think it has exposed how archaic and dangerous the views of many people in our society are, especially for women and people who are gender non-conforming.
To be clear I am not saying men are not subjected to these things, they are, 100% they are and that is just an unacceptable as it happening to anyone else. What is clear though from my personal conversations and from conversations I see happening online is that men, on the whole, do not have to modify and adapt to a world that presents them with potential dangers every single day.
Bakji and I have discussed many aspects of the #MeToo conversation, we’ve also discussed abusive relationships, toxic masculinity and most importantly we have discussed on many occasions how it feels to be a woman walking through this world. A white, cis-gendered woman that is, who on the face of it is ‘heterosexual’ presenting, despite my very queer heart. I mention this because I think it would be remiss of me to acknowledge that despite my understanding of certain aspects of this conversation I am dealing with life with a certain amount of privilege at my feet.
What I do know is that my whole life I have been taught to modify my behaviour to keep myself safe. I’ve been told that ‘boys will boys’ and sometimes men just can’t help themselves. Wow! I wouldn’t want to turn a perfectly nice man into a rapist, so I’d better dress like a nun and just leave them be when they grope me without permission! This isn’t just a horrific lesson to teach women, it does good men a disservice. It assumes all men are at best animals and at worst monsters, that beneath the surface of every good, kind and decent many lurks a rapist and I do not believe this.
There’s a meme that I’ve seen floating around more than one in various formats and it’s basically a checklist of things that cause rape, with nothing tick off except rapists. Not short skirts, not alcohol, not promiscuity, nothing causes someone to be a rapist other than their own internal belief system. It’s the same with people who violate someone’s consent even on a less violent level.
I was on the London underground once with my Dad, when I was about 13/14 and it was absolutely rammed. There was a man on there, who I won’t describe, but who I could easily describe even down to his smell and he decided that he thought it was okay to touch my crotch. He just put his hand there, over my clothes and just stood like that the entire journey. What did I do? I stood like that until we got off at our stop and I never told a single person until I was much older.
I did nothing except get on a mode of transport that day, but that person decided to do something he wanted to do regardless of my rights as a person. The reason I didn’t tell anyone? Because even now, sharing that experience in this context, I am worried that someone reading will be thinking ‘yeah but if the tube was THAT busy maybe he didn’t realise where his hand was’ or ‘Your Dad was right there, you should have said something’ or ‘SURELY you could have moved a bit’. No, no and no! I couldn’t move, he did know what he was doing and I lost my voice, I didn’t know how to use my words to say something was happening and it was making me uncomfortable.
I wonder if the bloke who did that even remembers it, but twenty-plus years later I still do. I also remember the time a dude stuck his tongue in my ear before trying to kiss me at an under 18’s club night. Then there are all the times someone has tried to bully me into dancing with them even when I’ve said no, not once, not twice but multiple times. And the times my bum had been touched without my consent, multiple times, by multiple people for the entirety of my life. Most horrifyingly are all the times a female friend has said ‘oh go on, just dance with him’, well these things happen’, ‘you know what blokes are like’.
I am more than willing to take responsibility for my own actions. I’m not perfect, I’ve done things in life I shouldn’t. I’ve even misread signals before and made a move on someone I shouldn’t have. I’m always willing to apologise, make amends and see where I went wrong. Those are my actions so they are my responsibility. Do you know whose actions I’m not willing to take responsibility for? Everyone else’s! Most of all I am not willing to take responsibility for the actions of people who are abusive.
Sadly this is how the world seems to view sexual assaults. How can we find a way to explain why a man raped his wife? She probably wasn’t putting out enough, so he took what was rightfully his. How can we put the blame on the minor who was raped? Oh I know she looked a lot older, so he couldn’t help himself. What about the student who left the library late one night after studying? Well everyone knew she was a slut. What about the virgin? The elderly woman in her home? The mother walking through the park? How the fuck is there any reasonable excuse for violating the consent of another human being other than the obvious reason being that the volator is a piece of shit?
Strong words perhaps, but I have zero time for victim-blaming and even less time for trying to protect the sensibilities of people who want to rise up and shout not all men. I know it’s not all men because I know lots of men and they are wonderful, kind and honourable human beings. What I also know is that even the great men I know have had instances where they’ve had to be told ‘No, that isn’t how it works for women, THIS is why that belief you hold is harmful.’ The way the great men stand out is that they believe us, they listen, they learn and they advocate alongside us.
If your first response as a man to posts like this is to start writing a ‘not all men’ reply including justification of how that one time all the signals were mixed and you did something that in theory could now be classed as harassment or assault now that everyone is on the #MeToo bandwagon, I beg you to stop and ask yourself if those comments are helpful to the discussion, because nearly everyone sharing their stories is telling you they aren’t helpful, they are harmful and they distract people from the more important topics at hand.
As a mother raising a son I am terrifyingly aware of the world he is growing up in and I know the kind of man I hope he grows up to be. I want him to be the kind of man who instead of saying ‘not all men, I’m not like that’ he says ‘this is unacceptable, no man should be like this’. I want him to treat everyone with respect and I want him to know that what we do with our bodies should always be our own choice.
He is only seven, but he has already come home and said things that were to mind entirely unacceptable, archaic and misogynistic views that have been handed down to him via older generations through word of mouth at school …‘I don’t need to know how to cook Mummy, I’ll have a honey to do that for me when I’m big’ … I’m sorry? What now? … ‘But ‘step-mum’ likes doing the cleaning, so why do I need to help her?’ Hell no, my boy.
These things may seem unrelated to the topic at hand but they’re not, they show how even now in 2019 women are still seen by some as subordinates, not as equals. Comments like that are a slippery slope to ‘but she’s my wife, it’s my right to have sex with her’ … ‘yeah, but everyone knows she’s easy’ … ‘come one, you know you want it’. Putting women in a position where they are here to serve extends beyond food and cleaning for many men it extends to sex, and when certain men get told no, they see that as being denied a service they are entitled to as a man and so they take it, regardless of the woman’s wishes.
Entitlement is a dangerous thing for someone to have inside their souls and unfortunately due to the way the world works it tends to be men who have this more than woman and alongside the privilege and power men tend to have more access to it makes it scary as fuck to be a woman in what still very often feels like a man’s world. For me, the #MeToo movement is as much about demanding we deserve to feel safe in our own world as it anything else.
I don’t think we can irradicate sexual assault, just as I don’t think we can irradicate murder or domestic violence. Crimes will always be committed, what I do think we can work towards is an understanding that despite what some people seem to believe sexual assault is a violent crime and it is always wrong. It isn’t something a woman can just walk away from, it isn’t a bit fun, it isn’t worthy of jokes, it isn’t okay if she didn’t say yes but also didn’t say no, it isn’t okay if she said no a hundred times but finally gave in to your continued harassment, it isn’t okay if she said yes, then asked you stop and you kept going and it isn’t okay if you as a man deny we have a problem with rape culture and victim-blaming.
Now, as you can tell I feel strongly about this. I think all the crimes that come under sexual assault are abhorrent. People who commit these crimes disgust me and I find it hard to be anything less than ‘fuck you’ about the whole thing. However, because I know people need to hear the disclaimers I want to make some additional things clear …
Many of my examples had women as the victims and men as the perpetrators of these crimes. Simply because for coherence you can’t give every combination available every time, I do understand though that women can commit sexual assault and do commit sexual assault, we are not exempt from reviewing our actions and adjusting our behaviour accordingly.
I also know that men are not safe from sexual assault just by virtue of being men. I know they get assaulted by other men and by women. I also know that speaking out about these things as a man can go against the grain of everything society has told men they should be. I have no desire to minimise the trauma of anyone who goes through these experiences.
Another aspect of this conversation is often false accusation and again I cannot even begin to imagine the impact this has on a person’s life. To be accused of one of the most horrific crimes there is when you are innocent must be soul-destroying and I think women who make false accusations are despicable and should be thoroughly ashamed of their actions. Not only do they make monsters out of innocent men, but they also diminish what genuine victims go through and make it even harder for them to speak out. I have zero tolerance for that behaviour either.
I’ve said it before many times, about many topics, but I’m going to say it again. I think talking about tough topics like this is vital and invaluable to people who feel silenced by what they have experienced. I would love as many people as possible to join in with this week’s Food for Thought. If you have a story you’d like to tell but feel like you aren’t ready to share it on your own platform myself and May will gladly host it on the Food for Thought blog, anonymously if you so wish. This subject matters and I truly believe the more voices we hear from the better.