Learning to Love Men

“Don’t wear a skirt, they’ll think you’re a whore.”

 

“Anna, don’t walk at night, there might be creepy guys.”

 

“Did you hear about that new sexual assault case? Men are trash.”

 

“Walk with your keys between your fingers.”

 

“Wear your ‘resting bitch face’ so guys don’t approach you.”

 

“Share your location with me in case he tries to kidnap you.”

 

I could go on.

 

I am a 20-year-old female living in the city. Even before I lived in the city, I was told this. And of this carries a common tone: be wary of men--they’re dangerous.

 

When I was 14 or 15, my dad insisted that my two other sisters and I sit down with him and watch a documentary about rapists explaining their process or method for premeditated rape. For Christmas this past year, my dad gave us each a kubaton, which is essentially a sturdy hand-held personal safety device. Her Campus magazine sent out personal safety alarms in one of their survival kits this past year, and while this chapter welcomes all gender expressions, HC sent it knowing we were a largely female staff.

 

From a young age, I have been bombarded with messages regarding men’s intentions. Movies told me that guys only liked the unbelievably beautiful girls, that if I couldn’t keep a guy happy (primarily sexually) then he had every right to cheat on me. The news told me that men were unstoppable perverts, urinating in the city streets, flashing women and small children, raping and harassing women down the street. My own experience and heard experiences from my sisters told me that I should always anticipate being catcalled or yelled at or ogled while walking through the city.

 

I am supposed to hold my keys (or my kubaton) in my hand at the ready. I should wear sunglasses to avoid accidentally making eye contact, but not too dark of a lens because I need to have constant physical awareness. If I want to listen to music, I can’t listen to it too loudly because I need to be able to hear if anyone is coming up behind me (which is a double problem for me considering my hearing impairment). I shouldn’t dress too sexily on a date because otherwise I’ll give the impression that I want to have sex, but I shouldn’t not try because otherwise he won’t be into me.

 

It’s a lot to think about. Constantly. And it makes me angry. It makes me angry because fuck I just want to live my life without feeling threatened 24/7. I know being assaulted isn’t my fault, but I have no reason to think I won’t be interrogated on my preventative measures (thus why I didn’t speak up about my sexual assault when I was 16; I was afraid I would be judged). I love opportunity, and I want to be able to simply walk through the city in a cute skirt and heels and enjoy it, not be surrounded by this awareness that I already cannot run very fast, but I cannot run even remotely fast in heels, and a skirt does not protect me as much as pants do. I went to high school in Seattle, but I didn’t really operate in Seattle until I started going to SU and lived in the dorms. Every time I walked through the city, I had sunglasses on, headphones on, keys in hand, and murder on the brain, walking with purpose so no one would even think about approaching me (and we wonder why Seattle Freeze is a thing). If I start walking through a particularly crowded street, or see that I’m approaching an area with a lot of men, my body tenses and my anxiety builds as my body prepares to scream and fight if someone tries to steal my bag. Am I overreacting?

 

If you asked me my freshman year, I’d say, “Maybe, but I can’t take the chance.”

 

If you ask me now, my answer is slightly different.

 

You see, I’ve lived in the city for two years now. I’ve done my fair share of walking from campus to the Seattle Center for concerts, dates, festivals. I’ve walked down along the pier during the day and at night. I’ve walked to QFC for groceries. And yes, while I do generally avoid walking alone at night, I’ve grown a bit more relaxed about walking through the city. After being so afraid of the men around me, it occurred to me to stop and look for a second. And I realized--these people don’t give two shits about me. (That right there is part of the beauty of the Seattle Freeze.) To them, I’m just another stranger walking down the street. As a woman, I have been trained to constantly view men as predators; but I’ve begun to question the assumption that men have, in turn, been trained to view women as prey.

 

I say all this tentatively because a culture of predatory men victimizing women is not a lie; it is very much real. But we do a disservice to men in general by assuming all men are monsters just because they have a penis dangling between their thighs.

 

The internet has to no end made jokes at the expense of “but not all men.” I admit, I also poked fun at that. But I hear myself saying it unironically, to myself. For the most part, men assault and harass women--but it isn’t all men, it’s the messed up men. Being dangerous or perverted or sexist is not inherent to the male condition, it’s the result of patriarchy teaching men abuse and some men taking it and running with it.

 

We’ve seen the posters that say: “She is someone’s mother, sister, daughter.” And yes, that is somewhat degrading to women as it places our importance as being related to men, not because we are just people. But in that same vein, we need to stop thinking of men as a concept. Men are also people.

 

My dad is a man. He is smart, compassionate, kind-hearted, dedicated. He patiently sits and listens while my sisters and I rant on and on about some asshole guy “whose dick wasn’t even that great” (so sorry you have to hear that, Dad). He taught us how to camp, took us on bike rides, and has always treated us like people, never limiting us on the basis of our gender.

Many of my closest friends are guys. My friend Kevin welcomes me into a world of music, movies, goofiness, and laughter. My friend Austin has been my best friend since kindergarten, and I’ve never met someone so talented, creative, goofy, and loving. My friend Barrett is incredibly smart, dedicated, funny, loving. Sebastian is a bubble of compassion, lightheartedness, friendliness--I can go on. These are guys who have not “fuck zoned” me, with whom I have been able to relax and be myself and who in turn have felt comfortable enough to be open and vulnerable with me--they’ve been my friends.

My partner, Dillon, is wonderful. He’s entirely fed up with the generalization of gendering, and he and I are on the same page about looking at and evaluating people as people (because women can be just as nasty and dangerous as men can be). He’s beautiful, loving, creative, ridiculously smart, and I’m never quite over how lucky I feel that I get to know him. Having him in my life has encouraged me to work on my own growth and development--because of how he is, not because I’m trying to impress a guy. I do things for me, and Dillon as a person is so wonderful that I want to do things for him, and it’s not about a gender power dynamic for me.

My point is that I think we, as a society, are doing a great disservice to men. We are at risk of a self-fulling prophecy situation: by continuing to assume and behave and speak as though all men are monsters simply because they are men, we may very well push men into that role. How many little boys feel discouraged when we plaster “The Future is Female” everywhere? How many grown men feel depressed, rejected, belittled, or worthless by this bombardment of a negative picture of their assumed character? We need to care about our women because they are people and the patriarchy hurts them. But we need to care about our men, too, because they are people and the patriarchy also hurts them.

 

I am learning to love men. When I walk down the street, I keep up my guard and awareness, but I try to stop projecting that energy onto people. With my friends, I welcome their vulnerability, their goofiness, their opinions, and their questions. With my family, I try to think about how my words as a woman might affect them and how I can best word them so as to convey my point, not make them feel demonized. And in general, I try to check my language. Do I mean Straight White Men, or do I mean bigoted individuals who are ignorant to the female experience and their racial privilege? Because the two are not one in the same. Just as racism is not inherent to whiteness, and bigotry is not inherent to sexuality, evilness is not inherent to the male gender.

 

Men, I love you. You are deserving of compassion and the freedom to be human. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, and know that people in your life should not hinder you based on gender, nor should you do the same. Nothing would benefit us more than working on treating each other like human beings, like people.