There’s a difficult conversation that I keep having with men. Not all men, of course, but some.
I don’t know how to talk to men about feminism. It is the first and only instance where I clumsily stumble over my words while trying to make a point. It’s incredibly frustrating. As a feminist (and an aware human), I understand that the social climate we currently live in asks that we be sensitive to one another. How, then, do I tread lightly while explaining to a man that it’s possible that either he or someone close to him (friend, brother, etc.) has likely “crossed the line” at some point with a woman? That even a newly confirmed U.S Supreme Court judge has? That the President of the United States has?
In the same way that the #metoo movement has helped women come to terms with (or realize) the fact that they have been abused, perhaps men should come to terms with the fact that they may have abused. I understand that accepting something dark about yourself is hard to do. Accepting that you’ve been raped, or taken advantage of, or coerced, is hard to do. Speaking out about it is even harder.
In 1991, Anita Hill tried to speak out to 14 men at once (the US Senate Judiciary Committee). Hill, a black woman, a law professor, a human trying to speak truth to power, was discredited when the power did not care.
Much like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford coming forward about her alleged sexual assault experience, the people who were meant to listen to and understand these stories fell short. Not all men understand. Not all men listen. Not all men believe you.
There are nine justices sitting on the Supreme Court. Three of them are women. Six of them are men. A third of those men have faced multiple allegations of sexual harassment from multiple women.
Yet still, when I try to explain to men the importance of the #metoo movement, their defensiveness is palpable. Before I finish forming my thoughts, I feel defeated. I know what those men are thinking (they also usually say it): “not all men.” I get it. If half of the world’s population was trying to vilify me based on my gender – oh wait.
The goal of the #metoo movement isn’t to persecute all men. The strength of the movement is in giving women a voice, not in silencing men. We hear you – not all of you have screwed up, but saying it louder won’t stop your friends and co-workers from doing it.
There are certain points that are especially hard to make. How do I explain affirmative consent? What constitutes a non-verbal cue? How is sexual harassment graded? Feminism is so multi-layered, the lived experiences of the people who make up the movement are so complex, the implications of breaking your silence are so powerful, that finding a way to tidily explain and answer all of these questions in a way that, yes, all men can understand sometimes feels impossible. Most of this is only focused on one branch of feminist issues: violence against women.
It is surely no coincidence that the toughest part of feminism to explain to men is the one where they are explicitly the villains.
There are critics of the #metoo movement, many of them, who in light of last year’s Aziz Ansari exposé said that the movement had gone too far. That even innocent flirting was no longer allowed.
Enter Brett Kavanaugh. Now there is a counter movement: #himtoo. A movement that harnesses the viral power of a hashtag to spew the alarmist notion that any woman scorned can ruin the life of any man by flinging false accusations willy nilly. That no man is safe in a #metoo world where due process is thrown out the window. A world where the presumption of guilt precedes the possibility of innocence.
Except guilt is not a presumption when it is born out of believing women. And due process is courtroom modus operandi, not job interview protocol.
Anyone can be accused, anyone can screw up; many are violent. If #himtoo or #notallmen supporters or men baffled by #metoo need a little reassurance, they need not look any further than to a man who has been accused 20 times of sexual harassment and still landed and kept his job: POTUS #45.
So why bother having the difficult conversation with men if the words get stuck between my tongue and teeth? I’m not Google, it’s not my job to explain feminism or sexual violence or consent to anyone. But boy (pun intended) would it help if we had a few more allies.
It’s been said that to become an activist you need two things: grievance and optimism. So here’s my siren song to all men: take your grievances about being grouped in with the bad ones and transform it into something we can all use. Call out locker room banter. Listen to women. REALLY listen. Stop your buddy from catcalling. Distract the guy buying tequila shots for the girl who’s already had 5. March with us. Ask for ongoing consent. Dig deep down into those hearts of yours and find some optimism about the possibility that if we all do our part, less men will be accused and less women will be abused.
Become an ally. Don’t be a Brett, or a Brock, a Harvey or a Donald.
And remember: friends don’t let friends reinforce the interlocking systems of white supremacy and patriarchy.