First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.
#MeToo. For days, the message was splattered all over social media. You are not alone. We've all been there. We have all experienced harassment, assault, abuse or rape. A phrase first used by activist Tarana Burke, "me too" was popularized in a tweet by actress Alyssa Milano last October, becoming the hashtag for a massive awareness campaign against sexual violence. Though by no means exclusive to millennials, the digital movement resonated with young women like me, who spend so much of our lives online. All over social media, women came together to spread awareness about the disgusting prevalence of rape culture in our society.
Men rolled their eyes.
Not all men, of course. Many offered supportive responses that warmed my cynical little feminist heart and gave me hope. However, there was – is – another response to #MeToo that puts a cold pit in my stomach.
"It's just women who got groped once years ago still trying to play the victim."
"How is this making a difference? Go to the police if you were actually raped."
The word for this reaction? Dismissive.
For the record, the timing of when a woman experiences sexual violence is irrelevant. The purpose of the #MeToo campaign was to show the staggeringly huge proportion of women who have experienced everything from street harassment to violent rape. I posted #MeToo because I have been catcalled, groped and treated as though my consent and comfort are less important than male "needs." I'm guessing that many women who endured what no one can deny is "real" sexual abuse didn't feel comfortable sharing their stories. Perhaps they didn't feel safe going to the police. Many women never report sexual violence for reasons that deserve their own article.
This dismissive response frightens me because it is not only "bad" men who react like this. Men I know, men I like, men who condemn Harvey Weinstein and would flatten any jerk who tried to grope me in a bar can also have this response. This is in large part due to rightly angry feminists blaming "all" men for society's ongoing struggle with gender inequality while simultaneously excluding them from discussion. Defence of men by men is guaranteed to incite fury among more radical feminists. Sometimes this anger is appropriate, but being told that their opinions aren't valid because of their gender makes many men feel justifiably defensive. They feel alienated and vilified by modern feminism, despite agreeing that sexual misconduct is repugnant and women should be able to live free of unwanted sexual advances and violence. The sad result is that many men end up frustrated and isolated with little, if any, respect for feminist movements.
That is not a dialogue. That is women taking advantage of the fact that society is finally allowing us to monologue, and we are clinging to that advantage for dear life. If we want equality, which is what feminism is, we cannot exclude men. We need to ask ourselves why decent men feel they are not welcome on our side of the discussion. Vilifying men will only perpetuate gender conflict, not develop the mutual respect that feminists are striving for.
That said, men, all men, what women want you to understand is this:
- Don’t hit us, don’t harass us, don’t grope us, don’t rape us and don’t victim blame because it doesn’t matter what we were wearing when someone ignored our hesitation, wouldn’t take no for an answer, held us down or made sex a condition of our employment.
- Stop treating us as targets or conquests. If you want sex and a woman does not, respect her and back off. Don’t ply her with alcohol or drug her drink. Realize that someone who is drunk, drugged or unconscious cannot consent. If you want sex and a woman also wants sex, then have fun, but still respect her.
- Sexist humour, rape jokes, “boys will be boys” attitudes and street harassment all perpetuate rape culture. You don’t see the harm because it’s only talk, but it normalizes sexualized violence.
- Don’t accept the above behaviour from friends, brothers, sons or authority figures. Rape culture won’t change until we, men and women, force it to.
Women deserve to be treated as equals in professional, social and intimate settings.
If you're a man and you've read this far, there's a chance that you're defensive because you feel you are not the problem. #NotAllMen. Honestly, you're probably right. However, when women protest for gender equality and insist that authority figures with sleazy pasts be removed to make room for better men and women, we aren't blaming all men. We are blaming the guilty men, and we hope that you will join us in being angered by their actions, because they make good men look bad.
We want you to think about the privilege that allows you to disregard the threats women have to face. We want you to understand that we are challenging culturally ingrained sexism that has indoctrinated all of us and that favours you. We are your sisters, friends, girlfriends and wives, and we want you on our side.
The purpose of feminist movements is not to change the minds of individual, intractable sexists; the purpose is to alter the underlying culture and overall behaviour of our society.
In a way, we millennials are a generation in transition. Few transitions are smooth and this one has a lot of bumps. We talk about gender equality, sexuality and sexualized violence in ways that no previous generation has. We millennial women didn't start these movements. We have generations of strong, smart women who provide their shoulders for us to stand on, but we continue on an unprecedented scale. The fight for gender equality is nowhere near over, and while I do not think we will ever rid society of rapist scum and street harassing nitwits, I do think that we can eradicate rape culture. However, we cannot change our society if we keep telling half our population to sit down and shut up. We are all equals. Let's act like it.
Natasha Simpson lives in Victoria, B.C.