I’m sick of watching men “otherize” the perpetrators of sexual violence, as if they could never, ever be capable of something like that.
In the last few weeks I’ve heard men say things like this.
I’m so angry I could kill that guy right now.
I can’t believe it, who would do such a thing?
Fuck you for harming women!!!
On the surface, it seems like they’re courageously standing up for women. They get approval and support on social media for their sympathy and “taking a stand”, but it’s just a show. It’s an egoic attempt to position themselves as “the good guy” who can be trusted.
Harvey Weinstein? He’s a monster!
Louis C.K.?!? His apology isn’t enough.
The message here is simple.
Those are bad guys, and because I pointed that out, I’m a good guy.
The impact of this otherization is we naively believe the problem is a few bad eggs. We ignore the system that created these men (and all men) and we go on a witch hunt, trying to root out “evil” by seeing it in others.
If only it were all so simple. If only we could just get on our white horses and be the hero we’ve always dreamed about, but that’s the problem. We as men will never be able to look honestly at this issue unless we stop frantically trying to position ourselves as someone who would “never do that”.
We are part of a broken system, and while it may be innocent, while we may have been doing our best — we have all intentionally or unintentionally participated in oppression.1
It’s the same with racism. We judge cops for their bias in favor of white people, but have we walked a mile in their shoes? Can we be absolutely sure that in a tense situation our choices would be totally objective and without prejudice? Racism, like sexism, is deeply woven into the fabric of our culture and thinking you can simply will yourself to “not do it” is delusional.
It’s also worth considering the circumstances people are in when they make these mistakes. We don’t take into account the fact that men like Louis C.K. have extreme popularity, fame and influence. Could any of us handle all that? We who judge these men so quickly from the comfort of our keyboards?
Or maybe we think we would have made a better apology. How convenient it is that we get to be morally superior without putting any skin in the game.
When we talk about things like sexual violence, the ways we participate are so nuanced and complex that the more we understand, the more we see that we’re just as guilty as the next person.
It’s kind of like this.
Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks
When I see a man put on a public performance about how outraged he is at perpetrators of sexual assault toward women, I have one thought.
I don’t trust him.
Many women I’ve talked to have similar reactions. It’s ironic, because typically the man’s intention is to show people he’s “not that guy” but in doing so he actually becomes less trustable. He shows his ignorance by demonstrating that he’s unaware of the ways he is the product of a broken system, and that makes him more likely to unintentionally hurt people.
The sign of a man being a good ally for women isn’t the one who gets on a soapbox to rant about other men, it’s the man who points the fingers back to himself, and searches within for the problem. What happens inside that kind of man isn’t outrage, but compassion for men like Louis C.K., or Harvey Weinstein because we can see ourselves in them.
Here’s another look at that graph.
Let’s also take a closer look at this graph, because it works both ways.
On the surface it shows that the more knowledge we have, the more we understand we’re part of the problem. That’s true, but we can also ask ourselves “how am I part of the problem” and by doing so gain insights that will give us a deeper understanding of the system as a whole.
Man in the Mirror
Last year I wrote a piece called I Promise It’s Not ‘Lame’ To Ask a Woman for Permission, which told the story of me participating in a situation where I ended up leaving a woman feeling hurt. It gave me the chance to talk about consent and permission and to be honest — the only reason I felt comfortable doing it was that I knew I could lead with showing people I’m not perfect.
I’ve screwed up consent and been unaware of my privilege more times that I could even count, and even today after years of work on this, I still mess it up. I even wrote another piece about how even after that original, I made another mistake with the same woman years later.
It’s so tempting as a man to want to position myself as someone who hasn’t screwed up, because I share the same fears as the men in glass houses — I don’t want to be seen as a bad guy. Underneath all our “tough guy” appearances are men who deeply want love and connection, and often we have no clue how to get it.
We deeply fear that if women found out that we weren’t perfect, we too would be publicly shamed and their love would be taken away.
Looking to Women for Approval
I don’t know that women fully realize the extent to which most straight men look to them for approval. It’s woven into everything we do — from the cars we drive, to the clothes we wear, to the way we define ourselves as men. Women have so much influence on us, simply by what they choose to reward with their attention.
You want to watch a guy fall in love with a piece of clothing? Tell him you would totally want to have sex with him if he was wearing it. It will instantly become his new favorite shirt.
So to the women who will read this — please consider the consequences of rewarding the men who bash other men with approval. It encourages us to be more judgmental, and it distracts us from the self-inquiry we should be doing instead.
If you show us any approval, please approve of us not being perfect and doing our best.
If we have any shot at creating a culture where everyone feels safe and self-expressed around sexuality, we’re all gonna need to have some sobering conversations with ourselves that will probably leaving us feeling like a failure — and that’s okay. We have failed, and learning to accept that we’re not perfect is an important piece of this journey.
We all live in glass houses, and hopefully at the end of the day instead of throwing rocks, we can allow other people to see inside — not so they can have power over us, but so we can be a part of a world where we invite people to see our inner experience, instead of projecting it onto others.