So a friend of mine, a friend who will likely see this, so it’s not as if it’s behind her back, posted this on Facebook the other day. Forgive all the blurriness:
And here’s the thing: yeah. It does. It makes me uncomfortable. The notion– a notion I believe without the remotest qualification, by the way– that literally every woman I know has experienced sexual harassment makes me profoundly uncomfortable. Hell, uncomfortable’s not even the word, although it’s part of it. There’s a fair degree of fucking rage in there too, for example.
And no, I didn’t “like” the post. In fact if I have hit Like (I don’t use any of the other options, ever; don’t ask me why) on any posts associated with the #metoo hashtag, I don’t remember doing it– and I’m pretty certain there aren’t any.
I hit Like on her post and then deleted it. Wrote a comment, and then deleted that too, and then spent the next couple of days fighting off this post. The reason I haven’t interacted with any of these posts online isn’t because of some feeling of discomfort or shame, is the thing. I haven’t because none of this is about me, and I feel like it’s pointless at best and empty virtue-signaling at worst for me to interact with a thing that isn’t supposed to be about me in specific or men in general.
So, yeah. All of them. #allofthem, if you prefer.
I’ve spent the last few days– longer than that, really, but it’s come to a head in the last few days– thinking a lot about my own actions as a cishet guy throughout my life. And in a lot of ways I’ve been resisting the temptation to paint myself as one of the good guys. I’ve never raped anyone, obviously. (Is it obvious? Probably flattering myself.)
But there was that one time, with that one woman, where she indicated her lack of consent to a certain action at the literal last possible moment, and it’s haunted me ever since. When I say last possible moment, I’m not exaggerating, not by a millisecond or a fraction of an inch. I didn’t go any further– of course I didn’t– but my first immediate visceral reaction was wait what the fuck are you kidding and I don’t know how much of that reaction got through to her.
I’ve never catcalled anyone, not once. Never hassled a woman in a bar, never got angry with anyone because they wouldn’t give me a phone number or something like that.
(I have what I’m pretty sure is a funny story about accidentally approaching the wrong woman in a bar who I thought was one of my friends; maybe I’ll tell it sometime. It’s not for this post.)
But I had years– years— where I bought into the idea of the friendzone, and where the idea of just telling a woman that I was interested in her and thought we should go out/make out/fuck each other senseless was pure anathema. No, she (whichever she was at the time) was gonna figure it out sooner or later and fall into my arms. I was a Nice Guy. Sooner or later she’ll figure out that all the guys she dates are assholes and I’m right here, all not being an asshole and shit.
I can think of some moments, some interactions that make me cringe right now, honestly. I’m pretty sure there were times when I was being creepy as fuck and didn’t even realize it. There are others where I know I was being creepy as fuck and I regret the hell out of them. Some of them probably involved the woman who originally triggered this post, honestly; we have a bit of history together, not all of which I’m proud of.
(True fact: the first time I kissed the woman who eventually married me, we were sitting at a table in a diner and I literally said “Let’s go make out in the parking lot,” and it worked. Sooner or later I broke past the idea that doing nothing would get me somewhere. That said, if that line doesn’t work? Possible eew.)
I remember one time in high school when a bunch of us– too many to fit in the car– were all going somewhere, and one of the girls decided she was going to sit in my lap. I put both my hands in my lap, palms-up. She shrugged and did it anyway, probably knowing that having both hands on her ass would make me twice as uncomfortable as it was making her and that it wouldn’t last more than a moment, which it didn’t.
I still remember that. I wonder if she does.
(I was gonna say “I’ve never groped anyone who didn’t want me to,” which is what reminded me of that story.)
I remember a week– one very, very weird week in middle school– where for some reason everyone, boys and girls, were all going around trying to yank each others’ shorts off. By the end of the week everyone had their belts on so tight or their pants laced so tight that I suspect some of us were cutting off our circulation. I was on both sides of that little game. But I can’t say I’ve never tried to take anyone’s clothes off who didn’t want me to, either. I still remember the two girls I targeted; I know one of them took a swipe at me at one point too, although I don’t know who was first. I don’t remember what the other one thought about it.
(God, I’m glad my middle schoolers never had that bug hit. I can’t imagine what the teachers were thinking.)
I don’t know that I have a single, overarching point to all this. Okay, yeah, there’s obviously an element of the confessional here but that’s not the entire point. I have contributed to this culture of rape and harassment, or at least participated in it, and the fact that I’ve learned (tried to learn) to be better in recent years doesn’t affect the facts of who I was and what I did, even if I can point to any number of men who were maybe worse.
You don’t stop rape, or sexual harassment, by controlling women. You stop rape and sexual harassment by insisting that men learn to be better. One of my most important jobs right now is to raise my son to be better than me.
Maybe men need a #metoo hashtag. Or an #allofus hashtag, because right now, it is all of us. We’ve all contributed to this.
Or maybe we could just stop, and fucking listen, which was what the point of the hashtag was in the first place, and try to learn to get better.