I wrote a post about a month ago (the frequency of my blogging is a hurdle that I am constantly trying to vault.) The post was titled When “Me Too” means “You Too.”
The post addressed the social media campaign #metoo, and the complicity of all men in the culture of sexual harassment and assault in this country. It was well-received by the most important women in my life, and I’ll admit to allowing myself to rest on my laurels, my “wokeness” when it comes to women’s issues.
Holy shit, I can be wrong about myself.
I’ve spent the last month watching a string of accusations and apologies come out of Hollywood. Some of my favorite artists have been indicted in this slew of revelations, and I have truly despaired. “Can I not enjoy anything anymore?” I think. “Who is next?”
Of course, this is a terribly privileged and fragile response to the unveiling of years of degradation from men and pain from women (and other men, in some cases.) My enjoyment of theater, television, and movies is not even a close second to the need for victims to take back some of their power from their abusers. I recognize that I am privileged. I acknowledge that my masculinity is still fragile.
To address this, I have attempted to do what I like to call “soul work”: the slow and painful process of confronting the Devil inside me. I have read lots of uncomfortable blog posts by women writers. I have listened to and read the stories that victims/survivors continue to tell. I lean in to hear what the women in my life are telling me beyond their words: those subtle smiles, head shakes, and eye rolls that I used to think were good-natured tolerance – which I now recognize as indicators that I have strayed from the narrow path.
I have continued to think about my complicity in this culture, and the things that I have thought of as “harmless” that contribute to an ugly, threatening environment for women. I have forced myself to confront my relationship with erotica/pornography, and admit to myself that even “casual” viewing is contributing to the widespread exploitation of women. I have spent hours searching through my personal history, finding more instances of sexual harassment and coercion than what I have already admitted to myself.
The end result is that I feel like an absolute fraud, because I am so much more complicit than I thought I was.
I think about all the times that I, when I was an unmarried man, put a drunken hand on a woman’s leg, felt her posture stiffen, and failed to immediately remove it.
I think about all the times that I equated non-resistance with consent, whether that was kissing or hugging or neck/shoulder rubs or even just conversations that must have made the women in my life uncomfortable.
I read all these stories about how women have to view every man in their lives as a potential threat to their safety and dignity, and how so many women offer non-resistance as a survival mechanism, how women will endure those moments of intense discomfort as an alternative to facing a man’s anger or outright violence at being rejected.
This goes so much deeper than I thought it did.
This isn’t an apology, because my Soul Work has included learning how effing useless apologies are when it comes to robbing women of their dignity and power.
Women are not required to care that I have acknowledged my fault, nor are they required to forgive me because I have discovered what a crappy human being I have been in the past.
We are living in a strange and awful time in our culture, when we have learned to condemn sexual harassment and assault without actually recognizing it.
We have a President who has bragged about assaulting women, who has a documented history of assaulting women, and who is still defended by members of the “Christian” community.
We have a Senate candidate from Alabama who has a documented history of sexually assaulting underage girls, and is still supported by his political party and an uncomfortably large percentage of his voter base.
We have media personalities who are earnestly defending this behavior by using the word “consensual,” as though that word can exist in the world of relationships with minors. (Oh, and by invoking JESUS’ PARENTS.)
We have producers, directors, and actors who are deflecting attention from allegations of sexual assault and pedophilia by coming out as gay on television (which, by the way Mr. Spacey, doesn’t help the LGBT community or the conservative idea that we’re all just secret pedophiles) or by broadcasting extensive mea culpas while still avoiding taking actual responsibility for their actions.
We have normalized this behavior to the point that we rush to defend the person committing the assault, or start looking for vulnerabilities in the accuser’s story that we can exploit.
“Why has she waited all this time?”
“Why did she let it happen?”
“Why was she alone with him?”
I have these thoughts too, which really damages my own self-image as a Good Woke Guy, but I have made the choice to confront these toxic attitudes and behaviors head on.
My fellow men, this is a key moment for us, and we have limited chances to make it right. We can either get on board the Restorative Justice Train, admit our wrongdoing and commit to doing all that we can to fix it… or, we can continue to resist the idea that we’ve supported this culture of assault all along with a million little behaviors and continue harming women.
If we do the first thing, we might get a chance to stand beside the women in our lives when their revolution finally produces the fruit of equality and justice. We might be able to share a world that treats women as true individuals, rather than attachments to a man and/or children.
If we do the second thing, we’re going to go on the trash heap of history, the Outer Darkness of Toxic Masculinity, where there will undoubtedly be much weeping and gnashing of teeth… and we’ll deserve our place there.
We can be like all the abusers and the people who stood by and enabled them. Or, we can be like Jesus, who lifted up the women in His life and actively challenged the culture of abuse in His time.
What we can’t do is nothing. Nothing is no longer an option. Soul work sucks, but it is the only thing that can get us to the Truth… and, no matter how painful the Truth is, it will always set us free.