I keep having this discussion with a man whom I love. He’s a good man. A man for whom consent is very important. A man who is utterly and completely horrified by the abuse, assault, rape, and other damaging things that some men do to women. A man who has done more to help me, personally, be able to trust that it really isn’t “all men,” than any other man I’ve ever known. A man who has stood up, in a very public fashion, spoken out, loudly and unapologetically, against abuse, assault, rape, rape culture, and those who enable them, in a way that exposed him to ridicule, cost him social outlets and friendships, and led to him being ostracized, right beside me, from our community.
I know where he stands. I’ve seen it in action, seen him in action.
But there are parts of this that he still doesn’t get. It causes a lot of… I won’t say “arguments,” because that doesn’t seem quite right, but… very heated debates, between us.
One of the most persistent dissonances we face is around the #notallmen thing. On another site, someone I respect a great deal posted this image. Things like that have popped up, before. The ten percent of these yummy candies are cyanide, but you won’t know which ones until you take a bite, analogy, and others. Every time, he was offended. And no matter how I tried to explain to him that it really wasn’t about him, he couldn’t see it as any other thing than a blanket statement that all men, himself included, are not to be trusted, no matter how trustworthy they actually are.
He still doesn’t. And it’s hard, for me. For us.
It’s hard because he’s an intelligent person. Hell, he’s brilliant. His intelligence is actually kind of intimidating, sometimes. It’s hard because he’s an empathetic person. As a part of another thing, I wrote an account of all of the horrible things that were done to me, mostly by men, throughout the last thirty-plus years of my life. He was crying, nauseated, and shaking uncontrollably, by the time he finished reading it. He is both of those things, and he still doesn’t get it. And it breaks my heart, because that has become such a conversational minefield, we can’t even discuss that part of the advocacy in which I engage on a regular basis. Every time we try, I end up in tears of frustration and helplessness, and he ends up feeling attacked, and equally frustrated.
It’s hard because I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that he’s not ‘that guy,’ but when those topics come up, he says all the same things ‘that guy’ would say. It’s hard because I feel like I can’t get through to him on this, and we normally just don’t have that problem. I’d say our communication is our strongest quality, as an ‘us.’ This is alien to us, and it’s awful, and I hate it.
Yesterday, we watched a movie together. Lone Survivor. It’s a war movie, based on a true story, and somewhat controversial. Some people are saying it is pro-war propaganda. I’m not going into that, right now.
If you haven’t seen the film, and plan to, here’s your spoiler alert.
The protagonist, Marcus Luttrel, is a Navy Seal, on a mission with his team in Afghanistan. The mission is compromised. The gunfight is horrific. They are outnumbered beyond all reason, and survive beyond what anyone could ever expect. Every other member of his team is killed by Afghan soldiers. Luttrell is brutally wounded, left for dead, and on the run, trying to get back to the American camp through unfamiliar mountainous terrain.
He stumbles on some water, falls in, and is recovering, when he hears voices. More Taliban soldiers. One Afghan citizen, Mohammed Gulab, comes to his aid. He has no choice but to accept, in his dire circumstances, but he has no way of knowing if he can trust Gulab. All of his experiences in this unfamiliar place, with these unfamiliar people, have so far been of being shot at, seeing his friends killed, hearing the horror stories of the Taliban.
Gulab saved Luttrell’s life, at the risk of not only his own life, but those of his child, and his entire village.
But Luttrell had no way to know that would happen, until it happened. He had no experience which would lead him to trust this man who was offering help. For a time, after Gulab held out his hand to lead Luttrell to safety, the SEAL kept a grenade in his hand, ready to throw at a moment’s notice. He kept asking, still clutching the grenade, “Why are you helping me?”
It was a difficult movie to watch, but during that sequence, I recognized the parallels.
Not all of the citizens of Afghanistan were hell-bent on killing American soldiers. But they all spoke the same language. They all wore similar clothing. They all lived in a way that was alien to Luttrell, and he had no way to know which ones were which, until he had the opportunity to build trust with Gulab.
His mistrust and fear were not a statement of judgment against Gulab. They were not an indictment of the entire citizenry of Afghanistan. They were born out of repeated experiences, with other Afghan citizens, and HE HAD EVERY RIGHT TO BE AFRAID AND SLOW TO TRUST. Gulab didn’t get defensive. He didn’t yell at Luttrell for not trusting him, or for being afraid. He just did what it took to show that he could be trusted. That he wasn’t one of ‘those guys.’ Not by words; they shared no common language. He showed him through his actions.
And that is how we show people we are trustworthy every day, in a plethora of situations, across our life experience. We don’t stand there and stomp our feet, demanding that people give us their trust, just because we say so. We earn it. Not by running some contrived gauntlet, but simply by doing what we do. We behave as we would normally behave, and leave it up to them to determine whether we are trustworthy, and not to be feared. In almost every other situation, we recognize that it is not up to us to decide whether or not we are trustworthy to someone else, but to the person whose trust we hope to gain.
We ALL realize that not all men are rapists. That not all men are abusers. That not all men are misogynists. We do. What the people who keep yelling about #notallmen fail to realize is, that is not the point. The point is, we have no way to know. You speak the same language. You wear the same clothes. The rapists and abusers and misogynists among you look no different than the rest.
And they demand things. They demand our trust, without earning it. They demand our agency, when they have no right to it. They demand sex, as payment on some social contract that we never signed. And when we don’t give those things to them willingly, they take it. Or coerce us. Or stomp their feet, and tell us we have no right not to give it to them.
So, when you demand that we trust you, on nothing more than your word, without the experience of seeing you in action, you sound like them, too.
#YesAllWomen is NOT about judging every single man who ever lived by the same standard. It’s about our fear, our experience, our very valid reasons to be wary. It’s about us asking for you to hear that, to listen, to empathize… and to be patient with us, while we watch and wait to see if it is safe to let down our guard. Which we will, as soon as we feel reasonably confident that it’s okay, that you’re not ‘that guy.’
It’s about the moments between you holding out your hand, and us being secure enough to put down the grenade.