Why I Need Feminism

I have recently started spending an inordinate amount of time on Twitter. A year ago, I would have believed that to be a waste of time. A year ago, I was uninformed.

Twitter, largely thanks to the efforts of Black Lives Matter activists like  Johnetta Elzie, DeRay Mckesson and Zellie Imani, has become the active, vibrant, effective hub of social change. It’s strange to say, but I sometimes feel like I didn’t really grow up, didn’t really mature in my own feminism, until I found Twitter. Sure, I sort of understood my own white privilege, but I didn’t really know even a third of the racial history of this country. I believed in intersectionality, but I had not quite internalized it.

Twitter changed that, 140 characters at a time. Not to mention all the links to mind-blowing, mind-expanding studies and articles, op-ed pieces and blog entries. It also introduced me to a host of amazing people who are doing some very difficult, often thankless, sometimes risky even to the point of possible death, activism work.

Aside from the cat pics and joke memes (which, let’s be clear, I enjoy more than I should), Twitter has mostly been a feeling of community I’ve missed for a long time. It has given me something I thought I’d lost, before: a place to talk about my personal feminism, without feeling like I was constantly under attack. A place to learn from other people, without feeling completely disconnected from the teachers. A place to debate, where the trolls can fairly easily be dismissed (at least, they can for me; I know others’ experiences haven’t been that at all) by the simple click of a mouse.

And there are the question tweets. Mostly, the questions aren’t original. Often, they’re things I’ve seen a million times, and just haven’t bothered to address or answer, for myself. Simple questions, with maybe not-so-simple answers.

Tonight’s simple question, from Feminist Gals an account created mostly (from what I can tell) to educate teens and college-aged adults about feminism, was this:

Why do you need feminism?

I responded twice, and I’ll include those answers, here. But there is so much more than I could put into tweets, even if I filled that text field over and over again, all night long. I decided to start a living, updated-as-necessary list of all the reasons why I need feminism.

I need feminism…

  • …because before I was old enough to legally buy a drink in a bar, I’d been molested for five years, gang raped while on a vacation, abused by two different partners, and roofied and raped at a party where I had one drink.
  • …because my family didn’t believe I’d been molested.
  • …because I chose a boy I didn’t really care about, to lose my virginity, so that the grown man who was molesting me wouldn’t take it from me, without my consent.
  • …because virginity has become so commodified in our culture, I actually believed I would lose value as a human being, as soon as I was no longer a virgin.
  • …because from the moment I had sex with that sweet boy, I was labelled a slut.
  • …because my best friend at the time was also gang raped, that night, and blamed me for it. Because she and her friend beat me in a parking lot for not saving her.
  • …because I was taught to question and doubt the validity of my own lived experiences, by people not believing my accounts of them.
  • …because of gaslighting.
  • …because, when I told my boyfriend (at the time) about being raped, he blamed me for it, and immediately explained how he would leave me, if I pulled away from him the next time he tried to kiss me or initiate sex.
  • …because I was still so unsure of my own value as a human being that I stayed with him, anyway.
  • …because my sexual orientation has been dissected, ridiculed, picked apart, and even been deemed imaginary or non-existent, since I was outed in high school.
  • …because not all of that came from straight people.
  • …because a high school guidance counselor told me that I shouldn’t be “shoving it (my sexual orientation) in everybody’s faces, when I spoke to her about the bullying.
  • …because I was quietly steered away from the hobbies and careers I wanted, when I was young, because of my gender.
  • …because my childhood religion taught me both that I was the source of all evil, and that my only legitimate purposes on this planet were to make babies and take care of them. And men. To take care of men.
  • …because my emotions, even when their expression is both logical and appropriate to the situation, are often used to discredit my words. I am neither hysterical nor oversensitive.
  • …because I had an easier time getting booze at the liquor store, when I was a teenager, than I did getting birth control.
  • …because I grew up believing that women weren’t supposed to enjoy sex.
  • …because all the heroes in my books, movies, and TV shows were men and boys, beyond Nancy Drew.
  • …because I was taught all about all the things I was supposed to do to keep myself from being raped, without ever hearing a thing about consent.
  • …because my male friends and cousins were never taught not to touch me, if I said no.
  • …because I was never taught how to set boundaries, or even that I was allowed to do so. In fact, I was made to accept kisses, hugs, cheek-pinches, and to sit in someone’s lap, even when I’d said I didn’t want to do so.
  • …because parents are still forcing their kids to accept touches and physical affection from people who make them uncomfortable.
  • …because, until I was in my late twenties, I believed that if I “led a man on” to a certain point, I owed him sex.
  • …because girls – and more importantly, boys – are still being taught that lie.
  • …because too many people believe they are entitled to my attention, time, respect, affection, body, and intimacy.
  • …because girls are still made to choose their clothes for school based upon whether or not the boys might find them “distracting.”
  • …because the vast majority of legislators making policy and funding decisions about women’s health in the US are male.
  • …because I’m afraid to post face or full-body pictures of myself online, due to the possible commentary.
  • …because my clothing does not indicate consent
  • …because my alcohol consumption doesn’t, either.
  • …because one in five women will be raped in her lifetime.
  • …because 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are molested as children
  • …because our country provides those child victims with neither justice nor adequate treatment for their trauma.
  • …because a child victim of sexual abuse is almost twice as likely to be sexually assaulted or raped, later in life, as someone who was not molested as a child, yet there is no ongoing support system.
  • …because children almost never lie about sexual abuse, yet are rarely believed.
  • …because women almost never lie about rape, yet are rarely believed.
  • …because police officers often interrogate reporting rape victims as if they were the criminals…
  • …and only about 3% of rapists ever see the inside of a prison cell…
  • …and victims are revictimized by the court system, during trials…
  • …and by their communities…
  • …and by the media…
  • …yet too many people, when told by a woman that she was raped, refuse to believe her unless she goes to the police.
  • …because people like RooshV and Donald Trump exist.

And that’s all I’ve got the spoons to type, right now. I’ve barely scratched the surface, and I will be back.

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Angry bitch

This one goes out to all my “Angry Bitches,”

to all the women and girls

who learned at young ages

to swallow their anger

to express it in tears

to pretend it was okay

to rage in whispers at mirrors or

into pink pillow cases

to scream only when alone in the car

on deserted roads

to school faces

not to show

their frustration

their annoyance

their anger

their ire

their boiling fucking rage

by even so much as a single raised eyebrow

a rolled eye

a twitch of the lip

not to allow a single crack

in the smooth

ladylike

facade

of tranquility that might

in any way

make someone else

uncomfortable

This one goes out to all those

who take their lumps

who gulp them down

and gulp again

and again

and again

until those lumps sit

tight

heavy

and painful

until they become

the pits of their stomachs

untouched by the acids

fertilized by the bile

heaped on their existence

their sameness

their difference

their pain

their anguish

their voices

their audacity

when they dare to speak

in less than palatable words

in less than pleasant tones

in more than the agreed upon phrases

about more than the approved subjects

allowed to their feminine minds

This one goes out to all those ladies

who got tired of the word

who outgrew the confines of that box

who flexed

and stretched

and pushed

and strained

until the box collapsed around them

who stepped away from the wreckage

and out of the room

only to realize the next room

was just a bigger box

where angry still tightened the walls

where they could still be

interrupted

talked over

shushed

silenced

belittled

battered

bruised

beaten back into silence

by the voices that refuse to hear

what’s being described

and use the word

“angry”

as a gag to stifle the sound

as an excuse

to ignore the words

who use their anger

to dismiss all the valid fucking reasons

they were angry in the first place

or to blame them

for the things they’ve endured

as if their anger…

at being ignored

held back

pushed down

condescended to

talked past

abused

gaslighted

leaned on

bullied

intimidated

made to feel afraid in the streets of their own cities

the classrooms of their own schools

the halls of their own houses

made to feel their good ideas

were bossiness

their assertive leadership

bitchiness

their focus on family

unprofessional

their focus on career

cold and calculating

their tears

manipulative

their joys

worthless

their fears

baseless

their goals

laughable

…as if their anger

retroactively

justifies every fucked up thing

the world has done TO them

as if the emotional response

created the thing

they were responding to

This one goes out to you

my Angry Fucking Bitches

It goes out to us

and I say

since when do men

have a monopoly on anger?

since when are slights against them

so much more offensive

than slights against us?

Since when do they get to tell us

where the line is

that when crossed

means we are

“too angry”

And I hear the whisper

the angry sibilance

coming back to me

Ssssince alwaaaayssss

And I say

fuck you.

Not anymore.

Why I Won’t Continue to Argue With You

I am a socially aware person. Which, if labels are to be trotted out, most often translates to “feminist,” “Social Justice Warrior,” “liberal hack,” “slacktivist,” or “Feminazi scum,” depending entirely on the beliefs of the speaker. With the exception of “feminazi” – which is utterly absurd and particularly hateful because no feminist or feminist group ever imprisoned and tortured and killed millions of human beings for their differences – I wear each one with pride. I know what they mean, what they’re intended to mean, and that the resentment behind them often indicates the frustration of the ignorant with inevitable social progress.

I didn’t just jump on this “bandwagon,” as so many opponents would call it, on a whim. I didn’t become this shining example of a “SJW” overnight. I got here through a very logical progression of questioning, seeking answers, and finding knowledge. It was an almost organic evolution. It was growth, and growth doesn’t happen without impetus, or all at once.

plant watering

It started when I was very young. I remember playing basketball in the Carolina summer heat, with my cousins, who were mostly boys. The hotter it got, the more shirts came flying off, to be discarded next to the red clay “court” in the backyard of the cousin who led the games. I was about six or seven. I hadn’t been taught anything about the differences between girls and boys, let alone about sex or sexuality. I got hot, too. I took my shirt off, too. And it was no big deal to me, or to the half dozen boys with whom I played. I took my shirt off, and ran around with the same sweaty, dirty abandon as all the other kids, and nobody cared. Until my father came running outside, red-faced and yelling. What the heck was I thinking??? What was the matter with me? He yelled and made me put my shirt back on, and go home, but he never explained why. From that day forward, I knew that girls couldn’t do everything that boys could do. That girls would get into trouble for things about which boys never had  to think twice.

I was also only seven years old when my family taught me to be a racist, and only about ten when I started to question that belief system. I found that I had a drive to learn more about other people, about how they lived in this world we shared, about how their experiences in that world were different from my own. I visited the school library. I read everything they had that related to my questions, then moved on to the county library. I talked to people. I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t, like me, white and protestant, at the time, but I asked questions, anyway. The answers I got were… dissatisfying. My parents and my preacher gave me biblical justifications for racism. So, I read the bible, cover to cover, for the first time. What I found was that the Bible doesn’t justify racism, yet it repeatedly urges us to love one another, regardless of our differences. I asked my teachers. Only one had an response that didn’t amount to a lackadaisical shrug of the shoulders. She pointed me in the direction of some amazing literature written by black authors, about their experience in this world. I devoured every one. Armed with this knowledge, I started questioning people, again. My parents eventually just shushed me with the equivalent of Because we said so. Now stop pestering us. My preacher brushed me off the same way.

I had encountered the first revelation of growing up: The grown-ups didn’t know everything, after all. They weren’t infallible. They could be wrong. But I’d also learned something of the utmost importance. I didn’t have to settle for their non-answers. There was a whole world out there, full of answers. I just had to find them for myself.

library

The next stage of this growth was related to sexuality. In a church where they managed to justify racism with bible verses, it’s no surprise that homosexuality was also sternly frowned-upon. This was problematic, for me. See, I was in kindergarten when I developed my first celebrity crush – on a woman. I was in first grade when I had my first real-life crush – on a girl. I later developed crushes on boys, too, both in real life and on TV (Doogie Howser, anybody?), but by then, I knew I was… different. I’d never associated my differences with “The Gays,” then. That’s how they were always referenced. Implied capital letters, and sneery italics in my head. The Gays. Also occasionally known as HommaSECKshuls. I didn’t connect the descriptions of those people with the difference I knew existed between me and other people, because of the way those people were described. Immoral. Sneaky. Dishonest. Sleazy. Perverted. Dangerous. Likely to molest small children and family pets, and steal the family television, while they were at it. I knew that wasn’t me, and hadn’t yet connected those labels to who I was.

I was in my teens before I knew what lesbian meant, and the first time I heard the word bisexual I was a freshman in high school. And it fit, for me, in a simple way that nothing else ever had. That was when the derogatory use of The Gays and HommaSECKshuls connected, in my mind, with me. This time, though, I knew it may be dangerous to ask questions of the same people. I knew where to find answers, and went looking. What I discovered was that there was no logical reason for anyone to hate or fear or abuse other people, based solely on their sexual orientation. I also discovered a need to hide. To conceal who I was. Until I couldn’t, anymore. Until I accidentally outed myself to my school and my family. I’ve since discovered that a prejudice against bisexual people exists in more than just the straight community. Like the other prejudices I’d discovered, like all prejudice, it is illogical. I know this not only because I happen to be bisexual, but because I did with that what I always did, when faced with such things; I educated myself.

It’s the method I’ve developed, over the course of a lifetime, when faced with beliefs that don’t make sense to me, for understanding those beliefs, and developing my own. Research, questioning, debating, reading, and learning as much as I can. Informing my opinion.

So when I encountered such concepts as privilege, institutionalized racism, rape culture, misogyny, transphobia, and patriarchy, I approached those in the same way. I talked to people who knew more than I did. I talked to people who believed those things, to understand where those beliefs, however problematic, originated. I researched. Fortunately, by this point, I had access to all the information I could ever want, via the internet. I read academic articles, first-hand accounts, editorials, and blog posts. I devoured research studies and statistics, conducted and compiled by everyone from accredited universities to the Department of Justice to the Census Bureau. I ordered non-fiction books about the prison industrial complex, and civil rights battles, about the struggle for LGBT rights, about the ways in which US society is predisposed to actively disadvantage and oppress women, minority races, immigrants, and LGBT individuals. I read first-hand accounts and historical documents about protests and movements, the reasons they happened, and the motives of both those involved and those opposed. I participated in debates with other people who were seeking answers to the same questions. I sought out knowledge and understanding. I informed my opinion.

Which brings me to the point of this whole thing, far too late for a TL:DR warning. I do not disagree that everyone has a right to their opinion. You have the right to believe whatever you like. But we’re not talking about the existence of fairies in a J.M. Barrie story, here; your belief does not make a thing true. You can’t clap your hands loudly enough for racism or misogyny or homophobia to be a logical response to the world. You can’t generalize your personal feelings or experience, as a single human being, to all of humanity.

I am glad to discuss any of those topics, at great length, and mostly without rancor. They’re a particular passion of mine, and we all love to talk about the things that inspire that passion. What I am not willing to do is give an uninformed opinion equal weight to one that is based on a lifetime of research, study, growth, and learning. If you haven’t spent at least some tangible amount of time and effort learning about these things, chances are pretty good that I know more than you, about those specific topics. If you want to learn more, to inform your opinion, I will be happy to point you in the right direction to do so. To a limited extent, I will even be happy to teach you, myself. What I will not do, though, no matter how often or how loudly you rail, is let you shout down those years of hard-earned understanding with your gut feeling, your very deeply tinted personal lens, your unfounded and uninformed beliefs. What I will not do is engage with you, when you don’t want to learn, when you aren’t interested in understanding, when all you want to do is be right, without any basis in fact, without any research, without any logical basis for your determination of rightness, at all.

My refusal to discuss those things with you doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t like you. That I think less of you, as a person. It simply means that, until and unless your opinion becomes informed, I recognize the pointlessness of engaging with you on those topics. Doing so would be like inviting you to play soccer, when you’ve never played, then agreeing to play by the rules that you make up as we go along, and further agreeing that doing so makes perfect sense. It would be absurd, counterproductive, and demeaning to all the other people playing who took the time to learn the rules and practice, before that game began.

You do have every right to your opinion. I also have every right to refuse to discuss opinions that are uninformed, with people who refuse all attempts to learn.

not listening

The problem with “drama”

Drama. It’s a term we hear quite often, in recent years. As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, in this context:

An exciting, emotional, or unexpected series of events or set of circumstances

As defined by Merriam Webster, in this context:

a :  a state, situation, or series of events involving interesting or intense conflict of forces

b:  dramatic state, effect, or quality <the drama of the courtroom proceedings>

If we’re speaking literally, then, drama is really just a part of life, for everyone. Giving birth is drama. Dealing with a crying baby is drama. Getting married, beginning or ending a relationship or job, getting a promotion or a raise, being stuck in traffic when you’re on your way to something important, the loss of a loved one or pet, the first day of school, work, or marriage, a wedding, a funeral, a cat chasing a robot dog across your living room floor. All of those things qualify as drama, and all of them are perfectly normal, mostly necessary or unavoidable, parts of life. Without drama, there would be no life.

Recently, though, the word “drama” has taken on much more negative connotations. In order to explore those, we need to step into a slightly seedier (if occasionally more amusing) corner of the internet.

From urbandictionary:

The…

Wait… Jesus Christ. That’s a rather… dramatic… discovery. I had to go down thirteen definitions, just to find one that wasn’t completely loaded with misogyny, either in the definition, or in the examples. And number thirteen is so poorly written, I refuse to include it, here.

So, I guess we’ll just start with the number one definition:

Something women and especialy [sic] teenage girls thrive on. consisting of any number of situations that have an easy solution, wich [sic] would bring a fairly good outcome, but these girls choose another, shitty, bad way to deal with it, again consisting of backstabbing, blackmailing/gossiping/betraying their friends, or the all-too-common “I want to break up with him but i still love him!”
it drives men and what i like to call “normal” girls nuts.

Unfortunately, when people talk about drama, these days, the above definition is usually what they’re intending to convey. Unfortunately, it is very much a gendered issue. In fact, looking through the top 35 definitions, there are over 50 blatant misogynist, ableist, or homophobic slurs, or characterizations of women and girls as the main sources of all the “drama,” always.

Which is telling, really, and speaks directly to the point I wanted to make, when I opened up this post. I’d like to include the first definition listed, at number twenty-three, which I feel adequately describes what is actually going on, when someone tosses out the word “drama,” in conversation, especially around sensitive or controversial topics:

A way of referring to problems and other normal complications in life, typically of others; painting them in a negative light so that the person speaking doesn’t come off as being a self-interested jerk even though doing this inherently determines them to be so.

This definition is actually much closer to the truth, I think.

When victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, sexual harassment, or blatant misogyny speak out, or when someone speaks out on their behalf, there’s almost a guarantee that someone, somewhere, will accuse them of being drama queens or drama llamas, or of stirring up drama, or having too much drama, or of causing drama. Often, the people using the term will claim that the person’s tone is the problem, or their personality, or their past.

What this indicates is that the issues to which you are trying to draw necessary attention – issues like domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment – are uncomfortable for them to hear. It indicates that the person hearing about these important issues doesn’t want to face up to the reality of the problems, doesn’t want to admit that, perhaps, there’s something they may need to do, or change, or put some effort and empathy into, in order to fix the problem.

What it amounts to is fear. They’re afraid of things changing. More often than not, they are comfortable with the way things are. Either the situation isn’t harming them, personally, or they have internalized the harm to a point where they are unable to see how damaging it is, to them, to others, and to their culture as a whole. Or, perhaps for some, they are well aware of the truth of the matter, and don’t want anyone to take what you’re saying seriously, because it might reveal them to be the abusers, rapists, harassers, or violators that they are.

It’s fear, manifesting as intimidation, and it is one of the favorite weapons in the arsenal of the victim blamers, abusers, misogynists, and cowards of the world. It is almost exclusively used against marginalized or victimized people, to discredit them, to silence them, to shame them into not saying things that might make somebody look bad. To make them shut up. To make them question themselves. It’s their way of saying,

STAHP!! Stop saying these things that I don’t want to hear about! Stop trying to take away my illusions or my nice-person mask! Stop telling me things that make me ashamed of things I might have done, or might do in the future! Stop making me have to actually think about what my actions, my choices, my words, or the actions, words, or choices of the people I support and defend, might be doing to other people! Stop pointing out my utter lack of empathy for my fellow human beings!

The worst of it is, in many situations, it works. Often, a victim will speak up to a community, to tell them that their policies aren’t good enough to keep the members safe, or they will give an account of something that another community member did to them, which caused harm, or they will notice a Missing Stair, and ask that someone make the needed repairs. They will be met by an onslaught of criticism, insults, attacks, and threats. They will be accused of being drama queens. They might face entire groups of people, loudly demanding that they stop lying, stop stirring things up, stop causing trouble, stop making noise. They will be met with such ferocious resistance, at a time when they are already vulnerable and raw and afraid… and they will back down. They’ll shut up. They’ll stop trying to draw attention to the problems that need to be recognized and addressed. Sometimes, they’ll simply pull away from the community in which the problems exist, often losing important social support networks in the process. Sometimes, they will internalize what is being thrown their way, and begin to doubt themselves, blame themselves, and by extension, begin to blame other victims, in later problematic situations.

That’s just not okay. Silencing and shaming people who are speaking to legitimate issues, by using the word “drama” as a weapon, is not okay.

So, do me a favor. Stop that. Have a little more empathy.Understand that anyone reporting someone or something which is causing harm isn’t a “drama queen.” They’re a brave, hopeful, empathetic person, trying to keep other people from being harmed, often in ways in which they already have been. They deserve your attention. They deserve to not be invalidated with words like “drama.” They deserve your gratitude, instead of your ridicule.

When you say, I don’t do drama, what I hear is, I am more invested in being comfortably ignorant, and utterly selfish, than I am in showing empathy to my fellow human beings, or taking some responsibility for shaping the culture in which I live. 

And I think that most of us want to be better than that. Don’t you?

A response to “We don’t teach men to rape.”

Originally posted elsewhere, August 5, 2014


I posted most of this as a comment on a post, elsewhere, in response to another comment. (What follows has been slightly edited, and expanded from the original.)

The comment basically said that men who rape are abnormal, and that what they do isn’t a learned behavior.

I beg to differ.

I would agree that no man who molests children is ‘normal.’ As to the men who rape women, well, I see that a bit differently. Some of the men who do these things aren’t normal. But not all, by far. Many of them are as normal, as statistically average in every way, as they can possibly be, and are simply the end products of societal conditioning that shows them, over and over and over, that they don’t have to be held accountable for their aggressive behaviors when it comes to relating to women, or transpeople, or anyone who isn’t a man.

See, we (society) have this picture of “RAPIST” that is the stranger lurking in the bushes, or behind a parked car, waiting to jump out and attack us, and drag us off into some dark, dank space to have their way with us. We (society) have this picture of “REAL RAPE” as something that is always a violent attack, with brutal, aggressive force, weapons, masked men, which takes place between strangers in dark alleys.

The statistics do not support that picture. The vast majority of rape is perpetuated by people known to the victims, trusted by the victims. It is more likely to be coercive, or the result of more subtle intimidation and power-play, than brute physical attack.

People say that the behavior hasn’t been taught to them. Actually, it has, in many, many cases. Sure. Someone, somewhere, told them “don’t rape.” Maybe. But the real messages coming from society aren’t so black and white. They are taught, over and over and over and over again that their aggressive sexual behavior is either perfectly okay, or not their fault or responsibility. That they can’t be expected to control their sexual impulses or desires, because … cavemen, or something?

  • If she was wearing a short skirt, or tight jeans, or a revealing top, or makeup, she obviously wanted to draw attention from men. So, if they catcall or approach her, if they get all up in her personal space, she must have wanted that, right? Because she wore those clothes that drew their attention, so that’s her responsibility.
  • If she went to a bar and sat down to have a drink alone, she obviously wanted their ham-handed come-ons and PUA bullshit. She obviously wants someone to pursue her, even if she says no. She couldn’t just be there to enjoy a drink, either alone or with her friends.
  • If she’s rejecting their advances, she doesn’t really mean it. She’s only saying no to be a tease, to make them pursue her, to play hard to get, to tantalize and inflame men’s desire for the chase. Because her behavior is all about them, doncha know.
  • If she’s passed out drunk, or so intoxicated that she slurs her words and stumbles when she walks, then it’s all on her if he has sex with her. She shouldn’t have had so much to drink.

See, ^these are the things we have really been teaching men. That “boys will be boys,” and aren’t responsible for their behavior. Look back, really LOOK, at all of those scenarios. In each case, someone is acting, and someone is being acted upon. Yet, in each case, society tells the person who is acting that it is the “personal responsibility” of the person being acted upon to play gatekeeper. To not wear the clothes or the makeup that ‘entice men.’ To not have a damned drink in a bar. To be blunt to the point of cruelty if they want their rejection taken seriously (which can then bring on even more aggressive, violent, threatening behavior).

But we absolve the person who is acting, in each scenario, of any accountability whatsoever.

So, yeah, in many cases, they ARE being taught that it’s okay to ignore boundaries. That it’s okay to push past them. That it’s okay to get in someone else’s personal space, even when the person is expressing distaste or unease or discomfort or outright rejection. They are being taught that it is not their responsibility to not rape. They are not being held accountable for acting, and they are being shown, repeatedly, that when they do act, the responsibility for their behavior is on the person at whom the behavior is directed.

Under the he-had-a-weapon-and-was-a-stranger-and-she-was-beaten-into-submission model, sure. Very few men do that.

But LOADS of men who don’t fit that “REAL RAPIST” false archetype are raping women. They rape their wives and girlfriends. They rape passed out girls and too-drunk-to-consent women at parties. They refuse to take no for an answer, and coerce and intimidate and bully and push and push and push until she gives in, not actually consenting, but unable to withstand the onslaught.

And we (society) overwhelmingly blame her. Even though he was the one pursuing, he was the one acting, we blame his victim. And he knows it. He may not think that he’s raping someone. He may think this is just how sex works. HE. IS. WRONG. And so is the society that teaches him that he isn’t.

No. We may not explicitly teach men to rape. We just teach them that, if they do, it’s perfectly understandable, and not their fault. Which amounts to the same damned thing.

No, Not YOU.

Dear Man,

I understand that hearing about the #YesAllWomen thing isn’t easy. I understand that hearing things about how the vast majority of violence is perpetrated by those humans of the male persuasion, and how people who are not men are sometimes wary of you, because you happen to share a gender with ‘those guys,’ can feel like an attack.

And you know what? I’m sorry. I’m sorry that it feels like an attack on you. I’m sorry that we don’t have a better way to frame it, than to talk about men doing bad things. I’m sorry that it makes you feel like you ought to feel guilty for simply being a man, because you shouldn’t.

When you read the thing about the 10% of these yummy candies that are poison, I actually do understand how that can feel kind of icky, for you.

Because (and I am explicitly not talking to that 10%, now), you probably aren’t ‘that guy.’ You probably read the things written by people who aren’t men under the YesAllWomen hashtag, and they are horrifying to you. You probably don’t yell out at random people who are not men on the street, DAAAAAMN! LOOKIT DATASS!! thus making them feel threatened and objectified and conspicuous and afraid without their consent. You probably don’t get someone drunk in order to take advantage of them. You probably never raped anyone. You probably never hit a partner without their consent. You were probably socialized to believe that it’s simply not okay to rape or abuse or harass or assault someone, and the very idea that someone might believe that of you, just because you are a man, is probably deeply hurtful and offensive.

And I get that. I really do. I actually ache for the good, innocent men who, hearing about all of this, feel somehow ashamed of themselves because they’re men.

What we need you to understand, though, what we’ve been trying really hard to explain to you, is that this really is not about you. Unless you are one of ‘those guys,’ who does those shitty, dehumanizing, abusive things, this isn’t about you. What we need you to understand is, we already know that it is not all men who are doing these busted things. It’s just, we thought that part went without saying.

The problem is, the people who do this sort of thing, the vast, overwhelming majority of the time, do happen to be men. And they don’t exactly self-identify. I’m pretty sure that never in the history of everdom has this ever happened:

Hi! My name’s JoeBob. Can I buy you a drink? Oh, by the way, before you answer, you should probably know that, last year I beat my ex-wife so badly that she spent six days in the hospital, and last month I raped my best friend’s partner, and just on the way over here, I loomed over a random chick at a bus stop, demanding that she reply to my crass and unwanted comments about her appearance, and I got some other chick so drunk she could barely walk, at this very bar, last night, then took her back to my place and fucked her brains out, and called her a cab and poured her into it before she could even sober up. And that’s kind of my plan for you, too. So… about that drink? And, hey. You’ve got a really tight ass.

See? That just doesn’t happen. Sometimes, months or years can pass without any indications, even. But we all know that the one-in-ten possibility for one or all of those things to be true exists. So, we’re afraid. Wouldn’t you be? Most of us spend the vast majority of our time in public and/or crowded places with that fear living like a little knot in our bellies. It may not be the top-of-the-brain thought, but it is never not there. It can’t be, because getting rid of that wariness, that caution, is dangerous, for us.

And that probably makes you a little sick. Sex, love, and (for some of us) kink, are freaking awesome. They’re kind of sacred in some way, to most of us. That this happens within those somewhat sacred spaces is probably enough to make your brains scream against the reality. And you probably don’t feel very good about seemingly being lumped in with ‘those guys.’

You may believe that the term “patriarchy” somehow indicates that you,personally, are actively oppressing women. You may have gotten the idea that the term “male privilege” is an insult which means you don’t get to have an opinion, or that it entirely neglects the myriad other disadvantages with which you may be faced.

The thing is, NONE OF THOSE THINGS ARE TRUE.

One, most of those of us who are speaking out in this way actually do understand that not all men do these things. Two, “patriarchy” doesn’t mean that ALL men have equal shares of the power and constantly oppress people who aren’t men, only that the society is, and has always been structured, by certain men, in such a way that it is undeniably and especially oppressive towards people who are not men, and that the culture, as a whole (not you, specifically), perpetuates that oppression, almost always in ways that benefit most men, at least in part. Three, “male privilege” is not an insult. Usually, when it is invoked during a discussion, it is because a man is trying to tell people who are not men that the validity of their actual experiences is questionable or invalid, because it doesn’t line up with the life he has lived. And of COURSE it doesn’t line up, because he hasn’t been on the receiving end of the assault, the harassment, the abuse, the hijacking of personal agency, that comes with being something other than a man. He doesn’t know that fear, or that sense of resigned inevitability.

None of those things is an attack on you, personally. Whether it feels that way or not.

But I do understand the need to distinguish yourself from ‘that guy.’ And there are absolutely ways that you can do that. It’s just that, jumping into a conversation about how all people who aren’t men have been at the receiving end of some such shittiness, and demanding that the conversation center around you, by telling us something that We. Already. Know, is not one of those ways, and not likely to convince anybody that you aren’t ‘that guy.’

See, that conversation has a point. The point is not to attack all men, or you, personally. The point is to draw attention to how very messed up it is that yes, all people who aren’t men have experienced these things, at the hands of people who are almost exclusively male. The point is to try to find ways to make that stop happening. And make no mistake, the decrease or cessation of that kind of outright or subtle hostility will be good for you, too. Because, on the glorious day when that becomes the reality (or, at least, more of the norm than the exception), you will no longer feel any need to remind us that it isn’t all men. Because it will no longer be that all of the rest of us are living in that kind of fear.

We don’t want to mistrust or fear or resent you, if you’re not ‘that guy.’ We get no fun or entertainment out of being constantly afraid to walk down the street alone, or to have a drink or three in a bar, or to open up our damned inboxes, or even to speak the truth about our experiences. Contrary to what some men (certainly ‘that guy’ types) want you to believe, there is no prize for being forced to go through all this shit.

The only way in which this conversation is about you, is that we’re asking for your help. If you aren’t ‘that guy,’ there are ways to put that across, as I mentioned before.

The first is really simple. Or, at least, it seems that way, in black and white.

Listen.

Yep. That’s the big one. Listen to what is being said. Understand that, while it may differ from the way the world reacts to you, that doesn’t mean it is inaccurate. Listen. Turn down the defensiveness, and turn up the empathy. Care about the perspective of the person who is speaking enough to not try and shift the discussion to how it affects you.

Generally speaking, if someone who isn’t a man is venting to you, about this, it’s because they trust you. Because they believe you aren’t ‘that guy.’ Because they feel safe and comfortable enough with you to tell you what it is like to be them.It’s okay to say, Fuck, that’s awful. It makes me feel really bad about the way that some men treat women. It’s not okay to say, Butbutbut I’M NOT LIKE THAT AND HOW DARE YOU ACCUSE ME!!! Because that’s reframing the conversation. It’s missing the point. It’s taking away the safe place to speak and be heard, and making it all about you and your concerns – almost always unfounded – about possible guilt-by-association.

So stop defending, and start listening.

The second thing you can do is to recognize that there is actually a problem, and it’s a gendered problem, whether we like it or not. There are threats to safety that we all face, as humans. This isn’t that. These are specific threats that happen so much more often to people other than men, it is obviously something that is directly related to gender. That is NOT to say that men don’t face threats. It is NOT to say that those problems aren’t worth addressing. It is to say that these discussions, difficult as this may be to accept, are NOT the place for those things. Again, that is shifting the focus, and this issue deserves its own space.

Third, while you probably aren’t ‘that guy,’ you probably know someone who is. And you know, that’s not just you. We know some of ‘those guys,’ too. And all of us have probably, at least at one point or another, heard the ‘that guy’ we know say some busted shit, or seen him do some busted shit… and said nothing. That’s the way it used to be. We’re trying to make that not be the way it is.

So, when that guy you know, who happens to be ‘that guy,’ harasses a woman at a bar because she told him she’s not interested, or turns around to follow someone who isn’t a man on the street, telling that person how hot they are, then berating them for not responding to his ‘compliments,’ or tries to coerce an inebriated person into having sex with him, when they’re too drunk to consent, or makes a joke about how it isn’t rape if she’s unconscious, or does any number of other things that you now know is oppressive or abusive or harassing to those of us who aren’t men, speak up.

You don’t have to attack. You can simply say, “You know, when you do those things, it makes me really uncomfortable. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t do them, or at least didn’t do them around me.

Is that a really uncomfortable conversation to have? Of course it is. The thing is, we are having it, too. But ‘that guy?’ He doesn’t really listen much to those of us who aren’t men. So, your voices have more power, with him, more sway. Your opinion of him matters much more, most of the time, than ours does. You are less likely to face danger, and more likely to be heard, than we are. That doesn’t mean we’re lumping you in with him, or making you responsible for his behavior. It’s just that we’d like for there to not be any reason to keep having these discussions, too. And we think we hear you saying you’d like the same thing. And this is one possible way that you can help.

Can you face some repercussions for speaking up? Sure. People don’t generally like being called on their shit. You may face ridicule, or ostracism. They may question your masculinity. But if they’re the type of guy who believes that caring about other people makes you somehow less manly, why in the world would you want to maintain those friendships? You know, we face those issues too, when we call them out. On top of that, we face accusations of being irrational, moody, having our period, being bitches, being cunts, being too sensitive. We face possible harassment, stalking, threats of bodily harm or death, or actual bodily harm.

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them” – Margaret Atwood

Last, realize that, though #YesAllWomen isn’t about you, this is your issue, too. Jackson Katz has spoken about this far more eloquently than I can, so I’m going to drop his wonderful TED talk in, here. (I know, you’ve probably seen this link before, and not clicked on it, not watched the whole thing. I’m asking you, please,take the time to watch it from beginning to end. The message is so very important, and if you care about the people who are being hurt by this, you need to see it.)

Violence against women is a men’s issue

TL:DR

Yes, we know it isn’t all men. Telling us that, in the middle of the conversation, doesn’t convince anyone that it isn’t you.

For the Good Men Who Don’t Yet Get It

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.

 

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.