The mass of #MeToos flooding my timeline from women I know, women I don’t know, and women I once knew lodged a lump in my throat that has yet to dissipate in 24 hours. Some have shared a story or two or five, others have simply posted the words, “Me too,” which was more than enough to make me tear up. I don’t have to know the details — we all know, as women, what it means.
It might seem the worst time to ask the question that has become a joke in and of itself — What about the men? — but it’s on my mind. Who are the people who have caused legions of #MeToos to take over my Facebook feed? And what do we want from them? If anything?
To be clear, #MeToo is for women. I do not want to hear a single man inserting himself into this conversation to remind women, “This happens to all genders” or to say, “This is a human issue, not a women’s issue.” Not now. We know men face assault and rape at the hands of other men. And it is awful. But right now we are talking about women, and what they experience from men, under patriarchy. That is what this conversation is about.
So, now that we are clear: what about the men? I’m serious. What do we want from men in this conversation? Anything? Nothing? Silence? To speak out? Self-castration?
I see women I went to high school with posting #MeToo, knowing that their #MeToo likely came from men we all knew. Men who perhaps are still about — friends of friends. I see women posting #MeToo, knowing that the man who assaulted or harassed them is still in their friend circle, and that the men around them have stayed quiet, while she is left to speak out, alone. I know some women are signalling to men around them: yes, I’m talking about YOU. I know many women are realizing that the thing they went through, that they had accepted as normal or harmless, was in fact not. They are realizing that the routine incidences of boundary breaking by men exist on a continuum — that sometimes there are violent rapes that leave bruises and sometimes there is public masturbation and sometimes there is a friend who pressures you into sex you didn’t want to have.
I posted my own #MeToo, knowing that some of those around me would know the men and incidences I was referring to, but that they would continue to say nothing to those men. For most of us, #MeToo refers to dozens — maybe even hundreds — of experiences. The time we gave in to sex with someone we didn’t want to have sex with because he wouldn’t let up and we just wanted to go to sleep. The time a man stared at us for our entire commute to work, causing us to go into a full blown panic, but we were unable to explain to those around us that we needed help because the dude isn’t doing anything, he’s just staring. We arrive at work, shaken, unable to explain that we need to sit in a bathroom stall taking deep breaths for 15 minutes because “A man was staring at me on the bus for half an hour.” The time a man we were dancing with at a frat party in 1998 dragged us off to the side of the room and pried our legs open and pushed his tongue down our throat and his hand between our legs, and we used all our strength to push him off, but really that did nothing, because he was much bigger and stronger than some 18-year-old girl, drunk on vodka and Gatorade, and luckily he gave up eventually, most-likely only because there were so many people around. We catch wafts of his cologne every once in a while, out in the world, and feel sick. Unable to explain to our boyfriends how a scent connected to “a man who tried to rape me when I was 19” makes us nauseous. There is the time a man “had sex with me” after I puked all over his porch and passed out in his bed in the suburbs because I couldn’t afford to take a cab home, and the “friend” who called me on Monday while I was at work to scream “whore” and “prostitute” at me, because she’d had a crush on the piece of shit. There is the man who followed me home, screaming he was going to rape and kill me, that everyone walking around me ignored, and when I called my boyfriend to help me, he seemed unconcerned and then started arguing with me about the situation, making me panic even more, and then hung up on me. There is the man who asked me if I had a boyfriend while I was waiting for the bus, and who, when I asked him to leave me alone, spat on me and screamed that he was going to “rip my nipples off,” while everyone at the bus stop pretended not to notice. There is the man who I made out with a bunch, but who I explicitly told could not come home with me, who followed me to my doorstep nonetheless, and who pushed his way into my house, despite my saying “no” again, and who I eventually “gave in to” and woke up feeling like I wanted to vomit. There are the numerous men masturbating in public that you can sometimes cross the street to avoid and sometimes not. There are the men who raped my friends who continued to be cool and popular, while my friends were branded as “sluts” or simply not believed because “you know how ____ is.” There is the man who worked in the office I was a receptionist at, who would come around the desk every single day and put his hands on my shoulders, standing so close that his body touched mine, who moved closer every time I tried to squirm away, always while clients were around, so that I felt too embarrassed to make a scene. There are the legions of men in bars who stand next to my bar stool, positioning themselves so their dicks are touching my leg, testing me to see if I will pull away. There are the worse stories I’m too ashamed to tell, the stories I can’t remember because I blocked them out years ago in order to avoid having to live with the memories, the many more stories I feel are “my fault” because I was in his bed, because I made out with him, because I left with him, because I got in a stranger’s limousine for fuck’s sake, because I went for drinks with my abusive ex and then he fucked me and repeated “I didn’t hit you, right? I didn’t hit you. I never hit you. Say I never hit you.” I don’t want to tell any more of my stories. I feel guilty telling my stories, knowing they are tame in comparison to those of so many women I know, molested by uncles, prostituted as children, gang-raped at parties. What I’ve experienced is normal. Nothing to write home about.
I know there are men reading this who feel bad. Who know they are complicit in all that I’ve described here and maybe more. Who probably are guilty themselves of pushing my boundaries or ignoring the women around them who’ve said a friend of theirs is a rapist or a creep. I know they are wondering what to do that could possibly be meaningful — that wouldn’t amount simply to virtue-signalling about what Good Men they are and about how “I believe you.”
I have tried to come up with an answer, because I do want you to do something. I’m not even sure I know what that thing is, because really, I’m not sure there is a thing that could be done to resolve my anger and the anger of the women around me, who are forced to live with the shame and fear of sexual assault and harassment, while you look for ways to absolve yourself of guilt.
To start, I don’t want to see your “I believe yous.” I don’t care if you believe me. I know what happened and women know what it means to them when these things happen. It is not up to you to believe or not to believe and in any case, it’s happening all the time, all around you, and we keep telling you over and over again that it’s happening until we just give up trying to explain because you either don’t care, or because when we do tell you, you punish us by treating as though we are “damaged,” and therefore “crazy,” and not in a position to “discuss things rationally” or “see things clearly,” and must be tip-toed around because we are the only freak in the entire universe who has been traumatized by a man and ugh maybe you should just talk to your therapist about this.
Don’t tell me what you believe or don’t believe, as though it has any bearing on what has happened to me and every other women alive, throughout our entire lives. What I want is action.
I want to hear accountability for your own behaviour, for your complicity, for your refusal to call out male friends, for refusing to stand up to abusive men, for pressuring women into sex they’ve said they don’t want to have, for following my friend home and fucking her even though you knew she was wasted and didn’t want anything to do with you but she just got too tired of trying to pushing you away so figured if she let you in, you’d leave faster.
While some women may not (fair enough), I do want your apology. I do want you to say something now, because now is better than never. I do want you to tell your brother that what he did is unacceptable. I do want you to criticize your 40 year-old friend who preys on drunk 20 year-old girls. I want you to admit that you have participated in all of this, despite the risks to your reputation. I want you to understand that your behaviour (or apathy) hurt women. I want you too apologize for paying for sex in 1999, because it was your birthday and your friends were all doing it. I want you to apologize for staying quiet when your buddy raped my friend. I want you to step in and say, “No, Perturbed Man On The Internet, this is not about ‘all genders,’ this is about misogyny — that is what we’re talking about right now and you can stop whining about it.” And I don’t want you to just do this all publicly, on Facebook, so that you can bask in congratulatory comments about what an Amazing and Courageous Man you are. I also want you to support the work women are doing to fight back. I want you to donate to your local women’s shelter, show up for our anti-prostitution rallies, fundraise, cook and clear plates at feminist events, support feminist media, stop watching pornography, and step in when you see a woman being harassed or intimidated. I want you to treat women as though they are human beings — not just potential orgasms. I want you to take our stories seriously, and understand that we are strong, and resilient, and we can fucking take it and recover and move forward, without being crushed or destroyed by this bullshit. But also that it takes a toll that you may never understand.
Yes, #MeToo is for women. But I do want something from men: hold yourself accountable and hold other men accountable, because, yes, this is about you too.