When the whole me too campaign started, I felt like writing Duh, me too. I doubted it would be news to anyone that knew me that I could dig into my history and find a few sad stories to share. But the more I read, the less I felt like jumping in.
I agree with the intent of the campaign.
We must break the silence around incest, sexual abuse and assault and harassment. The more stories are shared, the less our culture can continue to pretend it’s not happening. But I sensed a wave of anger at men that was surfacing due to the truths being shared. I read words that intended to shame men. That I don’t agree with.
Partly because I don’t feel that anger or that need to shame, but also because I don’t think it will ultimately serve any of us. If we truly want to break the cycle of abuse by dismantling the patriarchy (and yes, it will take nothing less than this), then I suggest we look closely at how we are all socialized by a dysfunctional society that shames us for being sexual and deprives many of us of the most basic love and affection.
We are all victims of a world that devalues human sexuality and twists and perverts it and provides us with little to no instruction or guidance on how to manage this incredibly powerful and beautiful force.
I agree with what Jason Weston, executive director of the Human Awareness Institute (hai.org), writes:
“Healing one’s body image and sexuality are key components of opening up a tremendous inner strength, self-love, and acceptance of healthy sexuality in others. It also connects us to a deep source of vulnerability and compassion, which makes us safer to be with others, and much less likely to trample someone else’s boundaries or shame them. So it becomes a stepping stone to a healthy, sane and empowered culture.”
So my me too has a caveat.
Me too, but… I don’t hold any anger towards any of the boys/men who coerced me, fed me drinks, offered me a ride, and ultimately didn’t take no for an answer. I used to have anger. As an undergraduate Women’s Studies major at the age of 19, when I first put the pieces together and learned that it wasn’t just me, that there was a system that supported this behavior in men, I felt duped and I felt angry.
But looking back on each individual incident, at each individual, I feel no anger. Granted, these weren’t sociopaths and I suffered no physical harm. I have no PTSD. I never felt scared for my safety. What I felt was that I was going to get fucked when I didn’t feel like fucking. I’m not saying that’s okay. I’m not excusing their behavior. But I am looking to understand it. For me, getting date raped isn’t the big tragedy in my life and I’m not about to pretend it is. Once I resigned myself to the fact that it was happening, I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t happy either. I was left with humiliation and shame. Not about the fact that I’d had sex. I was never taught shame about my sexuality as a child. The shame I felt after these incidents was that I wasn’t being respected, that my words were not enough to stop someone.
What I feel now when I reflect back, is sadness.
Sadness for the teenage girl who wasn’t being taken out on dates to the movies or for ice cream, who wasn’t getting her hand held or her eyes gazed into with love. I wanted sex too, badly. If one of those guys would have had any sense and actually dated me, we could have had lots of wonderful consensual sex in between eating ice cream and watching movies and romantic eye gazing and hand holding. But they had no sense. But having no sense doesn’t make you a bad person.
I’m far more pissed off at how guys fucked me and then decided I was un-dateable, than I am about getting fucked by guys when I didn’t feel like fucking. But even with that I don’t blame those individual boys/men. I blame the Catholic School they went to. I blame our whole bullshit society for teaching them that my vagina is a commodity that loses value with use. How sad for them and for me.
It is a system upheld by all of us that ultimately benefits none of us. If we want to trace it back to a time when women were commodities to be sold from fathers to husbands (this is still the case in some parts of the world) and controlling sexuality meant controlling the flow of wealth and subsequently power, then yes, it was a system set up to benefit some. But every effort to control the sexuality of a people has backfired in some way. The more you repress the more twisted it becomes, but it doesn’t go away. Due to lack of information, unhealthy restrictions and repression people have been making poor choices about sex and sexuality for a long time.
There is one incident I come back to.
I was about 17, at a party with friends. There was a big guy, a football player type, socially awkward, but cute enough. He was a friend of the family of the guys who were hosting the party. I had met him before and he always seemed shy around girls, but was paying me extra attention that night. He brought me lots of beers. Far more than my tiny frame could handle but I was enjoying his attention. At one point, I have a vague memory of him trying to teach me to play chess, which even sober may have been a challenge. I found it amusing.
I passed out eventually on the floor in the living room. I woke up in the morning and he was lying next to me, smiling at me. He said “I enjoyed last night.” He seemed absolutely sincere. He kept smiling. That’s when I realized my white leggings were at my ankles. I suddenly became self-conscious. My biggest worry was “who saw?” I was on the living room floor. Lots of people could have seen. “What happened?” was my next worry. I never asked him and to this day I don’t know.
I imagine that my body responded to his. Thinking back later, I felt like I could almost conjure an image of sexual activity, but I can’t be sure of this. I never felt angry at him. I think he was doing what he thought you were supposed to do if you wanted to get laid. I think he was shy around girls. I think he was insecure. I don’t think he thought he was doing anything wrong. I don’t think he had any intention of hurting me. I think he just wanted to get laid.
I don’t blame him for wanting to get laid, nor do I blame myself for enjoying his attention and drinking all that beer and passing out on the living room floor.
We certainly both made poor choices that night.
As I write those words, I can hear the vitriol coming at me. What—she called rape a poor choice! How dare she name her own experience? She was passed out- there was no consent! She couldn’t make a choice. He made the choice to violate her. He’s bad. She’s worse.
I’m not finding that attitude helpful and sadly I don’t think all of the #me too’s in the world will make any damn difference until we look more closely at the behavior of our brothers. Until we are open to hearing everyone’s stories. Because yes, stories need to be shared, but not just the me too’s. If I could go back and ask him what was he thinking, could he tell I was out of it, I would. I would love to hear that story. I feel his version is as important as mine. But if he can’t tell it, without being shamed, then we haven’t progressed.
I read calls for men to share their versions. To share when they have crossed boundaries, exerted their control, abused, assaulted, harassed. Yes, we need to hear these stories, but not so we can use them as proof of their inhumanity. Not so we can demonize and punish.
Focusing on men versus women also erases the stories of men who have been victims of abuse. Men are less likely to come out about being sexually abused or harassed, as the stigma is even greater.
I acknowledge that not all cases of sexual assault are about sex. Sexual assault can be an act of exerting control, an act of anger, of hatred, of violence. In these cases, I also still believe it’s important that we stomach all stories. Shaming someone into silence isn’t going to help us further understand this behavior.
What about all of the boys/men, both gay and straight, who are insecure about their sexuality, who have no idea how to initiate, how to ask. Who are thinking about sex a lot. We make jokes about it. Men thinking with their dicks. Only one thing on their minds. These are familiar phrases. We take male preoccupation with sex for granted, but then we don’t want to actually think about what that means.
We demonize sexual predators, allowing no space for healing. When has taking someone’s dignity and humanity from them ever led to anything positive?
Jason Weston writes:
“Every human life is a precious gift, an incredible opportunity for love, vibrance, connection, contribution. Our sexuality is one of the deepest, most vulnerable, most connecting aspects of being human. In our culture, this deep, vulnerable, intimate part of ourselves is often assaulted, belittled, and shamed. This robs us of our sense of safety, willingness to be truly intimate, and healthy body image.”
We need to evolve our culture so we can stop these abuses before they occur. We can start by healing ourselves, increasing our sensitivity, and empowering everyone to have their voices and boundaries.
Perhaps as a culture, we are going through the stages of grief on acknowledging the extent of collective sexual trauma that has been suffered. Therefore, we need to pass through the anger stage in order to move to a more compassionate and vulnerable phase where rage and sexual shame no longer have a hold on us. And perhaps then as a society, we can reclaim our sexual power. That’s the revolution I am ready to join.
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