Sarah Beaulieu wants us to stop talking about the things men do wrong, and start talking about all the things men do right.
I certainly had a lot of reasons to be angry. I was sexually assaulted. By a man. By two men, in fact. One of them was my own grandfather. The other was a high school friend. The aftermath of these experiences left me broken and betrayed, not knowing how to trust, love, or be loved.
I was angry. I listened to angry feminist folk music. I read and discussed feminist theory, patriarchy, and sexism. I was on the hunt to expose bad men, and because of that, I found signs of their bad-ness everywhere. Every look, every comment, every gesture was a sign: men were just rapists waiting to happen.
But I had it totally wrong. Even if one (rightly) assumes that men commit most sexual assaults (http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/nisvs/), the truth is that most men are not rapists.
Of course, I had a right to be angry at the men who hurt me. But I didn’t have a right to hold all men everywhere responsible for what happened to me. And by being angry, I was shutting down the possibility of love. As I became stronger and more whole, I opened my eyes to the love of men in my life. It was abundant.
For example, my brother steadfastly believed what happened to me and validated how much I was impacted by being molested. The simple act of witnessing me in my pain helped me heal. And so did the mac and cheese he made me when I was sad, and the hours of Nintendo-playing we did when I was too down to do anything else.
My husband taught me that love can be a constant fuel. He taught me that you can get angry, have conflict, resolve it, and love each other throughout. He taught me to love myself, and care for myself. He takes care of me despite my fierce independence. He turns up the heat when it’s cold. He walks the dog when I don’t want to go outside. He puts gas in the car. He volunteers with White Ribbon Project, a group of men committed to ending sexual violence.
My best male friend from college was by my side through the darkest days of my healing journey. After every therapy session, he helped me process what I was learning about myself. He saw me through the powerful emotions that went along with those lessons. He told me he loved me 10 times a day. He stood by my side when I told my story for the first time in public at a Take Back the Night event on our campus. He learned that while he couldn’t “fix” me, he could love me, and that his love would help me become whole again.
Simple acts of friendship and love are powerful tools that help survivors of sexual violence trust and heal. Men love survivors of sexual violence every single day. Most men are horrified by sexual violence and its impact on those they love. They want to help, but feel powerless – and afraid to say or do the wrong thing. If we want men to join the movement to end rape and sexual violence, we have to stop talking about all the things men do wrong, and start talking about all the things that men do right.
photo by hansvandenberg30 / flickr