#ItWasMe is most upsetting to some of the more recent victims of trauma. Maybe my own #MeToo wounds are leathery and worn, but I will do my best. I was deeply saddened last fall at how a movement I tried to be part of devolved. This probably is at least part of why I am conflicted about how to share the many thoughts and feelings I had this week. I’m hyper aware how delicate and fragile this territory is and I want to be careful, but I feel very strongly that this conversation is pivotal.
In the aftermath of the presidential election, as I tried to be engaged and learn how to be a better ally especially for People and Women of Color, I experienced my own painful awakening. As a cis-white straight woman I was brought up short by people around me online attacking my attempts to be an ally. I was quite frankly shocked by their response. I felt slapped in the face by my own privilege. I was dismayed at how inadequate and impotent I felt in the face of so much appropriate outrage. I kept wanting to say things like “How can I help more, we’re in this together, and we’re on the same side.” It felt like at every turn my weak and insufficient efforts were met with scorn.
It seems to me that the men saying “#ItWasMe” are possibly in a similar place, going through a similar painful awakening. Back then, I learned that asking how I can help is unfair, asking to be educated was just another indication of my privilege, and asking those around me to bear the emotional labor of my awakening was unacceptable.
I am hopeful that something radical and important is changing. I see a dialogue opening up that has been buried deeply for decades. I see a possibility for conversation that allows us all to grow more self-aware and more conscientious. Most importantly, I see room for more voices to harmonize, unify, magnify and ultimately (and most importantly) shift things for a better tomorrow.
The #MeToo movement is an opportunity for all victims of sexual assault, harassment or rape to unify. When the #MeToo movement began, I hesitated whether to participate or not. I hesitated partly because it feels invasive and personal. I also hesitated because it seems redundant. What woman hasn’t? I think it is perhaps unclear whether there are degrees of sexual harassment, assault, rape, abuse, and also it is such a public way to treat something that is often so painful or private. In so many cases women and men who have been victims are re-victimized and re-traumatized by coming forward or by the media or by the courtroom or the forced retelling of every last detail. So many victims are met with disbelief, or then their behavior is put on trial to the point that many choose to live in secret with their pain rather than endure public scrutiny or debate. Part of what made this tidal wave so powerful is that it was enough to share or comment those two tiny words. #metoo. Some women chose to share vivid details of the horrors they have survived. Some people whose wounds were fresh had to remove themselves from social media because they were finding themselves triggered without warning.
The #MeToo movement is strengthened by including the voices of all victims. By the same token, #ItWasMe needs to be allowed to have a voice in this conversation. I am not AT ALL interested in defending narcissistic sociopaths and their feelings here, but men who are waking up to their part in the tapestry, and how they have been complicit should have a space and a voice and also need to be heard. Within the #MeToo movement there is a debate raging whether to allow male victims of assault and rape to join in, or whether women shouldn’t be allowed to have the floor on this one, and have only our voices heard.
While I do understand the importance of gender in this conversation, my stance is unequivocally that all victims of abuse, assault and rape should band together. I firmly believe that admitting that there are some men who are victims too does not weaken the tidal wave of solidarity…it strengthens it. In fact, I think that as hard as it is for women to come forward when they have been assaulted or raped it is a hundred or a thousand times more difficult for a man to state publicly that these things have happened. Gender does not define this movement for me, though it is certainly a root issue in an overwhelming (maybe even staggering) number of cases. We can reclaim our power best by reclaiming our shared humanity. In my opinion we cannot afford to splinter now.
This idea is nothing new, even Lincoln said: “United we stand, divided we fall.” Even longer ago, when the Romans built the Coliseum, they used strategy to control the crowd. They knew an out of control mob could easily overpower an army, so they built thick, insurmountable walls between the sections.
Picture the segments of a citrus fruit…and though each section might be unique in many ways, it is all made of the same fruit. Right now, we need to remember we are all pulp. The pulp over there might have been squeezed between her boss and a desk. The pulp over there might have been forced or coerced by his boyfriend. Abuse can certainly even happen from a woman to another woman or to a man. #MeToo is powerful because it encompasses all who have been violated. When we push another victim down or away and say this is not their time or their movement we are becoming bullies. It may be coming out in our grief, but by doing so we are traumatizing another victim rather than welcoming them to the cause.
As the tidal wave grew, I was initially pleased to hear about an answering response by many men using the hashtag #ItWasMe. I guess I wasn’t alone. Many women responded to posts like this on social media positively, feeling heard, feeling men finally joining the conversation, feeling them come out from behind the silent curtain. There was an immediate impulse to shower these men with positive reinforcement, to encourage the confession and to want more and more men to wake up to their own participation in the culture. Many victims were outraged that men were praised for coming out in a confessional post to state that they had in some way marginalized or assaulted or violated women, and getting praise for their courage in admitting that. So this becomes complex. Immediately. I do not want to defend what they confess in these posts whatsoever, but this conversation will stall if we squelch this part of their response to #MeToo. I'm listening...
Here is why…
We are all woven in this messed up tapestry together. Gender roles have been fed to us on all sides from birth. I grew up on many children’s books, but one comes to mind that was a favorite: “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. This book made a deep imprint in my mind and in my heart at a tender age. I identified more with the tree than with the boy, because I was a little girl, and the tree in the story was a she. And she lovingly and willingly gave the little boy every inch of her being. Shade, her leaves, her apples, her body to build a home with and as the boy grew older even at the end of his life she was thrilled to serve him as a seat when all that was left of her was a stump because he had used her up. Completely. And I’m afraid I tried to model myself after this Giving Tree through the course of several of my romantic relationships. I gave and gave and tried to be everything he might have wanted. But the story might have been a metaphor too subtle for a young girl’s mind, and might have been intended to show a little boy’s gratitude for his mother, or for the gifts of life, or something else…but it would have been a totally different experience to read if the title had been “The Taking Boy” and I might have lived my life in vastly different ways if I had seen it that way instead.
I appreciate the men who are now waking up to the fact that they have been Taking Boys. What touches my heart about this response from men is that they are raw and fresh and sorry. They can’t help that they are men in this tapestry, any more than I could help being a cis-white woman with privilege last fall. But they are waking up. They are reflecting differently on memories of past encounters. They are asking themselves the most uncomfortable questions. Did they press their advantage? Did they make their desire more important than another person’s boundaries? Did they force someone else to do something? And in this discomfort, they are not hiding. They are opening themselves to criticism, making themselves vulnerable too.
Is it enough? No. Not by a long shot. But it is a start. And just as I wished my awakening had been received last fall, I would like to usher them in gently. Firmly. I would like to encourage them, rather than pile on or punish. It would be easier to dive back under the covers, but the next step must come, which is to say No More. And to teach our young boys and grown men about this fabric, and its flaws. It is time to share the emotional burden of consent. Women have traditionally been bearing the weight of the outcome, but we are tired because even when we say no it comes down to what we were wearing, how much we had to drink, whether we flirted or lead him on or aroused him. Which is a subtle message that oppresses men. Yes, you think only women were oppressed by this tapestry? No. It paints men as helpless victims of their sexual urges. As though there is some kind of tipping point past which he might not be able to help himself. This is woven in, along with the guilt-tripping of blue balls and a million other tactics which have worked on young girls and women (and men) for decades. While it claims to depict men as strong and women as the weaker sex, in actuality this tapestry forces women to have all the self-control, and makes it seem like men are incapable. It is an awful, unfair and ultimately untrue depiction.
I’m sure most of you know that assault and rape and harassment are not about sex - it is so easy to be distracted by this aspect. These acts are about domination, power, and violation of another human being. And this, right now, has got to be a tipping point. All the #ItWasMe awakenings will be needed moving forward. Thank you for joining your voices to the chorus. Thank you because without your intention, and your attention, it might have slumbered on being a toxic element of life for so much longer. Gentlemen, young boys, and men…we need you to be the allies it is so clear many of you want to be. This shift cannot happen without your help. I am optimistic these vital conversations may change the behavior between us humans. It is true, a couple of hashtags cannot be enough. But it could be the snowball at the top of a mountain, or the threads in the tapestry that - once pulled - change the picture forever.