I think men like me, men who generally consider themselves good people, have a picture of what the men who sexually harass & assault women look like.
The picture is often fuzzy in our heads. Or at least it is in mine. We can’t see many distinguishing characteristics. We don’t know what their job is, we don’t know how many kids they have. Maybe we even store a couple of these people in our minds because it’s easier to do that—to think there must be multiple Really Bad People than it is to play off all of these actions on one person. Doing that is simply unrealistic, isn’t it?
One thing we know for sure though is that the person it isn’t us.
The person or people in the picture is the boogeyman. He’s a Really Bad Person who we hate and tell people we know how much we hate them. We are good people, right? We get angry at this strange person who hurts people!
But, with something as widespread as sexual assault & harassment & intimidation, it becomes a little harder for us to hang on to our boogeyman. Doesn’t it? The faces become a little more clear, all the features more distinct.
The faces become more clear because you don’t have this many people experience sexual harassment and assault without this many of us men being responsible for it happening.
We are the ones who make a joke about how tight a woman’s shirt is.
We are the ones who sit on our hands and close our mouths when a stranger beside us tells a degrading joke.
We are the ones who don’t understand enthusiastic, ongoing consent.
We are the ones who say “it was just a joke.”
We are the ones who say “if they didn’t want their picture out there they shouldn’t have taken it in the first place.”
We are the ones who say “if you can’t handle this, move to a job where there aren’t as many men.”
We say “locker room talk.”
We say “boys will be boys.”
We are the ones who don’t ask before a kiss.
We are the ones who give shoulder rubs to people at work.
We are the ones who stay silent when we find out it’s our best friend who is the boogeyman.
We are the problem.
We love to imagine that our individual contributions to a culture that creates so many survivors of sexual violence isn’t that large. Sure, you regret whistling at that girl as she ran but how bad is that in the big picture?
It’s really bad. It’s traumatizing. It will continue to be for as long as we allow it to.
We are the gatekeepers of sexual violence because we are, in the vast majority of cases, the perpetrator of sexual violence. So if you’re wondering why nothing changes after survivors tell their stories time after time, it’s because we don’t do anything. It’s because we sit back, take in the pain we cause, and then shrug our shoulders wondering what in the world could be done.
We don’t think it’s for us to handle.
Of course, it is. We’re the variable that constantly refuses to budge.
So speak up every time you hear sexism. Monitor your own language for the casual derogatory phrases that are just part of how you speak right now.
Be responsible in how you talk to your kids. Be mindful of how you interact with men and how you interact with everyone else.