I’m having a hard time starting this essay. It makes sense. There is no easy way to launch into an essay about men, misogyny, rape culture, and all of the other jarring topics I’m about to explore.
And yet, this essay is necessary. I want to talk about the interactions between men and women. I want to talk about what’s underneath the heavy terms of misogyny and rape culture. I also think men need more opportunities to discuss these things.
I’m sure most men groan at this and feel such a discussion is not for them. THEY are not the problems. THEY are not the rapists. THEY are one of the good guys.
We’ve done a disservice to our culture and our ability to discuss complex issues when we break men down into two categories: rapists and non-rapists. Those two categories absolutely exist, but there is a LOT of grey between.
I’m hesitant to start this essay because I think most men are tired of discussion about consent, rape culture, and what some deem as “politically correct” language or actions. I think they are tired of it because they don’t think it applies to them. They are a “non-rapist” and the “rapists” are messing up natural flirtation, fun, dating, and the process of building an emotional and sexual relationship with a woman.
However, there is a lot of harm that can happen between the level of “non-rapist” and “rapist.”
A man who erupts in anger after a woman says she is no longer interested in dating him, and he sends a series of angry texts saying what he felt she did wrong and what aspects of her character he didn't like.
A casual male acquaintance who unexpectedly kisses a woman on the cheek to thank her for helping him take out the garbage
A man that doesn’t realize his date has silently frozen during sex and continues to have sex
A group of young men in a car following a woman in a car to shout how beautiful she is and telling her to pull over so they can talk
A man who masturbates in the park while watching women
These are all real examples, from my life or the lives of women I know.
Anyone who just read the above examples would likely say, “Hey, I need more context.” And they are absolutely right. We need more context. We need more discussions on these topics. We need to talk about the complex layers present here.
For example, the man that kissed a woman on the cheek. He may have been in his 50’s and felt that was a culturally appropriate way to thank a woman. He may have meant no harm, and actually meant to genuinely thank the woman. This may be absolutely true.
The woman may also be experiencing her own truth at the same time. She may not feel comfortable with someone touching her body without a request or warning, and she absolutely has that right. Furthermore, her mind may be operating in the context of our culture. As women, we are constantly having to navigate who is safe and who is not safe. It is a dizzying and confusing maze. She may be left wondering, “Does this man like me? Will he try more?” We have no way of reading a man’s mind and knowing his intentions.
While I would love to live in a world where we could just “think the best of people,” that is not a safe option for women.
Which is why I want to have more discussions with men. The intent is not to point out what is “wrong” with their actions. Instead, it’s to expand their breadth and depth of their vision.
For example, the young men who were driving in the car and yelling out compliments. They may have just been having fun. They saw a pretty woman driving and they wanted to compliment her. They would have also loved to get her number (or these days social media handle), which is why they were screaming for her to pull over.
However, that woman did not know those men. She was not interested in them physically, nor wanting any form of relationship. She did not know what would happen if she rejected their advances. She did not know if it would quickly turn unsafe for her (as it often does when women reject a man), and if she would have to worry about being followed home, pushed off the road, flipped off, or screamed obscenities at.
While men may respond to my explanation with, “Lighten up lady,” they are sadly naive. They do not know what it is like to move in the world as a woman. I listed the possible scary alternatives of being followed or pushed off the road because they have happened to me and other women I know. Men do not know the experiences that live within our bodies and minds. Women cannot possibly know when mens’ “fun” will turn into real danger.
Just like the kiss, those men were not intending harm. They were having fun and wanted to brighten up the woman’s day. However, that kiss and shouted compliments will be experienced vastly differently by the two parties due to the subtext of culture.
This is what I want to cultivate: discussion that helps us understand how these actions are experienced on vastly different levels.
I firmly believe most men do not intend to actively harm a woman. And yet, I think most men unintentionally do harm women.
At this point, I’m sure some reader is screaming in their head, “And women don’t harm men? Why is it always the men being blamed?”
I’d like to note that this is an essay about misogyny and rape culture. I am discussing a particular form of violence that occurs by men to women. Simply because I discuss this subgroup does not mean that I deny all other forms of violence. Again, I am writing and discussing at complex levels. Multiple things co-exist at once and I cannot address them all in one essay. For the sake of this essay, I am solely looking at violence experienced by women by men.
So back to my point. Most men do not intentionally harm women. They don’t want to. They want to be better people.
The conversations I want to have are VERY, VERY hard conversations. They are conversations that force us to look at our “good intentions” and examine their impact on the other.
It is similar to the level of self-examination I must do as a white woman in regard to racism. I did many things in the past with “good intentions.” However, they were still harmful and ignorant - such as all of my actions done from a space of white saviorism (we’ll have to save that for another essay).
The point is, these are hard, soul-searching conversations to have. And I’m asking, I’m begging, can we please start having them with men?
As a woman I am tired of trying and trying to do everything I can to navigate our culture that is unsafe for me and other women. I am tired of having thousands of discussions with other women about their pain and what we can do to feel safer and heal from our experiences.
I’d rather we go to the source. I want the conversations and soul-searching to be happening with men.
I also acknowledge I don’t have the full capacity to lead these discussions or take men on these journeys. I need men to step up for men. I need those with the bandwidth and capacity to do this.
I will do what I can in the ways that I can. I write these essays. I go to my therapy office every day for deep nuanced conversations. I talk with the men in my personal life about these topics.
I recognize it is not enough. We need more men to lead this; it cannot be all on women. We need men to lead this for the sake of men. We need men who want better for themselves, other men, and women. It’s not just women who get a raw deal in this culture. Men do as well. Our culture pushes deep, emotional conversations to the outside of norms for men. It doesn’t need to be. Men are just as capable of these levels of conversations and they deserve them.
If you are one of those men doing that, or know an organization who is pioneering that work, please drop it in the comments below. I want to uplift the work of people that is incredibly necessary.