To the good men out there

#yesallwomen was a campaign meant to bring awareness to the ever present harassment women face in the work place, on the street, at bars and clubs, at the gym, even in schools. Many women were encouraged or inspired to share their own experiences painting a picture that wide spread and disturbing.

#yesallwomen was a campaign about women. It was about unity, awareness, and courage. It was not about men.

#yesallwomen does not equal “all men are assholes”. I never read a single tweet or article that condemned all men as “the problem”.

And yet #yesallwomen was hijacked by #notallmen.

Hijacked. Stolen. Our agency and importance was once again second to men’s. We were not allowed to speak about our problems, our experiences, without placating men. Without apologizing.

People tease Canadians for saying “sorry” too much. The reality for women is that we HAVE TO apologize if we speak our mind, if we speak too loudly, if we hurt the tender feelings of the men in our lives, if we make ourselves too big, too powerful. #yesallwomen doesn’t need any modifiers. It doesn’t need explanations. It doesn’t need to apologize for giving women the courage to speak out against harassment. And yet we are bombarded by #notallmen comments.

Here’s a truth, just to get it out of the way. Not all victims are female. Men are abused, physically, sexually, and emotionally, as minors and as adults. Not all perpetrators are male. Women can be abused by other women. Men can be abused by women.

Here’s another truth. Men who have never been victims tend not to understand what it is to be victims. Women who have never been victims still tend to share the collective fear of the women around her.

Here’s my truth. I have never been raped. I have never been physically or sexually abused. My experiences with mental and emotional “abuse” were limited to seven years of being a bully victim (from grade 6 to grade 12). But it doesn’t mean I haven’t experienced #yesallwomen.

Because today I saw a mean featuring some big time country star and the text read “Kanye West? Never heard of her.”

“Her” in this meme is being used as an insult.

And it happens all the time. “You throw like a girl” (I happen to know how to throw a perfect spiral, I played football at lunch for two years. I can also pitch a baseball, overhand). “You’re acting like a bunch of girls” (generally said when boys are whining or “bitching” about something and doesn’t take into account the number of women working in dangerous careers without pissing or moaning about it).

Being tender, caring, “soft” – it’s all played as being weak, being girly. It’s not. I work in a daycare and I can tell you it is the hardest thing in the world, being kind and caring and empathetic to little kids who scream in your face and spit at you and try to physically hurt you. It’s hard not to raise your voice when they are stubborn. It’s hard to keep your temper and frustration in check in the face of constant resistance, noise, and mess. And you know what? It’s not just important that I maintain those traits for 8 hours – it’s critical.

You don’t want your children at a daycare where the workers scream at or swear at them. You don’t want them around adults who demean them or manipulate them. Because you know that those things will hurt your child’s long term emotional and mental development. But you also don’t want  your sons to be too caring or empathetic because that would be weak. Right.

I am constantly reminded that I shouldn’t speak so loudly. Even at a hockey game where I was excited and into it, I was told that being too loud would disturb the people in front of us. My excitement, my enthusiasm, was secondary to the comfort of the people around me.

I am constantly reminded that my physical appearance is paramount. I shouldn’t wear what I love because it makes me look frumpy or out of touch. When it comes to fashion I never know what to wear. Am I over dressing? Under dressing? Do I look like a slob? I’m a nervous wreck. I don’t want to embarrass my husband by wearing the wrong thing. I never know what to buy. I should be able to buy something because I like it, it’s on sale, and it’s in my size. But I constantly second guess myself – will it actually look good on me? Will my husband like it?

(My husband is not a bad guy by the way. He just sort of inherited all these issues I face as the male I live with and interact with most often. He doesn’t reinforce my insecurities.)

And on the flip side of this problem is that “maleness” is equated with strong, good, powerful, and intelligent. “Grow some balls” or “It takes balls” or “lady-balls”? Why is a person only strong if they have a pair of testicles (which are extremely vulnerable to harm by the way)? And why, as a woman, do I need an equivalent of these ‘balls’ in order to possess the implied strength or determination?

Okay, I’m not overly sensitive. Honestly, gender-based language doesn’t offend me, not even when it’s used as a joke or light-hearted insult. Language evolves. Culture evolves. Saying “Curiosity killed the cat” doesn’t mean you approve of violence towards animals. “Grow a set” is going to take on a similar place in the vernacular, disconnected from its origins with only its intended meaning left.

And, I should probably get to the point of this entry. The point that’s directed at the good men out there. #yesallwomen have been insulted, harassed, passed over for promotions, leered at, groped, raped, stalked …. by someone at some point in their lives. We grow up learning a set of survival skills that don’t help us at all except to minimize the blame we must shoulder when these things do happen to us. We learn to go everywhere in pairs or groups. We learn never to leave our drinks unattended. We learn not to walk outside at night. We learn not to wear our hair in a ponytail, to wear sensible shoes in case someone attacks us and we need to run, to use our keys as a potential weapon … the list goes on.

We are tired of being good natured about jokes that make us uncomfortable. We are tired of triple checking what we’re wearing just in case someone will think we’re “asking for it”. We’re tired of teaching the new guy how to do the job we applied for and didn’t get. We’re tired of the wolf whistles and the lewd “compliments”. We’re tired of the rape jokes.

So, if you’re really one of the “good guys” then please, stop acting like the jerks. Please, when a woman gives you a cold shoulder in response to a compliment, apologize for bothering her, wish her a good day or a good weekend, smile, and walk on. Don’t demand that she smile, don’t demand anything. She owes you nothing. Show her you didn’t mean to offend her by not being offended by her.

If you’re really one of the good guys, shut down the guys who are making the rape jokes. Let them know it’s not appropriate, that it’s not funny.

If  you’re really one of the good guys, please, step up and act like one of the good guys.

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