This morning, as the #metoo hashtag trends on social media, I message a friend of mine who has been wrestling with the experience of an attempted rape by a professor, to check in. I'm wondering if all the stories on Facebook will be triggering.
He is okay.
He is not gonna type #metoo on his wall though. He gets that this is not the time to dominate the conversation with the stories of men. He understands that to speak up right now will not be saying what he wants to say. To say "it happens to men, too" in this particular moment would be to imply that this means women don't have it so bad. Right now, a good man is quiet, or repeats and amplifies the words of others.
This is not a good enough. I will not meet a story of someone’s trauma with a message to shut up. I just won’t.
I know from my own #metoo experiences what it is like to be told over and over again that this is not the time to speak up or use up space. I know what it is like to work up the courage to finally tell some part of your story and to have your vulnerability met with hostility. I know what it's like to be told I spoke up at the wrong time or in the wrong place or in the wrong way (and, to be clear, I did do all of those things--that's what you do when you are reeling and in pain). I know what that feels like, and I am not okay with that happening to any person of any gender. Especially not in the name of raising awareness about sexual violence.
This isn’t to say that some people aren’t doing the drowning out thing. I get that this happens. Just like when we talk about violence against women, some men will immediately jump in with “but what about the crisis of men's suicide?”. These are not generally people who are on the front lines working on men’s suicide on a day to day basis. They tend to bring it up when there’s a conversation that needs diverting. And that crap behaviour needs challenging, but the part that needs challenging the most is the idea that the two crises are to be pitted against one another for priority. They are not in competition, they are intricately linked. To effectively tackle one is to effectively tackle the other.
As I was forming these thoughts this morning, I was interrupted by my twelve year old son standing in the kitchen, yelling “ERRRRRRIIIIIC! COME EAT YOUR MAN-GUMMY!!!” at his brother.
Man gummies are multivitamins. The chewy delicious kind. We bought them this weekend, after running out of kid gummies. In the interests of simplifying the medicine cabinet, I told Anthony he was old enough that he could eat men’s vitamins. Anthony was initially crestfallen, until I told him that they did in fact make some men’s vitamins that were chewy and candy like, just like for kids and women.
“They make men’s gummy vitamins?” He said, with surprise. Then, after a thoughtful pause, he grinned. “I’d hate to be the poor sucker in charge of making the ad campaign for man-gummies.”
He examined the container as he said this, taking in the bright colours and the delicious fruity flavours. These were not vitamins that Clint Eastwood would have eaten. They were too comfortable and fun and joyful to be for men, and Anthony knows this. Even at twelve. And he rejects the whole kit and caboodle.
He joyfully tossed the man gummies into the cart and began making up potential jingles for a man-gummy ad campaign. I grinned as he giggled, partly because the jingles were funny, and partly because when I see him engage with those scripts—laughing at them, fighting them, thinking about them—I see the front lines of a really important fight.
Anthony’s acceptance of his inner desire for man-gummies paves the way for bigger fights. A gummy eating man is comfortable advocating for safer workplaces even though he might be called a wuss. He’s comfortable speaking up against the objectification of a co-worker. Or seeking help when he feels rage or pain building inside himself and knows it might translate into violence against himself or others. A gummy eating man is not afraid to be called a pussy. Tutti-fruity-flavoured-gummy-vitamins are the breakfast of patriarchy smashing champions.
And we need patriarchy smashing champions. To tackle men’s suicide AND violence against women. And to dismantle the idea that these are two separate issues, battling for airtime.
I reject the idea that #metoo is not the time for men to speak. I reject the idea that sexual violence against men and sexual violence against women need separate hashtags, for the same reason that I reject the idea that left-breast-cancer-awareness and right—breast-cancer-awareness need separate hashtags. Yes, I understand that sometimes issues do get pitted against one another. Sometimes problems of one gender are used to minimize or drown out problems of other genders. But when that happens I don’t want to win the fight. I want to dismantle the fight. The problem is not which stories win. The problem is the idea that one story wins at the expense of the other. We have to call bullshit on THAT.
To speak in sweeping generalities about men being silent in the entire conversation about sexual violence is to reinforce that bullshit script, not to dismantle it. A man who is deviating from the script of man-as-victimizer by telling a story of man-as-victim may be trying to silence the stories of women, but he may also be trying to challenge the scripts he was handed.
If we say there is no room for men in #metoo, we will not silence the conversation-diverters. There is no silencing those guys, and we know it. They have been socialized to speak up and take up space.
Instead, we will silence the men like my friend, who are looking to unpack how to be a different kind of guy in the world. How to be more honest and vulnerable and gentle. How to break out of a world where #allwomen are various amounts of victim and #allmen are various amounts of perpetrator. The men who might trailblaze a new way of interacting with the issue. The tutti-fruity-gummy-eating-men who will shut up if we ask them to, because they are careful like that.
Those are the men whose voices we need most.
If we attempt to shut men out of #metoo, the result will not be a man-free conversation. The result will be a conversation in which the only male voices are those who are attempting to shut things down. It will be a conversation without the real blood and guts of sexual victimization hitting across all genders, without problem solving and wrestling with roles, and without a challenge to the “men victimize, women are victims" script.
We are on the same team. The bullshit that damages one gender damages all genders. We all want out. I am damaged by gender scripts and bullshit. And any guy who says "me too" to this belongs in my conversation.
Me too should be the war cry for all genders to join forces against what damages us all. Not a line in the sand dividing us.
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