Dear Men: We Need to Talk About How Y’all Talk About Women

And we definitely need to talk about how you’re talking to men.

Ah-ah-ah – I see you sidling towards the door, thinking that you don’t need to read this because you’d never talk about women like whatever I’m about to say. Stay put, Mister. Because I do mean you.

Yes, you. Yes, Mr. I-Respect-Women. Mr. I-Would-Never-Say-Harmful-Shit. Mr. I-Would-Never-Ever-Be-Like-Trump. I’m not just talking to the men who say misogynistic shit today. I’m talking to you. Take a seat. We’ve got some hard things to discuss.

Content note for: Sexual assault, misogyny, sexism, denial, rape culture

First off, let’s address this I-would-never thing you’ve got going on. Because chances are, you would. Chances are, you do. It may be hard to hear, but listen to what happened to Erin Branscombe not too long ago.

Why I DO NOT TRUST straight guys who insist that they never, ever talk like Donald Trump, and neither do their friends, and they’d never heard anything like it but if they *did*, why, they’d put a stop to it…

Yesterday, had a brother come up to me, *furious* that people were saying that Trump was just doing normal guy talk. I pointed out that I’d *heard* a lot of that guy talk, including from our other brother and his friends, but other than that, I let him rant about how HE would never talk like that, and his FRIENDS would never talk like that, and it was just sick and awful and he wouldn’t want to hang out with anyone who said anything like that, etc. etc. etc. This went on for quite a while, very passionate.

And I even thought, OK. Maybe he’s right. He’s younger than us, spent most of his growing up years in a much more liberal area. And he was far more chill about GLBT folks and supportive of women’s right’s issues (abortion, gender discrimination, sexual assault) than my other siblings, too. So hey, maybe things really have changed. Maybe he and his friends are different, they would find that kind of talk unacceptable. Maybe I am too cynical, too *gasp* misandrist, to be so skeptical of the claims of innocence I’ve seen in countless threads since the recordings dropped…

So I just came in from the kitchen, making some tea, while this same brother was chilling with friends in the living room. Wasn’t really paying attention to what they were talking about, but the rooms are right next to each other so I can’t help but overhear. And apropos of nothing, this same brother made a “joke,” where the punchline was the violent assault of a woman. To the guffaws of his fellow, male friends.

“That’s not funny,” I said. No response from my brother, not that I really expected it — I almost didn’t say anything at all, having been in this situation more times than I can count. I know I’m just the humorless, angry feminist, looking for something to be offended about. It wasn’t until his girlfriend quietly admitted that she was “a little” offended, too, that he “apologized” — well, he said he was sorry, in a tone that *clearly* demonstrated he wasn’t sorry a bit, while continuing to chuckle (oh, aren’t those girls and their silly feelings hilarious? and so adorable when they get mad!).

And you know what? I’m sure my brother really DID believe — DOES believe — that he and his friends don’t talk like that. Part of the reason is, as I’ve said before, that kind of talk is so ubiquitous — not only amongst their friends, but showing up in popular, mainstream television shows, movies, stand up comics — that they don’t even really hear it …unless, like the Trump tapes, someone stops and deliberately directs their attention and primes them with “THIS IS BAD.” Additionally, I’ve found that there’s always a reason why it’s different, for them, why it’s OK. Oh, THEY aren’t like Trump, he’s a bad guy, he’s gross, he’s old, he’s fat, he’s got a small penis and freaky hands — like THAT’S the issue with the tapes. Oh, it’s just a JOKE, it’s not like he *means* it, it’s not like he’s *really* OK with assaulting women. Come on, have a sense of humor! Everyone knows it’s just a joke, no one takes it seriously. There’s always a reason, and it’s *never* the same thing.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just “lucky” enough to have brothers who are all abnormally terrible, with friends who all happen to be unusually awful people, too, and I’ve just experienced a statistically unlikely surplus of those rare guys who do talk like Trump…but I kinda don’t think so. And so I will continue to take the protestations of innocence with entire handfuls of salt.

So don’t say you wouldn’t ever. Chances are, you do. Chances are, you don’t notice you do. So the first thing women need you to do is be more mindful. Okay? It’s not easy, but if you really care about us, you’ll do it.

Now. If you’re on board, but you’re still saying you and your friends don’t talk like that, Anna Jobsis has something to say to you:

Men: If you’ve never heard any of your guy friends say stuff like trump said on the hot mic (“the locker room talk”) that’s commendable to you and the friends you’ve surrounded yourself with. Unfortunately, as most women can attest, being treated like sub-human walking fuck holes is our lived experience. What we need to hear from you right now is not how your friends don’t do or say that. We need to hear that you’re willing to call out men being gross wherever you see it (if you can safely do so).

We really super duper 100,000% need you to do this.

And if you’ve ever had the urge to scream “Not all men!”? Angie Jackson’s here to tell you why this is your chance:

Believe it or not, sometimes women really do want you to say “not all men”. We don’t want you using it to downplay violence against women and non men. We do want you to push back when rapists claim they’re normal guys. Push back against men normalizing criminal levels of sexism, not against women airing grievances.

BUT. It’s really important that you push back the right way. Greta Christina’s got some advice for those of you who are fired up and ready to literally punch a dude in the face, or at least are all fired up and ready to tell all the women you encounter how you’d totally punch some dude saying shit:

I keep hearing men claim that if they witnessed boasting about sexual assault or other gross misogyny, they’d punch the guy. Guys: Can you please not?

A: The evidence strongly suggests otherwise. I’m 54 years old, and I have literally never seen this happen.

Related to that, B: This kind of talk is macho posturing and toxic masculinity, of the exact variety that harms us.

And most importantly, C: Even if you would really do that, we don’t want you to. It wouldn’t help. It would make things worse.

If you want to help, listen to what women say we want. We don’t want you to punch. We want you to speak. “Dude, that’s not cool. That’s messed up.” It’s not as much of a fun hero fantasy as punching, but it’s more likely that you’ll actually do it, and it’s a lot more helpful if you do.

Okay? Are we at least sorta clear on that now? Are you guys on board and willing to do the work? Awesome. So, just like with any person who doesn’t share an axis of oppression but wants to be an ally to those who do, there’s some really hard work you’ve got to do. It’s going to dent your pride. It’s going to hurt at times. You’re not going to want to accept the truth quite often. But it’s really important you do this and do it right.

First, read the words of the women above again, and note exactly what they’re asking you to do.

Next, and this isn’t going to be easy, read this essay. Yeah, I know. This dude’s saying you ain’t shit and neither is he. It’s the truth. And it stings – I felt that sting when I had to face the fact I was an ain’t-shit white person, and an ain’t-shit straight person, and that I still have ain’t-shit days, but it’s important to understand that in order to be able to actually listen to what the people you want to help need from you, and how even with the best will in the world, you’re gonna fuck up sometimes simply because our culture raised you to fail. Trust me. If you can get over the injuries to your ego, you’re going to be a better ally, okay?

Image is Garnet from Steven Universe. Caption says, "Feeling uncomfortable is a necessary part of unlearning oppressive behaviors."

Now. You need help understanding what’s going on. And there’s this marvelous resource that just got put together. Here’s where you can learn all about rape culture. There’s a lot in here, but it’s valuable, and you need it. Set aside some time every week to go through as much of it as you can.

And remember: ally is a verb. It’s time to do the work. We need you.

Dear Men: We Need to Talk About How Y’all Talk About Women

5 thoughts on “Dear Men: We Need to Talk About How Y’all Talk About Women

  1. 1

    Also, what most men mean when they say “I don’t talk about women like that”, what they mean is ” I don’t talk about women I personally know like that.” They’re still completely fine with the rape jokes and the sandwich jokes etc.

  2. 2

    Men on Twitter got really mad at me for saying this stuff, and at least one woman seems to have thought I was approving of this sort of thing. The truth is that virtually all men have said some nasty things about women, or at the very least sat quietly while other men said things in front of them. It’s absolutely men’s locker room talk, and we men aren’t going to help anything when our first and only response is to say “not me, I would never!” and walk away feeling smug and superior.
    I’ve said grotesque things about women. Almost every man I’ve known has done so, and it was only years later that I realized that some of those men follow up on the words with actions. I’m not proud of it, and I’m not super proud of myself that I don’t do it now. But in my own little way I try to be part of the solution, even when it makes people angry at me.

  3. 3

    I can’t say for sure if the men I know online who have launched into abject denial engage in these sorts of behaviors and conversations. What I can say is that the men I know in person, those who’ve indignantly slapped their NAM card on the table in response to both Trump and to the women in their lives saying that this shit happens to us all the time, they do, or they at the very least let it slide. Sorry, guys. You do. You’re not reliable narrators here.

    When your brother commented about his “slutty” exgf’s “snail trail” right in front of me, you hand waved it away. When I complained to you later, you made excuses. He doesn’t really mean it, he’s just mad, he wasn’t talking about me so why am I taking it personally. If that’s what you do when a woman you actually care about it standing right in front of you, if that’s what you say when she tells you it’s hurtful, how on earth am I supposed to trust that you don’t do the same or worse when I’m not around?

    When a guy repeatedly interrupts a conversation between me and my bestie, puts his hands on my friend three times in a row causing her to freeze up, y’all don’t step in. You don’t step in until he cocks his fist back to punch me and I stand up in his face to receive it. (because I’m ‘crazy’, you tell me later) In a bar surrounded by guys who ostensibly are our friends, nobody says “Hey leave them alone” or “Chriiiist, dude, they said go away twice already,” until there’s a direct threat of physical violence. You don’t see it until it’s communicated in a language you understand: no hitting girls. But you also need to learn the language of respect women’s space and listen to women and don’t grab us and this is our fucking reality, men threatening us and objectifying us and men standing idly by.

    Locker room talk. I’ve never been in a guy’s locker room, but I have been in men’s claimed spaces off and on most of my life. Men’s safe spaces, if you will, where the encroachment of a girl or woman was all too often taken as, if not a direct threat, then a source of titillation, and if not that, then something we got ourselves into and should learn to deal with or get ourselves out of. Free weight training class at my high school for three years. A restaurant kitchen employee for more than 20. There’s nothing like getting teabagged through some guy’s shorts while bench pressing one’s max weight, and having the response be “what did you expect” or “you’re too sensitive” or “that didn’t happen you’re imagining it.”

    No, you don’t talk like that, sure, you don’t see it, that I believe. Problem is, you don’t see it because you’re trained not to. You don’t look, you don’t pay attention, you don’t want to, because wearing the blinkers allows you to pass through your world more comfortably. Fuck you. Get uncomfortable.

  4. 4

    What I’m saying is, the number of guys* who’ve informed me that they’d never do or say such things and would stand up if they saw them is a tidal wave in comparison to the number of guys who’ve actually stood the fuck up and said something.

    *And women whose husbands “would never!” Yeah, I’ve worked with your husbands. Would you like to hear their ‘your wife’ jokes verbatim, or would you prefer a rundown of how many times they merely laughed rather than joining?

  5. rq

    Besides having generally different experiences (in specific details), I can only agree with everything you say.

    Improbable Joe‘s comment @2 gives me things to think about (esp. as a former ‘chill girl’) like responsibilities and consequences and power differentials.

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