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.
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?
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.