Well done to everyone that has shared a #metoo post on social media. It’s an important conversation. I was defensive about it a week ago though. Shame on me.
“It’s vague” I say to my partner. “What does it even mean?” I’ve a resistance to it. “Who hasn’t been spoken to badly, touched inappropriately or violated at some point in their life?”
It’s a triggering subject. There are some strong opinions flying around. The movement has surfaced at the same time as the Harvey Weinstein story and has been accompanied by some anti-man fervour. Let’s all have a man-bash. Even women calling it, ‘wishy-washy’ and ‘bollocks’.
Every week there seems to be some new Facebook trend to belong to. This sounds like another mass trivialization of what is a very sensitive subject for some. Women grouping together to have a go at men. It’s divisive. It’s negative. Stay quiet. It will go away.
I’ve argued with feminists. I don’t necessarily agree with feminism. By it’s nature it’s divisive. It supports women and not men. I’m not a feminist. It’s important to support men and women in equal measure. Feminists can go down the road of man-hating. Does that help? We should be humanists. I’d lumped #metoo into my disagreement with feminism. ‘It’s women having a man-bash’ I thought to myself.
Sadly, there’s post after post after post after post after post after post. Horrible. Mostly women who have suffered terribly upsetting traumas. Mostly at the hands of men. Lots of women. So many women. It’s impossible to consider these traumas isolated. It’s impossible to consider the underlying sentiment behind them isolated. It’s everywhere. Women whose stories you know. Women whose stories you don’t. Many referencing the trauma for the first time in a public space. This is not simply a social media trend or fad. I realise that my defensiveness, my resistance to the discussion, my embarrassment at being a man, my lack of empathy, isn’t helping.
I’m very lucky. I’ve never been a victim of sexual abuse or sexually threatening behaviour as a child. Maybe it’s because I was one of five. Watching documentaries like The Keepers on Netflix and films like Spotlight, it seems that lonely kids or kids from broken families are more likely prey. The concept of child sexual abuse didn’t even enter my radar until my late twenties. But when it does, I realise that sexual abuse is everywhere.
Close friends and family who have been spiked. Raped. Gang-raped. Abused by family members. Horrific, confusing, traumatic, unforgettable, life-changing events. In the last 8-10 years I’ve become aware of more and more sexual abuse traumas. The more you are willing to listen, the more the overwhelming prevalence of abuse becomes shockingly apparent. It’s astonishing. And so desperately sad.
Our people are suffering. Our friends. Our children. Our partners. Our mums. Our sisters. This is the UK in the year 2017 and we are hurting. If this is happening in Stockport and Leeds, what the hell is happening amongst the 4.2billion people in Asia. I can’t imagine the situation is better in Jaisalmer, Luang Prabang or Lombok. Consider the plight of women and victims of sexual abuse the world over.
Why there is such a high incidence of abuse isn’t clear, but shining a light on it, discussing it, learning and most importantly empathising with it, has to help.
It’s not surprising that victims of sexual abuse are feeling the need to speak out. Can you imagine how it must feel carrying the emotional and psychological burden of a sexual abuse trauma and watching Donald ‘Grab ‘em by the pussy’ Trump voted into the Whitehouse AFTER that tape came out?
Why on Earth:
a) did not one senior Republican stand up at this point to completely denounce this deplorable attitude and declare Trump obviously unsuitable world leadership material?
b) did anyone vote for him? Men or women?
Leadership in general is a huge problem. Our media aren’t showing up. World political leadership is a joke. Who wants to be a leader here? I’ve pulled out of a Whatsapp group of dear old friends recently. I love the guys. I’ve just asked for the racist jokes to stop and they haven’t. They’re from a small town and some of the things they share have no place in the wider world. I’ve called it out before and I’ve had enough. It’s a positive step for me to be disassociated from a space that proliferates an unhealthy attitude. Maybe my exit from the group will have a greater resonance than my calling-it-out ever did. The Whatsapp group shares racist ‘banter’ that I’m confident would have been unpopular when my dad was my age. What improvements can we expect in society if we ourselves are not attempting to make things better than they were in the past? We all have to play our part in making our world a better place for everyone.
As much as I can show leadership, I am also guilty of creating the problem. I had a traumatic arrival into the world of sex. After my initial failings and hurt, I spent many years attempting to prove myself in my own mind. This caused me to be very unhealthy in my relationships with women and with sex. It took quite a lot of tough discussions, therapy and self-realisation to understand where the shit comes from. Awareness is the first step.
Three days in on an idyllic, peaceful, white-sand island. Gorgeous Gili Meno. We stroll along the paths by the shore hand-in-hand. There are plenty of young workers who say hello as we pass. Perfect. But today, my knees are playing up. I have to stop and my partner walks back to our beach hut. Alone this time. The island immediately changes for her. She’s whistled at, clicked at like a cat, told she has a ‘nice smile’ and on the receiving end of a generally weird series of lecherous and unwanted advances. What a shame that her time is spoilt in this way.
‘They’re mostly boys’ she says. And initially it feels like there’s some room for a level of acceptability or forgiveness with that in mind. They’ll grow out of it, won’t they? They’ll learn to respect and empathise. But what a sorry state of affairs when our children, our next generation, are not being nurtured from an early age to protect, love and respect women. Especially when they are walking home alone. It’s not cool, kids.
There’s a company called TC Systems based in New York who recognise the problem of sexual assault. Showing true leadership in the field towards a safer world for all, they’ve developed a range of sex robots. Roxxxy TrueCompanion has rape settings. ‘It’s better that people rape robots than people.’ What the actual fuck? Will we be giving murderers real blood-spurting dummies to stab next? Rapists need help, not sex robots.
On the other side of the world, yoga teacher, Emily Kuser, was also thinking about all this #metoo sharing, so she went down to the beach to see the sun rise. She was first approached by a skate-boarder who asked if she’d suck his dick. A bit later, some guy turns up and stares at her vagina, licking his lips. As a lady who has been the victim of a sexual assault before, that’s two more incidents she can add to the list in one morning. Any questions I had about the necessity and validity of the movement are answered.
This is happening all the time. It’s all around us. Women feel threatened by men and it affects the way women must behave. It affects the quality of women’s lives constantly. How terrible. Checking the back seat of the car before getting in. Not letting a drink out of site. Carrying the car key like a weapon. Looking down in the street. Not making eye contact. Being cautious about what to wear in case that dress is too sexy. It’s not all women, but it’s lots of women. And it’s not something that men generally have to worry about. I have not had one experience in my life where I have felt the threat of sexual violation. Imagine if it was something that was a constant regard. For a lot of people, it is.
#metoo isn’t just women having a go at men. It isn’t just a social media fad. It doesn’t matter if it’s vague. It doesn’t matter if some of it turns into a bit of man-bashing. We’ve a lot to answer for. If someone feels uncomfortable, they’ve a right to express that and it will serve us all to empathise.
Women are having their vaginas stared at on trains. They are having their drinks spiked in nightclubs. They are being followed home. They are being cat-called and violated. Women can’t just leave the Whatsapp group. They’re in this day in and day out. All over the world.
As men, we can put our strong arms up and around our women. We can use our strength and heart to protect and support. We are sensitive creatures too and we can join the conversation, have a voice and speak up about how it feels to be a man who is listening to women share these stories. Shouldn’t our loved ones feel safe? We can make it so.
Apologise to someone you’ve wronged. Call it out. Think about how someone else feels. Empathise. Get interested in why you did what you did or said what you said. If we can each make just one thing better for one person in one place at one time, then maybe we can turn the #metoo story around.