Yesterday, my social media feeds were littered with “Me too.” Women and men alike were letting me and the world know that they too are victims of sexual harassment and assault.
As the “Me too”s streamed in, I noticed that I had two immediate, gut-level reactions.
The first was to wonder how many people were exaggerating, elevating something that doesn’t really deserve to be labeled as “assault”, jumping on the bandwagon to elicit some sort of pity or sympathy.
The second was to assure myself that I was one of the “good ones.” I had never raped anyone or been violent. Sure, I had treated women in ways that I am not proud of. But I never crossed the line into harassment or assault, I don’t think. The problem is with those other men who don’t have their shit together, haven’t done their work. Not me. I respect women and couldn’t and shouldn’t be blamed for this.
As I noticed these thoughts coursing around my brain, I began feeling ashamed. I realized that both of these reactions were perfectly designed to perpetuate the very things people were speaking out against. Rather than simply trusting and believing victims, I cast a skeptical eye. Rather than questioning whether and how I had played a part, I let myself off the hook.
The misogynistic feminist
This felt particularly shameful for me because I identify as a feminist. I tell myself I firmly believe in the strength and value of women. I tell myself I am dedicated to urging our society toward equity and justice.
Yet, my immediate reactions betrayed this label. They revealed that regardless of what my highest self says and believes, toxic masculinity and misogyny are inside of me. They are a part of me. They seep into my thoughts without me even realizing.
No, these were not the most terrible thoughts anyone could have. But they reminded me of a sad truth about myself and, I’d venture to say, most men in our society: Somewhere, deep down, I feel the need to undermine, avoid, and push away the reality of misogyny and my own complicity in it. I have a stake in not acknowledging the truth that was made so abundantly clear yesterday.
My gut-level reactions made this clear as day. I question victims. I assure myself I’m not to blame.
Yes, there are also voices in my head that combat these message. They care deeply about gender equality and are committed to being an active part of change. All of these voices live together inside me side by side. In nearly every situation, the higher voices drive my actions. But what will happen if I get way too drunk? What will happen if I find myself extremely angry, disrespected, or threatened? Can I be absolutely certain that my “higher” voices will always prevail, that I won’t find myself enacting violence or harassment?
No. I don’t think I can. I have to live with the knowledge that I am highly capable of sexual harassment and assault. I was raised as a male in a misogynistic society. How could I not hold these beliefs and ways of being within me?
Doing the work
For every act of rape or egregious sexual harassment, there are dozens upon dozens of subtle, hidden acts of undermining, avoidance, and deflection. These acts are a core part of keeping misogyny alive and well. They aren’t harassment themselves, but they feed and enable harassment. I am often that culprit of such acts.
Breaking free of these cycles does not end with simply not raping or harassing others. That is merely the start. That is merely complying with the law and any sense of moral decency.
Really breaking free, really actively contributing to the destruction of these cycles, requires much, much more. It requires calling people out whenever I see misogyny playing out in front of me. It requires scrutinizing my own thoughts and actions to detect even hints of misogyny. It requires consciously reprogramming myself from the ground up every day from here on out.
The only way I can truly be helpful in confronting misogyny and violence is acknowledging they flow through me and will continue to do so, on some level, for the rest of my life. Yes, I perpetuate misogyny. Me too.