Editor’s Note: More sad proof this isn’t about Men assaulting Women, this is about abuse of Power.—Breaking: yet another Major Hollywood Figure accuses of Assault…of a Minor.
I was one of the women who wrote “me too” with an accompanying story on my personal Facebook page.
I have been victimized by men on more than one occasion. I’m still reeling.
I have been in relationships with men who have been victimized by both men and women. They’re still not okay, either.
I have been in treatment with men who were victims of sexual assault. My story and pain are real—and I know theirs is, too.
I may not be a man, but I know a thing or two about men.
I grew up with three brothers in a neighborhood of 20-plus boys. I built dirt hills, caught snakes and lizards, played baseball, and could hold my own on “Mario Cart” and “Zelda.” Heck, I still remember the code to get unlimited free lives on “Contra.”
I was also a dancer, kept a diary of my poems, and loved Barbie dolls. I was a deeply sensitive, yet spirited child who learned early on that quick wit and a backbone was needed to hold power in my immediate surroundings. I learned to fight fire with fire.
Because: boys will be boys, you know?
With my father mostly absent, I watched my mother work and maintain a home, all while taking care of us and going back to school full-time. She did a phenomenal job, had little help from family, and relied on our neighbors and close friends to help raise us.
Our neighborhood was our home, our safety, our connection to something outside the chaos of the walls where we slept. And in the process of my parents’ messy divorce, my neighborhood saved me and two of my brothers. I say this with unwavering certainty because my step-brother died in May from a drug overdose. He did not get to experience our hood. He was a heart-driven, emotional man who succumbed to his own superpower: his sensitivity.
I often wonder what would have happened if he grew up in a world where his superpower was viewed as a magnificent source of power and strength instead of a weakness that needed a muzzle.
I’ve watched my other two brothers vigorously fight to become good men; not perfect men, but good men. And against all odds, they are becoming better, but not without hardships and a well-indoctrinated choke hold of what it means to be a man in this world. I’ve watched them uncover their own shadows, dig deeper into their own psyche, and do things differently than what our father modeled for us.
I claimed my role as the overly-sensitive, eldest child early on, and in some ways, this may have affected their ability to be seen and work through their own processes. I was more vocal, more emotional. It was more socially acceptable for me to be a pile of hormonal tears. It was almost expected.
Because: girls will be girls, you know?
Although times and beliefs are shifting, women have historically been raised to remain small, polite, beautiful, and lady-like. Men are expected to toughen up, quit crying, succeed, win, be aggressive, and essentially “be a man”—no explanation needed. We make jokes about men being simple-minded creatures, when in reality, they’ve been forced to suppress their true nature as much as women have.
While women are pushing to find their backbones, men are struggling to feel safety in softening. And looking back, it was easier for a woman to fit in a man’s world than it must have been for a man to fit in ours. It was cool for me to play baseball and catch snakes, but you can bet the captured moments of me dressing my brothers up in my dance costumes with scrunchies in their hair became pictures worthy of a future blackmail. I made boys cry on more than one occasion, and they were teased mercilessly because of it. When I cried because of them, I was the victim.
Because: society will be society, you know?
These contradictions helped me realize there is something missing from the “me too” movement. This well-intended freedom of speech has sparked everything from inspiration to anger. And in the process, we have once again unwillingly divided ourselves. We are now the oppressed or the oppressor, the victim or abuser, female or male. We’re leaving men who have experienced sexual assault, violence, and abuse with no cathartic outlet to channel their own shame or validate their own experience.
Women’s voices are more powerful than ever, but if we make our much-needed revolution exclusive to our gender, we’re inviting men to keep their equally heartbreaking stories tucked away neatly beneath the blanket of shame we’ve cast upon all men. Yes, most rapes and assaults are committed by men. Yes, females are mostly the victims. However, the stories our men harbor should not be diluted because of their gender.
This is our culture’s fault, but now it’s our responsibility. Because we’re aware. We see what’s broken. We can assess what needs fixing and that begins with listening to everyone: female and male. Our shame can fall away collectively, but only if we all speak up together. These are humanity’s issues to fix, not men’s issues to take on. And the issues do not stop at sexual assault.
I have seen how eating disorders affect men, too—and probably more than we know. Anorexia and bulimia are typically seen as white, middle-class, adolescent female issues. While women fight the stigma and shame surrounding eating disorders and sexual abuse, so do men. And just because ours are more prevalent doesn’t mean theirs don’t exist or are any less painful to work through.
If anything, our generalization of these issues makes it more difficult for men to come forward and take ownership. Eating disorders do not discriminate based on gender, age, race, or socioeconomic status. And neither do crimes of harassment and sexual abuse.
I hope I speak for all women when I say that it’s safe for men to come forward and be heard and validated on issues that our culture has pinned exclusively to women. We’re all in this together. This revolution will not succeed without everyone’s voices.
Men, we understand what it’s like to feel shame and guilt. We understand what it’s like to not feel safe sharing your story—but we’re doing it. Historically, we have been taught to follow your lead, but maybe now it’s time to follow ours.
Because: your sensitivity is your superpower, you know?
I read a quote from Uday Kotak the other day that hammered home the idea of what I hope we can create: “If what you create does not outlive you, then you have failed.”
The Elephant Journal community is one of the strongest I have seen, and I truly believe we can create a new world for humanity that will outlive us all. Here are five ways we can encourage the men we love:
1. Quit limiting the emotions we deem as feminine to girls alone and telling our boys to toughen up and quit crying.
Instead, let’s show them that softening and expressing themselves is not only okay, but a normal part of the human experience. Our men and boys need to be able to experience the full range of emotions allowed in girls and be guided through these moments.
This will help them remain connected to their feelings and express anger and aggression more efficiently, especially considering anger is a second-hand emotion that usually masks pain, sadness, or shame.
2. Don’t endorse stereotypical feminine qualities or cultural beliefs that belittle boys and men?
“You play ball like a girl.” “Quit being a pussy.” “What, are you on your man period?” These generalizations benefit no one. When we use the culturally perceived downfalls of one gender to belittle another gender, we’re dividing ourselves even more.
And while we’re at it, let’s quit labeling women as sluts for sleeping with someone while we high-five men for the same act. It’s basic, old, played out, and not relevant or helpful to anyone. Next.
3. Stop labeling genders with a broad stroke.
“All women are crazy.” “All men are pigs.” It’s not cute anymore and these labels take away from the people who are working to become conscious, evolved, loving humans, despite being eclipsed by age-old stereotypes where we label men and women as opposites.
Although there is nothing wrong with acknowledging the strengths within each gender, we must also let our boys and men know that being a sensitive, compassionate human is not a weakness. Girls can change the oil in their cars and boys can write heart-felt poetry. Both should be celebrated.
4. Let’s teach our sons and daughters about personal boundaries.
It’s our job to help them understand that their feelings regarding personal space are not only valid, but respected. It will expand their circle of concern and help them realize other people have boundaries, too.
And if they don’t want to kiss and hug Aunt Helen for the multi-colored, crocheted afghan she made them for Christmas, guess what, she’ll live. Not to mention little Jimmy gets to keep his dignity and won’t have to excuse himself to remove the creepy, mauve lipstick from his forehead.
5. Hold space for the males in your life like you would for your female loved ones.
Feeling safe when we’re being vulnerable is the ultimate form of intimacy and one that every human on this planet is deserving of: male or female. Every time we listen, engage, and offer support, we play a valuable role in trade-marking vulnerability as a great strength and something to be celebrated in both genders.
Let the men you love know it’s safe. Reach out to them when you know they’re struggling, even when—especially when—they don’t want to talk about it.
Author: Rachel Dehler
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis