The #MeToo movement is an incredibly positive step for society.
It is inspiring to see so many courageous women speaking openly about their stories of sexual abuse and harassment.
This article is a response to a Facebook post I made about the movement that went viral. The post was a man-to-man conversation that was received with both love and extreme anger. I was saying that there are a variety of ways in which men can traumatize women without even realizing it. It was an attempt to change male perception around what is and is not okay in regard to sex.
I did what many women have been calling on men to do. I admitted to a few things from my past that weren’t pretty. Then I said I felt guilty about it. As a result, I was viciously attacked by hundreds of commenters. People were going all up and down my Facebook wall writing nasty things, and even going onto my business pages attempting to trash my reputation.
But this article is not about that. My intention here is to clarify my message so we can all have a bigger conversation.
The type of sexual trauma I’m talking about can even happen in committed relationships. Men sometimes pressure their girlfriends or wives into sex, and often women consent in order to please their man. Sometimes, men feel like once they’ve had sex with a woman, they are entitled to sex whenever they want. I’m not proud to say it, but to an extent I did feel that way at one time. It is another ugly side to our patriarchal culture. Sex, under these conditions, likely registers as a trauma for the woman whether she is aware of it or not, because she is consenting without feeling a full yes.
Then there is the issue of drunk sex. I’m not talking about when someone is passed out. I’m talking about two drunk people having sex. Being drunk causes visual and physiological impairment, so the ability to defend oneself is diminished. In other words, being drunk is not a safe state to be in, and as I wrote in my original post, if a woman does not feel 100 percent safe in a sexual experience, it is traumatic for her.
Another form of sexual trauma we don’t often look at comes from manipulation. Men sometimes lead women on to think they want a deeper relationship in order for her to consent to sex. For a woman to have sex, only for the man never to talk to her again, is incredibly traumatic because she feels abandoned. I have done this and it happens all the time.
I have also been in bed with a woman and had her say no when I tried to initiate sex. My response was to become incredibly cold, turn on the lights, and ignore her, only to re-initiate physical contact minutes later, which usually resulted in a yes. This is another form of emotional manipulation that is traumatic for a woman.
These things are not illegal, but that does not make them okay. They are in a completely different category than things we all recognize as clear sexual assault—like sober men taking advantage of drunk women, men exposing themselves to women, men groping women, or men raping women. This sick stuff happens and it’s a huge problem. That’s obvious.
But right now, I want to have a conversation about the grey areas.
And I want to dare to explore something that we have yet to look at as a society: it’s that so many men have traumatized women in these ways and not realized they have done so. I think men, in general, are more disconnected from their emotions than women, so most men have no idea that they are actually carrying guilt about this. That might sound crazy, but please hear me out.
I don’t mean to take away from the pain women are feeling. It would be ridiculous to compare the pain felt by abused women to the guilt of their abusers. What I am saying is that we have to understand that this societal problem does affect men.
This might be really hard for some women to hear and accept. I am not saying women shouldn’t feel angry, because anger is a necessary step in the healing process. In fact, we must create a safe space for women to express this anger by saying things like, “You deserve to feel angry. I see your pain. Let it out.” This is how we can move through emotions.
I think we also need to have a vision for moving forward. As men, we need to be able to own our part in all of this. First of all, men need to understand that the things I’m sharing about here are not okay.
Then, I think the next step is allowing men to feel pain about this and release the guilt. But we can’t do that yet, because men who admit to wrongdoing on this level are crucified. The comments section of my Facebook post is a perfect example of how culturally acceptable it is to label, blame, and shame.
I do believe we are capable of a shift though. What if more men could say, you know what, I did have sex with a woman who was really drunk. I did pressure my girlfriend to have sex with me. I did manipulate a woman into sex. I think it would be really powerful and healing for men to say it, accept blame, apologize, and never make those mistakes again.
So let me be clear and say I’m not asking women to forgive men or feel bad for them. What I am asking is for everyone to understand one very important point:
We are all allowed to feel whatever we are feeling.
Men feeling guilt is a necessary step in the healing process just the same as women feeling angry. Feelings are meant to be expressed and released, not ignored and repressed. If we can all do this, and create a space where this is okay, we actually have a chance at coming together as men and women and solving this problem.
I hope this message is heard by many, and above all, to the women I have wronged, I am sorry.
Author: John Miller
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis