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January 15, 2018

The Language of #MeToo & #TimesUp has to Change, or Society (and our boys) Won’t.

I have watched Oprah’s Golden Globe speech several times during the past week.

She is a matriarch of a patriarchal society, a woman I have admired since I was a young girl sitting beside my mother watching her on the television screen.

While I wanted to applaud Oprah for the message she sent to young girls Sunday evening, I was silenced by the numbing truth that there has been no message—or perhaps a very different message—delivered to my son, 16 years young.

With a president under constant scrutiny, priests outed as pedophiles, police officers charged as brutal and racist, and now dozens of well-known men being accused of sexual harassment and assault, there is no message about male empowerment. Instead, what we have is a message about men historically and systemically disempowering others.

While it may not have been her intention, Oprah’s semantics bear implications that are being inferred by a much larger audience than those she mentioned: “all the little girls watching here now” and “all the women who have endured years of abuse.” Outnumbering the “man who chooses to listen” are the boys listening, too; needing to speak, too. In fact, some of the victims who have come forward via the #MeToo movement have been men.

Our young men and our good grown men make up more than just the “some” Oprah’s speech mentioned in rather juxtaposing terms, for as she so clearly stated, there are “a lot of magnificent women,” but only “some pretty phenomenal men.”

Such statements are not only fallacious generalizations, but statistically unfounded. This was a missed opportunity to show unity and equality between the “good” of both sexes; there are “a lot” of one and “a lot” of the other. And such a change in diction could have made a much more powerful statement: women refuse to be victims of the few; men refuse to be represented by the few. Dare I say our “phenomenal men” are equal in number to the “lot[s] of magnificent women.”

They just aren’t the ones being noticed.

The ones being noticed are the “brutally powerful men,” ruining the word “men” for all.  But the diction being used across almost all media platforms is damaging, too, with the negatively-connotated adjectives modifying the word “men” and the positively-connotated adjectives being redefined, negatively. Case and point: “the brutally powerful men.” The accused and guilty are not powerful men. They are weak men in positions of power. Or, as my father would say, they are not men at all. Powerful men are not oppressors; they are liberators. And leaders are not leaders if they are tyrants who merely occupy positions of leadership.

Some of the language I have come across in #MeToo and #TimesUp posts inadvertently vilifies “men,” a word our innocent boys identify with, a word good men identify with. Let’s not condemn men. Let’s condemn the behavior; name the behavior. They’re maleness is an attribute, yes, but it is not the determinant. Let’s call them by their rightful names: assaulter, aggressor, predator, pedophile, oppressor.

Just as Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed how “gravely disappointed” he was “with the white moderate”—by chastising their neutral behavior and using white as a modifier—let us express how disgusted and furious we are with the tyrant who happens to be male.

Irrefutably, we are part of a patriarchal and capitalist society that has inherently been male-dominated in professional and political arenas. Despite such male-dominance, not all men dominate. Each movement that has erupted in our country during the last few years is calling attention to one inherent problem: the abuse and misuse of power. It is not only systemic but pandemic—a disease that has the potential to infect all, male or female, black or white, upper or lower class. And we must do more than treat the symptoms. We must reach the cancerous root of this epidemic in an effort to cure all by uniting all who are on the side of right.

And I know it can be done because it has been done before. The beauty and power of the Abolitionist Movement of the mid-1800s, the Women’s Suffrage Movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s, and the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-1900s is that they brought together individuals who had historically been separated by dictated opposition and inequality. White abolitionists fought with Frederick Douglass to free slaves; Douglass then fought with women (and men) to gain equal rights for women—all women. He reminds us that “right is of no sex.’” Yes, just as right is of no race, no class, no prescribed or predetermined aspect that seeks to differentiate between humans.

And now it is our time to show our developing youth how it’s done in ways it was never done before. We need to be the matriarchs of this world, the mothers raising daughters and sons. We need to raise them to be more than feminists—as humanists behaving humanely. We have our finger on the dying moral pulse of a country and the ability to revive it in our palm. That palm holds the hand of our children, and our children are learning by what we do and say.

A child learns one of two ways: by learning what not to do or what to do. The former often rules by fear; the latter, love. The one allows for survival; the other, for progress. Like learning not to touch fire for fear of getting burned, a child must also learn to walk by learning the ways to use his legs and weight. Are we teaching our children, especially our young men, not to touch a woman for fear of getting publicly scrutinized or ostracized? Or are we teaching them to walk alongside a woman for the betterment of society?

The answer matters, because like most mothers I have spoken to, I want my son to do much more than fear doing the wrong thing; I want him to love doing the right thing. And as with any effective lesson, the language matters, too.

The language needs to address that our young boys are, in fact, affected by the systemic problem, too, one that is much larger than sexual harassment in the workplace. At the core of each and every one of our societal problems is the abusive nature of power, one that inflicts us all and has been illuminated by the latest presidential election, the Black Lives Matter Movement, and NFL protests. Like the inherited guilt that comes with white ancestry and white privilege, I fear that the modern movements will be yet another paralyzing component in the psychological development of young male minds growing within the bodies of will-be men.

So the language has to change.

The language has to change because there are young boys everywhere listening to the long list of deafening adjectives being used to define men. Basic psychology tells us that children are what we tell them they are—that children often become what we tell them they’ll be. While there are exceptions to every rule, we cannot risk even a few identifying their masculinity, maleness, and genitalia with oppression and villainy.

The language has to change because language changes minds, and when procreated and recycled, language will eventually change ideologies and societies. We have a social responsibility—all of us—if we dare to use our voice to at least use the power of words powerfully, for betterment. If we continue to say, or even imply, that “men are this” and “women are that,” then such words will take shape, come to fruition, and be our reality—if they aren’t already.

And that is not the reality I want my son to know or inherit from my generation—that he is by birth and genitalia an enemy to women, incapable of honoring them, praising them, equaling them. Yes, some men are incapable—or perhaps are capable and choose not to be—but they are not and must not be the majority.

Patriarchy does not have to be synonymous with oppression, and yet a long lineage of ancestors allowed it to become so. We have inherited the structure, but the time is now to give it its rightful place—in the pages of textbooks that speak of yesterday before they tell of a tomorrow that transformed the ways in which men and women coexist and co-dominate.

Let’s make this about more than a workplace. Let’s make this about more than gender. An entire nation is crying out. Who will be its leader? Who will restore freedom to the land of the free?  Matriarchs of a patriarchal world, you have the floor now. I call upon thee.

Our boys need a voice, too, one they can find hope in and emulate, for #theytoo are undeserving descendants of a flawed system. #Wetoo are afflicted by that system, and the #timesnow that we use the platforms we have been given to guarantee that the tomorrow of our sons and daughters will not look like our today.

I’m simply “speaking [my] truth,” as Oprah and so many others encouraged us to do. Our voice is not our own; it is a siren for the silenced. We must sound this unified voice to unify a broken country.

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Author: Angela Miller
Image: Twitter
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton

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Angela Miller