Nobody wants to be having this conversation, but we need to have it. Avoidance of this conversation has shaped our culture; cultures are defined not only by the stories they tell, but also by the ones they don’t. It’s the negative space that gives definition to the picture we have of how men and women ought to live together — and that picture, of course, is the work of a series of old masters.
We have built entire lives, families, and communities around the absence of this conversation. And yet here we are, having it anyway. So let’s deal with some common queries, the very first of which is: how do we handle what we know now about how women have been treated for so long?
The Unforgiving Minute by Laurie Penny (please read the whole thing- it’s excellent)
I want to take time to recognize and appreciate the strong, brave women who are coming forth and naming names of men who have abused them, voluntarily upending their lives to sound the alarm bells of toxic masculinity embedded deep in our culture.
Whether on TV, or on Twitter, or to their friends face-to-face, these women are confronting the power structure that tells women to “shut up and take it”.
Even simply admitting to yourself what has happened to your body can be difficult and powerful. Only when I really started digging into my own past, and trying to write my own #metoo story that I realized how traumatic these experiences are.
To remember, to relive, to be re-traumatized. I ignored my trauma, justified it away. I even unconsciously used promiscuity as my defense against rape culture. Perhaps I would have more traumas to process had I had not been creative in my defenses.
Every woman who speaks out is acting as the antibiotics to the poison of patriarchy. I liken this bigger discussion (and the re-traumatization that goes along with it) to a societal Herxheimer reaction.
According to Wikipedia, a Herxheimer reaction “is a reaction to endotoxin-like products released by the death of harmful microorganisms within the body during antibiotic treatment.”
We need to release these stories to reveal the truth about men’s abuse and harassment of women. We need to reveal this abhorrent behavior that has been normalized throughout history. We need to do releasing and revealing in order to heal the wounds that women have experienced in our lives and across generations.
A friend of mine via Facebook asked if other women had been feeling the urge to name actual names when it came to incidences of sexual abuse. This crystallized a question that had been gnawing at me and has been part of my resistance to telling my own stories.
How much to reveal? Details, names? How much am I willing to let this affect my life? How will this affect the life of the men named?
I just looked up the Facebook profile of one of the people I could name if I so chose. He looks like a decent human being. He’s into solar power and yoga. Someone I would probably be friends with if I were to meet him today. Heck, I even technically stayed friends with him after the incident.
For the moment, I have decided that instead of going into details of my sexual traumas, at least for now, to reach out to some of the men that are guilty of the abuse I experienced. I want to see how they react to my reaching out to them and what reaction they are having to this larger societal discussion.
I am torn about doing this because ultimately, men are the ones who need to be throwing back the veil on this culture of silence around abuse of women’s bodies. As the author from The Unforgiving Minute so eloquently states, “For so long, women have been confessing to crimes men have committed and being punished accordingly. ”
My partner recently did a Facebook post doing just this, revealing times when he took part in this abuse. It was hard to take in, but it was the right thing to do. Not that men deserve heaps of praise for admitting their abuses, but I do want men to start to grapple with their own transgressions.
Not all women will feel this way. Men will receive varying messages and responses from women, and men will have to sit with this confusion. It is a small price to pay considering all the confusion (not to mention pain and sorrow) that women have had to sit with following a incidence of abuse or harassment.
While individual men do need to take responsibility for their actions, we also must study the water we all swim in, the broader culture.
It is only recently that our society have been promoting the idea of “active consent”. Before that it was “no means no,” putting the onus on the woman to speak up. Before that – nothing.
On top of that, we live in a society where again and again, films show men attacking or denigrating women and as a consequence, those women fall in love with those men. Read 7 Reasons So Many Guys Don’t Understand Sexual Consent to get a few concrete examples. (Spoiler: Sorry Star Wars fans).
Hearing and telling these stories from both women and men will be difficult, but it is the only way forward. The healing process is not going to be quick so we must start now. There will be anger, pain and suffering. It will be super messy and mistakes will be made along the way, but the rewards of a more just and equitable society where women are treated as full human beings, will be well worth it.