It’s been quite something, seeing the shockwaves ripple across social media all because of these two little words.
The majority of the friends I have left in my rather small social circle are women, as are the majority of the people I’m connected to online, which made it all the more disconcerting for me when I saw post after post after post from them all saying the same thing.
At first, I had two complimentary reactions as the number of hashtags mounted and scrolled across my newsfeed, those reactions being sadness and anger.
The sadness came through the reality that so many of these women had been either sexually assaulted and/or harassed. The anger kicked in not long after for what could be misconstrued as a selfish reason, but that doesn’t make it any less valid.
They had to endure one, the other or both…and I did nothing to either prevent it or help them get through it.
Now before anyone thinks to drop me a comment saying I’m making this about me, take a second and recognize that it’s the knee-jerk reaction of everyone, regardless of gender to want to offer some level of both support and comfort to a person who has undergone a traumatic event.
I am no different in this capacity, especially with the degree of hyperempathy which I’ve been bestowed with, so let’s move on, shall we?
Once I got over those initial emotions, though, it didn’t take long for me to find myself neck-deep in one more.
That emotion being guilt and for good reasons.
I’d like to think I’m someone who treats everyone with a degree of respect and decency as predicated upon how I was brought up. I’m sure if you ask 1,000 men in this country how they saw themselves, they’d probably tell you the exact same thing.
But that also ignores a very stark and sobering reality that both I and every other man in this country needs to accept. That we are all complicit, to one degree or another, in perpetuating the culture which required so many women to say the same thing – #MeToo.
My role in that culture began when I was barely eight years-old, if you can believe that.
Growing up in Reagan’s 80s and the Clinton 90s, the landscape was such that boys like me were taught about sexuality and the social roles of men and women before a lot of us could even comprehend it. What we weren’t taught, however, was anything about things misogyny, consent, communication, boundaries or behavior.
In my case, it didn’t help at all that my father had taken off when I was five and my first stepfather was the epitome of the misogynistic, abusive, domineering, patriarchal, Alpha male wannabe who demanded both complete acquiescence and obedience from my mother, who was not willing to conform.
I both saw and heard how he responded to it for the five years he was in my life and that left a lasting impact on who I told myself I was going to be when I became an adult.
“I’m not going to be him,” I’d say over and over once he was finally gone. “I’m going to be a better man than he ever was.”
Little did I know at the time just how much I would become exactly like my stepdad…if not something worse.
I’ve never shied away from the fact that I was a horrible adolescent, nor can I. The single most transformative point in my life came at that point and I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that had the culture not been what it was, there’s a chance I could’ve avoided it.
Like so many of my friends, though, we were inundated with example after example of how such behavior was tolerated and to a degree, even expected and accepted. Music, movies, TV, books, video games and just being around other adult males who treated women in such a fashion to codify to us that toxic masculinity was somehow, inexplicably, okay.
Editorial Note: There is a fine line between using your upbringing as either evidence or an excuse. There’s nothing I can do to change the time in which I grew up or the people I grew up around, but that in no way justifies how I conducted myself during that time, nor will I try to do so.
I didn’t get my wakeup call until I was thirteen and it should never have come to that point. But it did and I spent the rest of my adolescence trying to make up for who I’d become.
I’d completely lost sight of being the better man and I can’t tell you how many times I’d do it again to lesser degrees because of the toxic behaviors I’d latched onto. It took a long time, close to 25 years to finally reach a point where I could both identify and start to work towards ridding myself of them, but even now, I know I’m not somehow inoculated from them.
And just because I’ve managed to reach this point, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t complicit in allowing women I either know or have been witness to undergoing such treatment through the shameful acts of willful ignorance and outright cowardice, because I was simply too scared to confront another man who thought he could do whatever the hell he wanted.
Editorial Note: For the record, my reluctance to get involved in such situations stems from the fact that I was faced with a moment where my stepfather’s abuse of my mother peaked and I both could’ve and should’ve stepped in and tried to do something. But I was too scared to follow through and that is both part of my prolonged shame and also speaks of how misogynists and abusers operate, through the fear and intimidation of women and eight-year-old boys.
I hate the fact that so many women I both know and don’t know have had to speak out in such a fashion, not because I somehow think they shouldn’t, but because even ONE woman having to is too many. And I also hate the fact that so many men seem to be wringing their hands and asking what are they expected to do about it.
The answer is simple, of course. WE CHANGE. But as is always the case, we start giving ourselves every excuse in the world for why we can’t, starting with why we shouldn’t have to because of justifications and excuses X,Y and Z.
Except that will not work anymore, nor should it be allowed to. There are no acceptable justifications or excuses. We HAVE to be better men. The culture MUST change. NOTHING ELSE can be tolerated.
In order to begin that change, there first has to be a sincere measure of accountability and culpability. And for every female friend I know who may read this, all I can say, from the bottom of my heart, is that I am sorry that I failed you when I could’ve done something to help you.
I’m sorry I turned a blind eye.
I’m sorry for perpetuating what you’ve suffered, through either word or action, even if it was to the slightest degree.
I know it’s small consolation and as someone who endured sexual abuse at the hands of another male, even I cannot begin to fully empathize with how difficult it must be to try and survive in such a toxic, destructive culture.
But, I promise you, that I will not forget the profound statement you’ve made by coming forward.
I see you.
I hear you.
I believe you.
And I will stand and fight with you.