Dear male friends, I won’t manage your #metoo feelings
Conversations, conversations, conversations. Think pieces I read (and shared) for the past week or so; conversations with other women where we reveal insecurities and battle stories ("it didn’t seem bad enough to complain"; "I think I forget the incidents in self-protection", "I’m so sorry it happened to you"). I am tired, I am weary, I am (here and there) cautiously hopeful.
And then there are the men.
It feels bad to make a blob of sameness of them. They aren’t some amorphous faceless group. Some of my male friends also shared their stories of abuse, made difficult to voice by both homophobia (in case of abuse by other men) and toxic masculinity and its worship of male strength and virility. With some, not only fellow victims, I could discuss things and feel we were equals - not necessarily equals in having been abused (what a horrible sisterhood that is...) but equals in empathy and understanding.
Then there were men who started showing up on my timeline. Commenting under the articles. Making confessions. Telling me that they’re not horrible but they committed a, b, c. Hoping that “things” would “get better”. Expressing all their feelings. To me, on my timeline, via private message. Via Facebook status. And I was probably supposed to be impressed, but what I felt was — increasingly tired.
In the beginning, it was easy to "like" a great article posted by a male ally. Some of the posts and comments were truly insightful -sharing articles about how rape culture makes it seem that waiting for consent is both weak and unattractive; that only “geeks” ask, that the “real men” “take” without considering women’s opinions and that’s what women love (James Bond, Han Solo, Indiana Jones — I see you for the creeps you are!). Some posts were honest and I acknowledged the posters’ vulnerability. Others, well. All too soon I began smelling performance. Someone mentioned that a person who sexually harassed them put up a #metoo post - and while a victim turned harasser is not outside realm of possibility, it’s still a fucked up thing to see on your timeline. A friend who I had a lot of trust in made a sexual harassment joke on another male ally’s timeline, under a progressive article. I waited for half a day for that joke to be responded to. Maybe he was at work. Or maybe he didn’t want to call out his buddy, a good guy by all accounts, mine included, on his fucked up use of the language. That dubious usage of emotional resources fell to me. As per usual. Male Ally got to post fun articles. I got to challenge things I couldn’t bear to let go. Unlike him, I can’t afford to.
Men, if you truly want to do better, don’t come to my timeline with your comments, expressing your hopes that this important conversation Will Change Things (presumably spontaneously with no work involved). What are you expecting, a like? A cookie? A thoughtful conversation where I acknowledge that patriarchy messed you around? That’s true, I’m fresh out of fucks to give. I understand you have feelings about all this. I realise that it is uncomfortable to have your privilege called into question and that you have to think of your own deeds and misdeeds. You know what you do? YOU PROCESS THAT SHIT WITH OTHER MEN AND DO YOUR OWN EMOTIONAL FUCKING LAUNDRY. Cos I ain’t doing this for you.
Racism and sexism aren’t by any means identical, but in this there is a parallel: white people should process their white guilt with other white people instead of leaning on PoC who have actual racism to be getting on with. So while I’m reliving past trauma, I will not have time for your identity crisis about being “a good guy”. And if you are particularly worried about those vague fishing "you’re so hot" messages you occasionally send me - that I confronted and expressed discomfort about and you made it all like I’m weird and it’s aesthetic appreciation because you’re married and why do I post such hot pics anyway - don’t be coming onto my timeline and waiting for a like for being so very enlightenened. Look up "emotional labour" - there is an entire huge thread on it on the internet and it is not hidden - and learn to do your own.
Disclaimer: if you think I’m referring to you right now, I genuinely couldn’t care less: there’s several of you on my Facebook, which just shows that I’m either too forgiving or a pushover. If your tickly guilty conscience won’t shut up, you could apologise, but frankly, not me nor any other woman wants to hear your apology right now, if ever. Talk about too little, too late. We’ve sadly had worse and don’t wanna talk about it. Do better.
What you do now is PAY IT FORWARD - next time somebody says shitty things about women or drags a staggering drunk woman into a private room, fucking intervene. Make it awkward and make it loud and make it uncomfortable and don’t be swayed by invisible pact of manly brotherhood. Share your feelings if they’re real, not as a performative "this is what women want to hear before the furore dies down", because it makes you sound like a politician. (Remember #YesAllWomen? You were all up for “things changing” then, too!). You’re not running for office in my vagina, so don’t butter me up with fake views. Be genuine and do the work to see women and gay and nonbinary people as human beings, and sexual harassment for an awful reality it is for many of them - not an abstract, not a joke, not a thing to confess to random women to absolve you of past wrongdoings.
Doing that work is long term. It involves listening to perspectives you’re subconsciously not used to trusting or viewing as equally valuable. (Can you name 10 books by women that you read and genuinely connected with? 10 films? 10 works of art by people from outside your demographic? I’ll wait while y’all count).
I know. You’re coming to me to say "I get it, I’ll be better now". But it still feels like you need me to validate you, to tell you "good boy", to instantly believe that you’ll be better, like you saying it IS the achievement. But I’ll believe it when I see it and words aren’t nearly enough. And I have enough feelings on my own — too many to validate and manage yours right now. In fact, ever. Friends do it for friends, but this is still gendered work. Change that too while you’re at it.
One of you, when called on it, sheepishly admitted "I used too many words to say that I am your friend". . If you are my friend, and a friend of women, then act like it. Life-long, not just when the hashtag is trending.