17 Oct #MeToo But Men Still Don’t Care
I’m sixteen years old. I’m sleeping over at the family home of a guy I like. During the night, he goes to fetch some water. I awake to his friend climbing into the bed next to me. “It’s okay,” he tells me. “My friend doesn’t mind.” Next thing he’s on top of me, pushing his tongue into my mouth. His hands move down my body, forcing their way into my underwear. I threaten to scream but I feel confused and scared. I don’t want to wake the parents. I don’t want to get him in trouble. “It’s okay,” he says. “It’s okay. Be quiet.”
I’m seventeen years old and it’s the first time I’m having penetrative sex. I hand my partner the pack of condoms and watch him put one on. A short while passes and I notice mid-intercourse that he’s no longer wearing it. Panic hits me in the chest. Is this really happening? I ask him about it, trying to downplay the frenzy of emotions erupting inside of me. “I took it off,” he tells me nonchalantly. “It was uncomfortable.” As if my safety and consent weren’t even afterthoughts. Five years after the ordeal, I come across an article about “stealth rape” on Facebook. Only then did I realise I’d been raped.
I’m twenty one years old. I wake up at a friend’s house, groggy. I had taken sleeping pills the night before. I go to the toilet and notice a sharp pain coursing through my pelvis. Concerned, I decide to tell my friend about it. “Don’t you remember us having sex last night?” he asks me. “Sex?” I’m confused. “I told you I didn’t want to have sex, I just wanted to sleep.” “Yes, but when you were on the sleeping pills, I asked you and you said that you wanted to.”
I’m twenty three years old and at a club I frequently attend. I walk past a group of men. “Are you happy?” one of them calls out to me. “No,” I call back. “I’m sad and angry!” The irony is lost on them. Later that night the same man approaches me and takes me by the shoulders, leaning into me. “Why aren’t you smiling?” he asks right before I shove him. He loses his balance and almost falls to the ground. “Don’t f*cking touch me,” I tell him and walk away. He’s shocked; he didn’t see it coming. Nobody saw what happened but if they had, I already know what they’d say. “Why are you so uptight?” “He was just trying to be nice.” “Don’t be such a bitch.” The words ring loudly in my mind because I’ve heard them so many times. Not just uttered to me, but to every person whose dared defend themselves against a man.
Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Our voices are like a choir echoing through a world that doesn’t care about our pain. Men put their fingers in their ears and say, “Not all men.” Okay. But all womxn. Every single one of us.
Today my social media feeds were filled with responses to what’s being termed as the #MeToo movement which supposedly began when actress Alyssa Milano took to Twitter to urge those who have been sexually assaulted to post two simple words: Me too. The intention was to spread awareness about the fact that sexual violence against womxn is a social problem rather than a personal one. A glaring, indisputable reality. [EDIT: I’ve since been informed that #MeToo was in fact conceived ten years ago by activist Tarana Burke, a black womxn who deserves credit. Burke said in a statement on Monday that the catchphrase was intended to be used “from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible.”]
While the original post was originally targeted at womxn, the #MeToo movement has since grown to include anyone who has been sexually abused by a man. This includes other queer folk, LGBT+ individuals and even fellow men. Sadly most of the engagement I’ve seen taking place with the #MeToo movement from cis men has been to express their disgust at “the magnitude of the problem” as if our voices and experiences ceased to exist before this day, as if we haven’t been uttering these truths continuously, wasting our breath and drawing blood trying to get them to listen; and the latter: reminding us womxn that men get raped too.
Yes, it is true that men are not exempt from being sexually abused but that is not to say that male violence is not a social issue which affects every womxn, queer, trans and non binary person; or that men are not to some degree safeguarded by their male privilege; or that womxn are not systematically sexualised without consent and viewed as existing for male consumption.
One could argue that #MeToo is, perhaps, a clap back at pseudo-movements like #NotAllMen which are typically heralded by male privilege denialists and men’s rights activists who fail to recognise the existence of toxic masculinity and rape culture which threaten us all. Either way you look at it, #MeToo began appearing on feeds across the globe within hours of Alyssa’s tweet which once again highlights “the magnitude of the problem” because, indeed, it is huge; and the fact that we’re even having to do this to prove that our stories are valid and legitimate enough to pay attention to is disturbing to say the least.
When I started writing this article I thought I was going to write about rape culture and what it looks like in everyday life. I thought I’d explain all the ways in which womxn, and other people who aren’t cisgender heterosexual men, suffer under the patriarchy but then I started considering the various narratives that were popping up on my Facebook timeline and some of them really got me thinking. Why are we still doing all the damn work? Why are marginalised people forever having to invest emotional labour in dismantling the systems of oppression that harm us while those who uphold it, and benefit from it, refuse to take responsibility?
When #MenAreTrash was trending, I couldn’t mention it without warranting the attention of cis het men who felt it was their place to remind me that not all men are to blame for womxn’s suffering. Now, as more and more stories from oppressed people emerge, men once again assume the position of playing some redundant version of “devil’s advocate” to remind us that our safety is less of a priority than the egos of men. I say this because it’s been demonstrated time and time again. Men’s safety being prioritised over the well-being of womxn manifests in different ways. From the judge that gave a “promising swimmer” convicted of rape a shorter sentence because his career matters more than womxn’s safety to the fact that social media platforms censor womxn’s nipples because the patriarchy has sexualised our bodies without our consent and made it so we have to hide them away (regardless of our discomfort) to all the very many examples of how we have had to accommodate men’s wrong-doings. Wrong-doings which they are not held accountable for. While womxn and queer folk live in stark contrast, being blamed for nearly everything and anything. Even our very existence.
I want to see a movement where men take responsibility for all the times they have hurt womxn and LGBT+ people. Hell, I want to see them take responsibility for all the times they’ve hurt one another. Toxic masculinity has an undoubtable role to play in upholding the patriarchy and it needs to be dismantled for the safety of every person that exists – men included – because it conditions us to believe that men are inherently unpent beasts that cannot control themselves. It lays the foundation on which fragility and misogyny is built because it implies that treating any womxn with an ounce of respect or kindness makes a man worthy of acclaim. It teaches men that they are our protectors, while also permitting them to be our abusers. It teaches them that treating womxn poorly is a norm and that rejecting this means they are even more entitled to our time and our bodies. When will it occur to men that we would not need saving were it not for their behaviour?
Imagine if instead of telling womxn how not to get raped, society actually taught men that rape is not okay. Imagine if men were more disgusted by rape than they are by menstruation. Imagine if rapists were not allowed to be president; imagine if rapists’ careers didn’t go on unhindered; imagine if men intervened when they heard other men cat call in the streets; imagine if men were willing to perform more labour and do more to dismantle misogyny even if it meant being uncomfortable or ridiculed.
The time has come for privileged people to stop asking the oppressed to perform tasks for their benefit. We should not have to post #MeToo for our lived experiences to be taken seriously. The fact that there is so much work expected from marginalised people to “prove” our suffering is real is worrying. It tells a tale of how oblivious privileged people are to the oppression of those who lack the same privileges.
Men have benefitted and continue to benefit from the oppression of all womxn, queer, trans and non-binary people, unapologetically. Whenever we speak, we are silenced by a man who knows better. Whenever we express pain or anger, we’re reminded of the beauty of forgiving even though our forgiveness is undeserved. Whenever we speak out about our experiences, there’s a man eagerly waiting to take control over the conversation and make it about himself. This is what male privilege looks like. It’s being born with a microphone in hand. It’s having your opinions printed in newspapers and punted on the news. It’s having to learn about misogyny and rape culture rather than experiencing it first hand. It’s not having your existence perceived as being for male consumption. It’s not having your morality determined by your choice in clothing. It’s a lot of things; certainly too many of them to list here and now.
The fact remains that the #MeToo trend is a grotesque reminder of how little the patriarchy values the existence of the individual womxn or anyone who isn’t a cisgender male. In the very least, womxn and queer people are not worthy enough to listen to or care about in isolation. It’s high time that men took it upon themselves to do some of the work that they’re quick to “applaud” us for in order to claim their good-guy badges at the end of the day without contributing or dirtying their hands. It’s time they stopped talking and started to listen. Really listen.
Special thanks to Aleya Banwari, Rebecca Paulsen and Gila Efrat for reviewing this article ahead of publishing.