For Guys Reading #MeToo Testimonies

Thursday, October 19, 2017 - 3:30 pm

For Guys Reading #MeToo Testimonies

First, read the #metoo stories on your Facebook or Twitter feed.

Read about the bosses and teachers and neighbors and friends who have sexually harassed and assaulted the people you know and maybe even love. Pay special attention to the stories. You will see patterns. You will shudder at the abuses of power. You might even feel sick to your stomach. Then immediately…

Do nothing.

Sit in silence. Don’t say anything. Don’t retweet anything. Don’t text anyone. Just sit there. Maybe even close your eyes. Feel what you feel.

I’m guessing underneath the surprise and the anger (anger is easy), there is a deep well of sadness that you live in a world where women are treated this way. Like objects. Subhuman. Sexual decoration.

Feel the sadness of living in a world like this.

If you are capable, and even if you aren’t sure you are, feel the sadness of being a part of the group of people that has most violently and repeatedly created and maintained a world like this. Feel the excruciating pain of complicity.

Don’t soothe it with thoughts of your own exceptionalism. Don’t jump to perform your love of women. Don’t talk about your mother or your sister or daughter. Just sit. Feel the feelings.

You honor the pain that has been expressed so courageously by giving yourself over to the discomfort of actually feeling what it is to live in this world — a world filled with sexual harassment and assault — as a man. Sitting with that discomfort will change you. And the changed you can then take action with a different kind of wisdom.

I’m asking you to do this because it is similar to the discomfort and wiser action I am striving for with regard to my whiteness. In other words, I know it isn’t easy. I’m trying to do this myself — trying to actually feel the grief and unpack the privileges that produce surprise in me when a group of white supremacists takes to the streets in Charlottesville in 2017. I want nothing to do with them, but they are part of me. We share the same skin color. We share a country. We share a horrifying and unhealed history.

So you, my guy friend — if you are moved by the courage of the testimony you are reading, you must dig in and meet that courage with stillness and softness. Don’t be good or right. Don’t distance yourself from the possibility of violation and violence. Move closer to your own confusion and earnest desire to understand the sickness at the center of contemporary masculinity, a bit of which, at least a bit of which, you, too, are suffering from.

Reflect on how it might be showing up in your home, in your workplace, in your school. Not just as harassment or assault — as arrogance, as obliviousness, as narcissism, as domination. Consider journaling. Consider reading. Consider therapy. If you think you’ve figured it out, if you are tempted to explain it, start over. Get really, really humble. This is going to take a long time. A lifetime. Learn how to notice your emotions before you fling them out into the world in some other form. Reclaim the child you were before they told you how to be a man. Remember his tenderness, his curiosity, his wholeness. Realize that your liberation is tied up in ours.

Then, and only then, gather with other men and have incredibly awkward conversations about the feelings that are arising in this moment, in these explorations. Model what it looks like to say hard things in front of other dudes. Be earnest even when you’d rather make a joke. Don’t get trashed while you do it. Try to stay sober and look other guys in the eye. Teach each other how to call other men out when they are belittling and overlooking and harassing and abusing other women (and other men).

Don’t do this for your daughters and wives and mothers. Do this for your sons. Do this for yourselves. Don’t use an apologetic tone in a women’s studies class; use an unapologetic tone at the bus stop or at your book club or around the Thanksgiving dinner table, or yes, on Facebook. Take it personally, together. Consider it urgent, together. One of the delusions that privileged people often have is that we can fix things, efficiently and alone. Know this: you cannot fix this. The journey will not be efficient. You cannot go it alone.

A world this riddled with sexual harassment and abuse will never be healed by a hashtag, that’s for sure. Yet, this moment could be the first one that you choose to do something different, to lay the first brick in a world that is built differently, a world safe for women’s bodies and men’s feelings, a world worthy of everyone’s wholeness.

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Contributor

is a columnist for On Being. Her column appears every Friday.

Her newest book, The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream, explores how people are redefining the American dream (think more fulfillment, community, and fun, less debt, status, and stuff). Courtney is the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network and a strategist for the TED Prize. She is also co-founder and partner at Valenti Martin Media and FRESH Speakers Bureau, and editor emeritus at Feministing.com.

Courtney has authored/edited five books, including Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists, and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women. Her work appears frequently in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Courtney has appeared on the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and The O’Reilly Factor, and speaks widely at conferences and colleges. She is the recipient of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics and a residency from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Centre. She lives with her partner in life and work, John Cary, in Oakland, and their daughters Maya and Stella. Read more about her work at www.courtneyemartin.com.

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Reflections

  • Gabby
  • Parker J. Palmer

    I’m very grateful for your column, Courtney, for the clarity with which you call me and other men to “take it personally”— to sit with the sickness and the suffering we feel in a world where no woman can feel altogether free of the danger of sexual violence in its many forms. What damages one of us damages all of us, and you are right: the first step men must take is to feel the damage in and to ourselves, rather than trying to work around our feelings by jumping immediately to “noble action.” In an effort to internalize this teaching for myself, I’ve been sitting here likening what you recommend to being at the bedside of a dying person, where I have no “fix” to offer, only the gift of my unblinking, non-evasive, and non-invasive presence. I pledge to start there with the various forms of death that flow from sexual violence against women—flow not only toward women but toward men—and see where that takes me in seeking ways to be in the world that are, in every respect, more life-giving than death-dealing. Thank you, dear friend.

  • Ted

    As a man, I realize the role I play in not just the healing, but the abuse and repression of women. In some cultures, the abuse and repression is very obvious, in others, it’s hidden from view…until it isn’t.

    My reaction to opinion pieces like this one is first…heat. Why do I need another article advising me how to react? (And some “advice” has been downright patronizing). After all, I am a fairly liberal guy who supports women’s issues, including educating girls all around the world, women’s health issues, ending harassment, and equal pay. No, the heat I feel is more a reaction to tone than that of substance and message. No one likes to be condescended to, even if they need to hear the message. But, the other side of that is for me and my fellow male compatriots to understand the place that such messages are coming from.

    There is naturally much anger, frustration, indignation, and more, that is freighted in with what we men need to hear. And that’s what I need to keep reminding myself of – the hurt and anger behind the message.

    • Ted, thank you for such a heartfelt and honest response. As editor in chief (and a man who holds many of the same reactions you name), I greatly appreciate your willingness to step in and respond.

    • Gabby

      Your response is brave and generous. I think it is okay and helpful to call people out on condescending and patronizing behavior, particularly people of status and privilege and regardless of their gender. I appreciate too Trent’s acknowledging your response.

  • Carrie Newcomer

    Thank you for this insightful blog. I appreciated your explanation of the kind of soul searching work that is needed to address sexism at its deepest levels. It is not enough to say, “I’m ok, I don’t personally engage in the grosses forms of sexist behavior.” What is required is the willingness to look and change deep seated attitudes that women are “the other” an aberration from the norm of maleness. It is akin to my own soul searching work with race. The journey is uncomfortable, painful, humbling, confusing and takes unblinking honesty and willingness to live out new understanding in my daily life. In a time when women’s bodies, rights and place in the world is being threaten daily, this posting is clear-eyed and prophetic. Thank you.

  • Tina Stanley

    This is wonderfully written and I am sharing it and passing it along to the men in my life. So true that this imbalance between masculinity and femininity is damaging to both genders. And that we must face the full scope of the problem before we can really change!

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  • Ted

    It does come across as a little sexist and condescending, and that’s the “heat” that I initially felt at reading this article.

    A few evenings ago I was watching a women’s roundtable discussion on TV. The topic was sexual harrassment and what men can do to help prevent it. One panelist said (I’m paraphrasing), “Men should be quiet and reflect on what they can do.” No sooner had she said that that another panelist adamantly proclaimed, “No, men should not be silent, they need to come out and talk about this and fight against it!” And on the Internet, one woman’s twitter account had a highly patronizing laundry list of what men need to do, including “Learn to read a f—ing room!”

    Sigh…

    And I don’t mean to sigh in a derogatory of defamatory manner, but it’s illustrative of where the conversation is and how some of it makes me feel. No one wants to be spoken to like this. As I said before, I get the anger and frustration. I absolutely do. But please, let’s not hit the good with the bad by using a demeaning approach on all. It never helps. Never.

    If some people can’t get their point(s) across without being condescending and insulting, then maybe it’s they who need to “Sit in silence. Don’t say anything. Don’t retweet anything. Don’t text anyone. Just sit there. Maybe even close your eyes. Feel what you feel.”

    • Aaron Nieradka

      Couldn’t have said it better. I feel like so many people are either missing the point, or they are using this moment to air their larger, more general grievances toward an entire gender. Which is damaging to all involved.
      Though, to be fair, there are far worse offenses. My friend shared her #metoo story on fb, and it was horrific. Then her mother commented below the status and Mom missed the point by a mile…saying: (like you, I’m paraphrasing) “It never happened to me, but I know what it feels like. We just need to raise our daughters to be stronger so that this never happens again in the future.”
      Holy cow right?…I can name about a dozen embarrassing offenses in those two sentences. And I know this woman. She was huge fan of Linda Hamilton’s biceps in Terminator 2, and Demi Moore’s one handed push-ups in GI Jane. And deep inside she feels that the only way that women can win this battle against those raping men is to model themselves after these two Hollywood archetypes.
      Anyway, we don’t need to point out every gross detail of her utterly offensive wrongness. But it’s people like her who really need to be “Splained to”, and not the entirety of those in possession of a penis. Can’t we narrow the scope of our condescension a bit? But again, specificity doesn’t grab the headlines…a good ole’ fashioned gross generalization really gets the crowd on their feet.

  • Dane Anthony

    Courtney – I would echo Parker’s comments too. I recognize that if I don’t identify, know, and process my feelings they will “come out sideways.” Richard Rohr is fond of saying that “If we are not transformed by our pain we will transmit it.” Thank you for placing a cautionary note in the process to take a moment to consider and listen to the voice of our “intuitive heart.” We all have a lot to learn in this conversation, and it has to begin with me acknowledging ME!

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  • Sima Shahriar

    I feel deeply what you say Brad. Also what Aaron and Ted are expressing. I have two grown, adult male children. I am a womanist(I prefer this word over feminist), and found myself advocating for my boys and their friends throughout their growing years, especially trying to protect their extraordinary tender hearts that society likes to harden by making them tough and emotion less. I am so sorry for what you have gone through Brad. I used to work with children who were abused, physically and sexually and saw the deep scars that boys take and stuff in their little bodies. I also know human resilience and hope with help you are able to get past the deep hurt, anger and pain. Though the memories will never go away. I write and share my thoughts on social media, once in a while, but I’ve been silent on ‘me too’. This is really difficult times for men and women. As Helen Fisher, anthropologist and researcher in human behavior puts it, we’re coming out of over 10,000 years of patriarchy. No wonder there’s so damn much confusion. It has been extraordinarily complex as women have entered the professional and academic world with much passion and thoughtfulness; pornography, modeling industry, makeup and other objectifying industries send so much confusing messages to both men and women. I don’t have an answer. But Courtney’s heart and writing is not to corner men into blame, shame. It doesn’t take away from the confusion that we push onto our little young boys into adulthood. I have witnessed that first hand and am fully aware of that. But, it is addressing the patriarchy that has led to so much pain, injustice and silence for women and then creating horrible men who think they can do anything. Our mothers haven’t taught us how to handle these new circumstances so most women freeze when there’s injustice happening to them, don’t speak up, don’t get help. It’s no one’s fault, but this is the time to learn. Up until the last century as women we didn’t even have the right to vote, have our own credit cards, etc. We need all men. We need all good men. In Courtney’s writing I sense an attempt to re-frame what we’ve been taught to see, and this reframing can seem like self-righteousness. Five years ago my older son who was in college was telling me how furious he was at a group of women protesting on campus and yelling at all men and blaming them for “something”…I can’t remember what it was. But my son who’s been a most wonderful friend to so many women was so mad, saying why are they blaming me, I’m on their side. Who do they think they are? I agreed with him. I totally disagree with generalizations. We cannot function as a society without each other. Men and women together make a whole, kind, generous society. Yin and Yang is still my favorite symbol in its harmony amongst all opposite natures. At age 13, when my family moved here I was the ‘terrorist’. I’m Iranian and a year after we moved here Iran took 52 Americans as hostage for 444 days. That label put me into silence, literal silence, I didn’t speak. In college, studying Architecture, I had five male teachers/professors who put my work down, put me down, and one who told me I should get married and make a home and forget about a career!!! However, my cohort who were 90% men were some of the most amazing, supportive, kind, challenging people I’d ever met. Even though I lost all my confidence after so many of my male teacher, AND female teachers simply ignored the few women that were in school (somehow we didn’t matter, or weren’t worth teaching), I learned so much and felt supported by all my male cohort…ALL of them!! I don’t resent those teachers, not the men or women, those were the times, 30 some years ago. They were also times that as women trying to excel academically I didn’t know I had any right to speak up. None of my male cohort knew the demeaning commentaries that I got. I was too freaking embarrassed to even repeat them, as if it was my fault. Re-framing. That is what I’ve learned to do in order not to fit the frame people want to put me in: “a terrorist just because my family is from Iran”, “a stay-at-home mom whose voice doesn’t matter,” “a woman who didn’t belong in the world of architecture.” I think this is hard work, but I have a sense we’re all on the same side. It can’t be any harder than the work people had to do a century ago!! They did it with little complaint and endured much hardship. I hope we can see better and can put things in perspective.

  • sagey

    Except that this is not saying men aren’t victimized, they are. But women are victimized in more places and much more pervasive than for any male. And, it’s not about men. This is about women. I”m sorry for the men who have had these experiences, but it’s not about you. It’s about women. It’s about how we live our lives, every day. How we experience these things on the job, in relationships, on the streets….some of us cannot walk down a street at all without something happening. And our lives are on the line. Yes, it happens to men, but rarely do you have to fear for your life if you tell the abuser no. We always have to think of that. We always have to wonder, in every situation that is with a male, will this turn out badly for me? Will I die? Men may fear women harassing them, we fear for our very lives. For heavens sake, can you please just read something and empathize without jumping in to ask what about you?

    (This is for any male who feels the article isn’t including them or is feeling preached at.)

  • Newbie1

    The reason this hashtag is a bad idea is because it helps victims become identified as having a “weak personality” or “groomed for abuse by a religion” for ANY/ALL predators in their area to seek them out… perhaps years later… or even… from advertisers! THE HORROR!!! It’s like placing a target on your back. I’m 100% sure that Anonymous lulz were behind this hashtag. Especially teens.

  • Deborah

    When a victimizer speaks/writes defensively that is their unconscious pain, most likely pain that has dissociated and now projects in so many unhealthy ways towards others. When a victim speaks/writes that can be their anger and frustration, loss of self esteem perhaps, which projects outwards on to others. Both are victims – as well as the community surrounding the victim and victimizer – no one walks away from this unscathed- depending on the severity of the problem and the resilience of the victim. I feel the the victim also has to be mindful of revenge or venting – something unfortunately twitter, and social media propagates and can have a boomerang effect, in that each time you read a post, or write a post- you relive the event – without the deeper work that needs to be done.

    Both victim and victimizer have much in common and both usually walk in the dark.

    The healing for both needs not just mindfulness practice, as this article suggests, but mental health treatment that is deep and consistent over time. Treatment that includes not just mindfulness and naming and articulating feelings, but restructuring negative thoughts, learning how to manage intense pain and shame, gaining insight into your interpersonal relationships, and learning effective communication that leads to the practice of conflict resolution.

    There are no high profits to be made by such investments in well being, like learning how to be resilient in life. As a result we have high recidivism rates and are consistently at war on the micro and macro level. However there are big profits to be made by lawyers and the penal system. And by those who want revenge, which is very different than justice. Incarcerating men (and basically anyone) in the current system is one of the worst treatments in terms of that person ever being able to contribute in a healthy way.

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  • Trina

    As a white woman who has taken on the lifelong work of examining and confronting whiteness first in myself, and then in the systems around me, I have had to learn to sit in discomfort many times and just listen. Listen with the same kind of mindful practices that Courtney so eloquently wrote about here. And I have started to be able to see what is meant when “white women’s tears” are referred to: the practice that some white women have to cry when confronted with hard truths – but *only* as a means of derailing the conversation to make it about her and force others around her to comfort her. So the people of color in the room often must take on the old roles of making her feel better.
    In the #metoo conversation, I have seen the same patterns emerge – this time with some men (of all backgrounds) resorting to derailing the conversation in ways that enable and/or force people (mostly women, but not always women) to stop the conversation to attend solely to them. Or they speak in ways where women (again, not always) feel compelled to congratulate them on their bravery for finally acknowledging that toxic masculinity harms everyone. And #metoo turns into #notme. And that’s where it often stops.
    I see that same pattern here in this comment thread. And it’s exhausting to read through. But again, as a white woman who must do the incredibly hard work every day to sit with the defensiveness that naturally rises when uncomfortable truths are spoken about me and my fellow white people, I urge the men and women who are hearing these hard truths about patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and the rampant sexual harassment that so many of us have seen and experienced in our lives to sit with it and just *be* with it for a while. Think carefully before you respond to articles like these. To be called condescending and patronizing because many of us finally get brave enough to speak about we have experienced for years is incredibly hurtful.
    To the men who have responded here as survivors of the same sexual violence that is caused by these toxic systems, I am deeply sorry for the abuse and the violence you have suffered. I hurt with you – in familiar ways, unfortunately. I personally know too many men who have been significantly harmed by sexual violence. I invite you to join other women and men who are working at confronting these systems and I hope that you are able to do that in whatever capacity you can.