I am a feminist, and I’m surrounded by good men.
And, since last fall, I have been watching every single one of them react to #metoo.
Some have spent these months in self-reflection, and realized that somewhere in their past they have been selfish, conveniently ignored signals and/or words they should’ve paid attention to, and possibly hurt someone, or several someones. They are becoming aware that they have fucked up.
The men telling me these things are overcome with regret, fear, shame. They are afraid of punishment, but more than that, they are uncomfortable upon recognizing in themselves, for the first time ever, behaviors they already recognize in others as despicable. They are not making excuses for it, and they cannot change the past, and they do not know what to do about it.
I’m glad about this. It’s a view over the wall from where the rest of us have been, participating in the surge of revelations, reviewing the mental tally we have long kept privately of the shitty events that have forever affected the way we see men, and sex, and ourselves. So, I’m heartened that people I care about who have been born and socialized as men are paying attention and having their own reckoning. It’s proper that everybody is cleaning house right now.
Some men have asked me what I think they can and should do. And I do have some thoughts on that.
So, for whatever it’s worth, if you are a man in this world and you are unclear about what to do in these precarious times, or ever, when you have potentially fucked up and hurt someone by sexually dominating them against their will, I offer my two cents. Take it or leave it.
- First, and probably against any legal advice you’d ever get:
Apologize. Find the person you hurt and apologize.
And don’t apologize to clear your conscience and restore your sense of yourself as a nice guy. You may have noticed that everybody always thinks they’re the hero, even when they’re acting like the villain, because humans have an astounding capacity for willful inattention and self-deception when it suits us. Your good-guy identity is meaningless here, and your apology is likewise meaningless if it’s all about you. As is true of all communication, no? You aren’t talking to yourself here. So please take a breath, and take in that you have injured a precious, intelligent, loveable human being, and apologize from your heart.
They may want none of it. Try anyways.
2. Listen to them.
Ask: would you be willing to tell me about your experience of this? And if they are generous enough to talk to you, shut up and listen. Get an education about the effect you’ve had on another person. This is not an opportunity for you to justify anything or take over the narrative. Again, if you’re a good guy, this sure as hell isn’t the moment to try to go about proving it. Stop yourself. Let yourself be affected by what you did. You have until now escaped most of the consequences of this, and it is to your great credit that you are willing to share that burden with the person who’s been doing all the work for you until now.
3. Back up your apology with some reality.
Ask the person you hurt if there is any way you can help them. Do they need anything from you? Let them consider it, and let them tell you if they do.
This is risky, and it is also the act of an honorable person. They may need things that are truly and directly related to having been injured by you.
To give an extreme example: a beloved colleague of mine who was drugged and raped by two men as a teenager has been beset by health problems, major relationship challenges, and other fallout from the deep-wired PTSD she has endured ever since. That single event, which those men may well have forgotten by now, completely altered the course of her life. If they showed up and asked her what she needed, and she allowed them to help her get herself back together with the paid help of a skilled, experienced sexual trauma therapist, you bet your ass that’d be justice.
Asking what is needed isn’t some slippery slope leading to women crying victim in order to rob innocent, well-intentioned men of their hard earned money. It is at this point that you, male reader, have to get your head around the notion of restorative justice, as opposed to the vengeful punishment model to which we are all so accustomed. While there is, perhaps, a place and a time for that sort of action — indeed, the action upon which our entire justice system is founded — I, personally, have found punishment to bring out the absolute worst in every single person involved. Perhaps you have found that too.
Restorative justice, alternatively, is predicated upon the idea that genuine healing and repair is possible.
To briefly quote the Centre for Justice and Reconciliation:
“The foundational principles of restorative justice have been summarized as follows:
Crime causes harm and justice should focus on repairing that harm.
The people most affected by the crime should be able to participate in its resolution.
The responsibility…of the community [is] to build peace.”
This framing is, of course, not solely relevant to crime. It applies to all destructive behavior.
If the woman you have injured wants help from you, RJ provides a framework for involving appropriate people in your community (which alone can go a long way toward healing many instances of sexual misconduct, as secrecy and invisibility is often such a central part of the injury), asking for mediation, and creating a process in which both or all parties participate in deciding how to address and repair the damage that was done.
Find out about restorative justice. You know how to use Google.
And then ask how you can help.
4. Put your money where your mouth is.
Donate to a cause or a place that takes care of people dealing with the effects of systemic male violence. Do it quietly. Tell nobody. You get no fanfare for this one. You alone get to know that you are doing something concrete to heal the world that made you, the world you are continuously making, and that you’re doing it because you are a responsible adult trying to even the playing field as best you can. That’s it.
If you feel resistant to any of this, particularly the last two, please thoroughly examine your heart, and consider that if you are unwilling to take responsibility for your actions and the damage you feel you have caused, you are quite possibly full of shit, and not worth forgiving.
The way things have been up until now have allowed you, and countless men like you, to act like assholes with total impunity. It was the way the world was.
It sure as hell isn’t how the world is now. And we are NEVER GOING BACK. The world, in the excellent words of Tony Kushner, only spins forwards.
Culture does not change without this kind of action. I believe it is necessary. And, if you have things in your past that wake you up at night, consider yourself as one of the ones chosen to do it. I bow to you for having a conscience. It makes you fit to be a part of the human race in a time when all people are becoming free. Give up the ground you know you have no right to, and take your rightful place as someone who is working to restore what is good and just and honest, in yourself and in the world.
In advance, I thank you for it. And I’m surely not alone.