Saturday, October 21, 2017

OK, #MeToo, and almost certainly #YouToo if you're female

My old newspaper stomping grounds lured me out of column retirement this week to write a piece launching their #MeToo series. Here it is. You can find the Times Colonist version here.

I admit, the first day of the #MeToo phenomenon was a pretty brutal day to be on Facebook. So many terrible stories, though I felt genuinely heartened by the heartfelt, stunned response from men who clearly had no idea.

The critics are already popping up at this point, saying things like how wrong it is for women to have to be out there in public with their painful stories. Personally, I see real power in the #MeToo thing. Sexual assault and harassment remain one of the most common shared experiences of women around the world, and this is the first time I’ve really seen women out there about it in a big way.

I mean, seriously, can most of us even count how many times we’ve had weird and creepy experiences with a sexual overtone involving men? One of my family members and I were just recounting the time when she was 13 and some Italian on a crowded Venice ferry pressed into her from behind with his erection.

And on the one hand, I think, “Good grief, a child of 13!” and shake my head. But on the other, I know that my own understanding of “the way men are” came right around that age, too.

I’ve had many more reminders since then, from the scruffy clerk in the small Kamloops store who I realized was masturbating while I browsed, to the boss who lifted up my skirt to ascertain whether I was wearing stockings.

More intimate examples as well, of course, though the #MeToo phenomenon helped me see that there are lines in the sand for me, some things I will not put out to the world to reflect on. So just suffice to say, I know how it can be when the lines between intimacy and assault get blurred.

Throughout all of these experiences, I’ve continued to love and appreciate men. Never once did I classify what happened to me as being about all men, because I had met and loved far too many good ones to think that the issue was about all of them. I really hope we can get past any pitting of women against men in the conversation that’s to come around #MeToo. The issues are sexual assault and harassment, not gender.

That said, guys, it IS rather noticeable that this stuff almost always comes back on your gender. It does seem to indicate some troubling issue at the heart of male sexuality.

Sure, we could come up with examples to the contrary. But let’s stick with the obvious for now: Being sexually assaulted and harassed is a troubling rite of passage for virtually every girl/woman, and it’s almost always a man who is the perpetrator.

What’s the problem at the heart of all of this? Kind of a sexual privilege, perhaps. The men who have these anti-social, demeaning and even criminal behaviours believe that their desire trumps your consent.

I’m not even sure if the concept of consent is a consideration for them. Sometimes, the lack of it appears to be the turn-on, as anyone knows who has ever experienced a Thetis Lake flasher staked out on the towel beside them. At times it’s also very clearly a power move, kind of like a full-of-himself monkey who mates with whoever he chooses as a show of strength to the others.

But here’s one thing I do know: It’s got to stop. The Bill Cosby stuff, Harvey Weinstein, Jian Ghomeshi, and now accusations against David Blaine – it’s so awful.

And as women everywhere know, it’s not just happening to pretty starlets. Nor is it only rich, piggish men who are guilty. Imagine the weight of all our #MeToos if every one of us was honest about what has been done to us by men we didn’t want touching us.

There are many good men who are distraught by the #MeToo wave, asking what they can do.

First and always, listen to our stories, because we, too, need to see how disturbing it is to the men who love us that we are still having these experiences. We’re worried for our daughters, granddaughters, great-granddaughters.

And then, help us understand. Why do we have these experiences with men? What can men do to change in other men whatever behaviour is going on here? Men, we need you for that part, because such questions are mysteries to women. We have our issues as a gender, but grinding our pelvises up against strangers in public spaces or groping our young nephews is not one of them.

Talk, everyone. If #MeToo is to be anything other than a really rough few days on Facebook, women need to tear back the veil on our routine experiences of sexual assault and harassment. And men have to help us set things right.


Janice said...

I'm seventy years old and grew up believing and accepting this was part of being a woman. We referred to what was really a sexual assault as "he made a pass at me". Interesting language. It's taken a long time for the issue to be really out there. I hope it keeps building.

J said...

This issue will never be rectified if ladies do not ascertain that just because all workplaces have changed to be more gender equal it doesn't give to mow women openly speaking of a man's bulge in his pants or nice ass or the six pack references...because now they're supposedly just teasing etc., etc. -As it seems that with a little power now and increased workforce presence it'ok for the female gender to lay flat male body appearance and what's needed for a good mate, again, etc. The Hollywood issue is wrong as is groping; leering and references beyond flirtation, yet daily women whom feel they can wear anything they want harass society with no sense of scruples or decorum, as their narcicism becomes a form of overt sexual harassment on the public. Feminism here through the present bandwagoning on the present one man horror story might be pressing for power of any sense of equality we will note along the way here from the culmination of logic given to the issue over emotion.