Personally, I’ve always valued reason and truth, even if it hurt, and as a result have always tried to reflect on the nature and motives of my actions. As a man, the #MeToo Movement has given me a lot to reflect on to say the least.
When I first began reading articles and accounts from women about rape culture and toxic masculinity I’ll admit to feeling a little defensive at times, but that happens when you’re confronted with new information, or perspectives, that challenge your established worldview and the perception of your own actions.
This defensiveness, a natural psychological response, differed from the response I feel when reading information that challenges my worldview, but is outrageously and demonstrably false. This was the mild defensiveness brought about by valid points, solid arguments, and a lot of very depressing numbers that you’d rather not have to incorporate into your existing perception of the world, but you have to because facts.
Also though, my physical build is rather feminine; I’d rather talk about sci-fi, or philosophy than about the game; I prefer wine to beer, or shots; and have never really been a “typical” guy, so it wasn’t very difficult for me to accept what I’d read and hence only the mild defensiveness. However, it seems that in part, the reason some men react so virulently is because it challenges a core part of their identity and they’ve never known anything else other than what we now call toxic masculinity.
Often, I’ll read an account of sexual assault and the perpetrator doesn’t remember, or didn’t realize they’d done anything wrong. Not men like Brock Turner, or Brett Kavanagh, but men that are ashamed when they learn the impact of their actions. I believe for many men that’s because they think rape is something that only happens in dark alleys and that that’s really the only kind of sexual assault. Kirstin Gillibrand, a Senator I generally like and usually agree with said “I think when we start having to talk about the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment and unwanted groping you are having the wrong conversation. You need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is O.K. None of it is acceptable.” I agree with the second half of her statement, but not the first. It’s an important conversation we need to have because a lot of men have no idea their behavior is inappropriate, they’re just doing what our culture has told them to do since they were born. If they were lucky they didn’t have abstinence only sex-ed, but even so those classes don’t always cover consent, let alone how verbal consent isn’t really consent if it’s coerced, or if there’s some other power dynamic in play and things like that. Ignorance isn’t an excuse, but if we don’t have the conversations we need to have it certainly won’t get any better.
If you’re reading this, or other feminist related articles and find yourself becoming defensive try to work past it and continue reading, listen. If you’re becoming defensive because you recognize some behaviors as sexual harassment, assault, or rape then the best advice I can give is apologize without the expectation of forgiveness, earnestly change, and teach your sons better.