I’d like to share about a recurring issue in my life called being a woman.
I’m finding myself–due to recent events involving a beloved professor from my alma mater being chastised by Fox News clown, Tucker Carlson, and attacked by violent internet trolls–reflecting on the street harassment article I wrote a few months back.
In reality, street harassment is only one aspect of the harassment and sexism I, and many women, experience on a daily basis.
The issue is much bigger, deeper, and has been around for a long time. It’s so woven into our culture, that I’m finding myself angry with things I have been putting up with for what feels like a lifetime. Things that I can no longer tolerate. Things that HAVE TO GO.
Toxic masculinity is one of those things.
As far back as my memories go, I have been a victim of toxic masculinity.
I was born from it.
I’m a product of rape. The only story I have of my father is one where he rapes my mother and harasses her to get an abortion. This is how I came into the world.
My views of men only worsened as I grew older. I watched men beat my mom. I watched men beat my brothers. I watched men break my things. I watched men punch through doors and walls. I watched men cause destruction for no logical reason.
I have been hit, kicked, slapped, chased, and threatened by men. Rather than communicate or express their emotions in a healthy manner, they instead chose violence. They chose violence every single time.
My entire childhood was spent choosing my battles with these men. Even at a young age, I knew I was more emotionally stable when compared to them. I knew that violence was not a productive form of communication. For most of my young life, I thought all men were this way. I thought all men responded to difficult situations with anger and abuse.
It wasn’t until I moved in with my uncle, when I learned that not all men expressed themselves with violence. My uncle is a great man, and I’m so thankful for his love and support.
Unlike the men I grew up fearing, my uncle is comfortable and confident about expressing his emotions. He’s empathetic, he’s kind, he’s smart. He never laid a hand on me. Instead, he communicated with me any time I had done something wrong or incorrect. He also listened to me about my ideas, frustrations, and concerns. We had a two-way stream for communication. And while it wasn’t always easy, we were there for each other.
My uncle showed me that there is place in this world for me to be a strong woman. That I don’t need to mute down who I am for the sake of fragile, toxic male egos. He taught me a lot.
Because of my past, I learned to avoid people with toxic, masculine traits to the best of my ability. But aversion cannot be the only way. What can be done when you can’t stay away? When they are sexually harassing you in the workplace? When they are your boss? Then they are your teacher? When they grab you at the bus stop? When they pressure you for sex? When they rape you? When they shoot you at church, at the movies, at a concert? When they kill you for trying to leave?
Violence against women continues to be normalized in our country whether or not we collectively want to admit it. It’s happening and it’s terrifying.
In my field of study, I focus specifically on sexual violence against women. Clearly this is only one aspect of the violence inflicted on women, but it’s been a prominent one. News of sexual assault and harassment is everywhere. I’m both proud and heartbroken to see all the women and men coming forward. They are brave to tell their stories.
It’s upsetting how triggering news like this can be, but I’m glad survivors are holding their assailants responsible. Hollywood should not protect sexual predators. The White House should not protect sexual predators. We should not promote a culture where sexual predators feel safe. We should not facilitate a culture where sexual predators have power. This is rape culture.
The recent list of those facing charges includes Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louie C.K. and sadly many more. Weinstein alone spent decades of his life assaulting and harassing women. Nearly 76 women came forward. When one person can single-handedly hurt 76 women, we have a serious problem.
The fact that most of these predators are white men signifies another serious problem. And I don’t care if that sentence makes your ears ring. It should.
If you are one of the people who sympathizes with the accused FIRST, you are part of the problem.
If you are one of the people surprised by these testimonies, your reaction is another part of the problem.
The resources are, and have been, accessible, and they tell us that 1 in 6 women in America have been raped. This is not a secret. And clearly it is a reality for too many of us, myself included.
Toxic masculinity is our problem. Women are being abused, raped, and killed because men don’t know how to, or want to, process their emotions in a healthy way. Our culture is encouraging/condoning men to be this way. And many men are happy with this power while too many men don’t know they are being this way. That is scary.
To the men and women who want to change. To the people who want to stop the cycle that is toxic masculinity, please pay attention. Know that your love for your loved ones who identify as women, does not erase our anger, our tiredness or the fear we feel as women living in American society. I will repeat that 1 in 6 of us has been raped. Try to process this. Please try to understand our anger, fear, and frustrations to the best to your ability and join in our fight. Be our allies.
How can you do this? Start by holding yourself accountable in every way.
In his article, “Toxic masculinity is everywhere, it’s up to us men to fight it,” Jordan Stephens demonstrates what it looks like to be an ally to women. He directly confronts the patriarchy and openly discusses how he has benefited from it:
Any man who has read a woman’s account of harassment or assault and thought ‘that doesn’t apply to me’: what you’re experiencing in that moment is the exact privilege, power and entitlement that women are finding space to battle against. We have subconsciously benefited since we were born from patriarchal privilege – in many ways it’s invisible to us. I’ve been outspoken in my support for women’s rights, but I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve fallen foul of the patriarchy’s malicious hard-wiring. But in confronting it, rather than continuing to abuse my power, I’ve found more inner peace, understanding, love and truth then I ever could have done had I continued as I was.
Stephens not only confronts the patriarchy, he also shares with his audience an approach to moving away from toxic masculine behaviors. He encourages men to feel and express their emotions rather than repress them. Stephens writes:
“When you allow your brain to access these emotions, it knows exactly what to do. So nurture yourself. Talk honestly to the people around you, and welcome the notion of understanding them more than you have ever done before.”
In this spirit, now is the perfect time to change your behaviors. Now is the time to stop condoning rape culture.
Stop street harassing people. Stop grabbing. Stop saying perverted things. Stop staring. Stop making jokes about trans women. Stop being aggressive towards women of color. Stop telling women that they wear too much makeup or not enough. Stop asking women if their hair is real. Stop saying that women age poorly. Stop paying for things and expecting sexual gestures from women. Stop telling sexual assault survivors that they deserved it because of what they were wearing. Stop encouraging women on women hate. Stop laughing at the grandpa who grabs the waitress’s butt. Stop making rape jokes. Stop voting for men who brag about grabbing women by their pussies. Stop having only one view about what you think a woman should look like, sound like, be like. Stop mansplaining. And stop telling women what they can and cannot do.
Just because you’ve done these things in the past, doesn’t mean you can’t change. You can. And I support you. But also know that even when you establish yourself as an ally, women have every right to challenge you to change and lead you to question your own behaviors in the same way that we have been challenged to question and change our own.
We must always continue to learn and change ourselves to be better, more empathetic, stronger people. To help each other up rather than succeed because other people are down.
This is exactly why I study stories. Stories are a way for me to at least listen to experiences that are different from my own. Reading and listening to stories helps me to empathize with people. To think intersectionally. To situate myself and my white privilege in this world. To learn how to be a better ally to those who are oppressed in ways different from me.
If you want to better understand what it’s like to be the 1 in 6 women go to RAINN’s website and listen to their section titled, “Survivor Stories.” Reading stories may also help you to empathize.
I do want to warn my audience that these stories are challenging to listen to if you are a survivor. They are strong and powerful, but they can take their toll. I think one way we can counter toxic masculinity is by listening to survivors’ stories. To see, hear, and read about people who were forced to be strong because others were misguided and weak.
Every day I challenge myself to understand perspectives that are different from my own. And it’s hard. I’ve changed so much in my 27 years of life. I have not always been the best version of myself. But what I think makes me a good person is the fact that I know I will always try to change to be better. And I mean real change. The kind that you have to think about every single day.
No one is ever going to be all-knowing, all-understanding, and perfect. But we have to at least try for each other. We have to want to be better. We have to be better.
Honestly, I am scared of the world I live most days. But I will not sit by while people I love and respect are threatened for challenging old ideologies that are hurting, raping, and killing our people.
Here is a message to those who attacked Dr. Clemens because of her tweet:
Please know that with every cruel gesture, you are making our pack stronger. You are fueling the fires that are under all of us who want to make change. Good change. You are making our community better. So thank you! Thank you for looking so small and ignorant. Your violent behaviors really shine the light on good people who do good work.
I want to see the day, when we as a country can confront toxic masculinity as a serious issue and begin making long-term changes so ALL of our women can live safe, healthy, and fulfilling lives. I don’t want to live in a country where 1 in 6 women are raped. I don’t want to live in a country where high numbers of women are shot and killed in domestic disputes. I don’t want to live in a country where it is a death hazard simply to be or identify as a woman.
Toxic masculinity is killing us. But thanks to people like Dr. Clemens, it will not continue to kill us silently.
Attention local allies: There will be another Women’s March in Philadelphia on Saturday, January 20th beginning at 12:00pm hosted by the Philly Women Who Rally organization (this is a different organization from the Women’s March on D.C. 2017). You can like their Facebook page for more info. They are currently looking for volunteers if you would like to help plan and make this march possible. You can sign up here. I will be hopefully volunteering the day of the march.
Keep an eye out for marches that will be local to you! Or help create and facilitate one! 15 people marched in Nova Scotia last year for the Women’s March and every single one of their actions mattered that day.
I look forward to marching, resisting, and pushing back with all of you again this year!