I, like many men, have felt unfairly targeted and thought #NotAllMen. However, now that I’ve learned the meaning behind the rhetoric, guys, we need to have a chat.
In the dusk of the preceding year and the dawn of the new, we found ourselves at a familiar crossroads. International Men’s Day, the Cat Person article, Matt Damon’s awkward “please shush” rhetoric, or whatever comes next. The lights on these recognizable streets are powered by the alternating current of “#NotAllMen.” It’s a small knot of words, but one that drags attention. And resistance. The immediate reaction is well documented: we raise our hackles and close our windows. However, there’s something we don’t often charge ourselves with: earnest talk between ourselves about what we seldom, but really should, do. Call it mansplaining to ourselves.
Painted across the canvas of social media is the tall red lettering that generalizes all men as moral cul-de-sacs attached to a reproductive organ. As one who knows himself not to be part of that pack, while I’d never fire back “#NotAllMen,” it wasn’t until recently that I gave this generalization its day in court. I justified not joining the conversation because I didn’t feel guilty, or responsible, even though I still felt upset for being tarred with the same brush. After all, I respected women, always have, and the men on the domestic violence ads are not me. But if I’m honest, I didn’t understand the context, or stick around long enough to have it explained to me. Or ask.
Education finally came via an open palm from Nairobi, courtesy of a Facebook post. It was a reminder that the statement #MenAreTrash would never upset any man who truly recognizes his privilege and actively tries to better himself. It was a bit of a light-bulb moment. Put to me in terms that I understood, I could now understand the issue at large:
Being individually good, isn’t good enough.
If we men are honest with ourselves – especially those like me who believe, or believed, themselves innocent of mistreating women – the first stone cast in the glass house should be of our own hand. We’re all guilt and we need illumination as we represent the conduit, the missing piece of the puzzle.
My past abuses have been passive as, like many men, I endeavored to be the nice guy. The one who was different, a black swan among predatory hawks. But, bitterly, my ulterior motive was the same as that which the hawks held – though less overt, less aggressive, and therefore, in my mind, less questionable.
That being said, a kind-of-reverse is also true, in that I’ve not extended the same courtesies to a woman that I normally would to most, if it had been previously discussed that a mate would hook up with her – as we all know it, “putting one away,” colloquially. There’s a visceral example of this from the summer of 2007 when the silent vivid eyes of a girl locked with mine, screaming for me to intercede as two of my best friends crept on her. I reconciled myself with the lie that, “Well, nothing happened,” but I understand why the waves of overt dislike emanated from her to me but not to my friends, who I thought were the villains of the piece: she knew that I saw something wrong yet I did nothing about it. I was equally as culpable.
I’ve seen it, but I’ve not said anything. Friendships I treasured would be at stake. Thus the running tally of sexual conquests on the whiteboard of my pal’s sharehouse proudly remained. As did our complicit silence about that guy we know who cheated on his spouse while she was carrying his child in the tent next door. There is a tacit general consensus that it was not the right thing to do, but we all still shake his hand when we see him, reconciling our actions with the postscript of not really meaning our pleasant platitudes.
Recently, a romantic dalliance of a close friend (and spectacular douchebag; read: fuckboi) strung her along for casual sex whilst, as we all have, knowingly stepping on her very real feelings which he chose to ignore. She could defend herself, of course, but I chose passive-aggressiveness and a subtextual admonishment of his very familiar crimes, neither of which have changed anything in his mind.
I’d listen to a friend more than I would some drunk at the pub feigning moral high ground, so what is needed is a dialogue amongst ourselves, to address the accepted norm of brutal conquest at all costs.
As someone recently single, and indeed the only unmarried member of my friends group, I’ve felt the pressure of toxic masculinity, and I’ve bowed to it, exaggerating actions with the lights off that certainly didn’t happen. That’s the first tower we need to raze, the one strictly just for da boiyz.
These are all part, a warmly ignorant part, of what walks with open palms and forms the blind, carnivorous beast of abuse against women. We need to admit that we make up this part, even if we’d never partake in these awful acts ourselves, during our lifetimes or the next. If we see something that resembles anything of the above, it is our responsibility to not accept it as we previously have.
The truth is, we don’t know how difficult women have it, but we do know what we’ve done and what we’ve allowed to happen. That is, and forever should be the issue.