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Everyone, therefore No One (#ME TOO)

October 18, 2017

*Trigger warning…

 

A former colleague contacted me on the weekend, inquiring about my thoughts on #ME TOO, the status update women are using to show the world how ubiquitous sexual harassment is in our society.

No one who has worked with the victims of sexual violence is surprised that almost every women on social media has shared the hash tag. Along with Statistics Canada and all three levels of government, we have known the numbers on sexual harassment for a very long time.

It’s an avalanche.

Sexual predation sits on our collective cultural bookshelf alongside child abuse, violent pornography, lynching, and a whole host of sexual maledictions. We push it into the shadows. Best to believe that we have that Beast locked in a cage. Imagine how socially disruptive it would be to bring it out, into the light, to see that it is everywhere, all of the time, and what are we now going to do about it?

The last time we had such a social revelation, the Church locked Galileo in the Tower for the rest of his life. There is just too much riding on the lies.

Best leave it alone.

What is different about the #ME TOO phenomenon is women are sick and tired of men not doing anything about sexual harassment/assault,  and then justifying our collective inaction with #Wedidn’tknow! Women are stepping forward, putting the numbers in our face.

When my teenage Facebook contacts #ME TOO, when my middle-aged and senior-aged friends #ME TOO, when my daughter, and her friends #ME TOO, I can’t avert my eyes.

Women are calling men out, highlighting by their sheer numbers, just how much sexual harassment continues to creep through our society.

Now we all know the numbers. We can put faces to the numbers.

Now it’s #Whatarewegoingtodoaboutit?

~~~~~

#ME TOO allows so many more women the opportunity to come forward in a safe way than was ever possible in the past. Within that safety, the overwhelming number of women who have stepped forward reveals to everyone how sexual harassment cuts across age, race, background, career, neighborhood, religion, class, queer/straight; across any label you choose to apply.

It is estimated that only 3-5% of all sexual assault victims will ever report their assault to the police. Yet, despite this flaccid percentage, 500,000 sexual assaults were still reported last year in Canada.[i]

This averages out to almost one reported sexual assault for every minute of the year.

There are only 390,000 people living in Halifax. You would have to combine the populations of Regina and Saskatoon to get 500,000 people.

It should also be noted that those 500,000 reported sexual assaults are only for 2016. Add another 475,000 from the year before, and add another 500,000 for this year. And don’t forget, next year is just around the corner.

Is it a surprise that our women’s shelters operate at capacity? In many cities women have to wait more than a year for support therapy after being sexually assaulted. The vast majority of rural women get no support at all.

Now multiply that number by a hundred, by a thousand places in the world, and you start to get a full-scale understanding of the situation women live with. It’s almost impossible to comprehend.

Women are being sexually harassed and/or assaulted, everywhere, pretty much all of the time.

The math speaks truth to power.

Sexual harassment is the silent epidemic. The white elephant in every room of every house in the nation.

What #Me TOO does is put that math squarely in our face.

II

I Samuel 15: 2-3: “Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”

Isaiah 13: 15-16: “Every one that is found shall be thrust through; and every one that is joined unto them shall fall by the sword. Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished.”

Ezekiel 9: 5-6: “And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and woman: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary.”

III

In the mid-nineties I got a call from a woman who worked at a Toronto teen-pregnancy center. She had heard about my anger management work I was then doing with a group of 18-24-year-old young men.

I had been co-facilitating groups for a couple of years, and some of us working in the field were starting to make some real juice around the issue.

We had broken out of the old confines of traditional anger management workshops and their surface rejoinders of “learning how to count to ten”, “how to take a deep breath”, “how to turn the other cheek”. Young men had continually complained to me that they found this anger management solution a waste of time. I argued that these tools were useless without comprehension. We started mining down into childhoods, abuse, violence, what it meant to be a man. We were looking for the roots of our anger. I had told the young men that this approach  was going to get nasty. It was going to hurt. But they would have the opportunity to come out the other side clean, with a better understanding of who they were, and why they acted the way they did.

There was a lot of crying, a lot of screaming, a lot of holding hands.

The pregnancy center had heard we were doing good things, and would I be interested in starting a young father’s support group at the center?

100% of their funding was going to support the mothers, and it had finally occurred to this staff member: “What about the fathers? Who was helping them?”

IV

I once counseled a fifteen-year-old girl (whom I’ll call Sarah), after it had been discovered by the police that her father had been pimping her out to feed his heroin addiction. Worse still, he had been doing so, since Sarah was nine. When little nine-year-old Sarah resisted, when she screamed in pain and cried for the man on top of her nine-year-old self to stop, Sarah’s father shot her up with a tiny dose of heroin as well. After that she was kept in a heroin complacency stupor and could not resist whatever her father and his associates did to her. The police finally got to him when the video he had made of her being gang-raped at twelve surfaced on the Internet. Sarah estimated that she had been raped at least 250 times over those six years.

V

In 1998 I got a call from Toronto Public Health. Would I be interested in helping create a Toronto Men’s Health Network group? This was to be a first for Public Health.

They wanted to bring men together, any men, to look at what it meant to be a man. And why do men behave the way they do? And what could we do about it?

The White Ribbon Campaign was interested, the United Way was interested, a local non-profit offered us free space, a couple of psychoanalysts got involved.

As far as anyone knew, the Men’s Health Network was the first attempt in the city to bring men together to talk about what it meant to be a man, and why were men acting so badly?

Why were men working too much? Why do we ignore our health? Abandon our children? We are abusive. We are filling prisons. What was wrong with us?

We poured over studies, academic research, popular literature. We brought men together to talk about their experiences. We listened to men discuss how they saw their place in the world.

But, our uncomfortable findings fell mostly on deaf ears and the funding for the project petered out after only one funding cycle.

Somewhere our report sits, gathering dust.

VI

All of us boys are lied to when we are growing up. We were lied to in ways that young girls are not. Sure, just as a young girl is told she is a Princess, I was often led to believe that I could be a Prince. But the little girl is taken aside by the women and told of the monster who often likes to tag alongside the prince. She is made to understand that it is a monster that can hurt her. It is a monster she must always be on her guard against. A monster who could show up anywhere, at any time: in the candy store, in the schoolyard, at church, in the backseat a police car, at the movies, in her park playground. In her bedroom.

She has no idea really what her mother and the other grown-up women are endeavoring to tell her when they strive to get her to understand that she has something the MonsterPrince wants. She doesn’t know what it is that she has; she examines herself in the mirror and cannot see it. But as she grows she will come to appreciate that it must be something terribly important, or precious, for she will be made to understand that the MonsterPrince will often do anything to get it. She will be offered candy and puppies and gifts. If she refuses, she must then be on her guard, for some MonsterPrinces will get quite mean about not getting it from her, and some princes may even kill her to have what he wants.

As boys we do not know we may be that MonsterPrince. Many of us will never be that MonsterPrince, even though we feel it lurking quietly in the corner of our soul, buried in the many shadows of our subconscious. We were never told to look for, how to describe, or who to tell about the monster when we saw it. We were not trained in any sort of combat readiness for when the monster appears.

Society has many names for this shape-shifter monster. We know him as father. Or as uncle. Or meet him disguised as a teacher. Or a priest. A co-worker. A brother. Or as your neighbour.

VII

I am reminded of a young woman I had met when I had been asked to do a presentation at my local university’s rape crisis clinic. She had been no more than eighteen or nineteen at the time and had been attacked on her way home one night from the campus library. After much talk, she asked me why I thought men did such things. “I don’t know” I said to her uncomfortably. “Because we can, I suppose.”

Perhaps I should have tried to give her a more learned answer regarding gender socialization, or misdirected anger, or of a man’s fear of impotence, his mortality, vaginas. But I felt that such thoughts were only half-truths. I just looked at her and said “men do what they do because they can. It’s as simple as that.”

~~~~~~

Is it really as simple as “because we can?”

Therefore we do.

But why choose sexual violence? Why not choose something else?

What is it about the violence, the lack of consent, that attracts us?

Many men I have worked with have equated it to a sexual fetish. Power. Domination. Revenge. They are looking for some sort of control.

Other men say they learned it from their fathers, or grandfathers, or whoever was the adult male supervising their childhood existence.

Others have talked about their inner sense of failure, hating their mothers, having been abused in their childhoods, needing to prove themselves.

The more sophisticated among us talk of how the perpetuation of male violence is inherent in our core cultural values. That in a global capitalist predatory situation, where it is corporate nation-state versus corporate nation-state, all of our boys are necessarily taught to be predators.

Men are imprisoned from an early age – bigger, faster, stronger!

What else could they teach us?

VIII

It’s in our DNA.

It’s in our upbringing.

It’s in our culture.

Where would you like me to hide? Where do our boys seek shelter from this storm?

IX

Why does the mainstream media seem so surprised at a man like Harvey Weinstein? When we know that for at least the last two decades his behavior has been an open secret in Hollywood. My wife says she heard about him in a Grade 10 film class back when she was in high school.

Everybody knew. Reporters twice went to reputable newspapers with Harvey Weinstein revelations of alleged sexual harassment, assaults, rapes. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times said no thanks.

Now everyone falls all over themselves in their indignation.

There is a porn sub-genre dedicated solely to the “casting couch audition”. The plotline is always the same. Hopeless girl thinks she’s coming to an audition, is talked into taking her clothes off, has sex with interviewer.

The more innocent the hapless girl appears to be in the video, and the more we – the viewer – can be in on the joke that she isn’t ever getting anything out of this audition, that the audition is purely a pretext to making her fuck someone, the hornier some men get.

There are many men who believe that it is outrageous that they could be charged for raping their wives. I have told some men that they can’t rape their wives. They don’t understand the question.

Until last year, freshmen at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax were taught a rape chant by members of the student council as part of their official initiation into the university. It was revealed that SMU’s student’s council had been using the rape chant for at least ten years. A dozen other universities were subsequently caught using the same chant.

India, only this last week, caved to international pressure and formerly stated that sex with a child bride would be considered rape.

Tell us something we don’t know.

X

For the last year my partner and I ran a small café in an art gallery in rural Ontario.

When one of our young baristas told us she was being sexually harassed by a couple of the older men who frequented the café, I went up to the men and demanded they apologize to her.

“Who gave you the right to take charge like that?” my partner asked me.

“Why did you assume it was your problem to solve? Did you think to ask — first, see if this was what she wanted?”

“Your thoughts may have seemed honorable, but you assumed that as a man, you could solve the problem. That you should solve the problem without any input from either of us.”

Patriarchy runs so deep we can hardly fathom its murky depths. Its ubiquity is almost incomprehensible.

It is invisible.

It is the water we swim in.

It is the air we breathe.

PART II

#ME TOO is a wake-up call to men. But I doubt anything will happen. Based on my thirty years experience, what men will do with this knowledge will play itself out along two main lines of male thinking.

First, there are men who actually believe in gender equality, accept that people are trying to muddle along together as amiably as possible, and that we should have zero tolerance for sexual harassment. They believe that there needs to be a fundamental re-educating of society, from junior kindergarten through high school, from workplace transparency to a complete re-examination of our sex assault laws. We should treat sexual harassment the same way we treat smoking.

This group of men is in the minority.

The second much larger group falls along a broad spectrum, beginning with “women are reactionary cunts!”  and moving through “Liberal-lefties have skewed the numbers”, to “give that man an honorable discharge” apologist types who want to blame our genes, or the Bible.

It’s not our fault. That’s just the way God made us.

Whatever energy there seemed to be in the nineties for challenging the patriarchy and its assumptions about the sexual behavior of men, it seemed to lose a lot of steam by the early 2000’s. After 9/11, our men were expected to be tougher, not weaker. End of story.

In academia, gender studies has increasingly became obscurantist, and has retreated further and further up the ivory tower. They have nothing that a regular person can relate to or use in their daily lives. When I hear students talk about kyriarchical intersectionalities in a post-binary world my eyes glaze over.

Men are retreating from jobs in teaching, social work, coaching, and a whole host of occupations where male role models are badly needed.

Victim blaming and victim shaming are still the rules of the game when it comes to reporting sexual harassment. Women can’t be trusted to be telling the truth. Victims must be prepared to lose their jobs, their dignity, their value as human beings, should they step forward to accuse a man of sexual assault. What did you wear? What did you say? Why did you go to his room? Why did you have a drink with him?

All women are still Eve, Lolita, whores; they are the cause of the Fall, men just can’t help themselves.

XI

If we are going to be serious about solving the sexual nightmare so many women have to live with, the solution must be multi-pronged in its approach.

First and foremost, the solution must involve men and women equally.  A separate camp approach will only lead to vilification and apologetics, which will only lead to further entrenchments.

It needs to involve an adaptation of the principles declared in Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.[ii] How do we learn from the past to address the present? How do we move forward, together, safely, into the future?

  1. The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights will be the framework for reconciliation at all levels and across all sectors of Canadian society.
  2. Women have constitutional, and human rights that must be recognized and respected.
  3. Reconciliation is a process of healing of relationships that requires public truth sharing, apology, and commemoration that acknowledge and redress past harms.
  4. Reconciliation requires constructive action on addressing the ongoing legacies of sexual violence that have had destructive impacts on women’s health, child welfare, the administration of justice, and economic opportunities and prosperity.
  5. Reconciliation requires political will, joint leadership, trust building, accountability, and transparency, as well as a substantial investment of resources.

New parents, daycare workers, teachers, primary caregivers, must all have access to gender training which reveals the biases and contradictions our current approach upholds and supports. Notions like boys need to be tough and girls need to be nurturing need to be thrown in the garbage.

We need to have honest discussions about the role of socialization – how we raise our boys, and how we raise our girls. These explorations need to start at every intersection of our lives: in the home, at work, in government, in junior kindergarten, little league sports, after school programming.

It needs to be included in parenting classes, public health initiatives, and in how we support victims who come forward.

Best practice models need to be introduced into the workplace, into the classrooms, into our various levels of government.

There needs to be opportunities for teenagers to openly discuss sexuality, consent, power, self-esteem, peer pressure, and a whole host of ingredients that go into our sexual behaviors.

It will take more than our Prime Minister writing an essay on why he is raising his boys to be feminists. He needs to do more than talk. Our various levels of government need to implement and enforce policies that support gender equality. The Prime Minister needs to implement a full-scale review of the judiciary system as it pertains to dealing with sexual violence, and actually implement the recommendations that come out of that investigation.

Men must accept that real change must come from within ourselves. And this starts with listening to what women have to say about what they have experienced, how harassment affects their lives, how it affects our children.

We need to shut up, and listen.

Susan Faludi, in her landmark study of male behavior (Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, 1999), noted in her conclusions that “Social responsibility is not the special province of masculinity; it’s the lifelong work of all citizens in a community where people are knit together by meaningful and mutual concerns…[If] men struggle to free themselves from their crisis, their task is not, in the end, to figure out how to be masculine – rather, their masculinity lies in figuring out how to be human.”

I feel like I have heard a collective sigh from all my female relations, friend and family, coming out of #ME TOO.

Not because women now believe something will be done, but from the collective unloading of a burden, from the solidarity of numbers, knowing that they are not alone.

Maybe what I heard was my own wishful thinking. Projecting more of my #gentlerkinderpatriarchy onto the situation.

History shows us that change – real change – is painfully slow at coming. For many generations it never comes at all.

And I know that the idea of a linear progressive History is a fallacy – one only has to look at the current counter-reformation situation the world is in to see how empty the notion of a purely progressive history is.

But it’s the only fallacy I have. It’s the only thing that gets me out of bed some mornings.

[i] http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/10/30/sexual-assault-canada_n_6074994.html; https://www.sexassault.ca/statistics.htm

[ii] http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Findings/Principles_2015_05_31_web_o.pdf

 

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Dianne Eastman permalink
    October 18, 2017 12:40 pm

    Hi Sherwood.

    I am really liking these longer pieces. They are giving you a chance to tell more stories.

    #MeToo has caused me to remember a quote that has stayed with me from the 80’s. By Mary O-Brien, Canadian feminist political philosopher, rephrasing Marx: *“In a rational human society, people will be producers in the morning, child carers in the afternoon, and critical critics in the evening. Only then can men and women abandon a long preoccupation with sleeping together in favour of being awake together.”*

    *Thanks for your good work. Keep writing. It makes a difference.* *Dianne*

    • S.J. Hines permalink*
      October 18, 2017 3:11 pm

      Thanks Dianne – it’s not finished, but I am trying to work on being a little more “on time” with certain topics, so I posted what I had, and will work on more today.

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