Posted by: minnow | October 26, 2017


Two words meant to create awareness about the systemic sexism in our country: sexual abuse, sexual harassment, gender inequality, and rape culture. My FB feed exploded with “Me, too.” memes, comments on memes, debates about the meme, and personal stories. Men, identifying with the abuse aspect shared their own stories, as did people from other groups.  Some were greeted with inclusion. Others were rebuffed, too often with angry words and accusations. A few people asked: “Why just women?” And, this is where I’d like to start.

The reason the original “Me too.” meme was not “all inclusive” (after all men have been raped too and women say they want equality–ARGH!) is because all women in the US are impacted by abuse and sexual assault. (In reality I should not limit this statement to the US, but I cannot personally speak to what women outside the US experience). Women are taught to be careful, to be modest, to not go places alone, because if we don’t follow these rules we might get hurt by men, and our actions can be (as in they are allowed to be) interpreted as “asking for it”. When we are hurt we must be willing to have our character questions, our clothing analyzed, and our blood alcohol factored in. Almost every woman I know has been subject to some degree of harassment (though generally not illegal) by male bosses, husbands, fathers, other male family members, male classmates, male teachers, male friends, and/or male strangers. Most have multiple stories they could tell. Far too many have experienced abuse, rape, and/or intimidation at the hands of men who were supposed to care about them. Sexual assault isn’t a one time experience for most women. And many of these experiences are shared by every other woman in their lives. The original meme was NOT trying to suggest rape and/or abuse only happens to women. Instead, it tried to focus our attention on a pervasive problem within our culture that needs to be seen and addressed. Similar to how the Black Lives Matter campaign is NOT saying other lives don’t matter, the “Me, too.” meme is not saying men haven’t suffered from sexual violence. The initial thread was intentionally narrow because sometimes it is important to focus on one aspect of one issue in order to actually change perceptions, heighten awareness, and ready the ground for change.

That said, I personally believe every voice that draws attention to the damage done by sexual predators not only to their prey but to society as a whole are valuable. A man who is violated by another person experiences no less pain than a woman, simply because he is a man. He must still navigate a world that has profoundly changed, that has become less safe, less stable or predictable, and less understandable. Unwarranted feelings of guilt and shame do battle in his brain in the same ways they wage war in a woman’s. When men put words around their experiences of sexual assault and abuse we should listen and show compassion. Men who tell their stories do so in solidarity with women, not to dominate or overrun the conversation.

Another group I noticed posting “Me, too.” memes were members of the LGBTQ communities. People in these groups are at an extremely high risk of sexual assault and intimidation. While 18% of all college women have experienced an attempted or completed rape, the percentage increases to 21% for all college transgender, gender queer, or nonconforming students. If you are bad with percentages–that’s more than 1 in 5 TGQN people. We need to stop ignoring the flesh and blood behind these statistics.

Most of the men in my own life including my sons would fall into the “sexist by default” group. They are certainly not predatory. They would most likely come to someones aid if that person was being physically harmed. Yet, they would also stay uncomfortably silent if a buddy made a sexually explicit remark or told an off-color joke about a woman. A significant number of them have made derogatory comments about a woman’s appearance themselves but only a few noticed how often the media focused on Hillary Clinton’s hair or outfit rather than her policy. (Though to be fair in this past election, 45’s tie and hair got an an unusual amount of play for a man). I bring up this category because it our society it is almost impossible to be male and to not fall into it. Staying out of this category takes focused effort and a heightened self awareness. The men who have run with the #NOTME comments illustrate just how easy it is land in the #sexistbydefault group. Unfair? Let’s just say I have empathy for most of these guys. As a white woman I have spent far more time in the #racistbydefault group than I care to admit; just ask my nonwhite friends.

The thing is, Ladies, these are the guys we need to figure out how to educate. And, most of them are reachable. The few who fought hard against applying the label to themselves and who minimized the experience of sexism by women don’t actually fall into the “default” category. They are sexist period and should be ignored. They have chosen not to listen. Hopefully, for the women in their lives, the ugliest elements of sexism will never come crashing down on them. As for the rest–start with the men in your circle. Give them a gentle rebuke, point out what you see in the media, show your vulnerability by sharing how you feel when…  Specifically directed anger encourages understanding; a spray of vitriol does not, so be specific. We must also remember to thank and cheer on the men who get it right. Their truly “getting it” increases our numbers and helps pave the way for change. Bottom line: we want change; we want a world in which sexist behavior and attitudes are unacceptable and those who engage in them will be called out!


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