Yesterday, my friend Mihee posted an article she wrote. If you would, please, take a moment to read it here. In it, she talks about the fairly muted controversy over Bloomingdale’s new ad. What caught my attention was her sharing her own harrowing tale of sexual assault:
“Even now. Even at this very moment, when I think back to the summer of 2000, and that night, though I don’t have evidence of it, I know 100% in my flesh and blood that I did not drink enough to black out, and that one of the young men in the house hosting the party slipped something into my drink, but I still feel responsible, I still feel like it was my fault, I still feel like I deserved to wake up the next morning completely naked next to someone who was basically a stranger, confused and disoriented, ashamed and lost. Maybe I encouraged him. NO. I clearly remember at least that part, saying, NO, and trying to leave his room, and he shut the door and stood in front of it, and I said, No, No, No, and then the world went dark”
Mihee and I have have been online friends for awhile. I have crazy respect for her writing and she was a great guest on an episode of God Complex. We’ve never actually met in real life, but reading her words was like reading the words of my sister. My stomach sank. This was part of her story I didn’t know. I was sickened and saddened to read it. I don’t want to live in a world where this shit happens to my friends, even if it happened a dozen years before I met them. Even if I haven’t met them “in real life” (whatever that means).
In the last several years, I have intimate friendships with women who have been sexually assaulted. It always hurts to hear the stories. I know they trust me with their stories because they feel safe with me. I can pat myself on the back knowing that I would not do what their attackers have done to them. I’m one of the good guys. That’s what I’ve allowed myself to believe.
But “not a rapist” is a really low bar. The fact that I clear it brings less and less comfort as I look at the world in which I will raise my daughter. It doesn’t excuse times when “consent” came with an imbalance of power. It doesn’t excuse the times when consent came with false pretenses. It doesn’t excuse leering or objectification nor does it excuse assumptions about competence or artistry based on gender. I’m much more comfortable talking about issues of race where I get to play the victim card, but much in the same ways that I ask my white friends to own their part in white supremacy, I have to own that I have been bathed in misogyny and steeped in patriarchy. I have to own that I have hurt women in significant ways, not the least of which was the woman to whom I pledged my life.
Like racism, I don’t think misogyny is inherent. I believe that it is learned. I was raised by a strong woman, spent a great deal of my childhood with my grandmother (a certified badass) and my aunts. My sisters were a huge part of my growing up life. I learned to sexualize women in a dehumanizing way from other men, some in my family. I learned it from the media and a culture that told me at a young age that “bitches ain’t shit” and “we don’t love them hoes”. I learned it from pornography, most of which is predicated on the idea that women exist for men’s pleasure. I learn it from a culture that continues to pay women less for equal work reinforcing their lesser value.
There are lots of places where I cannot undo the damage my misogyny has caused. This hurts me to my core. But I’m helping to raise a little girl and I want her to be a fighter. I want her to know her worth. I want her to be safe. I want her to know that what happens with her body is her decision and her’s alone.
But that’s not enough. I exist in this world as a six foot, 200 lb (fine, 210 lb!) black man. My presence alone can make women in certain situations feel unsafe. I have to be mindful of that. I have to be mindful of the places in which I have power to sway and influence and I have to honor the commitments I have made to create safe and compassionate space. I have to do better in honoring my colleagues and co-workers. I have to do better in honoring the female leadership in my life and making space for women to lead in places where their voices aren’t being heard.
And I have to do better in having this conversation with other men. “Not a rapist” is not enough. It never was. Men have to do better in holding safe space for the women in our lives and calling out other men when we feel that safety is at risk of being violated.
Even now, I fear I am saying something wrong. I fear that I am not totally learning the lesson I’m supposed to learn. But I’m committed to changing. I’m committed to doing and being better. I’m committed to listening to the voices of my sisters and being the best male ally I know how to be. I’m shaken to my core. I want this world to be better. I know that for it to be so, I have to start with me…