Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.
~Leonardo da Vinci
Domination is a relationship, not a condition; it depends on the participation of both parties. Hierarchical power is not just the gun in the policeman’s hand; it is just as much the obedience of the ones who act as if it is always pointed at them. It is not just the government and the executives and the armed forces; it extends through society from top to bottom, an interlocking web of control and compliance. Sometimes all it takes to be complicit in the oppression of millions is to die of natural causes.
I’m a member of several different online groups related to trauma. In general I basically quietly observe because at this point in my life I don’t have a lot of time to have hours and days long discussions online about anything, not even one of my most favorite topics ever (trauma). Even so, I am observing and reading, and sometimes learning, and sometimes nodding along, and sometimes shaking my head and needing to walk away.
One thing that has me shaking my head vehemently and wanting to shake people is this particular reaction that certain “leaders” in the trauma processing (or “healing”) world have about sexual trauma and what is and isn’t okay to say in reference to these topics.
Specifically what I have seen happen is a women or femme makes a post about her own experience of sexual abuse or harassment or trauma. Other women jump in to support. Eventually someone says something along the lines of “Men are pigs”. And then the “leader”/facilitator of the group will jump in, always also a women, and tell folks to “tone it down” and “not all men” and “all people, regardless of gender, have trauma and deserve to heal it”and “remember there are men in this group and we don’t want to offend them,” and perhaps my all-time favorite, “my husband and the men I work with are all Good Guys™ so we can’t talk about men like that.”
As you can guess, I have a bit of an issue with this.
First, it’s silencing and shaming at best and exacerbates trauma at worst. Not allowing women and femmes to express their outrage, frustration, fear, anxiety, or sadness about the state of the world, that women are unsafe in this world, is gaslighting. These types of statements are saying that an individual woman’s experience is invalid because “not all men” are bad. (More on this “not all men” crap in a few). It is saying that our anxiety of being unsafe in the world is “all in our heads.”
A truth is, the world IS unsafe for women and femmes. A truth is that actually, yes all men. No, not all men rape, not all men assault. But I’d be hard pressed to say that “not all men” harass women (though they might not call it harassment). And absolutely all men benefit from the privilege bestowed upon them simply because they were born with a penis (and that privilege includes women being fearful for their lives around men and therefore being compliant and docile and “supportive” of “their” men in an attempt to survive).
Do I believe there are good men in the world? Yes, absolutely. AND my definition of a good man is one who acknowledges his privilege and utilizes it to bring about change for women. A good man calls out other men. A good man notes when he screws up, apologizes, and then does the inner work he needs to in order to do different the next time. A good man doesn’t silence women or say “not me” or “not all men”. A good man listens and creates spaces for women’s voices to be heard and respected.
A good man doesn’t need a woman to silence other women on his behalf.
Which brings me to the second part of my issue: women defending “innocent” men at the expense of other women.
A truth is, men don’t need us defending their “honor.” Their actions in the world defend their honor. The ways they speak up and out against rape culture defends their honor. Every time they call out another man on some misogynist “joke” or comment they defend their honor. Every time they listen to a woman and don’t interrupt or “mansplain” they defend their honor.
They do not need us defending them. Or making statements like “not all men” or “my partner/colleague/friend” is a Good Guy™.
They, as the cultural oppressor and ones with the upper hands, can defend themselves just fine.
What women need to be doing instead of making statements like “not all men” is standing in solidarity with other women. We need to not be silencing women who are sharing their story and pain and trauma. We need to not gaslight each other. We need to to not throw each other under the bus so we can maintain our own status as “good” (and by “good” I mean obedient, complicit, and compliant) women in the eyes of men.
We need to stand in solidarity with each other.
We need to support each other.
We need to believe each other.
We need to encourage each other to speak up and out (when we are ready).
Looking at the Senate race in Alabama in December 2017, I was frustrated at see again how much work we have to do. That 63% of white women voted for Roy Moore is disgusting to me. That 63% of white women threw the safety of their own daughters out the window to maintain the patriarchal status quo (and their own place in the hierarchy in doing so) is nauseating to me. (There have been multiple similar examples since then, including most recently Jill Biden jumping to the defense of her husband Joe around the Anita Hill hearings.)
Our daughters deserve better.
Our daughters deserve to live in a world where men in power don’t have the right to sexually, physically, emotionally, or psychologically abuse or assault them. A world where there are real and dire consequences to harming women.
Our daughters deserve us to stand up and protect them.
Our sisters deserve the same.
Our women and femme friends deserve the same.
Women and femmes we have never met deserve the same.
WE deserve the same.
When we, as women, make statements like “not all men” or try to defend men from the atrocities they as a collective have and continue to commit, we are only being complicit and compliant players in our oppressive, misogynist, patriarchal culture.
Because a truth is, yes all men.
Even your husband. Even my (ex)husband. Even your son. Even my son. All men have their own work to do. And us loving them isn’t going to change the reality that they were raised and conditioned and trained in a misogynist culture and that, through no fault of their own, they internalized these messages.
There is not a totally innocent man out there. And unless they are actively and intentionally doing their own inner and outer work to tear this shit down and atone for their own wrong doing and the that of other men, they are that much more of the problem.
Men don’t need us making excuses for them. They don’t need us defending them. They don’t need us say “Well, not MY man.”
Men need to do their own work.
And we, as women, need to do our own too.
Which includes taking a deep look inside to explore why we may feel a compulsion to defend the “innocent” men of the world. Why we feel a compulsion to make statements like “not all men.” Why we feel a compulsion to disregard and discredit the experiences of other women in favor of the “reputation” of a man.
Yes, we are all in this together. Yes, we cannot change rape culture into consent/nuturance culture without men. Yes, men are also harmed by our oppressive, misogynist, patriarchal culture.
And we need to stop coddling them and instead begin pushing them to prove to us that they are indeed one of the Good Guys ™ through their actions, not just their in-actions.
Not being a rapist doesn’t automatically make one a good man. It takes a lot of intentional internal and external work to get that title.
We all need to remember that.
This essay was originally written for my weekly newsletter in December 2017 and has been edited for publication here.
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