This is a tough article for me to write. I’ve been putting it off for a while and cannot put it off any longer. I’m nervous because I feel this is mostly a time for us men to listen. And I’m nervous that whatever I say here may be met by some with criticism.
But my business is all about human communication and that includes the conflict between genders. I believe it is time for us men to share some of what is happening for us as we see women we care for and love come forward with an immense amount of pain and fear, in large part because of us. Ugh. That part was hard to say.
On Nov 30th eighteen brave men gathered in St. Paul to talk personally about the “me too” social phenomenon. Originally, we wanted a co-ed group, but felt that we as men have some inner-work to do, first, on this topic. So we began it. I was the facilitator.
We started with a long and heavy silence. I wanted to speak but chose to just let the weight of it sink in. We are men with daughters, sisters, mothers, girlfriends, partners, women friends and wives. We know some of what has happened to some of them. And even for those of us who are well-versed on the statistics, we are shocked, disturbed and angry about the sheer number of personal stories we’re hearing—from women we know or know of. An actual person that you know saying “I was raped” is very different than a statistic. Hundreds and thousands, saying “me too” is deeply troubling. Some of us feel the collective shame: like an alcoholic being confronted by his wife, after crashing the car for the second time, we feel like going somewhere to hide. Only we are “the alcoholic” being confronted by thousands of women who have been directly injured by “us”. We are aware, and troubled, by the fact that almost all of us are directly or indirectly complicit in the pain of this social reality.
Many of us men are not sure what to say or do with the stories women are sharing publicly. We read about those who are very courageously stepping forward to share slices of their trauma. Time magazine has called the movement “The Person of the Year” and said it has “unleashed one of the highest-velocity shifts in our culture since the 1960s”.
“I’m sorry” just does not seem to cut it now. “I hear you” rings hollow, though it might be enough for some women to hear that from us. We wonder, what can we say that will make a difference. And equally important: what can we do?
Saying anything is the beginning of us owning our unconscious advantages–our social rank—our contribution to the pain, and that is part of the reason I’ve been procrastinating writing this.
It is easier to just be silent and maintain the current gender-imbalanced arrangement we’ve come to. But thanks to these courageous women it is getting harder and harder to maintain that arrangement. Plus, obviously, this arrangement is not working out very well for many, especially for women. But also for us men, it is causing us untold suffering as well.
The world feels like it is turning upside down for some of us. We feel disoriented by all the sheer volume of these stories and the men who are dropping like black flies in late fall. Even those of us men who have never raped or abused, we feel like the ground has shifted under our feet. It is like the patriarchy is crumbling beneath us. See Tony Signorelli’s brief and brilliant article on this idea.
Some say it feels like we’ve gone too far and there is a “witch hunt” energy in the air. To others it feels like we’re finally coming clean and holding abusers, who are men, accountable. Some say, “he just put his hand on a woman’s back, up her shirt, it’s not like he raped her.” Or, “He actually put his hand up a woman’s shirt, without her consent and scared the hell out of her for years, and many others in the process, he deserves to be held fully accountable and fired!”
How many of us men truly know how many women feel as they slow down to park at night in the city? How many of them go into fight or flight if a man pulls up and parks right next to them when they need to shop at 11 pm? I would bet that many of us have no real idea.
And we men, by virtue of our physical size, socialization and hard wiring, still have the social rank. And it is our time to use that rank we have with as much courage and awareness as we can muster.
What can we do, at home and at work, as men, about this current social situation?
- We can listen, deeply–with open hearts–to the stories we hear and empathize with the women who are telling them. This part does not come naturally to many of us who are wired for killing woolly mammoths and protecting the tribe.
- We can guard our eyes, our attention and how we view women. Seeing them as whole people, not objects for our satisfaction.
- We can stop the use of porn.
- We can keep talking with other men who have insights into how to maintain our vitality, without diminishing women one tiny bit. (we will have another gathering Jan 21st from 9-5 pm at Blue Harbor Center for the Arts in St. Paul)
- We can grow our own anima, that feminine soul-energy that helps us mature and relate better to our inner self and to the women in our lives.
We appear to be dancing on the edge of a watershed moment. What will your response be now?