author – activist – faculty – mom
As women’s stories of sexual violence come pouring out, I am so tired of the idea that men need to “do better.”
It’s not about men needing to do better. Get some historical perspective: men are doing better. Less than a hundred years ago, women in the US couldn’t vote. Women couldn’t own property. We couldn’t own property because we were property. Marriage was a slavery arrangement. Men could rape their wives, their daughters, their servants, any unchaperoned woman who happened to be walking by.
So when women are blamed under every circumstance when we experience sexual violence, it’s because in patriarchy, it’s always our fault. But in the last century, women have organized and fought for our rights. And in response, there’s been this pretense of change, and we have laws against rape, against the molesting of children, against sexual harassment, against domestic violence. And patriarchy says: hahahahaha. Create all the laws you want. Who’s going to enforce that? And for the most part, patriarchy is right. With sexist men in charge of most of these institutions, our leadership is generally Team Rapist. Since the presidential election, now more than ever. Sexual predator in the white house? Check. Sexual predator on the supreme court? Check. Sexual predators in the congress? Check. And there you have your checks and balances.
So when women are sexually harassed at work, it’s because it’s progress that we are actually allowed to work and keep the money. A hundred years ago, that was our husband’s or our father’s or our brother’s money. So patriarchy’s perspective is that we’re lucky we get to work as something other than a maid or serving wench. Shut up.
And if we’re raped in college, patriarchy’s perspective is that we’re lucky we get to go to college. Shut up.
And if we’re sexually abused in our families, patriarchy’s perspective is that a man is the boss of his house and what goes on behind closed doors is nobody’s business. Shut up.
So when people shake their heads and talk about men doing better, it’s like they’re reflecting back on some fictional time when men didn’t do these things. No, it’s just that in the past, women didn’t talk about these things. And they didn’t have crisis centers created by feminists to go to after these things happened. And now that survivors are talking, the answer isn’t for men to “do better.” Because that would mean that men would leading the “do better” committee. That rapists needed to find it in their hearts to not rape. That Hollywood producers who were obsessed with finding the most fuckable starlet should be be in charge of whether or not they sexually harass that starlet after they hire her. That college athletes who have been raised to believe that drunken non-consenting sorority girls are part of the spoils of winning, tuck those scantily clad girls in bed without raping them.
It’s not going to happen. Predatory men will change when the consequences of these behaviors change.
Look, I don’t even like the prison industrial complex. I don’t favor it as a way to solve society’s problems, and it gets overwhelmingly used as a tool of social control and oppression for poor people and people of color…
These are the only consequences that people in this society understand. So men will do better when men need to make hard choices.
Like to sexually harass women in your workplace? Fine! Just prepare to be quickly unemployed. Like to sexually assault women? Do you! Just prepare for some criminal charges. Like to rape women at your college. Go for it! And get ready to be kicked off the team, out of school and to face criminal charges. Like to sexually abuse children. YOLO! And prepare to have it all go public, to lose custody rights (if applicable), and to face criminal charges.
I know that men do this awful shit because really hard things have happened to them. It’s not that this is who men inherently are. I have seen baby boys and toddler boys and preschooler boys and even elementary and high school boys, and I watch them systematically stripped of their full range of emotions and empathy and turned into toxic masculine caricatures. No baby boy asks for that. It’s that patriarchy beats the humanity out of men, and then offers them women and girls as targets for their rage about it, as gratification prizes. And the only way to solve that is to end male domination and its terrible impact on both women and men. But I also know that the brutality and shaming that is done to men leaves many of them desperate to be the dominator not the dominated, the powerful not the overpowered. Never again to be the wuss, the pussy, the girl. And those men feel the need to constantly find females with whom they can assert that domination. All. The. Time. It never gets old, because they never get a chance to heal from whatever happened to them long ago, because they are constantly replaying their own abuse, but with themselves in the power role.
So those men need a firm limit. Sadly, all we have available in this society thus far is the criminal legal system. So I’ll take that for now, because I don’t want to see ONE MORE WOMAN to be victimized by sexual violence. Or girl. Or boy. Or man.
Because I’ll bet, for the first time, Harvey Weinstein is thinking about what he did wrong, and regretting some of his decisions. And so is Louis CK. I hope they’re both crying on some therapist’s couch right now, getting to the bottom of what the hell happened to them that they felt the need to commit that abusive, inhuman, and criminal violence against women.
Now that abusers are finally experiencing consequences, more survivors are coming forward. And there’s hope for some things to change. But let’s not ever think that the solution is to put the power to self-regulate into men’s hands.
The predatory Hollywood exec didn’t go to the “mandatory” sexual harassment workshop, because he is in charge of doling out the consequences if someone doesn’t go.
To those men who would never sexually assault and harass, thank you! Keep up the good work! And to those of you who would commit sexual violence if given the chance, I want to see a society where you are less likely to be given the chance, because any rumor of that type will be investigated and any findings will be held against you for employment purposes. And if you are given a position of power and you fuck up, you will not be given a do-over.
Consequences. Consequences. Consequences. THAT is how you get men to do better.
This question of consequences is so huge. Thank you.
I also think that what you mentioned about prevention is key. Not only that there will be consequences, but that we are explicit in our consent policies.
Very well written piece. Thank you for sharing. While we do need to make an extra effort to ensure we’re not only using Twitter accusations as judge, jury and executioner, you have stumbled upon the answer that few have. In my case, it was the combination of a short jail sentence, the destruction of my professional life and a lot of intense therapy to help me begin to understand how things went wrong.
In the case of someone like Louis CK – who I’ll address because he admitted to his behavior – he needs to figure out how he reached a point he could tell himself his actions were acceptable and work backward from there. It’s a hell of a mountain to climb. Four years later and I’m still trekking upward.
Even more important than people like Louis CK who are caught, are all of the people who have never – and will never – be held accountable for their actions. They’ve been lucky nobody called them out to this point. Maybe stories like Louis CK serve as a cautionary tale. For every person like me or like Louis CK, there’s 100 who get away with it. We’ll never know it, but hopefully that number is dropping. Consequences are real. Again, well written. Thank you.
And what will make these consequences real is the fact that more women are professionals and/or in power where men are assaulting/molesting/raping/harassing. WE are changing their punishment (see female investigative journalists breaking the Weinstein story). This change would not be even close to happening if women never gained any power. It’s a nasty catch-22 where some would say that women wouldn’t be assaulted/raped if they wouldn’t have been in these workplaces or institutions in the first place, and/or that women have internalized sexism so they act “just like men”. But we have no choice about being there or not. We’re coming up toward equality, so we better get this eradication of sexism and misogyny started.