Men are feeling the heat right now and are handling that in various ways. Some are curious; others are defensive.
First, I think it’s important to differentiate between two groups of men who may abuse women. As a result of fallout from our puritanical, American roots, society indoctrinated the first set of men that sex was bad and shameful. Shame creates repression and anxiety, which may turn into acting out on impulse. Some of these men may also have been sexually abused. Sexually abused individuals may perpetuate abuse, and that’s why it’s imperative they get the compassionate mental health support they need. Actions resulting from trauma are not conscious. It’s like being under a spell – it’s physiological. Still, mental health problems don’t make it justifiable and are not an excuse, yet they warrant understanding. If a sexually abused individual takes responsibility by getting help, they can prevent acting out and ending up in a twisted system that misunderstands the ramifications of trauma.
The second group of men believe they are superior to women – whether it is conscious or subconscious – and have little desire to understand women. Either exhibiting narcissistic disorder tendencies or deeply insecure, they prey on whomever they perceive to be weak. Objectifying women, these men take advantage of their privilege and power. Their intentions are insidious. I’m only addressing women’s struggles at this time, even while there are other groups and gender orientations who have faced abuse.
My favorite interaction was with a man honestly curious about both: 1. how he is supposed to engage with women he finds attractive right now, And, 2. what is it like to be a woman?
Many men are struggling to understand what might set a woman off. That can be particularly troublesome if a woman has not done her trauma work – possibly related to sexual abuse – and harbors an underlying hatred of men. She may lash out unfairly. Unless I’m seeing her for counseling, her perspective is no more unbiased than a misogynist reflecting on feminism.
But too, women are opening up right now – willing to be revelatory and vulnerable. For a while men might need to lie low and hold the space for some healing to happen. It’s a good idea to listen to one another rather than being prematurely defensive.
I’m not finished reflecting about the first question, but for now I want to address my friend’s second question: What is it like to be a woman? Naturally, I can only speak from my perspective.
I told him a L.A. acting agent sent me on a call where they were interviewing women. The group of men explained that they “would provide the hired women outfits” to wear. All we would be required to do was “make the men at the event happy.” While it wasn’t about being touched, it was about being objectified. I got up and walked out of the interview. It felt like if I wanted to continue acting in Hollywood, I would be dealing with a lot of that. It wasn’t worth it to me. Since then, my daughter made it to a final call for TV pilot in L.A. and when she refused to smoke pot with the director at his home, he told her right then that the other candidate was going to get the job. The problem is rampant.
I told my friend about the time I was a court transcriptionist and my boss walked in and said, “Whoa. Your tits look great in that shirt.” When I quit the next day, he said, “You’re not going to go and kill yourself are you? My last transcriptionist committed suicide.” How could I begin to even respond to that kind of idiocy?
I told my friend about a close female friend who as a young attorney was harassed and then threatened that if she reported him, she would never work in DC again. I know many women who left their jobs because of harassment, or they stayed and were silent. But rarely, if ever, were the men held accountable or fired.
My friend had been talking to other female friends as well, and he looked at me, his eyes soft with realization, and he said, “I have never really felt what it’s like to be a woman. Men intimated women until they gave up on their dreams. And some felt compelled to concede to the offers or demands just to maintain their jobs and live their dreams.”
Blown away by his tenderness, I could feel that he could feel it. It was a profound experience that I didn’t expect over croissants and Americanos. I don’t hate men and he doesn’t hate women. Maybe it’s in coffee shops across America where men and women are having heart-to-hearts and feeling into what it’s like to be in one another’s shoes where we can begin to create the space for healing.
Why should men have to put down toilet seats? Men aren’t objects for women to “train.” The media feeds women some Prince Charming fantasy about what a man will do for her to prove his love, and then when he falls short or shows love in a different way, instead of trying to understand him, she criticizes him. Women who hate men hold up hoops and keep raising or lowering the hoops just to watch the men trip. Vulnerability connects; judgment divides.
Another man I spoke with was furious that “these women” are “ruining talented men’s careers.” I was aghast. I explained, “Men have been ruining women’s careers for decades without repercussion.” He apologized.
Maybe it’s like Germany – the generation after the war. While their parents elected Hitler and witnessed the repercussions, the next generation bore the brunt of the world’s rage and indignation. It takes time for people to heal and there is a collective opportunity for men to hold the space for women to heal and to take action on their behalf.
Another male friend told me he has never once gotten out of his car at night and worried for his safety. That was mind blowing to me. Women are always looking over their shoulders. Self defense classes teach women to walk briskly and confidently because predators look for people who are timid. They teach us to lock our doors the minute we get into our cars and myriad other ways to get out of danger. These thoughts are playing through many women’s minds as they navigate their lives.
Okay, back to my male friend’s first question, paraphrased: “How am I supposed to let a woman know I like her if walking up to a woman at a bar is now considered harassment?”
Sure, it’s not fair that society and the media are castigating ALL men right now, but this will blow over once we as a society integrate new understanding about what’s okay and what’s not. Change always requires adjustment. It’s messy. Being real and authentic is messy, and we, as Americans, are just beginning to learn how to navigate emotions well.
Kind women who don’t hate men will give you cues. Not every woman is hair trigger, ready to accuse men of harassment. There are many women like me who are not angry, but who feel that change needs to happen.
A male friend observed that men (and women) are animals. Men are visual. I reflected that there is a big difference between thought and action. Inappropriate action is crossing a line. What is inappropriate action? We need to look for one another’s cues, but intimidation and unwelcomed contact would seem obvious. Men will always be more visually stimulated, but that doesn’t mean they get to act on that impulse, and if they do, they need to take responsibility, make amends and seek counseling support. Self-hatred and self-condemnation does not help anyone involved.
And women, it seems, we need to take up causes for women and children who are poor and hungry. We need to admit that porn and its industry is destructive. It’s not sexual freedom – it’s objectification at its worst.
I highly doubt we all want to become androgynous… women like to feel wanted and admired as much as men want to feel appreciated… and both want to be respected and honored, but for a while, as people heal, there will be confusion. Polarity is what creates chemistry… there can be spark without objectification.
As Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) said in The Hill today, “Ultimately, this narrative will be defined by only one group of people: the victims who speak the truth to and about power.”