Someone I knew from knocking on doors for libertarian-leaning political candidates years ago challenged me on some of my recent thoughts about the #MeToo meme that was re-posted by millions this week. She wrote:
"What is the actual problem of conflating the two, or just including the two as options, in a Facebook post though? As a practical matter, many women who are rape victims may not want to publicly say it but the fact that the meme had harassment as an option maybe allowed them to be freer with their experience. It's not like this is a Congressional law we're talking about where language needs to be precise and not vague... this is a meme."
I wrote back:
Sorry I wrote you a book. There's a lot to unpack here.
So you're saying someone who might be too embarrassed, as sad as that is, to say they were raped, might feel emboldened to speak up about their experience to their group of friends under the cover of the meme's ambiguity?
Wow. That is actually a very good point.
So that's a really great feature of how this meme was constructed. I'll acknowledge that. And I can see the twofold value there of victims feeling a kind of relief of being able to unburden themselves, and a value to society of taking the shame out of being attacked, which is a big tail rattle to attackers and harassers that people are going to be less likely to be afraid to talk about them going forward.
I don't have a problem with people speaking out about abuse. I think it's great. Chelsea Manning. Edward Snowden. Anybody who is hurt by another person or sees another person hurting someone in any way: I say the more people get that all out there and tell others about it and get some sunlight on it the better. Transparency all the way.
In 2013 I shared on Facebook about the years of physical and emotional abuse I endured from my father. I didn't mention my mother (she's been dead since 2001), but she was actually worse than him. He was terrifying and mean when he blew up. She beat me up so badly once when I was 5 and once when I was 11 that I called the police on both occasions. She was surprised the first time that I knew 911.
I never got any help. I was actually lectured both times by the police about giving my mother trouble and making false phone calls to 911. My parents made me think it was a horrible embarrassing secret that I needed to keep- that I was a bad kid. It's weird because I hear all these stories about child protective services being on hair trigger alert and taking kids just because the parents let them play outside in the front yard without being out there to watch them.
There wasn't a campaign for child abuse at the time. I just had to share because my son was born the month before and I had to finally reckon with the abuse I'd experienced. I couldn't imagine treating my son how I was treated. And this may sound weird, but Snowden speaking up about the NSA earlier that month emboldened me to speak up about what I knew.
I called every member of my extended family individually and had a long conversation with them about it. They mostly hated me for tearing apart our family.
I don't have a problem with people telling on abusers as publicly as possible. The stories I've read from my friends have made my heart ache for them. The ones who just copy/pasted the meme and said nothing, but whose stories I knew- my heart ached for them too.
Your point has softened my heart about this, but I still don't think that it is insensitive or dismissive to people who have been victimized to put an asterisk on the formula of this meme and say:
This meme purports to give us a better picture of the magnitude of the problem, but don't be assuming every person who posts it without any details has been sexually assaulted and get the impression the world is a darker place than it really is. And that's a real danger of the meme because of how broad it is.
And that's an asterisk that needs to go on it, which does not at all make your point any less true either that the broadness is probably a good thing as well. Nuance. Complicated issues are going to have some. But that asterisk needs to go on it so we don't get a worse impression of men than they deserve.
And another asterisk is that men are raped as often or more than women in America. It needs this asterisk because the one that Alyssa Milano got going and that people re-posted specifies only women. That's wrong. Because you can Google that if it sounds far fetched. And again, so we don't make men out to be worse than they are. Especially in a cultural environment that I see fomenting some seriously troubling misandry.
Some women may roll their eyes at that, but I won't be forgetting about James Damore or mr-hank any time soon.
And also make sure you're clear what totally different categories sexual harassment and sexual assault are, because casually associating the two is as dangerous in our conversations as it would be disastrous in a legal statute. Our words shape our reality, including corporate policy and legal statutes.
And I don't know if you're paying attention to the extreme social justice warrior movement in academia, or the tyrannical corporate anti-harassment stance in many American companies, but it is feeling a little hostile at there for men on this subject.
There should be an acknowledgment of how much our society values women, and tries very hard to keep them safe and make them feel safe, and takes their problems very seriously, and I would say much more seriously than they take violence against men. Which is another reason why I'm tone policing in the wake of this meme.
Just Google "the talk laughs at man" and watch the female celebrity hosts and the studio audience full of women laugh on national television about a man getting his penis cut off by his horrifically abusive wife.
It's 2017 and 8 out of 10 boys are still genitally mutilated by having a part of their genitals surgically removed right after they are born. It is an illegal practice in much of the rest of the world. And it would be easy to end here because it's not like random attackers are the perpetrators as with sexual violence against women. It's institutionalized, so we could make it go away.
Nothing has been done about this. And this is the blind spot society has for sexual violence against men. Because there's no way we would allow girls' genitals to be cut in this country. This country cares about and supports woman far more than it does men.
That doesn't mean women don't have problems, but I am sensitive to anything that might feed misandry. Because it's not right and because I've got a little boy who's growing up in this world too. And if anyone think this means I'm insensitive to the women who have been assaulted or harassed, they're not hearing me.