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When You Can’t Throw All Men Into The Ocean And Start Over, What CAN You Do?

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This society is broken, abusive, patriarchal trash—and not just in little pockets or in dark alleys and frat parties.

I was just commenting a few weeks ago about how at least once a month a woman will reach out to me to let me know that a man I’ve worked with, socialized with, or even considered a friend, is an abuser. These aren’t tales of one incident, it’s almost always a pattern of abuse quietly shared by multiple women who are scared of being publicly known. Occasionally these are stories from women who made their accusations VERY publicly known—but they were quickly and violently shouted down by their own community and, almost immediately, the accusations were forgotten by everyone except for the women who had been abused and cast out.

These aren’t famous people. These abusers are local artists, activists, teachers. But many have found themselves in places of even minor prestige or power and used that power to abuse women—and keep them silent about it. Even in a group as small as two — say, in a marriage — certain men will use their power to abuse women (and many men and non-binary people as well, who are often silenced with the added shame of the “feminized” nature of sexual assault).

And along with all the ways in which women are constantly reminded of how unsafe and powerless they are when someone in their circle is revealed as an abuser, we now also have a spate of very high-profile and widely admired menwho are being outed as serial abusers.

Weinstein, Tambor, Hoffman, Louis CK, Seagal, Piven, Spaceymaybe it would save time to just start keeping lists of men we admire (I’m aware that not many have admired Steven Seagal in a while, but the point stands) whoaren’t sexual predators, and then slowly cross their names off as every news story breaks until we all explode from rage and frustration and disappointment.

Maybe it would save time to just start keeping lists of men we admire who AREN’T sexual predators. Click To Tweet

This is, I’m 120% sure, just the tip of the iceberg. For every victim who takes the monumental risk to come forward and is actually heard, there are almost certainly countless others who can’t or aren’t.

I hear time and time again from men who want me to make it clear when talking about rape culture that not all men are rapists. I hear time and time again from men who want me to believe that it’s only a few sick monsters committing all the rapes, and also that maybe women are all lying and there are no rapes. These are often the same men who also try to say in the same breath that “boys will be boys” and that men can’t control their desires as long as women continue to stubbornly exist in their corporeal form.

And no, as a mother of two boys I cannot believe that every man is a sexual predator and that every little boy is destined to become one. I would not be able to get out of bed in the mornings. But as a survivor of multiple sexual assaults, as one of the 20% of all women in the U.S. who report being victims of sexual assault (and this is not including sexual harassment and other waysin which women are made to feel unsafe in their bodies), as a citizen of a country that elected a man who proudly admitted on tape to sexually assaulting women as president, I will say this: This society is doing everything it can to create rapists, to enable rapists, and to protect rapists.

This society is doing everything it can to create rapists, to enable rapists, and to protect rapists. Click To Tweet

This society is broken, abusive, patriarchal (and white supremacist, ableist, hetero-cisnormative) trash. Not just in little pockets. Not just in dark alleys and frat parties. It’s fucking rotten through and through and has been forabsofuckinglutelyever.

I have not yet figured out how to drive all men into the sea. I’ve considered maybe taking a boat to the middle of the ocean to start shouting about the wage gap to see how many men would try to swim over to tell me that it doesn’t exist. But I’m very fond of a few men (including the two I gave birth to — nepotism, I know) and I also get really seasick on boats.

So if we can’t drive all men into the ocean and start over, do we just throw up our hands? Do we just excuse this rampant abuse as “locker-room talk” and “locker-room groping” and “locker-room rape” and “locker-room forced witnessing of masturbation”? Do we continue to insist that we do not have a toxic masculinity problem and these are just isolated cases of sick individuals who are abusing women and let everyone else off the hook?

I absolutely cannot give all the answers. I do not have all the answers. Women more capable than I have died trying to find a way to fix this.

But I do know this: Every single sexual abuser is 100% responsible for their actions and there is nobody else to blame than the person who is choosing to violate another person.

And I also know this: This entire patriarchal society is responsible for every single sexual assault that occurs.

Both of these things are 100% true at the same time, and if we want to battle rape culture—if we want to finally end the brutality that so many women have faced for pretty much the entirety of history—we have to start addressing both of these realities at once.

Every single sexual abuser is 100% responsible for their actions and there is nobody else to blame than the person who is choosing to violate another person. Click To Tweet

We have to face up to the fact that from the moment we get that sonogram and a doctor points to an imperceptible squiggly thing and says that it’s a penis, we start indoctrinating our assigned male children with massive amounts of toxic masculinity. We hand them toy guns and tell them not to cry and define their success through life by how well they can dominate others. We make countless movies where their only “romantic” goal is to find a way to get a woman who does not want them to sleep with them anyway. We show them image after image of men in nice suits, cigar in hand, a dead-eyed beauty draped on each arm and say, “This is what you should strive for. This is victory.”

But as a society, we don’t want to take responsibility for the abuse we create, enable, and strengthen. Because most of that responsibility lies with men and so many of them are very invested in keeping things the way they are — especially because they haven’t quite reached their life’s goal to be successful enough to be able to violate the consent of the most beautiful of the trophies we also know as women without consequence. Yes, everyone contributes to the patriarchy in some way — even women—but about half of us have had no say in the rules of the game, have never had a chance at winning, and have been given just as little say in whether or not we will play. For many cis, straight men, to fight the patriarchy is to risk discomfort. For the rest of us, it’s to risk your livelihood, your health, even your life.

As a society, we also don’t place responsibility on the individual men who are, even with their societal conditioning and enabling, still choosing with their own minds and bodies and patriarchal power to violate the consent of others in a myriad of ways. Approximately 3% of rape victims will ever see their rapist spend a day in jail. And while 1 in 5 female college students reports being the victim of sexual assault, we have a president who is actively working to make sure that the choice to rape a classmate will not endanger a rapist’s chance at graduation.

We instead place the entire responsibility for the damage done to women… on women. Soon-to-be women who wear spaghetti-strap tops to school, distracting young boys with their scandalous shoulders. Women who let a man buy her a steak dinner but then are rude enough to not suck his dick for dessert. Women who get drunk at parties. Women who go to parties. Women who wear bikinis. Women who wear burqas. Women who choose to sleep with other people who aren’t that dude. Women who slept with that dude once but then didn’t want to anymore.

Every day I’m trying to counter the flood of messaging my sons are receiving from television, music, movies, books, friends, and our own government that says that they have a right to a woman’s body. Every day I’m trying to counter the flood of messaging that my sons are receiving that says that overcoming a woman’s objections is romantic. Every day I’m trying to counter the flood of messaging that tells them that their manhood is defined by how many women they can have sex with. Every day I remind them that they are so much kinder, better, and just… more than these violently aggressive yet mewling combinations of bravado and entitlement that they see depicted as the pinnacle of “manhood.” And every day I’m reminding them that they are responsible for their actions, and that if they disrespect women, abuse women, violate the consent of women — I will be one of the first people in line to make sure that they are held accountable.

And every day I don’t know if it’s enough. Every day it feels like it isn’t.

But I have to try because I have no other choice. We, as a society, have no other choice. And if you’ve had the luxury to think that this is not an issue that you need to address because you aren’t “one of those guys” I suggest you pay attention to how hard so many of us women are fighting to save ourselves, our sisters, our daughters, and our sons. And get to work.

Or get in the sea.