Sometimes a major news event forces the lot of us to ask ourselves some difficult but important questions. The biggest question for me last week was: what am I, a hypocrite or a bozo?
In the wake of Trump’s tape circulating, a whole bunch of guys came out to say that they had no idea this kind of thing was going on. They genuinely didn’t know that guys could be that heinous to women. They’ve never seen it. They might have heard about it from women, but the stories had a faintly mythical quality, with no real-life experience to back them up. Meanwhile, a different bunch of guys was busy defending the whole thing as perfectly normal.
Turns out these two different bunches of guys do not interact. Turns out that guys who are not misogynistic asshats do not tolerate the company of those who are. Turns out that misogynistic asshats end up finding themselves in an echo chamber full of other misogynistic asshats, because they’re the only people who will tolerate their misogynistic asshattery rather than throw them out of the metaphorical locker room, perhaps not bothering to use a door.
People normalise their own behaviour and end up surrounded by other people for whom that behaviour is normal. Turns out that this also applies to misogynistic behaviours.
Although I know this is how it goes with people, the fact that it may also apply to guys is somehow news to me.
After we all finished screaming ourselves hoarse in perfectly understandable horror and sharing our experiences of this particularly distasteful aspect of our culture, a bunch of the good guys turned around and went “OK, I get it, but what do I do? What can I do to help?”
This was both a plea on how they can help fix the world, because it seems to be shittier than most of us admitted up to now, but also on how they can help the people in their life who have been directly affected by this kind of thing.
It occurs to me that I have had precisely one decent response to this kind of event in my entire life (which I intend to write about post-haste). I’ve had too many shoddy ones to count (seriously, I wouldn’t even try), and a single, solitary good one. I then realise that at the time I have never once actually told the person I was talking to what I actually wanted and needed; just expected them to respond as per my unspoken wishes. And when they failed to, I was hurt and disappointed. Yet I don’t believe that everyone’s needs are identical, or in mind-reading.
As a result of the conversations the event sparked, the number of men who have been sexually assaulted I know of rose by 60%. In fact, last week more men than women have come to me to tell me their stories. Still a small number compared to the women I know, but anyone who tried to tell me that it’s statistically insignificant so we can brush it under the carpet can go choke on a brick.
Those guys came to me with their stories. And, when they did, I didn’t know what the hell to do or say.
I think, but I’m not sure, that men and women are socialised to give support in different ways. I grew up with piranhas and was socialised with guys, so I think that I tend to do the guy thing when sticky situations arise. I get stuff done, I deal with people and things, but I am simply awful at emotional support. When people tell me their stories my first response is “what can I do about this”, and if I can’t do anything that quickly turns into a fairly panicky “oh god oh god I can’t fix this what do I do what do I do.” I’ve not been at the receiving end of me trying to be supportive when there’s nothing heavy to lift or nobody to terrorise, but I’m pretty sure it sucks. Add to this that I know that I don’t fully understand their experiences, because I’ve never been a guy… but somehow I had never considered that the reverse would apply.
So, not only I’ve been blaming the guys in my life for not giving me what I had not specified I needed; but I’ve been also blaming them for not giving me something I can’t myself provide to others, even when I really want to. I’ve been assuming they didn’t care enough to bother, even though I know I care, yet I still mess it up.
These guys told me their stories. They’re private narratives. There is no platform for them.
Their side of the narrative is getting hardly any space; not just now, but in general. This drives me demented. How can we know that this is a problem if nobody’s talking about it?
At the same time, if any of those guys came to ask me if they should go public with their stories, I’d say no. I’d obviously support them if they wanted to, but I wouldn’t push them towards it. Not only I know that it would likely not be well received, but I also know that it would probably change the way in which other people regard and treat them. It would most likely do them more harm then good, so unless they wanted to sacrifice themselves for the cause, I wouldn’t advise it.
So on the one hand I’m saying that in these situations women don’t get heard, while on the other hand I’m admitting that I know that men in the same situations can’t even talk.
Oh, and those men who aren’t talking about their own experiences are routinely lumped in the “YOU JUST DON’T KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE FOR US” diatribes, which is just peachy.
It never occurred to me to doubt anyone’s account of the events they went through. Maybe I’m an imbecile, but I honestly don’t believe that any of my chosen friends are capable of deliberately lying about something like this. If they were, they wouldn’t be my chosen friends. I also don’t believe that any of my chosen friends are capable of being confused about that kind of thing. If they were, I’d work very, very hard to get them professional help.
This makes me think back at the number of times me and countless other people have been shut up by third parties who either just couldn’t/wouldn’t believe what we were telling them, or demanded hard proof that was impossible to provide. Do people really have friends and partners they believe capable of pretending they’ve been sexually assaulted? And, believing that they are lying about this kind of thing, they continue to be their friends and partners? Unless they are themselves people who would lie about this kind of thing, I guess. I call shenanigans!
…then I was reminded by Dillon of a book. A book that tries very hard to explain how people’s ability to process violent events is tightly linked to their existing beliefs about the world and their own sense of safety. Concepts not new to that book, but that I’m familiar with because of that book. Because I wrote the damn thing.
I got so wrapped up in this whole thing, that I forgot that my mental landscape around violence is not standard issue. I forgot that my worldview shapes my beliefs shape my responses, and the same is true of everyone else.
I don’t quite know what’s worse: when I fail to consider my own experiences before thinking, or when I fail to consider that other people’s may be different. The jury’s still out, but I’m hoping for a verdict of “bozo.”