Tag Archives: good men

Dear Good Men

My dear Good Men,

I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but, there is more to being good than simply not being bad. As the priest in my favorite movie, Boondock Saints, reminds his congregation, “We must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of Good Men.” It is this indifference that I want to address. This indifference toward the lived experiences of women, their lived terror at the hands of men.

Worse, we need to discuss the fact that even as I wrote that last sentence, I felt compelled to add, “not all men, not you, of course, not you” to pre-emptively assuage your defensive anger at being lumped in with those other “bad” men you work so hard to not be like. It is this combination of casual indifference about the actual plight of women, combined with your knee-jerk defensiveness when we try to discuss it that makes it hard for me to accept you at your word, to accept you as Good Men, or allies, or safe.

I understand that you would like to be Good Men. I want to help you. I want to tell you what I, a woman, need from you in order to bestow that designation. In order to understand what is needed, you’ll have to take off your Good Man badge, let your guard down, listen, allow yourself to become uncomfortable. You are not under attack, the women you know are. All of the women you know. This is about what we experience, weekly, daily, sometimes hourly. You need to let yourself feel that discomfort, it is the only way you’ll be able to grasp the solutions.

The story starts like this: I’m 15 years old. I tell my sister about being sexually assaulted by a married man. She hugs me and says, “I’m so sorry. Welcome to the club.” And then it’s her turn to talk. Her turn to tell a story. The first time she was assaulted…

The first time. Not the only time. Not the last time.

The first time.

Because once it starts, there isn’t an end. At least not while we still have breath. And we hope, each time it happens, that we will retain our breath, regain our breath, reclaim our breath.

Breath to keep going.

Breath to whisper our story.

Breath to change the story.

Some of us run out of breath. Some of us can’t hold it anymore, our breath, and we let it go rather than have it stolen from us one more time. Some of us lose it all to our attacker, have it pulled, choked, torn from us, never to return. Our breathless, broken body becomes our story, told for us on the 9 o’clock news.

But those of us who hold our breath long enough, who keep it, tight in our chest, guarding it against the next attack, and the next, we go on.

Our story continues.

When I reported my first sexual assault at the age of 15, nothing happened to the man who assaulted me. No reports were filed, no charges levied, no warnings given. Instead, I was sent home from my year abroad because my presence became too uncomfortable for him. His comfort was more important than my safety.

Welcome to the club. The guys all like it here.

When a man followed me home, pushed his way into my apartment and assaulted me, a Good Man asked why I hadn’t stopped him. The women I told hugged me and shared their stories.

Welcome to the club. What did you do wrong to gain membership?

When I told my boss, a Good Man, that I could not help a customer because he had been stalking me, I was told to do my job or go home. It was not safe to be polite to my stalker. I quit and hid in a bathroom until my co-worker came and told me my stalker had left the building. But first she told me her story…

Welcome to the club. This is a terrible club.

When I told my first corporate boss, another Good Man, that I wouldn’t feel safe if he hired someone who listed “pick up artist,” “ladies man,” and “playa” on his resume, he told me to relax and get a sense of humor. After all, this candidate had hard skills. I was replaceable. When I asked women about filing a complaint they all shook their heads and told me their stories…

Welcome to the club. How do you think this club got built?

By the time my rapist showed up, I knew better than to report him. There was too much at stake. I had already seen how the system worked against women who spoke up. The “choices” we were given by Good Men looking out for their bottom line. I had too much to lose. The women I told held me tight and told me their stories…

Welcome to the club. None of us asked to join.

A Good Man asked me recently why he’d never heard these stories, if every woman I know has one, and they all have one, most have many, why hasn’t he heard them?

Welcome to the club. The first rule of survivor club is, don’t talk about what you’ve survived. It makes the Good Men uncomfortable.

When I went to college, I was forced to attend an orientation that told me how to keep myself safe. They never said, “from men” because there were men in the room and no one wanted to imply that we would need to stay safe from them. After all, they were our dorm mates, our class mates, they were Good Men.

I was given a set of rules to abide by to keep myself safe:

Never walk alone at night, don’t let a man walk you home at night…

Don’t wear tight clothes, don’t wear loose clothes, don’t wear flirty clothes, modify your fashion if you don’t want to be raped

Always carry your keys in your hand, always be ready to defend yourself…

Always keep an eye, and a hand, on your drink, better yet, don’t drink

Make eye contact, but not suggestive eye contact

Be alert at all times – no listening to headphones, no talking on your cell phone, the attack could come at any time…

Vary your routine, you never know who’s watching…

Mark out “safe-houses” along your routes in case you need to run to one, make sure you run to a house with women in it

The men at this orientation were not taught similar precautions. They were not taught to protect themselves. Nor were they asked to consider their role in the precautions women were being told to take. They were not asked to look at themselves as anything other than Good Men, because clearly, only Very Bad Men hurt women. Monsters.

But none of the rules that women are supposed to follow in order to keep ourselves safe from Bad Men work. None of them kept me safe. None of them kept my friends safe. None of them will keep my daughters safe, or your daughters safe…

Because Bad Men are not the problem.

No, the Monster we must battle is not Bad Men, but the indifference, the blindness, of Good Men.

The indifference that makes it possible for Good Men to ignore the catcalls, the jokes, the threats, the violence of other Good Men.

The blindness that makes it possible for Good Men to ask me what I’ve done wrong to deserve the violence I experienced, what rule I broke. As if violence is like mud puddles – an inevitable inconvenience that women simply have to look out for and step around – and if we forget or get distracted and step into a puddle, well, that’s our own fault, isn’t it?

Welcome to the club. Stop playing the victim card.

You see, there is no message in The Rules about Good Men standing up to Bad Men. There is no message that sometimes the Bad Man in the room is your friend, your peer, your professor, your boss, your brother, you.

There is no message that being neutral in the presence of violence makes you complicit in that violence and revokes your Good Man status.

The Good Men in that room were not asked to see, and so they did not.

Good Men, I am asking you to see.

It is not fair that men feel entitled to wear their Good Man badge every time they don’t actively, physically hurt a woman, while women feel grateful every time they simply survive another day in a world populated with men.

Good Men, do you feel that difference? Do you begin to see why we are tired of rewarding you for simply not killing us?

It is not enough.

So, Good Men, I will give you the message you’ve been missing. The message no one wants to give you lest it upset your fragile self-image as a white knight who is good simply by not being bad.

That is not enough.

It is not enough to not be a rapist, an attacker, a harasser.

That’s standard. That’s the default.

Good is something altogether more.

If you want to be Good Men, you must be good enough to say, “We should not hire someone who lists “pick up artist” on their resume, that creates an unsafe culture at our company.”

You must be good enough to say, “If an employee is threatened by a customer, we should ask that customer to leave rather than lose a good employee.”

You must be good enough to say, “It’s not okay to joke about other people in ways that dehumanize them. It’s not okay to talk about women as if they are meat.”

You must be good enough to say, “Leave. What you’re doing and saying is inappropriate and is making others feel unsafe.”

You must be good enough to say, “Back off, she said no.”

You must be good enough to hear “no” in the silent absence of a “yes” and act accordingly.

You must be good enough to hear, “I have been hurt before. I need you to approach with caution and kindness.” and not take it as an attack on your Goodness.

In order to be Good Men, you must open your eyes and ears and hearts. You must learn what violence looks like and sounds like so that you can call it out and tell the perpetrators to stop before it erupts.

You must be good enough to listen when women speak of the violence done to them, to believe them, and to not get angry at them for making you uncomfortable. If you respond with defensive anger, you are telling them that your comfort is more important than their safety, than their very life.

As Margaret Atwood so famously said, “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”

If you want to earn your Good Man badge, you must be good enough to put women’s safety above your comfort. You must go beyond “not bad” and behave in ways that actively promote equality and justice.

“Not bad” is the default.

“Not bad” is neutral.

And neutral is the playground of the oppressor.

Welcome to the club.

 

(Note – this piece was written for one of my classes. A few of my fellow students wrote that they hoped I would publish it, so here it is. My regular readers will read/hear echoes of previous pieces, but I do believe this one ties many threads together into an approachable package. As always, feel free to share. Thank you.)

 

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Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

Teaching the wrong lesson – Scary Man Syndrome

Last night I got a disturbing email from my school district. It warned parents of a “safety incident” and attempted to put us all on high alert.

Apparently a student was walking home (in the rain, it is worth noting) and someone in a car pulled alongside and offered her a ride. She did what all kids who have been taught stranger danger are told to do – she said no, and then went back to the school and reported the incident. The school *of course* called the police.

The police are now increasing patrols. The district sent out this email to alert all district parents of this safety incident – the email includes a description of the driver – a white male – and his car. The description was thorough enough that I imagine people in the nearby area have probably identified this person.

scary man syndrome

It’s a MAN!

Here’s why this email concerns me.

It sends the wrong message, it teaches the wrong lesson – it criminalizes the actions of a man without any due process. It assumes the worst of intents from this man and broadcasts that assumption out to his entire community. It perpetuates “Scary Man Syndrome” and we REALLY don’t need anymore of that.

Here’s what I imagine happened – some guy saw a drenched kid trudging home in the rain and thought, “Gee, that sucks. If I was that kid I’d be wishing for a ride. Hey, wait a minute – I have a dry car, I could offer her a lift.”

offering help

Wet, sad, maybe this kid needs a lift?

He probably didn’t think past that. He probably didn’t think, “stranger danger!” because he knows he’s not a dangerous guy.

When the girl said, “No thanks, I’m okay.” (Or, alternately screamed in his face and ran away – the email isn’t really clear on this.) he pulled away and went home.

The email certainly doesn’t imply that he continued following her, harassing her or that he stopped and got out of his car or tried to force her into it in any way.

It sounds like a nice guy tried to help a kid, was told no, and left.

And then… His entire community was put on high alert and given a description of him as a possible safety threat.

He was tried and convicted of being male in public without due process or the benefit of the doubt. His community has been told that he is guilty without any presumption of innocence.

And this happens to men ALL. THE. TIME.

And that is a HUGE problem.

Now – I know, I have previously talked about how threatened women can feel moving through public space, and I’ve talked in-depth about the idea of Schrödinger’s Rapist and why it is not unreasonable for a woman to be cautious and wary of males. And so perhaps you are wondering why this bothers me so much. After all, didn’t I once say that all men are potential rapists?

Here’s the thing – No. I didn’t. I said that on an individual, personal level, I understand and respect caution.

To me, the idea of Schrödinger’s Rapist is not so much something that tells me to be scared of all men always – and treat them as criminals – but a way of explaining to men who are upset when I (or another woman) am standoffish in certain circumstances (ie, when I feel unsafe or threatened), why that might be, and perhaps even ways to approach those situations differently if they don’t want to trigger a fearful reaction. (Want to offer me help late at night? Start by respecting my personal space – don’t corner me, grab me, or shout at me. Those are not reassuring actions. If I say no thanks, respect it and carry on with your life.)

Stranger danger is the child’s version of Schrödinger’s rapist – it is a way of advising personal caution, it should NOT be used to pre-emptively criminalize all men.

I think it was wise of this girl to say no to getting a ride from a stranger – it is what I have taught my children to do. It is what most of us teach our children to do. We don’t get in cars with strangers. (Unless they are taxi drivers.)

I think this girl was justified in telling a trusted adult about the incident. Again, this is what we tell children to do.

The child did not fail. The adults did.

The adults were wrong to warn the entire community about the risk posed by this man without first investigating to see if there really was a risk.

Just as I would be wrong to treat every male as a potential threat by calling the police every time an unknown male spoke to me, said hello or offered to help me with something, or by posting a photo or description of the man and warning people to watch out for this guy who is going around offering to help women change their tires, or is offering them the use of his phone when their battery has died, or is approaching women and giving them directions to the restaurant where they are supposed to be meeting their friends, etc.

By sending out this email, what the district did was not warn parents of a potential safety threat, what they did was tell all parents, “Don’t help kids. You will be assumed to be guilty of child-endangerment and we will turn your community against you.”

They took the idea of “stranger danger” and acted as if it was true – as if all strangers ARE dangerous. As if all strangers, especially male strangers, ARE a threat – and the community must be alerted.

That is a message that we all too often send, especially about men. And to men.

BUT – NOT ALL MEN ARE DANGEROUS. Not all strangers are dangerous. AND there WILL come a time in every child’s life, in every person’s life, when they will NEED to rely on a stranger for help.

What we need to be teaching isn’t blanket fear – but reasonable caution.

We can’t do that when we post a warning about a “safety incident” every time a man tries to help someone.

My husband and I sat our kids down after we processed this email and talked to them.

We asked them what they would do if they were walking home in the rain and someone they did not know offered them a ride.

“We’d say no thanks, and that our house was close and keep walking.”

“What if it was a woman?”

“I still wouldn’t get in the car. Women can be kidnappers too.”

“Would you call the police?”

“No. Why would you do that? They were probably just being nice, but I know not to get in a car with a stranger.”

“What if they followed you and kept asking?”

We talked about how, if they were more than a block from our house, or were feeling really threatened, the best thing to do was to turn into the next drive way they saw and act as if it was their house, and that they could go as far as ringing the bell or knocking on the door and asking to use the phone.

Read that again – the advice we gave our kids if they felt threatened by a stranger was to GO TO A STRANGER’S HOUSE AND ASK FOR HELP.

We did not say, “But if a man answers the door, run away again.” We said, “Ask the next available stranger for help. Period.”

Because MOST PEOPLE are not dangerous, and if you really are being threatened, you need to take that leap of faith and GET HELP.

The other day some kids showed up on my doorstep and asked to use my phone to call their mom, who was running late getting home from work.

Of course I invited them in, handed them my phone, listened and made sure that everything was okay, mom was on the way, and then made sure they felt safe waiting at their house for her.

That is the most likely scenario if my kids ever need help from someone – that they will get it. I need my children to know that, and trust that because life is uncertain and sometimes shit happens. Sometimes we need help, and a stranger is the only person around to ask.

A couple of years ago my husband was driving home and saw a group of boys surrounding another boy, who was crying. He pulled over, got out of his truck, walked over slowly and asked from a few feet away, “Is everything okay here?”

“Our friend is hurt! He can’t breathe!” One of them said.

“Do you need help?” my hubby asked.

“Yes!”

He walked over, helped the kids, made sure the injured boy didn’t need medical attention, helped him get up and made sure that the group had a safe house and an adult to go to while the injured boy caught his breath and recovered. He made sure the boy was mobile enough to get there and that his friends were helping him and then he came home.

What the district’s email told my husband is that his actions in that moment should be viewed as threatening and dangerous – that those boys should have been scared and should have reported my husband.

That is a terrible message to send – to my husband, who is a good person and likes helping people, and to kids who might someday need to trust a stranger in order to get help.

Treating all men as dangerous criminals is a terrible policy and it degrades the community by eroding trust and expanding fear.

Yes, some men – and women – are bad people, but most of them are not. And we need to empower the “good guys” to take action and be helpers when they see people in trouble, not punish them for trying to help or make them too afraid to offer.

look for the helpers

Strangers can be helpers too.

So, how could the district have handled this differently?

First – listen to the child. Get the description of the car and the driver. Get enough details from the girl to ascertain whether there is a reason to suspect this person poses a threat. Again – did he listen when she said, “No thanks”? If he did – he’s probably not a threat. Notify HER parents, and carry on. If he continued to follow her, harass her or got out of his vehicle and tried to grab her – his threat level just went up exponentially. Call the police.

Then it is up to the police to use her description, locate the driver, interview the driver and determine whether he is a genuine threat to anyone’s safety, or just a clueless guy trying too hard to be helpful. He might need to be educated about “no means no, even from a child you are trying to help.”

Only if there was an ACTUAL, GENUINE threat should everyone in the district have been notified to be on the lookout for this man and his car.

I remember an older man back in Oregon who loved to give candy to other people’s kids. He hung out at our grocery store and would walk up to kids and give them candy from his pocket.

The first time he tried to do that with my daughter I told him no thanks because she was too young for candy. He thanked me for being so polite and confided in me that so many parents these days got upset with him and that some had even called security.

I asked him, as gently as I could, if he knew why. He was truly, honestly baffled.

I explained the new fears of stranger danger and men with candy, and how his actions might be perceived as threatening or dangerous. He was shocked. And hurt. He was just a nice, lonely old man who lived in a nursing home and liked making kids smile.

“Next time, try asking the parent first – before you talk to their child. See if it helps.”

The next time I saw him, he shook my hand and said that he had much more luck, and that even though most parents still wouldn’t let him give their kids candy, they at least let him say hello and talk to them for a minute. That was all he had really wanted. He just didn’t know how to navigate the new standards of behavior.

I remember another story from a man who drove past a girl who looked distressed on the side of the road. It was raining and there was a small flash-flood. He thought about stopping to offer her a ride, but he was scared to do so because he was alone and he knew how that would look – single guy picking up a young girl in his car – so he kept driving.

The next day the front page of the local newspaper had a picture of the girl. She had slipped, fallen down an embankment and drowned in the swollen ditch at the bottom.

He has never forgiven himself for not offering her a ride. But his fear of OUR fear prevented him from offering her the help that would have saved her life.

This is the consequence of demonizing all men, or criminalizing all men, or teaching fear of all men.

When we slap men with the predator label and treat them as if they are guilty until they prove their innocence, we create a box that we can’t see through, trapping men in our negative assumptions of them. We cloak them in our worst first thinking and they never have an opportunity to prove us wrong.

If a guy trying to help a child get home safely is labeled a threat without due process, what hope is there for all the many, many men who are trying to be helpers?

 

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Filed under Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist

All the Good Men

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most men are good, decent, kind and think of violence as a last-last-resort.

I’m going to go further out on the limb and say that we absolutely need to start talking about this and celebrating it. We absolutely need to start talking about the majority of men who do not engage in violence, in misogyny, or in other socially derided “bad” behaviors.

I’m going to break the limb by saying that celebrating and honoring the vast majority of men who are “good” does not in any way diminish or distract from the many conversations about gender violence, sexism, misogyny, and rape culture that are concurrently taking place.

I believe to the core of my being that we not only CAN simultaneously condemn violence and celebrate non-violence – we MUST.

People who know about my absolute train-wreck of a dating history are usually surprised by a few aspects of me as an adult.

They’re shocked that I am married, to a man.

They’re shocked that a slight majority of my friends are male.

They’re shocked that I am comfortable in a room full of men and at male dominated events and that I have worked in male dominated fields.

They’re shocked, in short, that I trust men.

After all, my personal history alone could be cited in any study of male violence as proof-positive that men are violent.

Except, um, it can’t. Because that’s not actually what it proves.

It can prove, anecdotally, the same thing statistics already tell us – the majority of violence against women is perpetuated by males. BUT the majority of males are NOT violent toward women.

So when a woman gets attacked for taking a moment to give a shout out to the many, many good guys out there, I’m going to come to her – and their – defense.

Because she’s right.

Most men are good. They far outweigh the bad.

And it’s important for us to talk about it, to celebrate it, and to remember it.

Here’s why.

Violence and fear beget violence and fear.

This does not mean that we should tolerate violence, misogyny, misandry, sexism, racism, hate speech, or any form of abuse.

It does not mean we should excuse bad behavior.

Not at all.

But if that is all that we focus on – the bad, the negative, the ugly – that is what we perpetuate.

I’m going to do a risky thing and bring Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman into this conversation because they are the most recent and well-known example of what I am trying to illustrate.

Trayvon Martin is dead because George Zimmerman was socialized to expect the worst from young black men with hoodies who walk at night.

But what if the image we had of young black men was this story about a couple of teens who rescued a young girl from her abductor? Or these young men who rushed in to help a little girl.

What if that was the norm that we heard about, instead of just the silent norm that actually is?

Perhaps then a young black man with a bag of skittles wouldn’t seem so threatening.

Lenore Skenazy over at Free-Range Kids talks about this all the time – this constant demonizing of men, and how it is harming our society, our nation.

I do not take violence against women lightly.

But I refuse to believe that it is the default setting for half of the world’s population.

That’s why is it so important to talk up the majority of men who are “good.”

To lower the fear, to change the dynamic, to empower women to walk into a conference, or into the world, confident and able to assume good intent from her fellow humans, rather than walking in fear, looking over her shoulder, seeking an attack, wary of all males.

To empower men to be good guys, to give them not just an example of good behavior (I don’t think most men need this, I think most men live this) but also to give them the expectation of good intent – that is to say, to set high standards for all our citizens.

So that we don’t normalize fear and violence.

So that we don’t create a culture – at conferences or in the world – where people shiver under the expectation of violence.

So that we remember that violence is the exception, that’s what makes it newsworthy.

We must shine light after light after light on the good guys, and gals, so that we can hold them up and say – THIS is what real men and women look like.

THIS is what we expect from our citizens.

THIS works. This is what we want more of.

Are we rewarding men for doing what any decent human should do? Perhaps. But I’ll be honest, I like a little positive feedback myself. I like knowing when I get it right. It helps me be better, and I share the knowledge with others – so the goodness can spread.

In my book, we can’t have too much goodness.

So yes, let’s celebrate what’s right in our communities. That doesn’t take away from trying to fix what’s wrong, in fact, it helps make the whole community stronger, which makes it easier to identify and fix any problems.

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Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant, Things that work