Often when I’ve stumbled into a discussion about rape-culture, whether it be a general discussion or on a more specific sub-issue within that (including things such as: male entitlement, objectification of women, degrading of women, sexual harassment, general sexism, etc.), I’ve often caught myself having a recoil moment.
That moment when I’d go from feeling like a cheerleader to feeling like I was the chief defendant?
It happened every time I heard the term, “all men.”
As soon as that term came out, I’d find myself defensive and almost angry. As a Christian, I think it’s part of the human condition to ignore the ways we may have contributed to making the world more broken, instead of less. I also think that it feels *really* good to say, “I thank you Lord that I am not like other men…” (Luke 18:11)
That fact that I caught myself continually feeling defensive when people talked about “men” in a broad, general way, led me to realize I had to do some real soul-searching as to why that was happening. Thankfully, through an extended period of reflection, getting honest with myself, and through some difficult conversations with female friends where I managed to set aside my defensive posture long enough to learn something, I had a paradigm shift– one that I hope all the men out there who follow me will have too.
Here’s the deal guys: While it’s true that not all of us share the same degree of being guilty, being less guilty than someone else is not the same thing as being innocent.
Many of us already understand this concept when it comes to white supremacy. For example, just because I don’t belong to the KKK doesn’t mean that I have no share of guilt in upholding a culture of white supremacy. Just because my children are people of color doesn’t give me a free pass for direct or passive complicity in racism.
The same holds true when it comes to rape culture: Just because I haven’t raped someone doesn’t mean I’m innocent of being complicit and contributing to a culture of sexism that oppresses, objectifies, and harms women in an exhaustive list of ways.
Being less guilty than someone else is not the same thing as being innocent.
Through my process, I was able to get to a point where I saw the “all men” comments in a way where I could finally understand them, and accept that yes– this rightly included me, too. And the reason why it really is “all men” is this:
We all live within, and have been influenced by, a culture that has historically been and continues to be oppressive and harmful to women. We have all been influenced by this culture to one degree or another. We’ve all had certain harmful beliefs, sexist attitudes, or inappropriate behaviors normalized for us, to one degree or another. And yes, we have all expressed some of these attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors, to one degree or another.
Just because some men have been influenced more, does not mean the rest haven’t been at all. When we’re talking about a culture, no one is left untouched.
None of us are innocent– no matter how badly we wish we were.
As I follow the #MeToo campaign where women share their personal experiences from this harmful culture, I’m also seeing progressive men give expressions of solidarity and support. Some of these have been sincere and beautiful, and have more importantly included an acknowledgement that yes, they too have contributed to those hurts.
But many of these expressions of support and solidarity are premature, in my view. You see, long before we become cheerleaders I think we need to spend some time acknowledging and accepting that, yes– it really is all men. It has been all of us who have created and sustained a culture that led to the #MeToo campaign, and it is all of us– not just those people who we think have a more egregious degree of guilt– who have something to say in the #ImSorry response.
I am deeply skeptical of any of my fellow progressive males out there who post these expressions of solidarity, but who have yet to have the humility to publicly admit personal complicity in the problem. It’s only once we acknowledge this that we are able to begin a journey of learning, growing, stretching, changing, and becoming an agent of change.
As I look back at the man I was 20 years ago, I grieve over the deeply sexist attitudes I expressed and for the harmful fundamentalist view of women I perpetuated in my own heart, and in the heart of others. I grieve over the sexist jokes I told as if they were harmless, and the times I laughed along with the crowd. I feel sick to my stomach as I remember inappropriate comments I’ve made, realizing that just thinking them in my heart was bad enough– and that actually expressing it out loud was even worse. As much as I’d like to say the gray-haired me is a different person than the man I was 20 years ago, I know that “all men” still includes me, today.
While I have changed and grown as a person, I’m still deeply aware of my complicity– especially when it intersects with my tendency to avoid personal conflict.
I grieve over the time a creepy older guy in the checkout aisle was looking a younger woman up and down inappropriately, and that she had to forcefully tell him to leave her alone when he then tried to engage her. I was proud of her, but ashamed of me– I should have said something first, but I didn’t because I was uncomfortable. My lack of action made me complicit, and I’m so sorry that she probably went home rightly believing that I condoned his behavior.
I grieve over the time I had to confront a peer for using their position of power and public influence to hit on a woman, but that I felt so much hesitancy in my own heart as I did it, because I was worried that holding him accountable was going to come at a personal cost to me. My fear and hesitation reminded me that being complicit is still the easy choice, but that it shouldn’t be. It’s a choice I’ve made many times in my life, but it’s not one I want to make anymore.
Yes, “all men” includes me. And for the ways I have contributed directly or collectively to the harm of women, I am sorry. But what I’m more sorrowful about is this: I have no doubt that I’ll do it again. These attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that were engrained in us run deep, and are not washed away overnight. I don’t think for one minute that I have arrived on solid ground. So for me personally, what’s more important than saying I’m sorry is saying this: When I am complicit, I am willing to be held accountable.
Accepting that “all men” includes me, and that “all men” includes you, is the only first step I can think of if we truly want to change culture. Until we acknowledge that we have all been influenced by this culture, and until we can acknowledge that we have all participated and continue to participate in this culture (with varying degrees of guilt), we will simply continue passing this harmful culture to the next generation.
They say the best “I’m sorry” is not doing it anymore.
But to be honest?
I just don’t see how we’d be able to commit to not doing it anymore, until we admit that we’re all somehow complicit in actually doing it.