In light of the #metoo posts, I’ve seen a handful of men delve into intense shame and anxiety regarding their actions, many of which they didn’t even realize were problematic until recently. To those men, I would like to say this:
I didn’t know any better either. I didn’t know any better, and so I was complicit.
We were born into a patriarchy. Just as white people have to work actively to unlearn the racism they were born into, both men and women must work actively to deconstruct the patriarchal system we’ve been conditioned to think is normal.
So here’s my acknowledgement of my own participation:
I edited myself down because I was taught that you couldn’t handle my full expression. Most of you couldn’t, but I wasn’t doing you any favors by not inviting you to rise to the challenge.
I made myself into a sex object because I was taught that that was the only way I could be valuable, the only way I could earn your protection.
I laughed at your rape jokes because I thought being complicit in my own oppression would make you like me.
I participated in many, many boys’ club atmospheres where I was regarded as a beautiful prop, because it was easier to win playing by the rules than breaking them.
I stopped enforcing my boundaries. I don’t remember when, but I’m pretty sure I was very young. At some point, I gave up and resigned myself to “the way things are.” As an adult, this meant that I often let you force yourselves on me without my consent, because I was too tired to fight back.
I enabled your abuse of me. I thought if I just kept complying that you would love me and treat me better. I complied to the point of giving you all my money, sex, service, and emotional labor. At times I let you nearly destroy me. I babied you because I didn’t believe you could be better, because I had no role models showing me you could.
I allowed you to abuse me to the point where we were both convinced I was mentally ill, because I didn’t understand trauma reactions, because I didn’t understand that you were abusing me, because I thought that this was just normal and there was something wrong with me for not being able to handle it.
I underestimated you. I thought you were only after one thing, because that’s what society taught me about you.
I led with my sexuality, because I believed that was all you wanted from me. I swallowed my thoughts, dumbed myself down, and sometimes even satirized you before your very eyes without your awareness, because I had made myself into a caricature of everything you said you wanted me to be, and you had no idea that I was just playing a role. Sometimes I secretly laughed at you. But I kept doing it anyway.
And in some instances I was so sex-forward with you that I actually ignored your needs for softness and intimacy. I jumped to sex without enough foreplay for both of us, I shied away from cuddling because I had been shamed out of it, I ribbed on you when you did things that went against the toxic masculine code of behavior. I did this because I was taught that wanting a man who was gentle with me was an impossibly risible pipe dream, that I’d be made fun of and rejected for even holding such a hope, that such men only existed in movies and fairytales. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize how accustomed I had become to brutality. I didn’t know I was allowed to want tenderness. I blocked myself from receiving it from you because it was simply less painful to not get my hopes up. And sometimes I wonder if in doing this I hurt you too, if maybe I forced sex on you that you didn’t so much want as feel you were SUPPOSED to want, if maybe I also deprived you of the genuine tenderness you were seeking from me but were too afraid to ask for.
Yes, I’m angry at you, but I also failed you in many ways, just as I failed myself. I let you walk all over me in many ways and I kept complying, complying, complying, because in the patriarchy we were born into, that seemed like the most viable strategy.
I did this because I didn’t know any better.
And chances are you didn’t know any better either. Because I’m pretty fucking smart, but like anyone entering a new world, I first sought out to adapt to its rules. And it took me three decades before I realized that the system was completely broken.
If you’re just learning this now too, please forgive yourself. Guilt has a function, and that function is to help us have self-awareness and to make better choices in the future. Beyond that, it can turn toxic, fester into self-hatred, and end up doing far more harm than it’s meant to.
We were all stupid – or at least brainwashed. We grew up with this. It’s up to us now to do better, but we MUST forgive ourselves for where we were simply ignorant. In many ways, we did things for which we are responsible but which aren’t entirely our fault. We’re paying for the sins of our fathers. This isn’t about how bad we are as individuals; this is about how bad this world is as a planet and especially how bad this country is as a nation and about how we are all responsible for our part in creating something better.
Yes, I am calling you to look inward – and outward – and do better. This is crucial.
But I am also calling you to forgive yourselves. Please move forward with me. The sooner the better that we heal ourselves and leave this past behind.