Tag Archives: Men

#MeToo

There is only one way to begin this post, which is to acknowledge that I have been incredibly, incredibly lucky and that I’m writing from a place and position of privilege, safety, and security. I’m writing to honor the women and men who have come forward with their stories and to encourage those who remain locked in worlds of hurt and shame. If you haven’t spoken up because you feel that you have no one to tell, I’m here to listen to you.

I thought about writing this when the #MeToo movement first gained ground, but I didn’t. Again, I am incredibly lucky. I didn’t want my uncomfortable experience to be misconstrued as a cry for attention and I didn’t want it to take away from the “real stories” that people were telling. And frankly, my grandparents read this blog and this isn’t something I want them to read. (Sorry, grandparents.)

But the more I thought about it, half the problem is that I feel like I need to justify what I’m going to say. And then today happened.


A man filmed me while I was running this afternoon. I realized this as I ran towards him and he didn’t move from where he was standing on the path, holding up his phone. There was a glint in his eyes that went right through me and a leer that made his actions apparent. Instead of knocking his phone out of his hands or spitting at him, both of which I was close enough to do because I was hellbent on making it obvious that I knew what he was doing, I snapped, “Totally in the way” loudly enough for him to hear me and ran past him.

My heart rate sped up and I felt my legs begin to pump faster. Hello, fight or flight. I tried to relax my breathing and stopped running. I sat on the rocks by the beach until my body felt normal again.

This experience reminded me of being tickled from behind for the entirety of a crammed three-hour bus ride. It reminded me of all the times I’ve been whistled at, catcalled, stared at, and approached while walking down the street. I thought of the podcast I heard this morning about sexual assault in the entertainment industry. And I thought about the time I repeatedly used the words, “no”, “stop”, “don’t”, and “get off” before he finally did.

The only time I’ve ever alluded to this experience on this blog was when I wrote about my online dating experiences in New York. The guy I’m talking about is one I named “The Guy With Two Faces”. That post was supposed to be light, airy, and humorous.

This one is not.


The first night we went out, he walked me home and then asked if he could come up and use my washroom. I knew that was coming because he hadn’t let go of my hand for the entire walk. New York isn’t a city known for its public washrooms and it wasn’t an unreasonable request. Against my better judgement and because I really do understand that plight, I said yes.

He wasn’t the first person who had walked me home but he was the first to ask to come upstairs and I didn’t know how to get rid of him. I didn’t want him in my apartment. I didn’t want what was next in the script of “boy pays for a nice evening and girls pays him back”. But that’s the script we was running.

What made me uncomfortable wasn’t anything we did that night, but his insistence that we do it. In my experience, people are usually a little cautious at first and let me lead. That was not how this worked. He was very strong and forced on me things that I did not want. And I didn’t kick him or punch him or scream because I figured it was easier to play along. I also figured I’d given enough mixed signals because of my own confusion that he actually may not have realized that I did not want to participate. In many aspects of life, I am bad at saying no. This was no different.

We went out again because we did have a lot to talk about and he was really sweet over text messages. I reasoned that nothing had really been that bad, that I hadn’t gotten hurt, and that this time I just wouldn’t let him come upstairs. Easy enough.

But I hadn’t solved the problem of not knowing what to say when he asked if he could use my washroom. So again, he came upstairs. Again, I couldn’t get him to leave. I couldn’t figure out how to simply open the door and say goodbye. I failed at acting as my own agent.

This time, he wouldn’t put on a condom and all of my protesting and squirming didn’t seem to register. He whispered in my ear, “Don’t you trust me?”

Done playing, I replied, “No. I hardly know you.” And that was when I figured myself out. I kicked myself out from underneath him and shoved him off, which was easier than I had expected, likely because it came as a surprise. I told him to get out of my apartment.

I can’t actually remember what happened next. Part of me thinks he asked to take a shower and part of me thinks that if this happened, I probably said yes. But part of me thinks he just left. I’m sure it’s written in a journal somewhere but I really can’t remember. When I described this to several girlfriends later, I said he’d “given me sass about using a condom.” All could relate, too familiar with that scenario.

Reader, we out again. I was lonely, it was a nice day, and walking around the city with a buddy seemed like more fun than doing it on my own. He kept trying to direct our walk towards my neighborhood. I kept turning the other way. He finally said, “Look, I don’t have all day.” I made up a story about my roommate having friends staying with us.

“So?” he asked.

“I’m shy,” I said.

His hands were all over me in the middle of the street and he muttered, “You don’t look shy to me.”

I saw people on the opposite side of the street and loudly demanded, “Stop” and pulled away. He saw the people, too. He stopped and we kept walking. Eventually, he said he had work to do and led us towards his office. On a random street corner with no office in sight, he announced that we’d reached his destination. We said goodbye. I went into the first coffee shop I passed and sat there for hours.

I didn’t reply to the message he sent me weeks later and never saw him again.


Although I have a number of concerns and questions about the #MeToo movement, this is not the time for those. This is the time to say that yes, me.

And you, and you, and you.

I do not know anyone who has not been touched by this movement in some way, even if it’s just through degrees of separation. And in case someone in my world hasn’t understood that yet, here’s my story. So now you’re part of this, too.

As a society, I hope we can do two things to move forward. First, I hope we can talk to young people about what it means to have a relationship. We talk to students a lot about actions (this is what sex is, this an STD, this how to use a condom) but very little about what it means to love, value, and respect another person. Love is a verb. What does that verb mean? What does that verb require of you and of someone else? We need to talk about that. We need to talk about consent. We need to talk about how we enter into relationships and why the agreement of both parties matters. We need to talk about how we relate as humans and how we come to know each other. Consenting to embark on any journey together is essential to the journey’s success. We need to have conversations about that.

Secondly, we need to allow adults to have conversations about the very human desire for intimacy. It’s still strange to me that so many people meet in the workplace and then feel the need to keep their relationships secret. After all, the workplace is where you’re supposed to turn off the part of yourself that is human. This then becomes the place where you’re probably the least honest with yourself and with those around you. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask a stranger to coffee, but you’re not supposed to think of a colleague, someone you actually know, in the same way. And if you do, and if you voice those thoughts, you run the risk of a sexual harassment claim even if a rejection is respected and never brought up again. Why is that? Why are we prohibited to be human around the people with whom we spend the most time?

I think these are questions worth considering and I know there’s more to ask, to say, and to do. We will have come a long way when #MeToo leads us to rebuild the society we live in.

What makes a man?

“Alexander Hamilton,” my friend declared after listening through Act Two of the musical, “was not a good man.”

Well. That depends. If we’re judging the measure of a man by his faithfulness to his wife then no, Alexander Hamilton was not a good man. And neither were Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, nor Albert Einstein. All of whom, I would argue, are key figures in building the world we live in today and who did more good than anything else. But to say they were not good men because of marital transgressions seems to unfairly dilute and discolor their legacies as individuals who built a world.

Yet, my friend’s comment leaves me wondering: What makes a man? What makes a woman? More importantly, what makes a good man or woman?

Is a good man one who puts his family or his wife first? To me, that sounds like a good father or a good husband.

Then, what is a good man?

Is a good man someone who puts work, money, and providing before everything else? To me, that sounds like an employee or employer, a breadwinner, a producer.

And I continue to wonder, what is a good man?

Is a good man someone who has ideals, stands for them, writes them, shouts them from the rooftops? That could be an orator. That could be a leader.

It seems to me that all of these characteristics comprise the entirety of a man, just as they also comprise what makes a woman.

So what is it about people who stray, who are unfaithful, who seek a plurality of relationships of varying types and intensities that puts them in the “not good” category?

I wonder about that.

And I wonder about the other categories that we all fall into. I’m an educator, a daughter, a sister, a friend. I’m a runner, a yogi. Once upon a time, I was a dancer, a singer, a girlfriend. Do any of those things make me a “good” woman? What is a good woman? Is a good woman different from a good man?

And so back to, what makes a good man?

I’d argue that we need a social conversation about our goals for the people that we are developing, the people that we are creating. I’d argue that what makes a good man or a good woman can be discussed as simply, what makes a good person? 

We want people who care about other people. We want people who work for sustainable worlds built on justice, happiness, security, and increased well-being for all. We want people who care about those around them and who are willing to put others first and do what is right for the good of the whole. That seems to me less about being a good man or good woman and more about simply being a good human.

What makes a good man? What makes a good woman? That depends on who you ask.

What makes a good human, at least as far as I’m concerned, is the much more important question.

 

Building Peace: Reconsidering Masculinity and Femininity

Over coffee a few months ago, a friend and I asked ourselves the following question: What character traits and values should society be promoting in order to best create sustainable well-being for all?

Because we had both recently finished reading Peace Education: How We Come to Love and Hate War by Nel Noddings, one lens to use in answering this question jumped out. We began discussing it as the difference embodied in masculine and feminine traits and values. It appeared obvious to us at the time that the majority of masculine traits and values, which are promoted, advertised, and sold to us, largely stand in the way of universal well-being and their opposite traits and values, embodied in feminist ideology, mostly contribute to a better, more peaceful world.

There seemed to be a clear disconnect between what society espouses it desires and the values it endorses in attempting to actualize those visions of a better society for individuals to live in. This post aims to explore the masculine and feminine values in our society, and the ways that we actually do (or do not) promote a better world.

What We Teach
The easiest way to think about this question is to consider what we teach our youngest children or students. We want them to be kind, caring, and compassionate. We show them how to cooperate, collaborate, play together, and form friendships. We praise children who are gentle with other children and who help those around them.

All of these qualities are undoubtedly positive and certainly enhance the relationships between individuals for the better, thus contributing to overall well-being. When we teach our children to take turns in the sandbox so that no one feels left out or left behind, we do it with the hopes that they will grow into adults who are responsive to others’ needs. When we do not care about others, including those we do not know, we are less likely to see them as deserving of the same rights, privileges, and opportunities as we are. An accepting, non-discriminatory society therefore depends on caring relations between individuals. The time we spend teaching caring to our children demonstrates its importance in all aspects of our societies and communities.

Similarly, we spend countless hours teaching our children to cooperate and work together. We want them to entertain themselves as a group, solve problems collaboratively, and develop strong bonds with others. When children see themselves as friends, they are happy to be around those people; adults are the same way. There is a certain satisfaction to a high-five for teamwork after completing a difficult puzzle or solving a challenging problem in tandem with others that is not the same alone. Cooperation towards a common goal, whether with one person or with hundreds around the globe, means that any number of people will benefit from the realization of that goal. The aim of achieving greater well-being on a large scale is clearly embraced through cooperation.

Cooperation naturally leads to and stems from connection to others. This connection can be brief and shared only for the time that the problem or project lasts, or it can extend beyond into a true friendship. As people spend more time working together, their connection will deepen, whether they are friends or not. We help children interact with others and engage in activities with like-minded individuals in the hopes that they will form friendships. This way, we know that they have people to rely on, people to turn to in times of need, and people who make them feel good about themselves. Those who have deep connections with others tend to be happier in their personal lives, which also leads to taking more actions that increase the well-being of others.

Femininity
The qualities discussed above (caring, compassion, kindness, collaboration, friendships, and gentleness) are traditionally associated with girls and women. These feminine qualities clearly enhance existence and society should promote them in order to best contribute to well-being for all. However, society has an unnecessarily complicated relationship with feminine qualities. We praise girls and women when we call them caring, kind, and gentle but we have actively turned these words into insults for boys and men. We derisively ask, “Why do you care so much?” We hurl at young men, “Don’t be such a pussy!” “Boys don’t cry,” we remind young children who are hurting. As a society we have deliberately chosen not to associate compassion, kindness, and caring (positive feminine qualities) with the qualities that undoubtedly serve to increase the well-being of others.

Instead, femininity is tied to physical beauty, as indicated in this Google Image search:

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 5.00.13 PM

When we whittle femininity down to physical appearance, we devalue everything else that comes with it. Furthermore, we turn femininity into an abhorrence and an embarrassment. If femininity is merely associated with physicality, who wants to be considered feminine? Even the images of “strong women” above are first and foremost images of physical beauty.

This realization is troubling because it indicates that while we consider feminine traits and values of utmost importance when teaching children, we do not carry that message through as children develop into adults. Instead, we focus on femininity’s foil: masculinity.

Masculinity
In direct contrast to femininity, masculinity is generally associated with strength, competition, aggression, individualism, and violence. Overwhelmingly, these are the qualities that society has chosen to promote. A great deal of media are devoted to exercise, sports contests, how to promote oneself, and how to stand out of the crowd. Violence is an accepted part of television and film. Street fights and scuffles among adolescents to solve conflicts are considered “kids being kids” or, more often, “boys being boys”. (Physical fighting between girls, interestingly, is a spectacle.)

The Google Image search below clearly reflects these ideas of masculinity:

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 5.00.36 PM

As demonstrated in the above examples, a society that aims to increase well-being for all must promote the opposite qualities. Competition lies in direct contrast to cooperation. When we teach children that there must always be a winner and a loser, we are sending the message that equality and equity are neither desirable nor possible and that success is equal to winning. Furthermore, we indicate that the way to win is to do it alone, which is incompatible with working for the betterment of all.  We have objectified others, literally turning them into objects that we need to overcome, rather than looking at them as subjects that we to know and understand. We have thus stolen their humanity.

Similarly, the all too common displays of aggression are far from caring for those around us. Aggression means a continuous display of strength and a celebration of strength. Where does that leave those who need help? What role are they relegated to in society? Choosing to value aggression automatically devalues anyone who is not aggressive, and those who are not aggressive are not strong. Traditionally, this refers to women, children, and the elderly, leaving younger men as the ones who matter the most. Obviously, this is a ludicrous statement. However, that is the decision we have made as a result of our emphasis on aggression, strength, and violence.

Moving Forward
It is clear that what society espouses it desires for the world does not match the values it actually endorses. We are not promoting the values that would create sustainable well-being and a better, more peaceful world for all. We need to move away from masculine traits and qualities and embrace feminine traits and qualities if we hope to increase well-being and develop a more peaceful world.

One way to accomplish this would be to adjust the language that we use, especially around young people. Let’s use emotion as an example. Many young boys will decide it’s not okay to show emotion (caring and compassion are feminine values) and this is because of the message that we have chosen to send (men are strong and the strong don’t cry – aggression is very much a masculine value). Instead, we need to reframe how we approach those around us. If we can see tears as a sign of what they are, feeling, and if feeling is a demonstration of concern for others, we should embrace the tears and feelings that tie us together as humans.

Rather than referring to strength as a physical quality, we need to reframe it as the ability to endorse the values that we espouse, these feminine qualities that will actually make the world a better place. It takes a far stronger individual to resist conformist and socialization pressures than to hit harder or run faster than the next person.

We also need to exercise caution with words of praise. Girls are often told that they are beautiful, but this is a comment on what they look like rather than who they are. If we value our girls as more than their appearance, we need to use words that emphasize precisely what we value about them. Perhaps they are helpful, kind, or generous. Developing an identity around being helpful, for example, provides a way forward to developing a more peaceful world.

The same is true for boys. Commenting on how big and strong they are does not go a long way when what we actually care about is their humanity. Instead of emphasizing these qualities that lead to competition and violence, we are better off focusing on what makes our boys helpful, kind, or generous.

If we truly want a better, more peaceful world with sustainable well-being for all, rethinking how we talk to one another is a good place to start.