Please consider what I am saying fully before you throw up your hands and stop reading. Every woman on this planet – IF she has ever truly spoken with her sisters or her friends in confidence – or if she has ever read the news or even a book – has heard the stories. Horror stories. True horror stories. The true horrific stories of what men do to women. I will not detail these stories here because you know them already. And if you don’t (I don’t know how that’s possible but…if you TRULY don’t…) feel free to visit any one of the following reputable websites to read the stories I’m referring to:
And these are just three reputable websites that deal with sexual violence. There are many others. And then there is other violence. Domestic violence. Child abuse. Killings. Female Genital Mutilation. Mass Rape as a weapon of war. Some of these violences, like the last I mention, are carried out on a grand, sweeping scale. They are easily seen. It is easy to notice how they destroy lives, communities, families, our humanity. But many of these violences are carried out so privately that they are not even a whisper. They are carried out so secretly that the women and girl-children they are carried out on, don’t even know what to call them or what to do with them or how to tell anyone or that they even should tell anyone. These violences are the shards of shame that hide at the back of this girl or woman’s heart; buried so deeply, they turn to stunning diamonds of self-hatred and self-mutilation.
And YES – YES YES YES YES YES – I KNOW “it happens to men too.” Yes, I know it happens to men too. Men can be victims too. Boys are victims too. I KNOOOOOOOOW!!!!! And, GUESS WHAT? STATISTICALLY it is FACT that when boys and men are victims of similar violences, they are the victims of OTHER MEN! ALSO… YES some women are violent, become violent, toward their children, their husbands, their families, the world-at-large. YES.
And that brings me back to my miracle: that more of us are not.
Do you know why we get our wisdom teeth taken out as a matter of normal mainstream dental hygiene these days?… why we are put through a minor to major (depending on your age), sedated, “surgery” as just a FACT OF LIFE? Because there’s a less than 30% chance that those wisdom teeth will cause you trouble in later life. THIRTY PERCENT!!!
Rainn.org estimates that over 90% of rape and sexual assault is carried out by men.
The world health organization estimates that over 75% of ALL violent crime – the world over-- is carried out by men.
These are the percentages we are talking about. 75%. 90%. These are HUGE percentages. These are SIGNIFICANT percentages. If men were wisdom teeth, they’d be taken out at birth – not allowed to roam the streets for decades, while we all cross our fingers and hope for the best.
NOW… what I just said is ABSURD. I DO NOT want men to be “taken out” any more than Jonathan Swift actually wanted the rich to eat poor people’s babies like chicken. Like Swift, I propose such an absurd and horrid idea simply to make my point. That if we are going purely by statistics, men are dangerous – particularly to women.
I have never been more in love with a man than I am at this moment. My husband is perhaps the greatest man that I have ever known. He has made his mistakes. I have made mine. We are not perfect. But we have learned to love one another, wholly, in our imperfections. And I hope, very much, that this love lasts until my very last breath on this planet – and, if such a thing really exists, even into whatever adventure comes next. None of this is an exaggeration.
I also adore my boy-child who is quickly becoming a young man. I think he is a stunning creature. I love his mind. I love his wildness. I love his sweetness. I love his incessant talking. I love his passion. I love that he is so obviously part of a NEW generation of young men who will even perhaps change the very problem I am trying to talk to you about right now.
And I think… I have a suspicion… that there are many many men in the world like my two men. I think some of those men like my two men are readers of this blog. I think they are men who, like any good human being, work to process their anger when it comes rather than doing something stupid with it. I think they are men who allow themselves to love HUGE and STRONG and limitless – the way only women have been allowed to do by our culture since forever. I think they are men who disregard – and perhaps even have to work ACTIVELY to disregard – the suggestions they receive from our society about what a “real” man is; hard-hearted, too-tough for cuddling, incapable of feeling deeply, etc…. I think these are good men. They are men that I (despite everything in my cellular memory and life experience that tells me to behave to the contrary) TRUST.
There is simply no way, without going into ridiculous detail and spending some time with you over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee, friends, that I can impress upon you how much MY TRUST is worth and how very very very very very very very very very very very very very hard it is to come by. If I give it, it is a particularly rare gift. If someone breaks it, they have broken something precious and something I am not likely to give – EVER -- again.
But then… I am a woman, after all. And forgiveness and acceptance of people’s (particularly men’s) rough handling of me and my emotions is probably one of the emotional gymnastics that I do best. And this – yes, finally – brings me back to this miracle.
Yesterday, thousands – THOUSANDS – of women came to the campus where I teach. They walked on campus in the morning. They parked in the J-wing parking lot. They walked to their classes. They sat next to their male classmates. They walked the halls with their male peers. They talked, pleasantly, with their male colleagues. They smiled. They… SMILED! They laughed. They did the work that was expected of them. They left school late. They walked to their cars alone. In the dark. In parking lots that do not have cameras – in parking lots that do not even have the cameras that the cheapest company in the world has for their customers’ safety. They went home to their families; their little boys, their husbands, their fathers. They were sweet. They were kind. They were stronger than most men can comprehend on a level that most men can’t comprehend.
Why is any of this miraculous? Because the night before, every student from my college received a notice that a woman had been raped in the J-wing parking lot. And then every woman that came to my campus the next day had to hear how it was probably a lie. And every woman on my campus had to deal with whatever their own issues are surrounding sexual assault or rape and many many many more women on my campus have their own issues surrounding sexual assault or rape than ANY of us know.
Recently, an education specialist from a local woman’s shelter came to my campus and gave a small number of faculty a presentation that included this statistic: about 3% of all sexual assault accusations end up being fabrications. 3% -- maybe they wouldn’t take our wisdom teeth out if the percentage was THAT small because that number is SO SMALL as to not even be STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT people! And yet, that was the FIRST line of defense I heard when I came to campus the next day: “She was probably lying.” “She seemed crazy.”
Yes. Yes. She probably did seem crazy.
Because guess what? Being raped is actually a pretty fucked-up, crazy thing and it doesn’t make you calm or collected or cool-headed. It doesn’t make you sound “normal,” or even that you know what you’re talking about. It is not that kind of scene, baby.
And yet, it’s on her, isn’t it? SHE has to prove it’s true. SHE has to convince you to give a fuck about her, to believe her, to care that this happens to anyone ever.
And what does the man who did it have to do?
NOTHING. Hang out. Enjoy the beautiful smiles and the peeling laughter and the polite banter of his (tough as nails, pushing through the pain of all the shit of their lives) female classmates until he finds another victim. That’s all. Lucky him.
The miracle is we let him exist – and he could be any man. He could be any man. Because guess what? We can’t tell you guys apart… not really. Sometimes we think you’re a good one and you end up being a bad one. Sometimes we’re sure you’re a bad one but then you end up being a good one. So, it’s all the same. You could be a threat. You could be a friend. Instead of treating you all as a threat, the miracle is, we walk around every single day, with kindness, with love, with respect (your species, as a whole, probably doesn’t deserve), with forgiveness – forgiveness, endless forgiveness for the deeds done by YOUR brethren. THAT is how badass women are. Every. Single. Day. We open our hearts to you, our minds to you, we give you the gift of our trust. EVERY. DAY.
Now, it’s important to note that SOME women are only able to do accomplish this miracle by buying into the hatred of other women. And this is not really that shocking. When a child is abused – sexually or otherwise – do you know who they blame? Themselves. They don’t know who else TO blame. They CAN’T possibly blame the adult they depend on for everything – if they told themselves they couldn’t trust THAT adult, their world would crumble. They have to blame themselves. And so this hatred of ourselves, of other women, is really common among women. Some of us just aren’t strong enough to face the truth – that these horror stories are real. When women can’t handle the truth of these horror stories, they simply blame other women for being liars or sluts or dumbasses who walk at night alone. In order to be able to smile at men, laugh with men, politely banter with men, they have to turn their back on women (on themselves) because it’s the only method of garnering enough strength to be able to make that miracle occur. And those of us who know better, we have to forgive these self-hating women too. That’s how big our hearts have to be.
So, I’ve pointed out this miracle. I am fascinated by it. I’m fascinated by it in myself and my relationships with men and the hetero marriages I see around me and the male-female friendships I see around me. I am fascinated by how I handle myself when I have to pay for gas and the young male cashier at the counter jokes around with me about the weather. It’s. ALWAYS. There. Those stories. I always know those stories. I always have to be getting over and getting beyond and dealing with and handling and managing and overcoming THOSE stories. And forgiving. And forgiving. And forgiving.
Last night, I ran a poetry reading at a coffee shop in Saginaw. One of my star students showed up, ready with his poems which are divine. I am filled with pride and happiness for him when I think of how his work has grown and matured and moved into a richness I’m, quite frankly, jealous of at times! This amazing, tender, tough, tenacious student told me he was so messed up by what had happened on campus. He said he had gone through so many emotions. He said he was, finally, at this moment, really angry. And it took me a few moments… maybe it even took me the whole night… to process how I went to campus thinking about this miracle, thinking about how any man could be a threat or a friend and how the hell was I supposed to tell them apart? I thought about how I stared every man down that I saw. I DARE you to keep looking into my eyes – so maybe I can see who you really are. Are you a friend? Or are you THE enemy? I thought about how I couldn’t even look at most of my male colleagues – about how I didn’t even want to give them a moment of my time. For once – for ONE MINUTE – let me take care of MY SISTERS – let this world not be about YOU!!! I wasn’t the least bit surprised when this beautiful being – this male student of mine – expressed the emotions he had felt about the rape that occurred on my campus. But I WAS surprised by MY feeling of… I don’t’ know what it was… relief? That he talked about it openly. That he didn’t consider – not for one second – this to be a “woman’s issue.” He is a real human. He spoke of this as simply, a human issue. No need for any gender expectations or assumptions or behavior-norms. It was okay for him to care. And I’m grateful to him for expressing to me that he did – and so casually because it wasn’t some kind of declaration on his part. He was not making any kind of point. He was just engaging as any real human would/should in empathy, compassion, concern for the state we find our world in.
Despite the darkness of the miracle I am convinced we constantly live with, the interaction I had with this student and knowing my own son’s feelings on these issues give me hope that the gendered way I perceive the world is quickly becoming a relic of the past. That’s good. And the fact is, it’s not just women who get up and take on a world every day that has tried to beat them down again and again. I appreciate the fact that many men struggle too – for a breadth of reasons. Statistically speaking, at this moment, those reasons are not because they fear for their physical safety on many different levels. That’s all I’m saying.
I’ve been trying to talk to men that I love and know about becoming more actively outspoken against violence against women and girls. The Vday movement started a webpage just for these men called, “V-Men” and asked men to share their stories about how they are working to end violence against women and girls and why. Women have been at the forefront of this battle forever and for obvious reasons but we can’t continue to live with this miracle – to live in the armor of “put-on-a-stiff-upper-lip” and expect to get anywhere than where we already are. We need men. We need you, good men, to DO SOMETHING. And we don’t need you to jump in, fix everything like it’s a broken-down car and take over and make all of this into the MAN SHOW. We need you to stand up with compassionate, open hearts, willing to STAND SIDE-BY-SIDE with women, to WORK – to join the conversation that has already been going on for HUNDREDS OF YEARS WITHOUT YOU – to get caught up to speed – to quietly find some way to designate yourselves to say to YOUR BRETHREN – that you will NOT accept this behavior anymore.
If you – GOOD MEN-- all wore some kind of pin or some kind of t-shirt or some kind of special hat (a pussyhat perhaps—if your secure in yourself and your manhood enough to handle such a designation) to designate yourselves as our friends, our allies, our accomplices in this fight. How very different campus would have felt yesterday if even 25% of all of the men on campus were wearing bright pink pussyhats when I arrived. How utterly loved and heard and cared for and understood and accepted I would have felt, we (survivors) would have felt in the presence of that small demonstration of solidarity. You really can’t begin to know how that simple act would change many women’s understanding of who you are, as men. You really can’t begin to know how much less we would have to struggle with trusting you, loving you, laughing with you, looking at you in the eye. You really can’t know – because I feel like if you really knew, you’d be doing SOMETHING already. But maybe now that I’ve told you… maybe now…
Keep living in your daily miracles, teamies, with love – always with hard love –