Missing the Point

by aronjerrison

[Content Notes: Male privilege, Discussion of sexual harassment and rape culture]

In a fantastic, recent article [CN: Reference to sexual harassment and assault] on Jezebel, adult performer Stoya made a call to action. Women across the world face verbal and physical sexual harassment every day while people look blithely on. This should not be the case. We need to speak out when we see this occurring, we need to speak out when we hear about it having occurred, and we need to speak out when we hear someone considering it.*

She’s right.

There’s no question about it. In order to combat the sexual harassment that has become so ingrained in our society we need to do more than just not perpetrate it, we need to actively stop it being perpetuated.

Apologizing for gendered harassment helps no one. As she says:

Men have been responding saying that they want to divorce their gender. That they didn’t realize, until we started sharing our stories en masse, what it is like to be a woman. That they wish there was something they could do. That they’re sorry for the way other men treat people. Men shouldn’t have to feel like they need to apologize on behalf of their gender, or feel ashamed of being male. Unless they’re one of the ones doing the harassing, I don’t think they should apologize.

Why then, when I scrolled down to the comments, did I find three different people apologizing on behalf on their gender on the very first page?

It’s not simply a matter of not being responsible for other people’s actions, apologizing on behalf of our gender helps no one. Apologizing for sexual harassment isn’t going to stop it happening; if you’ve sexually harassed someone, apologizing isn’t going to erase what you’ve done.

Over on Shakesville about two months ago, Melissa McEwan wrote a post in which she said the following:

contemplating rape culture for the first time as a 44-year-old man with two daughters, and patting oneself on the back for it instead of framing it as the profoundly regrettable evidence of privilege that is is, isn’t something that ought to be praised—and praising it breathes life into the terrible idea that rape culture is difficult for “men” to understand. That is not accurate.

She was discussing Louis C.K.’s role in Toshgate, but it seems to be applicable here. Saying “Oh shit, I never realized how bad things are. I’m sorry.” and thinking that that is going to help shows a profound misunderstanding of how negative aspects of our culture are perpetuated. Just as harmful as the people who degrade and objectify women are those who stand by doing nothing or offering their condolences. By not speaking out, they exacerbate the problem, their passivity is why rape culture exists.

Men have a role to play. We need to stop our friends, family members, and acquaintances from engaging in degrading behavior.

Sometimes, it’s just a matter of ignorance. Telling a friend that his behavior is misogynistic might be enough to open his eyes. Other times, however, it won’t be enough, and cutting that person out of your life may be in order.**

Either way, standing by, saying “I’m sorry” isn’t going to help anyone; it’s just missing the point.


*Please, don’t take my word on this, read her article.

**I understand how hard something like this can be; I am currently struggling with it myself. (There may be a forthcoming post on the topic)