ActivismSex & Gender

#metoo – beyond performative allyship: men should step up and do their own emotional work

October 19, 2017
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By Eric J., AFROPUNK contributor

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that shit is fucked up. Ever since my cognitive skills were somewhat adequate the impending feeling of haphazardly flying a Cessna through the steep precipices of an Arizonan countryside in a thunderstorm has been hard to shake. This world has long held doggedly and determinedly to systems that benefit few but the powerful. That’s why the #metoo hashtag is no surprise. For those who do things other than osmose the “wokest” parts of social media every day, the original “Me too” movement, created by a black woman, is “about reaching the places that other people wouldn’t go, bringing messages and words and encouragement to survivors of sexual violence where other people wouldn’t be talking about it.”

As with most things created by black women #metoo became a rallying cry for the marginalized to highlight their abuse at the hands of a system intent on subjugating them. Black women have long palmed the bladed end of the patriarchy while fighting relentlessly to overturn inequity that has become as American as apple pie. As a black man, it took more than a little dedication to recognizing my own privilege in a world seemingly out to exterminate all those who boldly choose to don a blackness intersected with manhood. I understand, all too closely, the pitfalls of navigating a society that doesn’t give a fuck about you. Learning how to navigate that society—and, especially, black society—when I wasn’t the focus took more patience from black women than I deserved. Learning that this was the case, multiplied exponentially, for black women was staggering and sobering – to say the least.

Movements have centered black men for decades. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus one winter afternoon in Montgomery, Alabama, yet, we only celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2017. That isn’t to say MLK Jr. doesn’t deserve his day, black men; we have to stop feeling like things are an attack when we aren’t centered. This is to say that Rosa Parks didn’t get enough credit for being bold, black and woman enough to take the initial stand that led to a historic boycott. #BlackLivesMatter sought to end the systemic injustices faced, largely, by black men. Women have died on the frontlines of this movement, yet, men remain the focal point; Sandra Bland, Korryn Gates, Rekia Boyd, Yvette Smith, Miriam Carey, the list is just as maddeningly overpopulated as the black men’s tome. Yet, #BlackLivesMatter wholly and blatantly continues to shore black men in the midst of the obvious exclusion of black women. Black women, ever resourceful, created another hashtag, #SayHerName, to ignite the same fervor that, seemingly, erupts whenever the juncture of black and man crosses with death at the hands of systemic violence. Somehow black women sought to not undermine the validity of a cause – which they founded – that brazenly turned a blind eye to them and simultaneously express a desire for recognition that shouldn’t have to be assuaged manually. Dotted among the many, many posts in a sea of women reliving their trauma in the form of #metoo tweets and  Facebook posts, men began speaking out about their own abuse. I think we should step back reevaluate our approach. Men, while also victims of sexual abuse, are the biggest perpetrators of sexual violence within America’s patriarchal regime. That isn’t to say that the abuse that men face isn’t important. It is important. In fact, it’s important enough for its own movement created and helmed by men. We should consider, instead of joining the side of the victims, looking to deter and eliminate this violence from within. If we can stop violence from ourselves and other men we can all but eliminate the bulk of sexual violence against both women and men. By stepping into #metoo as victims men are, effectively, diluting the brewing of what can be a potent serum that that could catalyze change directly from the most violent culprits of sexual violence on a systemic level. So, how can we really help?

In 2011, men committed 99 percent of rapes against women and 79.3 percent of rapes against men . Of all rapes committed, men were 89.2 percent of the perpetrators – almost 9 out of every 10. Men have a tendency to avert their gaze from the ugliest parts of ourselves – I’d wager most people do. We have a history of tackling sexual abuse insensitively; often we turn to blaming victims, ignoring them and outright denying their allegations against men we deem as “not that kinda guy”. Discussions about Bill Cosby were awash with men believing that a 1993 bid for NBC  was the reason women began coming forward – decades later – with their stories of abuse at the hands of Cosby. These women were accused of attempting to destroy the legacy of a man loved for playing a black father in a successful black nuclear family at a time when representation of “those kinds of” black people was limited, if not nonexistent. Simply portraying a character was enough for many to dismiss these women’s claims even as the number of victims approached 50. Earlier this year, rapper Mystikal was arrested and charged with rape . Mystikal was released from prison in 2010 after serving a six year sentence for sexual battery and extortion. Despite the fact that Mystikal was already convicted for sexual violence and a registered sex offender in the state of Louisiana, men, again, came forward with accusations aimed at the victim, accusing her of seeking compensation or alleging that Mystikal “doesn’t have to rape anyone” because of his celebrity. The gross mishandling of those who step forward with sexual abuse allegations is the reason why only 15.8 to 35 percent of victims report these crimes . We have to cultivate a society that doesn’t turn the lens of guilt toward those who speak out against the violence they face.

If you want to know the breadth of sexual abuse look at the many women you have across your social media platforms , classrooms, offices, boardrooms and even our own homes. Nearly every single one—not just those sharing the #metoo hashtag—have been victims of sexual abuse to some degree. That is the sheer magnitude of the number of women abused by men. Their abuse is an inescapable, systemic part of their daily realities. I’ve had women friends say that they were taught about the dangers of sexual abuse before they were in school. Similar to “the talk” black people have with their kids about systemic racism, parents warn their daughters of a system that is explicitly against their humanity. We’re so busy saying “not all men” that we fail to realize it is nearly all women. We, men, are all implicitly guilty simply by being alive in and nurtured by a patriarchal system that devalues women and views them as objects of our sexual pleasure and inherently weaker than us; in the same vein of how all white people in America are racist to a degree by virtue of being raised in a society founded on and practicing racism consistently. It’s conditioning. But we can unlearn and combat these systems. Instead of deflecting victims of sexual violence we can fix our homies, brothers, uncles, cousins, co-workers, pastors, bosses, and even our fathers if need be. We need to make sure we’re safe as a collective before dismissing the unsafe, the downtrodden, the abused and the silenced. The onus is on us. We’re making women relive their trauma just so they can prove to us what we should believe simply off the strength of their humanity. We have to stop, singularly, exonerating ourselves – which effectively derails the intended point by pointing to our innocence – when, collectively, by and large, we are committing these crimes.

The most frustrating part of this entire movement is that, as a man, I know that men already know the extent of our abusive behaviors . The violence goes beyond those who actively and physically engage in sexual abuse. Men who never lifted a finger to hurt a woman have witnessed abuse at the hands of other men. The guys who silently roll their eyes at their homeboys catcalling women from their passenger seats are the white people who sit silently on a train while another white person antagonizes a black person.  Even if we weren’t the young boys guffawing haplessly through playgrounds grabbing girls inappropriately, we were the ones who stood idly by while the devil set up workshops in our palms. Even if we weren’t the men encouraging a girl to take an extra shot at a high school party when she was clearly beyond her limit, we were the men who stood anchored to the wall too nervous to step in. Even if we weren’t the purveyors of sexist remarks to random men as women danced past us in bars, we were the silent men who nervously chuckled, allowing those men to feel comfortable relaying their blatantly misogynistic quips. The conversation we should be having amongst ourselves needs to center around why we think it’s normal for men to behave this way and why we don’t see this behavior as cause for reprimand. Then we must rewrite the rules of masculinity that allow these archaic behaviors to remain normal. We have to use our voices and platforms to really talk to each other, and, in some cases, put our bodies on the line to stop sexual violence. Otherwise, systemic sexism will continue to stay firmly rooted in our society. This is why women truly have no allies until men, as a whole, have changed; because only then will we have done our due diligence.

For every performative post of allyship a man types in solidarity, there are moments when he acquiesces with the easy route of silence in the face of real-life bigotry. This is why we should step aside and observe the extent of violence perpetrated by those who look like us. We don’t always need to be the center of attention – or get any attention at all. Instead, we should echo the voices of these women and believe their stories without swift rebuttals, nonchalance and skepticism. We should believe their stores, not because they’re telling us, but because we bore witness to them. We should believe the stories of sex workers and strangers as readily as we would our daughters and sisters. We should believe their stories and galvanize ourselves to make the changes that need to be made within. Otherwise, we’ll just be dotting a sea of #metoo posts with our own in the future.

*Eric J. is a 28-year-old, black af writer of poetry, Facebook statuses and SoundCloud raps. A future poet laureate and current boneless chicken addict who can be found navigating RPG worlds and trying to figure out why Solange’s “Rise” feels so good.
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