why it’ll never be #MenToo for me

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there is a reason I have imposed the rule on myself ‘no twitter before my self-esteem kicks in‘.

because when I see this hashtag it irks me some, but that’s OK we’re all different and we have different ways of communicating things. and when I see the “what about the men?” posts it causes me a fair bit of discomfort because to me this isn’t a competition, but that’s OK there will always be a need for the more inflammatory discourses to create attention. but when I see a post saying that if people don’t retweet or donate or mobilise around the “#MenToo movement” then that’s sexist, and demonstrates abandonment of men who’ve survived sexual trauma, well I find myself compelled to defend myself as an involuntary member of that group.

but before I do that, I’d like to remind readers that there are countless women who’ve written about this in different ways from perspectives other than mine to whom I credit how mine has developed, and if you click on their names you can – nay should – read their hard work, both written and lived. Van Badham. Clementine FordEmily Reynolds. Lea Rose Emery. Elizabeth Brico. Laura Hartnell. and of course the movement’s founder Tarana Burke.

Now, back to bullshit.

To me, #MenToo will always represent a society-wide need for men to wrestle women’s liberation from their grip and assume ownership in their initiatives of self-empowerment. That impression is mostly derived from many such posts and advocate accounts always feeling the need to pitch their purpose in opposition to the experience of women, “men get abused too!”, “why don’t men get”, “where’s the men’s movement?!”, “it’s harder for men to disclose”. I believe to pitch men in this homogenised way is the same as #NotAllMen – talking about men as an idea, as a collective noun, as a supreme incorporation.

I recently heard Tracey Spicer speak about how #MeToo affected her career and conviction to investigate sexual harassment and abuse in the media industry that so drew her in as an aspiration, only to dash her dream by demeaning her and exhausting her until finally turfing her out when she had the nerve to become a mother. That hero of a human woman stood up to some of the most powerful people in the world, and now helps other people do the same. Men and our allies need to be energised by that, not alienated by it because Tracey is a woman and we are not. Tracey being a woman is not an excuse for us not to tread the path she and many women before her wore in for us to follow. Men deserve the joy of following, of supporting, and women deserve the power of being followed, and supported. And not just white women like Tracey we can relate to, but women we can learn from and grow by the influence of. Women like Nakkiah Lui, Carly Findlay, Sally Goldner, Nayuka Gorrie, Emele Ugavele, Ayeesha Ash, Mama Alto, Ilana Charnelle, and Phoenix.

Tracey spoke about something else that irks me: the idea that is often woven in to delineate men’s and women’s experiences that acts of sexual violence are on a spectrum, and some behaviors are worse than others. There’s even a pyramid that did the rounds recently, and though I agree with it to a certain extent, I am wary of anything that affords any ground to the argument that some behaviors aren’t as bad as others. The act is relative to the person whose body and mind that act is committed upon, and how they respond based on their experiences past and present is no less valid regardless of the act. This pyramid lends itself to stigma that would mean someone feels enough shame to believe that when their family member grabbed them “all in fun”, they should suppress their feelings because being gang-raped would feel worse. If the pyramid is suggesting that being asked to show a car full of men pleasuring themselves in a car “the lips your mother never kissed” is as damaging and as harmful and as reprehensible as if those men pulled you into that car to force you to do what they had demanded, then I personally see that as valid.

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Coming back to the topic at hand, I’d like to tip my hat to Terry Crews. A physically powerful man of color who has worked through unimaginable prejudice already to enjoy reasonable cultural capital. At an event he attended with his wife, a man who believed himself to be more powerful than Terry in terms of industry clout, decided to molest him in public. Terry Crews recently testified to the US Congress about this! His story will make massive positive change to how this conversation involves men, and it will also do good things for women. He’s a personal hero of mine. Here’s the best bit: to my knowledge he has made no mention of his manhood qualifying him differently, nor has he called for a “#MeToo for Men”, and when he tweeted out his story he didn’t even feel the need to use the hashtag!

Men don’t need a movement, because in general everyone already moves for men.

I don’t agree with the idea that because the attention is focused on women (for now), men have a hard time of it – I do believe men feel harder done by when it happens because our experiences contrast so starkly to the freedom of movement we unwittingly enjoy everywhere else. The idea that men are suffering from neglect at the hands of women who’re occupying the resources that support their own suffering infuriates me no end. It is heartbreaking to see survivors pitted against one another, and taking their pain out on each other when the community of survivors is all we have when it comes to empathy, and being believed, and moving forward. Women have worked – are still working – 24/7 to receive the bare minimum of care and recognition we now have available, and male survivors should be thanking them for it, not bitterly complaining about how they feel ineligible to get in on the action. I’m reminded of when, being an eldest child, I had to ask, and remind, and plead, and work and proves myself worthy of an allowance, and the instant I got it my younger siblings were insistent they receive it too, and in the name of equality they did. I was furious – they were half my age, hadn’t had to do any of the work I did to implement an economic system of domestic reward, and yet here they were reaping that reward and, naturally, squandering it on lollies while I invested mine in my flair for scrap-booking. Which conveniently brings me around to how being gay figures in all of this.

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The trouble with the “not all men” argument is of course that it absolves us of responsibility. In the same way that if we blame the victim, we’re condoning the rape of someone else who fits the behavioral bill, when we other the men who rape, we acquit and even endorse the men who don’t look the part. Harvey Weinstein became the fall guy because he was powerful, and rich, and also slimy, and behind-the-scenes and in-the-shadows and no-one liked him. No-one was invested in him being “a good guy”. Spacey was a tougher case, people did like him, and if he hadn’t thrown the entire gay community under the bus to save his neck he might’ve got away with child molestation and statutory abuse – but still a lot of the narrative was “I always thought he was a bit weird”. Then they came for Morgan Freeman. The guy who we trust so much he gets to play God. We’ll see how that plays out. Gay men don’t fit the mold of the man we think of who assaults or harasses or rapes women, but for all we may be exempt from the stereotype, that doesn’t mean we should remain naive or indifferent about leading by example, and continuing the message that sexual violence isn’t about desire, it’s about power.

When Eurydice Dixon was walking home from her job as a comedian, a young man attacked, raped and murdered her. Afterward, police felt it pertinent to remind women to be aware of their surroundings, have their phone on them, and a whole lot of other advice that isn’t what I hope we see more of. And yet Larissa Bielby, Katherine Haley, Alicia Little, and no such statement – their murders dismissed as “misadventures” and “incidents”. I want to see those police looking unwavering right into the lens of the camera and saying “whoever you are, we will find you and you will be punished to the full extent of the law, and if you’re a man out there who believes themselves capable of sexual violence, or has considered violence against a woman in their life, seek help immediately”. That’s certainly the message I have.

We’re all fighting the same battle here, and it’s a battle against human nature itself, which is why it’s a battle we will fight our entire lives; and fight we must.

B.

if you have concerns for the safety of people around you, or ever considered yourself seriously capable of abusing anyone imminently, please contact 1800 Respect, White Ribbon, or Lifeline 13 11 14. or 000 if an emergency.

 

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my gender is cowardice.

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remember kisschasey? that’s where it started.

it was the first year of school, so we would’ve all been five years old. The way the game works is that girls get a head-start then the boys take off to catch and kiss a girl each, after which the pursuit reverses, with the girl chasing the boy to kiss him back. No-one was sure whether I should be on the boys’ team, or the girls’ team. No-one, including me. Many of the girls were my friends, so I naturally wanted to be pack with them, and I certainly didn’t want to kiss them. There would never really be a decision about which side I was on, the game would usually just begin because the problem was too complicated for five-year-olds to resolve. Once everyone had taken off running and giggling and feigning disinterest in being kissed, I would at some point run into the boys’ bathroom and hide in a cubicle, imagining that someone was coming to kiss me. Looking back writing this, I realise the game has not changed much. Not for the negotiation of courtship and consent between men and women, and certainly not for me.

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Growing up in the 90s when being gay was still only discreetly cool in the upper echelons of celebrity-shadowing, being called “gay” or “faggot” wasn’t common but being called a “girl” as a form of denigration was frequent. The way I walked, that I wore my hair long, my mannerisms, the things I liked, and of course my choice of friends didn’t do much to deter that harassment.

When I was three, the childcare staff told my parents I’d been put in time out for losing my temper at a girl who had dared to wear a gold dress from the dress up box which was indisputably “mine”.

As young as twelve I fell into such a dislike of my body’s gender presentation I began binding myself in too-small underwear and by fourteen I had considered self-mutilation.

At home, wearing dresses continued right through to mid-adolescence, when I took a brief hiatus – that’s a lie, I continued to shop from the women’s side of the Cotton On for many years, but dresses were out for a while until I started wearing them again a couple of years ago and went public with a high-waisted skirt and a beard. I’ll to this day regularly say things like “I’m more of a Divinyls gal”, or “I don’t vote Liberal, I’m not that kind of girl”. I’ll never baulk at being referred to in the collective noun of “ladies” or thought of fondly as “one of the girls”.

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What’s it all about? Over the years I think the hard times might have given me cause to cling desperately to a vision of myself that didn’t lose their innocence so roughly, and that sincere sense of self I possess is easily encapsulated by that stereotype of sweetness, sixteen-ness, stillness of girlhood.

As recently as last year I’ve hit patches where thinking too deeply about my gender identity causes me too much confusion and sorrow to continue – and I confess that one of the biggest factors in backing out of this thinking is my conflicted feelings about how many social challenges I’ve been socialised to believe and have witnessed myself that trans and gender-diverse people face; in finding love, in succeeding in the workplace, in achieving whatever physical actualisation of their gender they desire, in receiving healthcare, in being able to travel. My gender identity is informed by my fear of losing something I didn’t think I had: male privilege. My gender identity is informed by my fear of what my loved ones would say, how they would adapt. So, I find myself thinking that my gender is terror, my gender is cowardice.

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My gender is constantly in a state of conviction, being bartered back and forth between fierce femininity and penile privilege. Sliding along the spectrum in one direction because I’m not masculine enough for manhood, then scaling along another slant because I respect womanhood and gender diversity as experiences I do not live and wouldn’t do the disservice or disregard of appropriating any further than colloquially. I am under no false illusions that this is a to-ing and fro-ing I’ll live on the trajectory of for a great deal of time, if not all my life.

Here’s where I’m at now. That in my thoughts about gender, I still feel room for choice and that is what sets several of the incredibly brave and beautiful humans I have been given the joyous gift of knowing apart in their experience from mine. For many of them there is not choice, there is simply the fact of who they are outside the double-edged sword of male and female; the inherent knowledge of difference and a resonance with alternatives and terms of identity I have yet to feel for anything other than “man”.

I grew up in a time where being transgender was a way to describe someone who was moving or had moved from one side of the binary of male and female to the other and once there that person was still known as either – being trans was not its own identity far as I knew then. Within a decade I find myself trying to comprehend what being tri-gender and enby means when I’m still stuck on what being a man means, and how I occupy that.

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Every time I step into darkness to battle with the binary, I have continually emerged male because I cannot get past believing that’s my fight; I feel it’s important for those like me to challenge and broaden what manhood is and wish to lead manhood forward out of toxic masculinity further from the patriarchal systems we are tightly bound to because its built from our gender presentation. For men to develop a compassion, and an empathy and a freedom to explore the roots of being men beyond clothing or interests or sexual exploits, that’s an image of men I want to perpetuate. I don’t want to leave my manhood behind, I want to make more of it, I want manhood – how it’s understood and talked about to adapt to include my kind of expression. To me, it matters to be a good man, and it matters that I identify as male as a means of demonstrating the room for diversity therein.

The fear I speak of is the same that paralyses me in moments where I’m in an environment where men become rowdy, or sexist, or any multitude of behaviours I know it’s important I stand up to. Somewhere inside me I yearn for their acceptance but I fear their predilection for communicating with violence or abuse. Men need intervention, not attention. I remember how positive a change I saw in men when ‘metrosexuality’ became popular, and how bitterly disappointed and ashamed I felt when the backlash came and not since have I witnessed any such valuing of self-care or sensitivity in men in Western cultures. But I’m not giving up on men yet, I’m not giving up on being a man.

Though I continue to grapple with what part prejudice plays in precluding me from being the person people ask or assume I am, what I’m sticking to is that though it may be cowardice that keeps me a man, it could be courage that drives me to change what that means.

images by Corie Shannon. insta @corieshannon.

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#TBT: Anti-domestic abuse campaigns aren’t working. It’s probably because they’re crap.

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Sorry. But Australian campaigns to stop domestic violence are ineffective, pussyfooting, and some I’d say are even misogynistic. I’m a man, converted to the cause, haven’t touched anyone in anger ever except my brother and sister when we were kids, and sometimes when they take the last Tim Tam. I see these attempts we’re making to stem the entrenched inequality experienced by women in our society, and I think they’re all but useless. They’re not good enough.

Case in point: what family-abusing man is put off his anger issues and routine beatings by nail polish? What does this even mean? I presume the idea is to create an identifiable community of men to activate some sort of peer pressure to not hit women or children.

Here’s an idea: keep the photo of Matt Cooper or Jarryd Hayne, but instead of the manicure, perhaps offer the phrase “If you beat your child you’re a cunt of a human/imbecile/wantwit and don’t come to my games”? Feature Malcolm Turnbull in there with a “If you hit your wife you’re a cunt of a human/piece of shit/danger to society and if you’re found guilty in court we’re suspending your right to vote”? Chuck the Australian Federal Police Commissioner in there for good measure with the quote “If you murder your ex-partner in breach of a restraining order you’re a cunt of a human/asshat/waste of skin and you’re going to prison, and then you won’t come out again”. Who are we protecting here?

Another case for your submission: definitely more on track, and yet still far more focused on how terrible a boy’s going to feel if he starts his reign of terror over his relationships early. No point showing how things turn out for the victims of domestic violence: the likelihood of unstable employability, serious psychological problems, perpetuation of violent behaviour in children, and the list goes on.

How about you show clips of a kid in juvenile detention, and how seriously uncool life is in there. Show more clips of disappointed family coming to visit. Show uncomfortable situations with future girlfriends having the talk with your concerned mates? Maybe a quick grab of a high security prison, because re-offending is REALLY a thing.

Bizarrely enough, the best advertisement against domestic violence I’ve seen is, is a commercial for better conditions for battery hens. How obscenely ironic.

If you’re looking for satire in my point, you’ll have to look awful hard, because although the tone of this blog is sardonic, I am deadly serious. Get it together. We all need to fight back against the offenders, their friends, the environments in which their prejudice is bred, and any party neutralising the cause with their “PR”. When the blood of women drenches our lives and stains our newspapers, there’s no applause for participation.

For those of you thinking my ideas are a molotov cocktail that might spark more problems, or they haven’t shown enough compassion for what men go through before they become violent, or any other #notallmen-esque evasive maneuver you’ve come up with, at least I thought of some kind of solution. How about you human up?

If you do know of a group spreading positive, proactive and effective messages, PLEASE put their name, hyperlink, initiative below. We need to know where they are.

 Author’s note: this article has been edited to include alternatives to ‘the c word’ at the polite request of some women and women’s support groups, the opinions of which I respected and were affirmed by in my choice to include not replace. Thanks to Mamamia for posting it.