I’m going to take another break from book blogging to talk about this because it’s really important.
In case you’ve been living in a social vacuum for the last week or so, #YesAllWomen evolved as a hashtag on Twitter in response to #NotAllMen, because while not all men are violent misogynists, all women have or will at some point be a victim of one — whether by being harassed online or in meatspace, being raped, or even murdered.
And lots of good-hearted men out there are stepping up and asking, “What can I do to change this? I don’t want women living in the world they are, either.”
The good news is that there are small changes you can make to your thinking patterns and behavior that will make a difference. The bad news is that the culture we live in is working against you in realizing what those changes are.
This is not a comprehensive list, but it’s a start. There’s probably nothing new here, but I figured I’d gather a selection of resources and make a summary.
(1) Recognize that you have privilege. It is not a bad thing; it is an ideological blind spot. If it helps, think of it like being right-handed. You probably don’t know what it’s like to be a left-handed person. Left-handed people smear ink a lot and have to make adjustments to seating arrangements at meals so they don’t knock elbows with right-handers.
(2) Your privilege renders certain things invisible to you, such as in the seating arrangements above, unless some left-handed person points it out to you. It is the same with being a dude; certain things about being a woman you just don’t intuitively understand, such as the futility of trying to find slacks with decent-sized pockets.
(3) Now this is where it gets a bit more difficult. Understand the concept of Schrodinger’s Rapist. While not all men are rapists, they exist in substantial numbers. Statistically that number is somewhere between 1 in 16 and 1 in 60 (this fact will become relevant again later). Women do not automatically know upon meeting you that you are not a rapist. Again, this is something that we’ve lived with our whole lives, and our mere existence makes us at risk.
(4) Understand that women have been socialized their entire lives to be nice to you, beginning as small children when girls are encouraged to be more docile, and continuing into young adulthood when some men do not take their “nos” well. Most women learn early on to use “No, I have a boyfriend,” rather than “Not interested, sorry,” because some men out there regard their status as another man’s “property” more seriously than a woman’s desires and agency.
(5) This socialization makes it difficult for many women to say no. This is why, in sexual contexts with a woman, rather than waiting for a “no,” you should be soliciting a “yes.” Enter the notion of enthusiastic consent. Adopt it into the way you interact with women.
(6) This so far has been about adjusting your thinking patterns and behavior in order to make women around you feel safer; it’s about the individual. Now let’s talk about our social environments. Remember that statistic I quoted earlier? Probably about 1 in 25 men are rapists. This means it is almost statistically certain that you know at least one.
(7) And he does not come with a scarlet R stitched to his shirt. There are rapist accountants and engineers and A/C repairmen and athletes. They may be hipsters or geeks or academics or hippies.
They may seem like really nice guys. Hell, they might be really nice guys when they aren’t raping people.
(8) So when a woman tells you that a dude raped (or assaulted or harassed) her, and you know and like this coworker/fellow churchgoer/friend/whatever, believe her anyway. A lot of people’s first impulse is to try to rationalize the guy’s behavior and call it a misunderstanding. The impulse behind this isn’t evil; it’s in most people’s natures to try to smooth over conflicts and de-escalate situations. But in these circumstances, this impulse is harmful. Do not be that guy.
(9) Also, do not be the guy that tries to tell her whether to report it. Respect her agency and know that she will do what is in her best interests as a person. Remember, while NotAllMen are violent misogynists, YesAllMen have been socialized to jump in and fix things. Don’t be that guy, either.
10) Refer her to RAINN if she seems to be having trouble coping (and maybe even if she doesn’t). And again — unless you have been trained as a counselor and understand concepts like transference, resist the situation where you are her only source of emotional support. Listen and be there and try not to talk too much, because real counseling needs to be done by professionals. Again — the best action you can take here is to guide her to resources and advise them without insisting that she use them (because people have timeframes).
11) Finally, do what you can to shape your social environment to not support rape or misogyny. Don’t laugh at rape jokes, because they normalize and minimize rape (and also trigger some women). Don’t assume that when one of your friends talks about angling for the drunkest girl at the party that he is joking. If it’s a mixed-gender group and there’s a guy in it creeping the ladies out, either stand up as dudes and give him a stern talking-to or kick him out of your social group.
Men who hate women frequently do listen to other men, so call out bad behavior when you see it or hear it. Leverage your privilege in our favor.
Pay attention. Look for clues. And most importantly, listen to the womenfolk.
ETA: This post has been getting a lot of hits. I just wanted to mention how much of the knowledge herein I gained from the YesMeansYes blog, which is a great resource.