Content Warning: I am very explicit in this post and use language that is triggering.
Let’s establish right now that in order to truly love someone, you would, in the least, do one thing in your power to prevent their being harmed.
I know. You’re busy. You have things on your plate. And besides, you can’t prevent accidents from happening. You can’t be expected to prevent spontaneous acts of nature. You can’t make anyone change; you can’t force anyone to act in their own best interests. Maybe they need a hangover to learn not to drink. You aren’t responsible for them. It is important to recognize your own limitations when something is beyond your control.
But what if you did have control? What if you had within you the ability to circumvent the worst?
As a matter of convenience, I will prep you in advance. With certainty, I am telling you now that something awful will happen to someone you love. And as we have already established, in truly loving that person, you will, in the least, do one thing – just one – in your power to prevent their being harmed.
Think of three women you truly love. Three who’ve earned your trust. Your compassion. Your devotion and unconditional willingness to, in the least, do this one thing. Your mother, your sister, your daughter, your girlfriend, your friend, your ex, your teacher, your student, your niece, your aunt, your grandmother, your coworker, your coach, your doctor, your idol, your mentor, your lover, your wife. Three of them.
One of these three women you truly love will be – or has been – raped, beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime.
Put another way: someone, somewhere, at some point will look at one of these three women you truly love. They won’t care who she is, where she comes from, or how she got there. They will see a thing to use. A lesser being to humiliate. An object to exploit. Someone will see one of these three women you truly love and do any number of things to them.
To be clear, what we are talking about is not merely sexual harassment; we’re not talking about the verbal degradation of catcalling or being publicly objectified; we’re not talking about the secret subordination of women that happens in the “safe zones” amongst groups of boys. (That has already happened to all three of the women you love, and happens every day.) What we are talking about is, realistically, in the reality you exist in, one of these three women you truly love will be grabbed against her will and will be groped, molested, or choked. Under fear of death, one of these three women will be forcefully penetrated with fingers, hands, penises, blunt instruments, or, as documented in some occurrences, sharp objects. Their vaginas will tear, their anuses will bleed, their bodies will bruise, their skin will break, their bones will shatter, their child will miscarry, and they won’t know if they’ll be breathing thereafter. If she knows anything about the history of violence against women, she knows that this might be the way it ends for her: in absolute terror.
If she’s “lucky”, one of these three women you truly love, she will survive. Her brain, coerced into survival mode, will have dissociated to make the physical pain distant and removed. Her focus will dissipate. Her self-worth, depleted. Her body – regardless of whether she still believes that it is hers and hers alone – will likely become reactive beyond all conscious control. Triggers, be they a smell, a taste, a sound, a touch, really they could be anything, will bring her all the way back to the start, back to the time when someone, somewhere, at some point looked at her and did any number of things to her.
This is not sensationalism. This actually happens. This is actually what is happening right here, right now, on this earth. This earth with an equator that could be wrapped around thirty times, the whole globe over, by these violated women were they to stand hand-in-hand with one another. For perspective, that’s more than one billion women. And a third of the women you have ever known would be standing in that line.
Think of those three women you truly love again. Which one of these three will it be? How can you, as a minimum requirement to the condition of truly having love for these three women, circumvent this from happening to any of them?
The bad news is that you can’t know which one. It could be any of them at any given time. The good news is that you can help these three women you truly love – but you’ll have to help them all at once.
Helping women, by the way, has almost nothing to do with women. It’s not about telling them to be careful. Or telling them to dress less provocatively. Or believing that “some girls rape easy” so we should make sure loved ones don’t share too many characteristics with other victims of sexual assault. Your sheltering these three women or telling them to be extra careful is not going to help them – they know. They’ve known this is a reality. They need only walk down the street and see the eyes of strangers cast onto them to know on some level they are already performing fellatio in the minds of men they don’t know. They need only open a magazine to be reminded that their bodies exist for men to be fucked. They need only watch a film – nearly any – to be reminded that men are strong and womanizers are people, too. They need only attempt to negotiate their own autonomy to be dismissed as crazy, as bossy, as a bitch, a whore, a cunt, a slut, a skank, an ugly witch, a crone, a donkey, a cumbucket, a MILF, a bimbo, a thing with “no ass” but “nice tits.” You don’t help them by reminding them what they already know. You don’t help them by telling them that you feel bad about what’s happening to them.
Because it’s not about them. It’s about you.
Man. Men. A culture of toxic masculinity. A society in which you know as well as I do that when the girl turns the corner, you’ll be laughing about her sucking your dick. An online landscape in which you can find any shape or size of economically-disadvantaged woman and masturbate to her being raped on camera because that extra money is really going to help her out that month. A global economy wherein you can drive to Nevada and rape a woman in the flesh, or if American girls aren’t your thing, you can fly over with a stag party to Thailand or Germany or Australia or India and haggle in the buyer’s market of people for coercive penetration; tell the pimp that the brothel across the street offers eighteen-year-olds and he’ll find you one half that age. Don’t believe me? You know a friend of a friend that’s done it.
“But I don’t stand for this. I’m not like that,” you say. That – attitude – is not going to get us anywhere. Your feeling bad that this happens is not going to help anyone. Your tears aren’t going to help these three women you truly love. You don’t want them to get hurt? Then do just one thing.
Not some inactive thing. Not some token, silent agreement to yourself to make sure to stop glancing at every woman’s breasts when she bats her eyes away. You need to be active. Nothing will ever get done unless it actually gets done. So just do one thing:
It’s not enough to refrain from the chorus of woman-hating while you stand shoulder-to-shoulder moving your mouth along to their music. You have to be brave. You can tell the choir that you won’t be singing the song. In practical terms, it means you not only stop participating in slandering women, but you tell your friends to shut up. It means you tell your coworkers to stop making rape jokes. It means you go to Human Resources and tell them you don’t like the way your boss talks about women. It means you tell your father that the way he talks about women is unhealthy.
It means you make this personal. How could it not be? You’ve been conditioned since you were a child to believe that women were emotional, inferior, and totally okay with you slipping $20 in their thong so that she can shake her tits in your face before she rallies up a bouncer to walk her to her car after her shift in the fear that you – yes, you – might be waiting outside to beat her on the head and rape her in the back of your truck. You will mourn the loss of your archaic ways of thinking but it’s also going to be an aggressive ride. You will lose friends. You will be ridiculed. You will be countered by made-up statistics and dismissed with any number of comments and aphorisms that will derail your point. But does that matter? Wouldn’t you, realistically, trade over every non-conversation you’ve had over beers with those meatheads if it meant your daughter could live in a world where there isn’t a distinct possibility that she might never come home on her way from school? Do you think that the daily reality of international hate crimes against womankind happens in a vacuum outside of your personal sphere of existence? Are you that naive? Do you really think that it can’t and won’t happen to your girlfriend or your sister? Because it can, and it will. And you can help to fight it by, again, simply doing just one thing.
If you truly love these three women as you say you do, it means you will be politically proactive in halting and reversing the climate of fear that allows, statistically, for a 35% chance of them being raped or otherwise abused in their lifetime. It means you start educating yourself with studies about our culture of subordinating females and sharing this information publicly. It means you stop pouting about what it is to be a man and focus on how you can make the existence of women a little bit easier. It means that you stop dismissing feminism just because you don’t like the stigma that chauvinist pigs have attached to it. (I don’t like the inherent privilege attached to my being a straight, white male, but denying my privilege altogether makes invisible the very real disadvantages of being a person not living in my skin.)
It means you stop watching porn. Now. Make this one thing an economic onslaught on the institutions that contribute to a climate wherein men think they have a right to penetrate your wife because “I know you want it.” Unsubscribe, close the tab, and unfollow all of the porn apologists. Stop nodding your head in agreement with those tired arguments that these women “know what they are getting into” when they join the porn industry. You don’t know what the fuck you are nodding your head about, do you? Do you even know if the women you have been masturbating to are alive? Haven’t you wondered what happens once they turn off the camera? Women don’t exist for you to play on loop so that you can condition your limbic system to associate their pain with your orgasm. Coercion is never recognized as consent for sex. This applies to economic coercion, as well. Were the circumstances different for any of the three women you truly love, I guarantee you, no matter their age, a man will gladly pay to violate them – unless, of course, this has already happened. In our society, with our naive, neo-liberal insistence that porn is “freedom of speech,” we’ve let patriarchy all but fuck “fair speech” into oblivion. If your definition of equality includes the right for a man to rape your mother on film for cash, you aren’t a man to me: you’re a coward.
What if you don’t know what that one thing is that you have to do? I’ll make it easy for you. If I had to choose for you to do just one thing, as you assured me you would to qualify as somebody who actually has the capacity to truly love just those three women, then it would be for you to prove you are not a coward. That would require you to stop hiding under masculinity’s toxic umbrella wherein nonthinking potential rapists huddle from the rain of compassion; get away from this damp mass of men that subscribe to the common-de-nauseating cluster of characteristics that accumulate into the filth that is mistaken as manly: strong, aggressive, unemotional, horny, entitled, masculine, tough, rugged, “bros-before-hoes” Men’s Right’s Activists. Stop being a coward and think critically. Step out from under that umbrella and look back at them. Not a one of them – I promise you – has ever given real thought about what it might be like to have been born without a penis.
Prove that we exist. Go into the streets. Lead a demonstration. Start a support group for conscientious men. Proclaim yourself a budding feminist. Tell your friends that porn is rape. Read a book about the trauma that the woman you love will go through, and admonish this culture that silences victims. Yell at the pimps, fight the pornographers, slap the catcallers, and stop giving money away to artists who have a history of normalizing rape. Why? Because they are speaking for you. They aren’t speaking to you – they are speaking on behalf of you. And when you allow these misogynists a voice and say nothing, the people who matter will notice.
The people who matter. The girls. The victims. Feminists – not the ones in your Halloween lexicon but the ones who care about the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. The women who have yet to give up on men. When you don’t speak up, they all notice. Do you really think they don’t notice it when somebody hurts them and you stand still, your silence a reminder that you are just like all of the other men?
As Andrea Dworkin once said, “Have you ever wondered why we are not just in armed combat against you? It’s not because there’s a shortage of kitchen knives in this country. It is because we believe in your humanity, against all the evidence.”
Those three women you truly love? Action, and action alone, is what will help these three women. Just one thing. That’s all you have to do.
That is, if you truly love them.