The Truth Behind #METOO: Patriarchy is a Lose/Lose

3. Jessie Kanelos Weiner_Cherry Bombe digital selection 3.jpg

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By Remy Ramirez
illustrations by jessie kanelos weiner

My first #MeToo moment came at six years old, walking single file to gym class along an elementary school corridor. The perpetrator, also six, smirked when I bolted around to see who had grabbed my ass.

This was the first time I was sexually assaulted, but certainly not the last. The offenses would range: gropes in clubs by faceless hands; a friend’s father who grabbed my crotch in the dark corner of a house party—his wife one room over; the job I quit after a boss asked to see under my skirt; that time in Germany when a kindly old man invited me to his home for lunch, and then blocked the door, masturbating, when I tried to leave. In my 30s, a life coach would rebuff an enduring denial I’d maintained about my introduction to sex. “That’s rape!” she interjected vehemently as I detailed the events of that night two months before my 15th birthday. It knocked the wind out of me. For years I’d dodged the word, subbing in its stead “nonconsensual,” whose elasticity was so generous, so resilient, so free of stigma and the years of necessary therapy.

I couldn’t know then that within months, the truth of Harvey Weinstein would break, bringing with it a flood of histories whose traumas, cemented firmly to every crevasse of social media, would allow no respite, no hiding from the truth—not mine, not any woman’s.

But more to the point, I couldn’t know that in the midst of #MeToo—wedged somewhere between Kevin Spacey and Al Franken—I would experience sexual assault anew. This one at the hands of someone I deeply trusted, making the emotional repercussions far more extensive, more complex, and, to be plain, more painful. There were days immediately following that felt as if someone had slipped a shadowy hand beneath my joy, my faith in the goodness of humans, and fondled it. The extent to which life imitated social media was surreal. As I lived out my own private anguishes in real time, they appeared in nearly identical manifestations on my Facebook feed from women I had never, and likely would never meet, while they revisited the days, months, and years following their own sexual traumas. There was a sense that we were echoing each other on loop: an infinity mirror of rage, shame, and heartbreak.

It wasn’t that I had never considered the source of the schism powerful enough to create what I will—without hesitation—call a culture of betrayal, more commonly referred to as patriarchy. After all, I’d been raised by a single mother, was well versed in Audre Lorde, and donated monthly to Planned Parenthood; feminism was second nature to me. It was that I suddenly found myself in a micro-crisis amidst its parallel macro-crisis. The pressure that phenomenon created forced me to dissect my individual relationship to men, their relationship to me, and the broader social relationship of men to women in this country.

During that process, I uncovered a truth that I’d been surreptitiously ignoring for years: I simply don’t enjoy being around men.

Generally speaking, I much prefer the company of women. And the reason for this, which I also uncovered in those weeks immediately following, is that I haven’t found men to be safe people for me to interact with. Some of them kill women—serial killers and random acts of crime aside, statistics show that husbands and boyfriends are collectively one of the greatest threats to women’s lives* (an observation Louis C.K. made when he correctly noted that “globally and historically, [men] are the worst thing that happens to [women],” a statement now so rife with irony, it’s nearly laughable). Some men physically abuse women; some of them emotionally, verbally, or psychologically abuse women; some of them rape or sexually assault women; some of them sexually harass women. 

Some of them don’t do any of those things, but they belittle or condescend to women so they can feel superior. They shame women’s emotions. They vote for Trump knowing he’s a misogynist and a sexual predator. They humiliate women they decide are too sexy, or not sexy enough. They vote pro-life without even understanding the anatomy of a woman's reproductive organs, much less the vast and complex reasons she may want or need an abortion. They father children and then leave women alone to raise them. They lie to women to use them for sex. They blame women for being raped and assaulted. They work to ensure the wage gap isn’t closed, or don’t care whether it is or isn’t. They objectify women in casual conversation and call it “locker room talk,” or they don’t interject when their friends do. They divorce a woman so they can marry another half her age, essentially swapping her in for a newer model, like a car. They write a book from multiple perspectives—none of them a woman’s; in it, they make God male, blame women for all of humanity’s sorrow, enlist one woman as worthy of worship on the basis of her desexualization, and make a list of moral imperatives that includes being nice to your parents but excludes rape. Over a thousand years later, they use this book to justify pedophilia.

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If you removed all of those men from the pool, I believe you’d be left with very few. A generous guess is around 10 percent, based on nothing but my life experience. Of those left, how many look at a sexually expressive woman without the intention of benefiting from or condemning her sexuality—how many view her sexuality with awe and reverence? How many provide safe spaces for women to birth ideas? Expose their hearts? Rage? Grieve? Dance? Celebrate their bodies? Menstruate? Breastfeed? Argue? Travel? Learn? Create? Lead? How many are curious about who a woman is without wanting to use or control her in any way? How many, when a woman confronts them on their shortcomings, take those women seriously, hold themselves accountable, and legitimately work to be better?

These men are incredibly rare. And the reason they are rare is because we live in a patriarchy, and a patriarchy does not value the thoughts, needs, desires, opinions, agency, hopes, or experiences of women. And therefore, far more often than not, its named benefactors do not either. It is woven into the fabric of our reality.

Of course, this is coming from the perspective of a woman who’s been sexually assaulted multiple times. But if I learned anything from #MeToo, it’s that that describes pretty much every single woman. Ever. And in that finding, I also found myself struggling not to perpetuate a belief that men aren't safe.

But men aren’t safe. That’s more true than untrue. Even if they don’t physically take women’s lives, they, in my experience, are not the people giving women life—giving them hope, strength, inspiration, opportunity, spiritual sustenance, or comfort. In my experience, they are often the people taking those away from women, leaving us to rely on each other. Does that make me angry? Yes. But more to the point, it fills me with grief.

That grief is not solely for what I’ve experienced, nor is it solely for the onslaught of sexual assault women everywhere have experienced, as evidenced by the recent crater in our country’s charade of gender equality. It’s not solely for understanding that the people who are meant to work in partnership with you are the very ones who undermine you.

That grief is for the sheer scope of it all. The ubiquitousness. The insidious roots that have tangled themselves into our government, our spirituality, our jobs, our homes, our minds—into every facet of our psychology and therefore, our culture.

Because the problem is so much more complex than we have ever wanted to acknowledge, the solution is also more complex. In the past, feminists have relied on policy change, women rising through the ranks of corporate America, and the infiltration of higher education with women’s and queer studies courses. Although we’ve seen progress through these tactics, we’ve also come up against their limitations, like a bird to glass.

This is because in our rage and sorrow, in our political organizing, in our increased representation throughout Hollywood and Silicon Valley, we haven’t addressed patriarchy’s most coveted secret: in order for it to operate, men must, on some level, hate themselves. Even now, in this exact moment, my anger is begging me to resist this fact because it’s so much easier to vilify.

But I also know it’s true. Patriarchy is a thousands-year performance of smoke and mirrors, and while women have suffered profoundly at its hands, men have also suffered, as the system cannot succeed unless men buy into a hatred of their own vulnerabilities. They must agree that their fear makes them less valuable, their heartbreak less masculine, their insecurities less desirable, and their failed attempts—on anything, really—less powerful. They must become complicit and active in their self-sabotage so that domination, unquestioned authority, and willful abuse can prevail. As a result, we have inherited a culture of masculinity covertly built on self-loathing, emotional arrested development, masked fear, lack of empathy, and rage—the only emotion patriarchy affords men.

As the adage goes: a person who doesn’t love themselves cannot love you. Only in the last couple months have I realized the mass—literally worldwide—repercussions of that truth. By design, patriarchy would have us believe that men are the winners, but there are no real winners.

The hatred projected onto women is rooted in a hatred men feel for themselves, which I think they experience as emptiness or depression at best, sociopathic violence at worst. We all lose.

This doesn’t mean we don’t hold men accountable for their actions. Anyone who has perpetrated violence, whether physical or psychological, must face the harm they’ve caused if they hope to forgive themselves and move forward. Denial, mitigation, excuses—these are how the cycle of abuse has been able to thrive for so long, and they are therefore not to be tolerated.

But if we want to dismantle the patriarchy, the cesspool in which rape culture has been harvested, we must create space for men to study their own wounds and talk about what they find. We must insist that they come to know how they’ve been hurt, so they can clearly see the moments they used that pain to injure others. We must accept nothing less.

We must redefine bravery—any coward can pick up a gun and shoot someone; it happens daily. Real courage is looking honestly at the fragments of a broken heart, bringing them into the light, studying the ways that, in grief, those shards were transformed to arrows aimed at innocence, and then asking for forgiveness where there may well be none.

If we work to rebuild masculinity from the ground up based on emotional intelligence, rigorous honesty, accountability, and empathy, we don’t just transform men; we also protect ourselves. We get them to relate to us as people, first and foremost, rather than as women. To demystify our pain by converting “overly emotional” to deeply affected. To see that just because they don’t rape or kill women doesn’t mean they aren’t part of the problem. That the problem is deeply and painfully mired but not impossible to extract. And that the extraction is worth it—that we’re worth it. That they’re worth it, too.

*Between 2003 and 2012, 34 percent of all female homicide victims were killed by an intimate partner of the opposite sex (boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, husbands, ex-husbands, or estranged lovers), according to the Violence Policy Center. This same study revealed that 2.5 percent of male homicide victims were killed by an intimate partner of the opposite sex.

 

Remy Ramirez is the executive editor of The FIXX magazine and has written for Nylon, Bust, Refinery29, and Nasty Gal. She likes crystals, crosswords, and caffeine. When she isn't calling on spirit guides to help her manifest free parking in Los Angeles, you'll find her in Sedona, Arizona, planting succulents and writing her reps.

 

Jessie Kanelos Weiner is an illustrator and food and prop stylist living in Paris and a frequent contributor to Cherry Bombe. She is co-author of the upcoming Paris in Stride: An Insider's Walking Guide (Rizzoli 2018) and author of Edible Paradise: A Coloring Book of Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables (Universe).

 

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