“I have seen men staring at women’s chests, legs and bottoms on the street, craning their necks and aggressively trying to make eye contact. It repulses me.”
I wrote a piece this week about being groomed and sexually assaulted as a young man in the media. I know there are those who say men shouldn’t talk publicly about it because we’ve found a moment for women to speak up. I appreciate that.
Yet personally, I’m troubled by the notion. It’s a strange message from some of those who claim to represent diversity, equality and understanding to all:
‘I was sexually assaulted.’
‘You’re not allowed to speak out.’
‘Because of your gender.’
This shouldn’t be a competition or a battle in gender warfare, nor should this very serious issue be used to bash and subsequently alienate the male population by casting us all as sexual predators in hiding or in waiting. Most of us aren’t monsters with masks on or werewolves at dusk.
It’s discomforting that many of the voices telling men to be quiet about their experiences – often at the hands of entitled, obnoxious men – are men themselves who clearly feel some kind of twisted self-flagellating thrill or profit in clumsily and disingenuously attacking their own gender so as to ally themselves to women. Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore.
It is offensive and unhelpful to say all men are abusers. We are not. I am not.
The repulsive and hidden truth of sexual abuse by powerful individuals, mainly men, has to be taken seriously by everybody, regardless of their sex, and to appropriate sexual abuse for one gender demeans the horrible reality being uncovered.
More productive is the message that anyone who faces sexual abuse must be able to speak out. Meanwhile, all people must know they can no longer get away with using their power to touch, grope, insinuate, impregnate, probe, blackmail, bribe or attack.
I know that women face much more sexual abuse than men. I also know that men are much more often the wolf-whistlers and oglers than women.
I have seen men staring at women’s chests, legs and bottoms on the street, craning their necks and aggressively trying to make eye contact. It repulses me and I stare at those ‘men’ showing my disgust but they don’t seem to care. What can I do?
I have called a man out for it once. A girl in front of me was stared at by a guy and I told him he was disgusting. He called me a poof and nothing much was gained, other than a hope that he might have felt some kind of fleeting shame or at least embarrassment. I think he was more confused that anyone had taken issue.
I don’t have leering and heckling to deal with unless I’m in a gay bar and for that, I’m glad I’m a boy.
However, I have had my bum pinched and my crotch groped by gay men and straight women. Yes women. I have had a woman in a nightclub thrust her hand down my jeans to, in her words ‘see how big you are.’ It made me feel invaded, degraded and embarrassed. None of it is okay, no matter who you are.
As a man I will try to do more to stand up for women I see being treated like objects and I will continue to be a man who respects other people’s boundaries. If it’s helpful somehow to challenge men ogling women and leering at them in public then I’ll challenge more and if I see a woman suffering sexual abuse – or any abuse for that matter – I will try to support her.
I would respectfully ask for two things. Please allow men to talk about sexual abuse because it does happen and the individuals affected should not be shamed into silence because of their gender or because their experience doesn’t fit the current zeitgeist.
And please take care when saying ‘men are abusers’ because as a man I want to be an ally for any woman facing sexual assault, sexual abuse or daily inappropriate sexual behaviour. I fear the very understandable anger on the part of some women in this conversation risks making good men feel bad, gagged and alienated. Good men can offer so much help and support in the move towards real change.