#MeToo: Oh, but not you

This past month has been a whirlwind of sexual harassment finally being brought out into the open.  In recent years, Bill Cosby and Bill O’Reilly made headlines for their assault and harassment of women.  But the downfall of Harvey Weinstein has set off a chain reaction of sexual misconduct allegations throughout Hollywood and beyond.  Some argue it’s become a “witch hunt,” while others insist it’s about victims taking back their power.

Male privilege is still a huge problem…but the solution isn’t to replace it with an underlying foundation that promotes superiority of (and deference to) women.  The answer should be gender equality and power-sharing.

In mid-October, Alyssa Milano started a viral social media awareness campaign by encouraging survivors of sexual violence and abuse to post #MeToo and share their stories.  Milano referenced this original hashtag created by social activist Tarana Burke in two separate tweets – in both woman-specific and gender-neutral terms.  But, for better or worse, awareness of sexual misconduct has swept the social landscape with heated dialogue.

Milano’s former Charmed costar, film actress Rose McGowan, has openly accused Harvey Weinstein of having raped her during the 1990s.  At this year’s Detroit Women’s Convention, McGowan invoked Milano’s #MeToo campaign while encouraging all survivors of rape and sexual abuse to call out their assailants.  Her #RoseArmy is a long-overdue and empowering movement; while most of McGowan’s Oct. 27 speech was aimed at women, she also consciously made it a point to include survivors who are gay males, boys, and transgender people amid her call-to-action.

Unfortunately, the mainstream media and other agenda-pushers have hijacked the narrative.  They have taken McGowan’s and Milano’s efforts to fight the patriarchy…and turned it into a blanket judgment of what evil, sexual hedonists “most men” are.

Top news stories dealing with alleged sexual assault in the past few weeks have underscored this fallacy.  Political figures ranging from Al Franken to Roy Moore to John Conyers to Donald Trump face charges of sexual abuse or rape.  Celebrities including Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Piven, Nick Carter, and Charlie Rose also face a variety of allegations.

“When females are implicated in these acts, is society as passionately as hard on them?”

The truth will eventually become unavoidable in all of these cases.  One thing is for certain, though:  Milano’s #MeToo campaign has opened the floodgates for sexual predators to be held accountable for their behavior.

But, aside from Spacey, most of the scandals receiving high-profile coverage have involved straight men.  There are also many incidents of same-sex predatory actions…yet, predictably, these have been largely ignored as discussion points by the mainstream media.

Terry Crews came forward about having been ogled and groped by motion picture executive Adam Venit at a party nearly two years ago.  Anthony Edwards went public with having been molested by his acting mentor, Gary Goddard, when he was a teenager.  Ex-model/actor Scott R. Brunton has accused George Takei of sexual assault.  Actor and recording artist Jason Dottley accused talent manager Benny Medina of propositioning and sexually assaulting him in 2008.  Kevin Sorbo reports that the late Gianni Versace made unwanted advances toward him in the early-1990s.  And, for decades, Corey Feldman has been attempting to expose alleged pedophile rings in Hollywood, recalling how he and the late Corey Haim were molested as children.

Sexual abuse isn’t limited to Hollywood.  Male authority figures in every industry are being exposed for preying upon subordinates in both professional and private settings.  But what happens when the tables are turned?  When females are implicated in these acts, is society as passionately as hard on them?

Mariah Carey has been accused by former security head Michael Anello of sexual harassment and racism; both parties are currently working on settling out of court.  When this story hit the news, some of the women of CBS’s The Talk expressed doubt that Anello was being truthful in his claims against Carey – their assumption was that he was litigating purely for financial gain.  Yet, on that same Nov. 2 broadcast, they (specifically Sharon Osborne, Eve Jeffers-Cooper, and Sheryl Underwood) proceeded to socially-shame Tyrese Gibson for having a viral-video meltdown over his ongoing child custody dispute.  Weeks later, Gibson was awarded joint 50/50 custody of his daughter, Shayla.  It’s ironic that the women of The Talk were so quick to bash Gibson due to his ex-wife’s claims that he was suffering from bipolar disorder – since, a year earlier, Wayne Brady (while guest-cohosting their program) spoke about how men of color are acutely stigmatized for suffering from mental illnesses.

Former Dynasty star Catherine Oxenberg has gone public about how her daughter, India, was recruited into a sex cult known as NXIVM and is being held against her will.  The alleged sex slave ring, run by multilevel marketing mogul Keith Raniere, is known for indoctrinating young women as sex slaves and branding their flesh with a ritual symbol.  Former Smallville actress Allison Mack has been implicated as one of NXIVM’s top recruiters of other women.

After hearing endless gynocentric double standards propagated by the media and certain public figures in the aftermath of this #MeToo explosion, I have found myself repeatedly triggered.  I realize part of that is due to my own lived experiences…some of which I will share with you, momentarily.  But the other half of it is how I’ve had to listen in silence while so much of this rhetoric fuels some warped doctrine of “female exceptionalism” – rather than equally shaming the power-abusers of every gender and background.

The breaking point for me was in late-October, when I read how Game of Thrones lead Kit Harington was forced to apologize for comments he’d made in a prior interview.  Harington had recounted times during his career when he’d felt vulnerable and self-conscious for being expected to sexually-objectify himself at photo shoots and filming projects.  A slew of Internet trolls – self-proclaimed “intersectional feminists” – attacked him over social media…apparently taking the mantra of “You know nothing, Jon Snow” to heart.

In Harington’s coerced apology, he admitted that “objectification” is different than “sexism.”  He was more gentlemanly and gracious than I would have been, had I been in his position – and he was obviously telling them what they wanted to hear (or, at least, something more palatable to their ears) so as to avoid a PR nightmare for himself.  Yes, systemic sexism affects women more frequently than men.  But sexism can be social or cultural, as well as systemic.  And sexual objectification is an undeniable byproduct of sexism, by definition – since it arises from attempting to exploit and control another person due to their perceived attractiveness, cosmetic features, and sexual desirability.

The public flogging of Harington was predated by several self-righteous pundits emerging from the peanut gallery to send a message to men everywhere:  “Shut up, start thinking the way we tell you to, and hold yourselves accountable for this epidemic.”

One of my now-former Facebook acquaintances posted this little gem on my timeline, during a heated debate about the criticism Harington had received:

The sexism against women is a multiple-millennia-long brutal, violent, and deadly crisis.  The sexism against men is mildly insulting.  One is WAY more important, and the gap is big enough that an apology was absolutely in order.

That moron ended up getting unfriended by me, in short order.

It’s true that the offenders disproportionately have been white heterosexual men.  That’s because white heterosexual men disproportionately hold more positions of power than any other group.  Women and people of color who become authority figures may also be driven to abuse their power in professional settings.  And people of every demographic group abuse their power in social situations.  The goal should be to get to a place where authority figures stop holding their subordinates sexually hostage regardless of the time/manner/place.

After hearing endless gynocentric double standards propagated by the media and certain public figures in the aftermath of this #MeToo explosion, I have found myself repeatedly triggered. “

In an essay from last month entitled “An Open Letter to My Brothers in Light of #MeToo,” spirituality blogger Mike Morrell blatantly states that all of us, as males, are collectively to blame for this problem – whether it’s due to being the direct aggressors or remaining silent and complicit.  He alleges that men cannot treat this discussion according to an #AllLivesMatter framework; we must, he insists, stop and listen and choose our words carefully before we share our own stories as subjects of sexual harassment.

It’s interesting that Morrell specifically cites Corey Feldman’s investigations into Hollywood pedophilia when examining the examples of its prevalence – seeing how Feldman himself has been constantly shamed for trying to speak out about this (including by Barbara Walters during a 2013 appearance on The View).  Morrell also discusses his own feelings of abandonment as well as realizing that he’s been guilty of objectifying others…concluding that this needs to be a conversation men have with each other.  To his credit, he does offer some practical advice:  he recommends The ManKind Project and Illuman as men’s groups, as well as organizations such as Journeymen and Boys To Men for the purpose of mentoring boys.  In his blog’s comment section, Morrell backpedals and states that his desire is to turn “toxic masculinity” into “healthy masculinity”…and he just doesn’t want it to become a brand of deflective apologism where the generic response is, “Men are raped, too.”

Well, guess what, Mike Morrell – men ARE raped (although if you were to ask my former sociology professor, apparently “it doesn’t count”).  What’s shameful is your attempt to bring down other men who have legitimately suffered abuse, harassment, and rape in our lives (by virtue of being male) just because you are steeped in your own doldrums of guilt and shame.

Ministry veteran John Pavlovitz, on the other hand, encourages males to share our stories – whether we have been victims, perpetrators, or complicit bystanders.  While part of his point is sound – that society can end the culture of misogyny by being more cognizant of when it oppresses those around us – he also sends out mixed signals, here.  His virtue-signaling holds that the onus is on us (again, males) to take responsibility for this problem…conveniently ignoring how many victims of sexual misconduct can also be males themselves.  Ever heard of victim-blaming?  Actually, make that “selective victim-blaming”…since, apparently, Pavlovitz believes that female survivors bear absolutely no responsibility whatsoever, whereas male survivors universally do.

Religious author Brett “FISH” Anderson echoes Pavlovitz’s contention that this is a male burden to bear.  He quotes media violence author Jackson Katz’s belief that the conversation needs to be framed according to females being the primary subjects of these incidents, rather than as ancillary extensions of men.  Anderson also declares how men need to own this shame, particularly “reformed men” who can speak out as to examples of when their past wrongdoings occurred.  He blatantly concludes, “Men, this is our mess to fix” – and likens it to white privilege.

Austin-based human rights attorney Jimmy Lohman chimes in, droning on about how he feels compelled to implore men to take “collective responsibility” for the way women are mistreated in society.  He then goes on to scapegoat athletic and fraternity cultures for fueling misogyny.

No, no, no, my dears – institutional and social privilege is EVERYONE’S mess to clean up.  That holds true regardless of sex, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, political affiliation, income level, or disability.  While certain individuals have more power than others to implement actual policy changes, WE ALL must show each other the respect of speaking up when we see behavior that is oppressive.

Gender justice advocate Rob Okun employs a different tactic.  He points to Eve Ensler’s commentary about the “passivity of good men,” and holds that since Donald Trump has not yet fallen that is indicative of how far we, as a society, have to go – since men view Trump as a role model.  Okun is correct when he stresses how society must stop viewing abuse and rape as “women’s issues”…yet, he specifically embraces the Pavlovitz and Anderson doctrines on how men need to stand with women in calling out the oppressive men.  No mention of the oppressive women in the world.  No mention of the male survivors.

While a resounding number of these victim-blaming and virtue-signaling statements have been made by male commentators, a handful of guileful women have also joined them.  It appears to be an orchestrated attempt to deflect from any acknowledgement of misandry or same-sex oppression.

I’ve even been disappointed in one of my previously-favorite political writers, Caitlin Johnstone, who recently wrote about this movement using a misandrist voice.  She makes the valid point that “Rape culture impacts all women” via centuries’ worth of misogyny found throughout human history, including the systemic mechanisms preventing women from enjoying sexual sovereignty.  She also intuitively theorizes that power players within the patriarchy are afraid that the #MeToo movement could destroy and upend their grasp on power.

However, Johnstone totally ignores the reality that lack of power-sharing is only half of the problem (and, thereby, only half of the solution).  She prioritizes the safety and security of females over that of males by completely ignoring how predatory actions against boys are just as much at the root of the problem – by “predatory actions,” I’m referring to coercion, sissy-shaming, and excuse-making.  Johnstone tops it off by framing this movement as a forthcoming revolution of reckoning, where women rise up against men with one collective voice.

Well, then…castrations all around, I guess.

Chicago-based political writer Robyn Pennachia goes even further:  she starts off her Oct. 19 essay with constructive criticism toward actress Mayim Bialik and U.S. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson for making questionable comments where they’d linked women’s revealing clothing choices to the likelihood of one being targeted.  Pennachia rightfully argues that dressing modestly still doesn’t deter rape cultures that exist against children, the elderly, Mormons, or Amish women.  But then, she completely loses me with the following quotation:

The only responsibility women have in this situation is to not put the blame on other women for sexual harassment and assault, and to make sure the boys they raise understand consent and understand that sexual harassment is not an OK thing for them to be doing.

But perhaps the most repulsive stance encouraging misandry toward boys (and men) is made by freelance journalist Zaron Burnett III in his 2014 blog piece, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Rape Culture.”  While acknowledging that rape can involve either males or females as either victims or aggressors, he posits, “…what makes rape a men’s problem, our problem, is the fact that men commit 99% of reported rapes.”

Therefore, according to Burnett, just because you have a penis that makes you automatically a part of rape culture because your mere existence causes a majority of females to fear for their lives.  He boasts how he never feels vulnerable in terms of his safety, and that apparently makes him culpable because a majority of women do feel vulnerable in their very existence.  Burnett lectures us:

When something like #YesAllWomen occurs in our cultural conversation and women the world over are out there sharing their experiences, their trauma, their stories and their personal views, as men, we don’t need to enter that conversation.  In that moment, all we need to do is listen, and reflect, and let their words change our perspective.  Our job is to ask ourselves how we can do better.

Burnett also admits that this is logically unfair…but that men who find ourselves the subjects of such hostility should blame the men who perpetuate that backlash – not the women who harbor those toxic sentiments themselves.

Um, no, Zaron – I blame THE PERSON WHO ACTUALLY COMMITS THE SADISTIC ACT.  Regardless of their genitalia…or any other characteristic.

Let’s quit dancing around the real distinction, here.  Including male survivors in the discussion is anything but an #AllLivesMatter approach to ending the patriarchy.  The difference is that white people aren’t being systemically targeted by law enforcement based on race (an epidemic that the #AllLivesMatter crowd tries to deny or downplay).

“I blame the person who actually commits the sadistic act.”

By contrast, the reality that aggressors of rape culture are statistically likelier to be males (by virtue of the reality that males hold a greater amount of power positions in our society) doesn’t negate the complementary reality that men and boys are also targeted by predators in significant numbers.  You can’t use the buzzphrase of ”social power imbalance” along with a bunch of statistics in an attempt to disregard the oppression that males can and do experience.  Some people are just equal opportunity exploiters.

I think the reason I have been so triggered by this mashup of gynocentrism and misandry is because, as profiled by reporter/novelist Susan Scutti in a June 2015 piece for Medical Daily, boys are so often told to keep quiet and bury our pain when we are bullied, harassed, or exploited.  There is still a stereotype that child abuse is primarily something being inflicted upon young girls by adult men.

And, if you love statistics so much…here are some found by the CDC:  only 25% of women and 11% of men questioned have sought support services after being the victims of either physical, sexual, or psychological abuse from an intimate partner. When expanded to cases of sexual violence (rape or attempted rape) per se, the stats increase to 33% for women and 17% for men.  Additionally, 24% of women and 14% of men have defined the physical violence against them at some point during their lives as “severe” or causing fear.  And, before the age of eighteen, an estimated 8.5 million women and 1.5 million men have reported being raped as minors.  Another 3.5 million women and nearly 1 million men have reported being stalked as minors.

These are just the reported cases – I suspect the numbers for both women and men are much higher than the statistics show.  Either way, statistics are irrelevant when something traumatic happens to someone.  It doesn’t matter if the percentage is 11% or 25%…or 79% or 6%.  It still needs to be nipped in the bud whenever it occurs!

The following scenarios happened to me at various points during my life.  Some people would write them off as “anecdotal” examples.  Others might claim that I let myself be trampled on by refusing to stand up for myself.  But as any person who is shedding light on sexual harassment knows – it’s easier to discard a claim when it’s something another person has experienced.

In elementary school, I was placed into an adaptive Physical Education program against my will; apparently, my lack of balance and coordination may have been due to a partial-deprivation of oxygen when I was born.  My Special Education instructor – a female – constantly made sexually-suggestive comments about my body.  She was also a swimming instructor who tried to shame me for having bodily insecurities; one thing I observed was how she would demean the more modest boys who asked if they could wear a shirt in the swimming pool (since the school allowed her to instruct even the “regular” students who weren’t in special needs programs).  Whenever I expressed fear or discomfort with participating in swimming units, she became furious with me.  Decades later, I now can reflect on it with more crystallized hindsight:  “Why was she so abnormally eager to see elementary school boys in only their swim trunks?”

Since this adaptive P.E. instructor worked very closely with many students who were cognitively-disabled, there’s no doubt in my mind that she privately took advantage of her charges if the opportunity presented itself.  Most of them, having mental disabilities, were very likely unable to protest or resist when she was alone with them.  A few years after I got myself ejected from being under her supervision, she was fired for reasons that remained publicly undisclosed.  While I have no direct proof of her culpability (largely because I avoided being alone with her as much as possible – and, ultimately, found a way to cut my ties with her altogether), it’s very telling that she was forced to leave our school district under hush/hush circumstances.

Too often, we just assume that pedophiles are mostly males.  No one ever wants to believe that another culprit could also be that physically-unthreatening woman whom everyone tends to laugh off as just “a little eccentric.”

Same-sex molestation happens all of the time, as well.  In my freshman year of high school, I was sexually assaulted by a classmate who was one of my many peers who viewed me as a nerd and a weirdo (which I admittedly was!).  When we had Phy Ed together, he started grabbing my chest during class activities or simulating oral sex on me while I was doing pushups.  Yes, right in front of everybody!  Once, when we were running laps, he just outright shoved me multiple times for no specific reason.  Mostly, our classmates would just laugh at his behavior (or ignore it) – probably because they were glad he wasn’t doing it to them.  Our P.E. teacher – a female with a rather droll personality – seemed clueless as to how to handle it.

The whole time, I just stood back and tolerated that abuse from my classmate.  I was terrified about what social repercussions there could be if I “tattled” on him.  And no one in our class seemed willing to speak up about how his constant assaults on me were wrong.  In fact, once, when we were dressing for class in the locker room, he began alternately groping and attacking me.  All of the other guys just stood around, watching, silent and speechless.  After the fact, this ended up being the event that prompted someone to finally clue our teacher into what was going on; she talked to me in private, and asked me to describe what had happened.  I told her the truth, and then she made me recount these incidents to our vice-principal.  Our V.P. was livid when she learned that I was being targeted and everyone was just letting it happen…and she promptly kicked that student out of the class.

The entire experience was humiliating and degrading for me…especially because it was already a badly-kept secret that I was gay, and this particular classmate of mine was probably leveraging that unspoken truth as a way of further tarnishing my reputation for his own amusement.

In college, I worked in an academic departmental office.  Everyone in our office generally really liked each other and got along – except for one (non-student) coworker of ours.  She was that archetype who always runs hot-and-cold on you.  The archetype who finds excuses to take personal offense to anything and everything…and then lashes out at people as a preemptive defense mechanism.  We never knew what type of mood she was going to be in, from one day to the next.  Probably sensing my vulnerability, she instinctively targeted me – making frequent sexual jokes at my expense right out in the open.  She also engaged in verbal male-bashing around the office, seemingly to be “funny.”  There were multiple occasions where she would find excuses to insert my whiteness (she happened to be Latina) into completely unrelated discussions; I became so self-conscious and paranoid that I felt like I was walking on eggshells around her.  And it began to have a negative impact on my job performance; there were multiple occasions when our office manager called me in for “chats” about how my anxiety was creating disharmony in our workplace.  Gee, I wonder who was one of the people complaining to her about my skittishness?

Interestingly enough, I was both the only white person and the only male in this office (aside from our department head).  The main reason why I didn’t report her was because I knew how indispensable she was to our office manager, whereas I was just a lowly student assistant who was there on work-study (i.e., I was more “expendable” than she was).  After a year, I quit that job because I’d saved up enough salary to be comfortable for awhile; and, it had become obvious to me that things weren’t going to get better on their own.  However, I never told our office manager the real reason for my resignation.  I later found out that this toxic coworker was mandated to take anger management classes after she’d pissed off the wrong professor with her surliness…and she was eventually transferred out of their department altogether.

More recently, for a number of years I also worked as a personal assistant to a hot-tempered elderly man.  Although he was very liberal in his politics and very heterosexual (he never made any physical advances toward me), he would constantly be telling racy sexual jokes and making sexual innuendos – often at my expense.  Since I was an “at-will” employee, there was no Human Resources Department to which I could report him.  He casually blurred the line between “friend” and “superior”…and I just put up with it because I didn’t want to become suddenly unemployed.

Many of my friends encouraged me to look for a new job, but I kept telling them how my boss would probably resent me for deciding to move on – since I did a lot of grunt work that he took for granted.  Also, if I sought new employment, prospective employers would want to know why I was leaving my then-current position.  What was I supposed to tell them? – that I felt sexually-violated and emotionally-abused by the same person who would also presumably be giving me a reference?  After six years, that job finally ended.

The common link is that all of these people had official authority over me (except, technically, for that high school classmate of mine – he found ways to mentally-debilitate me so that I would give him power over me).  You might dismiss their antics as being unique to my specific life circumstances.  But they all played into my stress level, my fear over my own safety, and my financial security.  They have all left irreparable imprints on my psyche.  Things like this happen to women and men all over the world, even if no intimate touching literally takes place.

Now, I’m at a point in my life where I’m outspoken, persistent, loyal, blunt, trustworthy, and individualistic – because I embrace those traits, most people learn very quickly that they can’t mess with me:  physically, verbally, or psychologically.  But it took me a long time to get to that place.  How many more generations of girls and boys are going to continue being victimized and sexually-exploited because we find it tempting to chalk it all up to “kids being kids” or joking around?  Or because we feel our only choice is between either letting ourselves get disrespected or becoming economically bankrupt?

No, we shouldn’t write off abusive behavior as simply “Boys being boys.”  But, by that same token, we shouldn’t eternalize the myth of “That stuff doesn’t happen to boys,” either.  We also shouldn’t ignore when fathers are systemically discriminated against in child custody cases.  We also shouldn’t minimize when suggestive jokes are made at the expense of males.  We also shouldn’t embrace some one-sided, monodirectional definition of “chivalry.  And we shouldn’t cherrypick when generalizations are or aren’t acceptable based on whether or not those generalizations happen to support a neoliberal, neofeminist narrative.

It’s probably tempting for “intersectional feminists” to blather, “Well, now you know how women have felt this entire time, for so many centuries.”  Instead, we should be asking ourselves:  WHY do people feel it’s necessary to bring others down in the name of lifting themselves (or their loved ones) up?  Why can’t the principles of dignity, character education, chivalry, and consent be gender-neutral?

To all the men and boys out there:  if #MeToo has applied to your life experiences, add your voices to the mix.  Do not let the discussion get warped based on someone else’s personal agenda.  It’s not a competition over “who is more oppressed,” and it’s not a discussion where we should instantly defer our voices in favor of every female in every scenario.

Testosterone is NOT a disqualifier for responsibility or good judgment.  It’s often said that “men think about sex all the time – so how can we continue to trust males to be in positions of power?”  Well, that depends on whether people are trying to make a false equivalence comparison between “pig” and “sexual creature.”  You can still be a healthy sexual creature without violating another person’s sovereignty or robbing them of the ability to consent.

So consider me a part of the #RoseArmy – and to any of you out there who seek to silence or marginalize my voice in this dialogue…you can kindly go fuck yourselves.  Pun intended.

Featured image by Mateus Lucena — Flickr.