When my Twitter explodes with the latest wave of high volume discussion about sexual harassment or violence, my blood pressure rises. These days, it seems so easy – and acceptable – to shoot a dagger into a stranger’s ego – or heart – however you may consider it, especially when that stranger is a man commenting about sexual harassment, sexual violence or Me Too.
Twitter and other social media channels create and perpetuate a few conversation challenges, which is why I have a series of questions I ask myself before diving into a conversation.
Do I think this is really a 1-minute topic?
Can I sum up my feelings on the MeToo movement in less than 60 seconds? Nope. It’s why I have a blog. If you are taking a 60 second video or clip as representative of someone’s point of view, you aren’t doing justice to the conversation. These conversations are complex and layered – and set off a cascade of reactions no matter who you are.
Am I finding pleasure in someone else’s pain, including their shame?
Holding people accountable for their words and behavior does not require shaming, and it certainly doesn’t require rejoicing in their pain. The work of personal growth is hard and those attempting it need compassion and support. We can hold our own boundaries while practicing compassion for others. Laughing at or being entertained by someone’s pain does not make the world a safer or more inclusive place.
Am I psychic?
If not, it’s going to be really hard for you to interpret someone’s sincerity or intentions.
Can I see the culture’s role?
Conversations and commentary take place in a cultural context. Culture impacts what we talk about and how we talk about it. Culture impacts consent. Culture impacts our access to language and ideas. It affects what we hear and how others hear us. Can you speak through the culture to another person?
Maybe the person speaking is a self-help guru, and not aware of the language or history of social justice movements. Maybe they are a survivor advocate, and not aware of how men react and respond to conversations about sexual harassment and violence.
Have I looked in the mirror?
I want to live in a world where we listen deeply, experience deep empathy with other humans, and set safe and healthy boundaries. I want to live in a world that supports individual human growth and communities that help every single person, regardless of background, access that growth. I want to live in a world that provides that for all genders, including men. If I’m too angry or upset to act from this place, I’m better off staying silent.
Have I considered this conversation from all sides?
The same culture that oppresses women strips men of access to emotions and empathy, beginning when they are very young. What is it like to grow up as a white man? What is it like to be lonely? What is it like to be told not to cry when you are sad? What is it like to be pressured into sex before you are ready? What is it like to be expected to always know what to do and how to respond? What is it like when most people fear you and you don’t even know it?
Asking these questions doesn’t minimize other considerations. What’s it like to be a survivor activist whose work is finally being recognized publicly? What’s it like to feel like you are fighting for those who have never had a voice? What’s it like to engage in public and social media conversations with little experience?
Can I hold multiple truths?
Yes, women have experienced harassment, assault and abuse.
Yes, women are breaking silence for the first time and deserve support and solidarity.
Yes, men are also afraid and victimized by men’s violence.
Yes, men have experienced sexual abuse and assault.
Yes, men are systematically stripped of access to their emotions, starting when they are young boys.
There are no BUTS in there. These multiple truths are really hard to hold. It’s easier to see the world as black and white. It’s easier to pick a side and stick with it – to fight for the “good” ones, the underdogs, the truly victimized. These are mythical categories. Humans are complicated. The practice of finding our own best selves – and seeing the best selves in others – is a lifelong practice. The internet gives you a lot of chances to try this out.
Good luck out there.